A Gluten Hog
A croissant, a baguette with cheese and olive oil, an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie; these are the staples of my diet. A boulangerie in Paris is Mecca for me! And yet these are treats that one of my very best friends can no longer enjoy with me. Two years ago she was diagnosed with celiac disease and her life was forced to change drastically in order to responsibly take care of her health. The moment I heard her news I was sure it was a curse. I went online and did my own due diligence of what living with celiac disease entailed, and then set about making creative meals that were yummy, healthy, and most importantly gluten free for my best bud! But I never once considered what it might actually be like to walk in her shoes. No more pain au chocolats?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. In the good old days when bread was made slowly, one loaf at a time at the hearth, the percentage of gluten in the end-product was minimal. But today with the quick and mass production of all the breads that find their way to the shelves of our grocery stores, the gluten content has grown exponentially. Today, one percent of the entire American population suffers from the debilitating condition of Celiac disease. Gluten makes these people terribly sick and can be life-threatening. Recent studies reveal that potentially 1 out of every 10 Americans could have a gluten sensitivity and not be aware of it. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity are IBS (gas, bloating, reflux), migraines, joint pains, anxiety, mood swings, and what Dr. Oz has coined, “brain fog.” For these people, gluten isn’t life-threatening, but too much of it can affect their optimum day to day health.
This past week I decided to walk in my friend’s shoes. My goal was five days of gluten-free. Surely it could not be that difficult! I watched a Dr. Oz special on gluten and he made it seem so easy. He said, “stick to one ingredient items,” like wine, chocolate, vegetables, rice, beans, nuts, polenta, quinoa, meat, cheese, and eggs. What could be so hard about that? Except when I realized my daily chocolate chip cookie and cup of tea, the yummy blueberry muffin that I routinely share with my daughter Rose at Whole Foods, my number one pregnancy craving, the Coconut three-layered cake at the Firefly Grill in Nashville, and the Mason household staple of a baguette and dish of olive oil at every meal were now forbidden! I had no idea the discipline and life-style change it required to become truly gluten-free. And yet, after five days of becoming a gluten-free goddess, I am beginning to understand the Mayo Clinic’s research that suggests gluten may increase inflammation in the body, and too much of it could contribute to an overall mental and physical malaise that plagues our culture.
So what does this mean for those of us who do not suffer from Celiac disease and yet sense that we could have more energy, more clarity of the brain, and an overall healthier lifestyle? If you do not have celiac disease, moderation is the key. Americans spent over 6 billion dollars just last year on gluten-free products. Does the 90’s “fat-free” fad ring a bell? When will we learn that anything perfectly packaged with the gluten-free or fat-free seal is not the secret silver bullet? Stay away from bottled or packaged anything, like salad dressings, sauces, and what I call “fake food” in a pretty box. Trust me, the gluten-free oreos on aisle three at Whole Foods are not doing you any favors! But farm to table, simple, fresh ingredients in moderation will have you feeling like you tapped into the fountain of youth.
Following is just one of the days in my life this week as an aspiring Gluten-Free Goddess:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with fresh peaches, raisins, walnuts, and a swirl of real maple syrup.
Lunch: Salad of arugula with sliced apples, boiled egg, cashew nuts, avocado, shavings of Parmessan Reggiano (the real deal!), and a quick homespun salad dressing of apple cider vinegar, olive oil, herbes de provence, salt and pepper, and maple syrup.
Dinner: Home-made Three Bean Chili with sliced avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, and Fritos (yes, they are gluten free).
Treats: Chocolate covered Almonds from Trader Joe’s, apples covered in Nutella (Nutella is so underrated in America!), organic popcorn popped on the stove with M&M’s.
I have a new respect for my gluten-free friend after this week. Since I need her to be around when I’m 90, still making me laugh like no other can, I am going to keep making her gluten-free meals, encouraging her to eat just the chocolate icing on the cake and not the actual cake, and remind her that actually eating gluten free may be the secret elixir to happier moods, less tummy issues, enviable rosy skin, more energy, and a better night’s sleep! There are baguettes in my future but also a new awareness of how much better I feel when I am less gluten hog and more gluten-free goddess!
Live in Hope,
P.S. A great blog for yummy, gluten-free recipes is www.roostblog.com. The author became gluten-free to heal her husband of Crohn’s disease, and he is currently medication free. Her recipes and food photography are exceptional! Also, restaurants in Nashville that accommodate gluten-free goddesses: Burger Up, PortaVia, Macke’s, Miel, and Mafioza’s pizza, to just name a few!