My Thoughts on “This Gluten Thing” For Celiac Awareness Month

In the past couple of days I’ve been asked a series of questions by my close family and friends that clearly indicate the confusion I’ve caused lately.

“What do you think about this new gluten thing?”

“So you’ll really never post anything with gluten on your blog – ever again?”

“You don’t eat gluten at home? But gluten-free bread and pasta are gross!”

While I’m far from an expert, I’m probably the closest thing in our circle to it, so I’m used to fielding questions about whatever’s “hot” in food and health. And with the slew of new gluten-free labels in supermarkets and restaurants along with media tidbits left and right, going gluten-free is a seriously hot topic. I hope that I was able to provide sufficient and thoughtful responses to my loved ones, and I want to share them with you too. After all, today is the last day of Celiac Awareness Month and I haven’t made a peep about it! So, let’s tackle these questions in order.

“What do you think about this new gluten thing?”

For people that have celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet is not a fad. It’s a way of life. Their bodies are not able to process gluten the same way others are, and eating gluten can result in a number of reactions like gastrointestinal discomfort, skin disorders, headaches, and chronic fatigue, just to name a few. Additionally, new research has shown that there is actually a spectrum of gluten-sensitivity, and there is a significant population of people who will not test positive for celiac disease but will experience some symptoms when exposed to gluten. This “gluten thing” is not new, but was perhaps under-diagnosed in the past. I think this is why we are seeing greater emphasis on gluten-free labeling and more brands proactively producing food for this growing market.

“So you’ll really never post anything with gluten on your blog – ever again?”

Let me be clear that I do not have celiac disease. In fact, I do not even consider myself sensitive to gluten. I can imagine, then, the confusion about why I make so many gluten-free recipes (in fact, I don’t think I’ve posted anything with gluten this year!) My interest in gluten-free cooking began about five years ago, when I met my friend Vanessa, who is now one of my very best friends. One of the reasons she and I became so close so fast is our shared love of cooking. Vanessa has celiac disease, so any meals we made together were safe for her to eat. It never occurred to me to make things that we couldn’t both eat together, and I embraced learning about new ingredients and experimenting with different ways to cook. I realize that others might be intimidated by gluten-free cooking, but to me it was no big deal. With that in mind, I started labeling recipes on my blog that were naturally gluten-free.

Over the next few years I became increasingly interested in clean eating. To me, this means choosing wholesome, less-processed ingredients with greater nutritional value. Guess what? Ingredients like chickpea flour, coconut flour, sorghum flour, etc are all better choices than wheat flour when evaluated against those criteria. Not to mention, working with gluten-free ingredients gives me a broader range of flavors and textures to incorporate into my recipes. It’s not that I have to eat gluten-free, it’s just that I like a lot of foods that happen to be gluten-free. If I had to label my cooking style, I would call it “inclusive.” I consider it an asset that I can come up with recipes that a greater population can eat, but ultimately I just want to make good food. If you eat a gluten-free diet and consider my blog a resource, I am happy. If you do not eat gluten-free, I hope you are not put off by my ingredients, and that you are inspired to try something new.

Finally, last year, I saw an acupuncturist for some health-related issues and she suggested that I reduce the amount of wheat in my diet. This was my final call to eliminate wheat from my kitchen. By default, this makes me almost gluten-free (the only other gluten-containing foods I can think of that I might use are sometimes are barley and spelt flour.) My strategy for eating less wheat was to not cook with it during the week at home, but feel free to eat it when we dine out 1-2 times per week. Also, I do not worry about trace amounts of gluten or just wheat hiding in my every day diet. Again, this is ok for me because I do not have a true gluten-sensitivity. The fact is, I do eat gluten, but not all the time. Since I only blog about recipes I make at home, you only “see” me eating gluten-free food. This works for us for now. I won’t make any promises, but I can’t foresee making a gluten-full recipe for the blog anytime soon.

“You don’t eat gluten at home? But gluten-free bread and pasta are gross!”

My answers to this are first, “Not so much – you must not have tried the right brands” and secondly, “I don’t eat much of that stuff anyway.” Processed food is processed food, gluten-free or not, and I try to keep it to a minimum. I always read labels and stick to buying products that contain just a few ingredients, all of which I can easily pronounce, and ideally, things I could easily buy and cook with myself. Because of the heavy media attention on “going gluten-free”, many people might wonder if something is healthier just because it boasts a gluten-free sticker. Gluten-free grocery items like pretzel, cookies and salad dressings are necessary for people who cannot handle gluten, but are often full of the same sugar and chemicals as their gluten-containing counterparts. Evidence indicates that there is no health benefit to avoiding gluten if you don’t suspect a sensitivity, so if gluten is not a problem for you, the healthier pick would be a product with natural ingredients – or better yet, making it yourself! Finally, although I don’t regularly purchase a lot of gluten-free pre-made food, I have, of course, tried it many times and can confidently tell you it’s not all “gross.” So for the person who needs to eat a gluten-free diet for medical purposes, don’t automatically assume they are doomed to never enjoy eating again.

In honor of Celiac Awareness Month, I would like to ask all my gluten-eating friends to become aware of a few things.

  1. There are people who cannot eat gluten, not because avoiding gluten is trendy, but because it will damage their bodies.
  2. It is relatively easy to cook gluten-free recipes, especially when  you cook with ingredients instead of things that have ingredients (in other words, using natural, unprocessed foods.) I would urge you to try it out, even if you don’t have a celiac friend to share with. It is never a bad thing to incorporate more wholesome ingredients into your repertoire. Both your tastebuds and body will thank you!
  3. Treat your body with kindness. If you suspect you have a problem with gluten, do your research and speak with your doctor. If not, just continue to be aware of healthful choices, either with or without gluten.

So tell me, does this leave you more or less confused about my relationship with gluten? :)

  Pin It

15 Responses to “My Thoughts on “This Gluten Thing” For Celiac Awareness Month”

  1. 1

    Kate — May 31, 2012 @ 9:48 am Reply

    You are a wealth of knowledge, so it’s understandable that many of us turn to you!

  2. 2

    Leah @ Chocolate and Wild Air — May 31, 2012 @ 10:04 am Reply

    I love your philosophy on “inclusive” eating – it’s a great way to eat/think! Plus, I agree with you that eating processed or refined foods in general just isn’t as healthy for us. Cool post!

  3. 3

    Amanda @RunToTheFinish — May 31, 2012 @ 10:25 am Reply

    great info!! i think it’s easy to take what we post about and extract it to be our entire lives.. I may post about green smoothies, but I have other meals too :)

  4. 4

    Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen) — May 31, 2012 @ 12:43 pm Reply

    People always ask me if I miss gluten or dairy. I really don’t. I actually love the endless options for gluten and dairy free cooking/baking. I happen to not be afraid of the kitchen though, so experimenting is fun for me. I also LOVE eating whole foods so much more than processed. I feel so much better having eliminated the foods my body can’t process from my diet!

    The biggest thing I ask of people that can have what I can’t have is to not brag as you’re eating these things in front of me. I don’t really care so much that I can’t have them, but it’s just annoying.

  5. 5

    Nicole, RD — May 31, 2012 @ 1:14 pm Reply

    Nice post, Cara!
    I could never go GF unless I had to, but I do love experimenting with various flours. Unfortunately, I don’t love all of them, and many don’t “act” as well as wheat…but as more recipes emerge, I look forward to using more GF flours!

  6. 6

    Julie @BananasForBourbon — May 31, 2012 @ 2:04 pm Reply

    Great post, Cara! I especially love your answer about gluten-free processed foods not tasting as good as gluten-full processed foods. Haha. Eat neither! It’s nice of you to share your reasons behind that side of your diet choices, and to bring awareness to the benefits of that choice. So many just blindly jump on a fad diet bandwagon, causing others to roll their eyes. But while it’s definitely a fad diet, it’s also a valid diet. Not one I follow, but one I respect. Great post. :)

  7. 7

    Dawn — May 31, 2012 @ 2:29 pm Reply

    Less confused! Thanks for the informative post. The only reason I do GF is becasue my daughter has an allergy to “wheat” so it’s just so much easier for me to do fully GF to cover her allergy and anyone else that has a gluten allergy. We LOVE that Tinkyada brand.

  8. 8

    Foods For Beauty — May 31, 2012 @ 3:11 pm Reply

    Great post, it is always good to clear up any confusion! Although we as bloggers usually blog abut the lifestyle choices we usually follow, we are human lol :)

  9. 9

    Alisa — May 31, 2012 @ 4:44 pm Reply

    Well written Cara! I think it is a hard area for people to grasp because there is such a blend of “fad” and “real world requirement” in the gluten-free arena right now. Sadly, a lot of people who need to be gluten-free for medical reasons don’t take it seriously enough, and many who follow as a fad diet aren’t really doing it healthfully. I’m just glad there are blogs like yours that offer good wholesome recipe ideas – gluten-free or not!

  10. 10

    Lindsay - redSoxGirl — May 31, 2012 @ 4:57 pm Reply

    Thanks so much for spreading the word on gluten-free eating, Cara!
    My 9 year old niece was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when she was just over 3. GF food then was nasty! It’s gotten so much better in the years since then. And I love trying to find GD recipes for her so that she can eat similar foods to the rest of the family.
    Congrats on all of the success with your blog, by the way! :-)

  11. 11

    Maggie — May 31, 2012 @ 5:40 pm Reply

    I think this is awesome! It’s a perfect post for your blog, and will really help people who are knew to the gf thang understand it better. Thanks for doing this. If only everyone was as open-minded and accepting as you. World peace baby. Hehe. xo

  12. 12

    Kim-Cook It Allergy Free — June 1, 2012 @ 1:40 pm Reply

    Perfectly said. I used to get frustrated when people seemed to not understand the whole “gluten free thing”. But then I realized how easy it is to get confused when there is so much media hype around it being just a fad and also so much mis-information about it. This was so well written and does such a great job explaining it to those who want to understand it better! :)

  13. 13

    Lauren A. @ Newest Obsession — June 1, 2012 @ 7:58 pm Reply

    This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I am in the same boat as you. I feel better when I don’t eat gluten, but I do not believe I have celiac disease because I have never suffered from any of the sever symptoms. I do plan to get tested one day, but I find it relatively easy to eat gluten free whole, unprocessed foods in the mean time.

  14. 14

    Chris — June 22, 2012 @ 10:36 am Reply

    I am also “in your boat” when it comes to gluten…..no official test needs to be had when I KNOW I feel better without it. Nasty arthritis symptoms are gone when the majority of gluten is gone! I don’t worry about the traces either but DO know how to cook and bake safely for those who simply cannot afford even a trace. I just found your site today and the chickpea pizza crust is the first thing I’m making! Within the next 48 hours! I’ll be keeping tabs on you from now on if this is an example of what’s to come!!! (Found you through your comment on http://www.culinaryconcoctionsbypeabody.com)

    • 14.1

      Cara — June 22, 2012 @ 10:46 am

      Thanks Chris! Welcome, and I hope you like the pizza crust!

Leave a Comment