Hi, my name is Ashley Nolan and I am going to need to see the Gluten Free Menu. Sigh. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting at Quartino’s (Italian restaurant) overhearing a mother ask for a gluten menu for her child. I glanced back over to Mike and rolled my eyes, as I said, “That is going to be me isn’t it? The mother who requires the gluten menu for her kids.” What is gluten anyway? Why does it seem like everyone is gluten free? Is it healthier? Don’t we need carbs? … Are these gluten free people just annoying health freaks?
Let me preface this blog post by saying, I am not a doctor. I am merely sharing my own experience in order to help others who may be feeling the same frustrations.
It seemed like my whole life I’ve had a stomach ache, headache and was generally uncomfortable after I ate. Many times I attributed this feeling to being full. First, it started with dairy. I have never been a big fan of milk because it would always make me feel sick, but it was only after several lattes, that I realized this feeling wasn’t normal. My friends and family members began to ask why I drank the lattes if they made me sick and suggested that it might be the milk… ultimately, it ended up being dairy all together. And, just like that, at 22 years old, I was lactose intolerant. Cheese on pizza on occasion, but my absolute favorite thing in life = ice cream, I can’t even eat anymore (without a huge meltdown).
From age 25 to 30, I continued to have bad abdominal pain, bloating, stomach ache, headache and general uncomfort. UGH! At times it would get so bad, I thought it was appendicitis. I had gone to the doctor for ultrasounds and nothing would turn up. I always made an excuse, until this past year. It got to be too much! Due to my symptoms, I found myself constantly thinking I had the flu! I would buy kombuchas, probiotics, eat crackers and drink ginger ale. My stomach would inflate so much, but I wasn’t eating enough to create a food baby. All these symptoms, feelings and emotions started to impede my work day, my sleeping, my mood and my overall being. Something needed to change, but I wasn’t sure what.
How I Figured It Out
Ever since the gluten free craze hit, I had done my research and I knew gluten was not the best thing for you (I knew minimal) so I tried gluten free foods and always enjoyed them more. I felt like I could eat gluten free items and not feel that full and bloated feeling. But, last summer I got married and in traditional marriage preparation fashion-I was on a fruit and veggie, protein shake, juicing obsession. I felt good! I felt great! My skin was clear and all my symptoms fell to the wayside. Yet, that wasn’t a signal to me that I might need to be gluten free. It was just that I was eating a strict healthy diet; who wouldn’t feel good?
After the wedding, I went back to my normal diet. Which by the way, wasn’t terrible but did include gluten whenever I desired. I noticed I was getting very flu-like sick without eating dairy, along with many other unpleasant symptoms that I felt in the past. I was running out of ideas. So, I did the week test; Monday-Friday only stick to fruit and veggies, lean protein, no carbs and on Saturday and Sunday back to normal…. and guess what would happen. You got it; by Friday I would feel great and then by Monday I would feel terrible again. But, was this legit a gluten intolerance? After a trip to the doctor, I found out that it was in fact a gluten intolerance. I ended up not getting tested for celiac disease because I was told the diagnosis is the same-cut out all gluten from your diet.
It has only been two months since I had my doctor visit. I was warned that when I stopped eating gluten, I would feel better and think that it was ok to eat a little bit here and there. My thought was, oh no, if not eating gluten will make me feel better, I will never eat it again… then on a fun Saturday night out I decided to get a monster cupcake. And, you guessed it; I was sick until Wednesday. So, seriously… never again. Do you know that after eating gluten, you can feel the repercussions for up to 5 to 7 days? There is nothing you can take to make it better. All you can really do is try to manage it until it subsides.
Since the cupcake incident, I have not consumed gluten and I have had no real stomach issues. Cramping, bloating and nausea have gone away completely. During the day, I feel more awake and talkative, instead of groggy and tired. I have even noticed my anxiety has decreased! I have continued to keep a food journal and monitor how I feel after I eat. I think I am on the right track.
In addition, to my new favorite blog Gluten Dude and the website Paleo Leap, I have also found several resources from reading the Grain Brain (thanks Kelly Case!). My whole notion of the annoying health freaks (even though I’ve always been one too) has completely dissipated and I beg you to do your own research on gluten and grains in general. Why? It can’t kill me… Well, yes it actually can and it it just might be. Not just in your gut, but in your brain too. If you are interested in knowing more, please check out the resources I listed above.
Now, let’s answer some of those questions I asked earlier:
What is gluten anyway? According to the Celiac Disease Foundation Website. Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape and gives food that chewy texture, which holds food together. Gluten can be found in many different types of foods (pastas, breads, crackers, baked goods, cereal, beer, etc), as well as, in lipgloss, medications, vitamins and nutritional supplements .
Why does it seem like everyone is gluten free? Not everyone is gluten free. But, according to HealthLine News, about 6 percent of people suffer from a gluten sensitivity. That means from consuming this wheat protein (which is the primary grain product in the U.S.) 6 percent of people are feeling generally uncomfortable. In addition, according to Dr. Mercola, “full-blown Celiac disease, which is gluten sensitivity affecting your small intestine, affects an estimated 1.8 percent of people in Western cultures and is on the rise. But, gluten sensitivity may actually affect as much as 30 to 40 percent of all people, and according to Dr. Alessio Fasano at Massachusetts General Hospital,virtually all of us are affected to some degree.”
Is it healthier? Not necessarily. Cutting out gluten, means that you are cutting out the wheat protein found in the majority of foods containing grains in the U.S. This includes; fried foods, bakery items, pizza, desserts and many processed foods. To cut these foods out, is very healthy! Yet, if you do not suffer from a gluten sensitivity, it is perfectly healthy to have complex carbs in moderation. One thing I do want you to know, is that Dr. Perlmutter (the author of Grain Brain), along with other emerging studies have found that, “Gluten sensitivity appears to be involved in most chronic disease, including those affecting the brain, because of how gluten affects your immune system. Glucose and fructose,(sugars) and carbohydrates can also have powerfully toxic effects.” There is strong evidence that illustrates the correlation between brain disease and what you put in your gut. It is important to note how you feel and how that correlates to what you eat.
One person’s lifestyle doesn’t work for everyone. Just as a training plan for one athlete might not work for another athlete. Therefore, I encourage you to keep your own food journal, reflect on how foods make you feel and do the research. Know that what you put in your body every single day, contributes to your health now and in the long run. This might seem obvious, but I think that we generally have a misunderstanding of what healthy foods consist of and what nutrients our bodies need to thrive. With all the options out there, we need to start understanding our best options and stop choosing to put so much crap into our bodies.
Going forward, I will be sharing all of my recipes on the website under the Gluten/Dairy Free tab to help give you some ideas on how to form a diet around these changes. Whether you are frustrated by your own gluten or dairy training for a race, trying to lose weight or just looking for some tips on how to gain more energy; I know you’ll find these recipes helpful.