What the Heck is Gluten-free Living?

I hadn’t seen Teresa in ages. It had been so long since our last meet up, that she had a new baby, redecorated her home, and was now herself on the Gluten-free band wagon. Prior to meeting up we had exchanged texts about where to go for dinner when she casually threw in “oh by the way I’m also gluten-free now”. Two things came mind; wow she too with this gluten stuff and what did that really mean? What I did know straight away was that, that meant some kind of restriction on what she could or could not eat. So there began the hunt for a place I thought she could enjoy at least a few bites at. “So long as I have a veggie, protein, rice or potato option I’m good” – Those were her requirements. So I thought ok simple, just look for places that serve meat, rabbit food, and carbs…not limiting at all, right?  Well it took us a good while before we could find a place we both liked, had options for gluten-free food, and had some kind of nice chic ambience. I didn’t mind the hunt at all it just gave use even more time to catch up.

Over dinner we did what any normal friends who haven’t seen each other for a while do, gab, gab, and more gab. We gabbed about babies, family, marriage, sex, annnnd GLUTEN. I figured I had come across the subject enough times online, recipes, and even the cafeteria at my job with its big old sign at the register “WE ARE GLUTEN-FREE” above a slew of snack-bars and sugary things (gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy) that I thought It would be a good idea to grill her on the basics and more importantly why had she made the switch. For her it was a case of I-have-an-auto-immune-disease so a gluten-free diet relieves the pains of my disease. She had discovered she had developed the auto-immune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis while self-diagnosing herself via the world wide web. Her doctor later confirmed she was correct but had no real solution for her disease. So there she went back to good old Google and came across different sites and people saying that a diet low or absent of gluten helps to keep the symptoms of the disease at bay (nasty symptoms like feeling tired all day and your stomach twisting in on itself). An experiment was due and she decided to cut out gluten for a bit and low and behold she was back to her old-self. She tried food with gluten once more to make sure it was what was affecting her; it was, and so she officially jumped ships.

So there we sat at this posh little Italian tapas restaurant and all I thought about was damn she can’t have the pasta and bread; the bread which was so gingerly placed in between us to munch on while we waited for our first round of dishes. All I could do was let out this muffled sound out the side of my mouth of half chewed bread and say “sorry”. Teresa is or was or perhaps still is at heart a foodie like me. We go way back to the days of when the Meat-packing District still had more meat on the streets than Stella McCarthy and Alexander McQueen solitary dresses hanging in the windows. We would head over to the Chelsea Market around lunch time and sample our way through the entire place. We’d take coffee breaks at Bodum or have apple pie ala mode at The Little Pie Company. Anyhow, gluten-free was definitely a new chapter in our foodie relationship.

So let’s Glute-n talk; It’s a word that is not new to the food-world, however the term gluten-free is newer to pop-culture, but has gained traction very quickly in the last few years. My first encounter with Gluten was when I began following a few blogs that kept noting how the flour they were using for baking was gluten-free. I’d see recipes for Chocolate Chip Chunk cookies—made with gluten-free flour or I’d see, Auntie’s Apple Pie—now made with gluten-free flour and little by little it happened more often. So you see, when Teresa told me all about her gluten-free world I knew she was not alone. My second encounter with gluten came just a few months ago. I had decided to fully embrace my new-found love for baking and in usual Candice-style decided to research the heck out of all there was to baking. Gluten was everywhere! It dictated how chewy a bread recipe would be or how the lack of it would make cakes super tender. So for me, at that point, gluten was just this thing I had to be aware of if I wanted to bake a cake vs. ciabatta bread and vice versa.

So here’s the skinny on Gluten simply put:
  • It’s a protein.
  • When gluten chains come into contact with water they either form longer chains or break into smaller ones. These chains give the gluten a plastic and elastic feel. You can mold it however you want, but it can also snap back into it original shape (picture a ball of pizza dough).
  • It is what gives most breads their chewy bite, like when you bite down on a really crusty piece of French bread and it scrapes the roof of your mouth; and when it hits the oven, the heat helps it create volume and give off tenderization.
  • In baking, flours are distinguished by the amount of gluten in them, for example, Bread flour is high in gluten, cake flour is low in gluten and All purpose flour is in between those two.

Here’s the skinny on a Gluten-free diet and why so many people follow it today:
  • A gluten-free diet was originally designed for people suffering from Celiac disease. This disease is also known as gluten intolerance and can have a host of symptoms that can sometimes be difficult to diagnose.
  • Gluten can cause inflammation of the small intestines in people with Celiac disease, causing them extreme discomfort and bloating to say the least.
  • A gluten-free diet restricts you from having any kind of wheat, rye, and barley.
  • Wheat relatives to be avoided include: Bulgar, Durum flour (what pasta is made of), Farina, Graham flour, Kamut, Semolina (also used for pasta making), and spelt.
  • These are some foods to avoid unless they state “Gluten-free” on the packaging: Croutons, baked goods, beer, cereal, soy sauce and salad dressings to name a few.
Who should follow a gluten-free diet?
  • People with Celiac disease
  • Try out the diet if you suspect you may have an intolerance for gluten but your tests are not testing positive for Celiac disease. If your symptoms disappear with the abstinence from gluten, then you should continue the diet.
Who should not follow a gluten-free diet?
  • People looking for a fad diet
  • People looking to lose weight
  • People looking to detox
This is Gluten in layman’s talk, so please do consult with a medical professional and research the topic further if you feel you or someone you know may have an intolerance to gluten. Some sites to check out:

2 responses to “What the Heck is Gluten-free Living?

  1. Great explanation of Gluten-Free. Clear and simple. I went wheat free a few months ago. I feel like I have a new digestive system. thanks for posting

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