Three Great Gluten Free Resources

By: Rachel Sircy

In this post, I thought I would take a break from documenting my own personal gluten free and high cholesterol woes to share with those of you out there with gluten free needs some resources that have helped me through the years.

One of the first blogs that I came across when I was first diagnosed was The Gluten Free Girl blog. This blog helped me understand what it meant to be gluten free in a way that all the medical pamphlets and jargon couldn’t. It really encouraged me to read something written by someone who was a celiac and who wasn’t depressed about it. Shauna James Ahern enjoys life and her blog helped me to realize that my life wasn’t over just because I had celiac disease and could no longer eat fried chicken and doughnuts. I would particularly recommend starting out with her post entitled, “Yes.” It’s about her engagement, but it’s also about saying yes to all aspects of life no matter if they’re good or bad.

You can find her blog at: https://glutenfreegirl.com.

While I enjoy reading The Gluten Free Girl for inspiration and some tips, the truth is, a lot of her recipes have been too expensive and too complicated for me to really want to try. The first cookbook that I received after being diagnosed that had recipes that I wanted to return to again and again was Simply…Gluten Free Quick Meals, by Carol Kicinski. Her meals were, as stated, quick to prepare and pretty easy. They were also fairly easy on the budget, and the ones that were a bit too expensive could easily be prepared with cheaper substitutes and ingredients could also be left out without affecting the overall flavor too much. I love her falafel burgers, but I have never made the tahini sauce that she makes to go with them because I would never use the tahini for anything other than these burgers. The burgers still taste great!

Also, Kicinski’s cookbook had one of the first “stocking your gluten free pantry” sections I had ever seen. This was a huge help to me, and it might be to you, too. I would visit her website first to make sure that you like her cooking and her advice before you go out and buy her book. Her website is chock full of recipes and advice.

You can find her website at: https://simplygluten-free.com.

Last but not least, for those of us who suffer from the expense of a gluten free diet, there is Nicole Hunn’s blog: Gluten Free on a Shoestring. Hunn makes simple gluten free meals that are also affordable. Her recipes have been collected in at least one cookbook and they’ve also been featured in Delight gluten free magazine. She has a section on her website that deals with stocking a gluten free pantry as well. Because going gluten free can mean learning to cook all over again, I highly recommend looking at these resources to help you know what you need (and what you DON’T need) in your gluten free kitchen.

Nicole’s blog is located at: https://glutenfreeonashoestring.com.

Good luck and great reading!

Hit and Miss

By: Rachel Sircy

Well, it is the Lenten season – a time for all Christians to reflect on our own frailty and to understand how much we need the Lord. My church doesn’t follow the liturgical calendar, but I’m starting to reflect on my own frailties this season. Especially because since my last post about sticking to a strict diet and loving plain, toasted walnuts – blah, blah, blah – I’ve fallen off the wagon. It all started with an innocent trip to Aldi. I was picking up some food to take to a party when a box of dark chocolate sea salt caramels caught my eye. I thought that I would just take them to the party – but I didn’t. Once I brought them home, they never made it back out of my front door. And it only got worse from there. I’ve had more bacon, sausage, cheese, chocolate, and cake in the past couple of weeks than I have in the past couple of months. It just proved a point that my pastor often makes – if you preach about something, you should prepare for a test on it the next day. Well, I failed my test, of course. But the wonderful thing is that if at first you don’t succeed, there will always be another test.

Gluten free muffin_Every Woman Blog

This is a picture of a cinnamon streusel muffin. My mother-in-law made it, and it’s gluten free. AND it’s delicious. I know that she meant well when she dropped these off yesterday, but it’s calling to me. The voice of a cinnamon streusel muffin sounds a lot like those friends you have in college that come to you right before a huge test and ask, Do you have to study? Well, ok then…we’ll think of you while we’re out having fun…

I mean, which would you rather have for breakfast – a delicious, cake-like muffin, or this:

Kate_Every Woman Blog

If you said you’d rather have the kale and flax seed, you’re lying. Come on, you know you’re lying. But I didn’t totally fail the test this time. I compromised and had a bit of both.

Breakfast_Every Woman Blog

I think that means that I got a straight C on this test. I’m okay with that for right now. When I first started to go gluten free, I had a whole lot of stops and starts. Once, shortly after I was diagnosed as a celiac, I broke down and ate almost an entire package of Chips Ahoy cookies. The next day the pain in my stomach was so bad that I could barely move off of the couch. It was a lesson learned. I didn’t ever do that again. And so, even though my breakfast wasn’t the healthiest in the world, it was sort of healthy. And that’s a start toward something better.

A NOTE ABOUT GLUTEN FREE STUFF:

Occasionally on here I rant about how the food industry is riding out the wave of enthusiasm over the gluten free diet fad. I don’t mean to try to tell anyone how they should eat or how they should live, it’s just that I think that there is a lot of information out there that is really misleading about this diet. And, as a celiac, I firmly believe that anyone who thinks they may have a gluten allergy/intolerance or celiac disease should seek a medical professional’s opinion. Well, I’m getting preachy again. I don’t mean to, I just hate to see people being purposefully mislead about their health. If you don’t have your health, not much else matters. Your health is important to me, so I’m going to share something that has recently come to my attention.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a container of disinfectant wipes that are supposed to be 99% natural (or something like that). I prefer to use natural cleaners around my house and often times I make my own cleaning solutions. I’ll have to write a post about that sometime. Making your own solutions, though, can be time consuming and a bit of a pain, so I wanted something that would help me when I just needed to do a quick cleanup. About a week after I got the wipes home, I noticed this on the back of the container:

gluten free wipes-Every Woman Blog

That’s right. Apparently, my disinfectant wipes are gluten free. Do you know what this means? It means that this company is shameless. I guess because most people don’t know much about gluten, manufacturers of all kinds of products are using the gluten free label to sell their stuff. Now, I don’t mind buying a cleaner that happens to not have gluten in it, but I would never purchase a cleaner because it didn’t have gluten in it. The thing is, gluten only affects you if you eat it. No one, not even celiacs, need gluten free cleaners, shampoos or soaps. I mean, if you really think that your disinfectant wipes or your shampoo looks tasty then you have a problem, but that problem isn’t your gluten intolerance. According to Mayo Clinic’s website (the Mayo Clinic is where I get a lot of my information, I trust them as a reliable source), true celiacs only need to make sure that their toothpastes, mouthwashes and lip balms, etc. are gluten free. The reason for that is pretty obvious. You’re probably going to ingest some of your toothpaste and mouthwash and lip balm even though you don’t mean to. According to Dr. Picco of the Mayo Clinic, if you develop a skin rash from touching a product that contains gluten or wheat, you should see your doctor. It could be a wheat allergy (which is not the same as celiac disease) causing an allergic reaction. Also, there is a skin condition that sometimes accompanies celiac disease called dermatitis herpetiformis, but this is not caused by skin contact with gluten, it is only caused by eating something contaminated with gluten.

Well, that was a long rant. I hope it was helpful!!

New Year, Old(er) Me

By: Rachel Sircy

Being born in December is weird. You don’t start the New Year looking forward to a birthday. Instead, you start the new year having recently survived a birthday and all of the complicated tangle of emotions that go along with that. At least the emotions that follow me after my birthdays always seem complicated and tangled.

But, every January I – along with countless others – put the cherry on top of our emotional confusion sundae by making New Year’s resolutions. I have so many this year that if I achieve them all I will be a completely different person by my next birthday. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers different. That will really complicate my emotions. But what’s life without a little melodrama, right?

Anyway, personal goofiness aside, I have made some New Year’s Resolutions that I intend to keep, especially those relating to health. I have retained all the baby weight since my gluten free weight lossdaughter was born. She was also a December baby and just turned two. I am ready to lose some weight and get healthier. And so, for those of you out there who, like me, are attempting to get into shape this year and have to also remain gluten free, I wanted to write some words of advice and encouragement.

Firstly, for those who are unaware, a gluten free diet is NOT a low calorie or low fat diet. Gluten free convenience products (such as breads, cookies, pasta, frozen entrees, etc) are usually higher in fat, salt and sugar and have far less fiber than conventional products. I have been approached by a number of people who have told me that they are “going gluten free” in an effort to lose weight. Unfortunately, switching to gluten free convenience products will only help to keep you from losing weight and they may cause you to gain weight. In the case of anyone who is not a celiac, it may be better and healthier for you to eat whole wheat products than to turn to gluten free options.

For those of us who are celiacs and can only eat gluten free products, we all know that cookies and waffles are never the key to losing weight anyway. Unfortunately, the best way for celiacs to lose weight (and to make sure that we stay safe from contamination) is to cook for ourselves. Of course, that is probably true for everyone. If celiacs want cookies or pasta, it’s better to make our own and control the amount of fat, salt, sugar and fiber that we put into these foods. (Fiber can be added to foods in the form of ground flax and by making sure that we try to use whole grain pasta like brown rice or quinoa.) And there are cookbooks available that have recipes that are both sugar and gluten free. For Christmas I received a cookbook by Kelly E. Keough titled Sugar-Free Gluten Free Baking and Desserts, which offers healthier recipes for things such as pizza crusts, cookies, and cakes by using alternative sweeteners such as fruit juice and stevia.

Secondly, better and healthier products are available to celiacs (and gluten free enthusiasts) for less money. I used to pay approximately $12-13 per week for two loaves (small loaves!) of a high fiber gluten free bread. Who can afford that? But if you have no other choice, then you have no other choice. Here is where I am going to shamelessly shill for Aldi BECAUSE now we do have another choice. Aldi sells really good bread, both white and whole grain, for half of what I used to pay for my high fiber bread. Now, that is still not dirt cheap since they also sell regular bread for less than a dollar sometimes. However, 3.99 for a loaf that is big enough to last me an entire week is the best deal I’ve found since I was diagnosed. Also, most Aldi stores sell ground flax seed and good quality organic brown rice and quinoa pasta. Healthy gluten free eating is becoming easier and more affordable.

So, go out and conquer your healthy New Year’s resolutions! You can do it!

Bread and Life

By: Rachel Sircy

bread

I have posted two entries on this blog so far, and both of them have mentioned my celiac disease. My first post, the introductory one, also mentioned my Christian faith. This post is about how those two things came to be very deeply connected for me.

First, let me give a brief explanation to those out there who may not know exactly how celiac disease works. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder and it is believed to be genetic. It is not a disease that a person can catch, only inherit. It is a genetic disorder in which my white blood cells are hardwired to fight off a particular substance in wheat, rye, barley, and all grains derived from or related to those grains. This substance is actually a string of a few different proteins which have been lumped together and labeled “gluten.” From what I understand, everyone’s body is hardwired to protect itself from too much gluten. But for some reason, my white blood cells freak out at even microscopic traces of gluten. When any trace of gluten enters my digestive system, white blood cells flood my small intestine and begin to cut it to pieces. They cut off small finger-like structures – known as villi – which line the small intestine, because the villi are how nutrients from food are absorbed into the blood stream. If there are no villi, then no gluten can be absorbed into the blood stream. But then, if there are no villi, then no nutrients from any food that a celiac consumes can be absorbed into the blood stream.

The funny thing about celiac disease is that its symptoms are really all over the place and a person can have all, some or none of them. Historically, it has been one of the most misdiagnosed diseases in America. The reason that the symptoms seem random and unrelated to each other is because what celiacs actually suffer from is not the disease itself, but the chief problem that the disease causes, which is malnutrition.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten free diet seemed impossible and insane. I thought that people couldn’t possibly live like this. It was made more difficult because I had never heard of anyone who did lead such a lifestyle. My husband and I were newlyweds with hardly any money when I was told that from now on I would have to start buying special bread that cost $6.00 a loaf if you bought the good stuff, and $3.00 a loaf if you bought the cheap stuff. The cheap stuff was nearly inedible. And though I was not a very experienced cook when I got married, I had a little repertoire of dishes that my husband and my guests seemed to like. The only thing was that every single one of them contained gluten in some form or other. Worse still, I liked to bake more than I liked to cook. Now, instead of buying one 5lb bag of flour that worked for any baking, dredging, battering, etc., I found that I was going to have to purchase at least five 1lb bags of different kinds of flours.

 

Everything I knew about how to cook and how to stay on a grocery budget was obliterated by a simple trip to the gastroenterologist.

 

I suddenly found that I needed flours I’d never heard of – white rice flour, amaranth flour, potato starch, soy flour, tapioca starch and almond flour to name a few. Each little 1lb bag of flour cost two to three times what one 5lb bag of regular flour cost. And, I found that I would need to become a chemist on top of everything else. I couldn’t just open a bag of flour and use it anymore. Flours had to be mixed together in precise ratios and those mixtures were good for one thing and one thing only. Potato starch, white rice flour and tapioca starch could be mixed together to make a flour suitable for dredging meat. But I used that same combination as the flour to make a beef gravy and ended up with a substance that was not gravy, but was grayish and was the consistency of wet sand. I was told that I would ALWAYS need a substance called Xanthan gum, that I would need it for every baking recipe. So, I spent about $12 for 8oz of the stuff. I just threw the remaining 4oz or so of it away last year. I figured that after nearly 8 years, it probably wasn’t good anymore.

In short, everything I knew about how to cook and how to stay on a grocery budget was obliterated by a simple trip to the gastroenterologist.

I wasn’t sorry, exactly, that I had gone to the doctor. I had been sick for quite some time – years, actually – but the symptoms were so random and varied that no one had ever thought to attribute all these nagging little complaints to one illness. In childhood, I had a few gastric problems – gas pains, occasional constipation – but nothing that wouldn’t seem normal for any child. The first signs of celiac for me were random little things that were often attributed to a lack of sleep and possible anemia (I wasn’t anemic as a child, but was borderline and always had the outward symptoms). I developed allergies and frequent bronchial infections which were often accompanied by acute asthma. These allergies were not always with me. They began to develop when I was in the fourth grade, and year after year the number of things I was allergic to increased and the intensity of the allergies increased as well. I was constantly fatigued. I have memories of telling my mother as she woke me up for school, that I felt just as tired on waking as I did when I went to bed. That feeling would sometimes persist throughout the day and there eventually came to be week-long stretches at a time when I would go through the motions of daily life in a complete haze. I would get on the school bus and by the time I reached school, I had no memory of getting dressed, no memory of what I had eaten for breakfast, no idea what homework I should be turning in. Until I was 22 years old, I had this vague sense that something was not right with me. But I didn’t know how sick I was because I didn’t know, or couldn’t really remember, what it felt like to be well.

After my diagnosis, being a Christian person who believes in miracles and divine healing, I began to pray to be healed from celiac disease. I didn’t want to suffer with the symptoms anymore, but neither did I want to have to up-end my whole life to get well. I just wanted to be made whole and be able to eat whatever I wanted. I prayed for months on end but I never felt any better and I never felt any hope of getting better. I decided to quit the gluten free diet and just go on blind faith that I was healed. I decided that I was fine. I should have listened to my father when he told me that faith can be many things, but it should never be blind. The more I ate what I wanted, the sicker I became until one day at work, I broke down crying silently at my desk. My stomach hurt, my body ached all over, and I couldn’t think. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. God was a miracle worker, so I had been told. Why wasn’t this miracle coming?

I decided to go back on the diet, but I was angry at God. I wanted to just be well and normal at the same time. I didn’t want to have to watch everyone else eat my mother’s homemade chicken and noodles while I sat with a sad little bowl of gluten free spaghetti that was melting into the chicken broth my mother poured over it. I bought food that tasted worse than the boxes it came in and I prayed. And slowly the answer came to me. There never would be a healing. I wasn’t meant to get over this. One evening, after attending a women’s church conference, I fell to my knees on my bedroom floor and asked God to explain Himself. If I wasn’t going to be healed, fine, but I demanded to know why. And there was no thunder, no lightning, just a thought that occurred to me at that moment. There was a lesson in this disease that I was supposed to carry with me for the rest of my life. My body was the physical mirror of my ethereal, eternal soul. I couldn’t consume any food that I wanted and expect that food to fuel my body. Certain things would cause me to suffer from malnourishment. Not all food is food for me. Some of it, some very innocent and delicious-looking food, is actually the opposite of food for me. A simple, seemingly wholesome piece of whole wheat bread can take away my ability to be nourished by anything.

And this paradox was also true for my spirit. I have known the longing as a Christian to just be like everybody else. It isn’t convenient to make time to feed my soul with the things that really nourish it, like prayer and Bible study. It cramps my entire lifestyle to make room for God. But if I try to nourish myself with anything other than God, I will quickly find that I am too sick to be nourished by anything.

As C. S. Lewis put it: And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

I will be the first one to tell you that while changing everything I ate and the way that I cooked – and tripling my grocery bill to boot – seemed impossible to me at first, it has been worth every moment of deprivation, every annoyance, every pan of gritty gravy. I have been sick and now I am well. Six dollars a loaf is a small price to pay for bread that can alter your quality of life.

Suggested Reading: “Mere Christianity,” by C. S. Lewis

It is essential that you seek professional advice for all issues concerning your health. Do not take any of the information in this blog as professional advice or official communication from Lexington Medical Center. Posts and comments on this blog are not intended to be professional advice, unless implicitly indicated in the blog post, and do not necessarily reflect Lexington Medical Center policy or corporate opinion.