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Friday, May 20, 2011

Shilling for Bread

I suppose the title of this blog is a bit harsh but I just couldn’t resist the double entendre since I’m writing about what has been characterized as the “gluten free trend.” Most people confuse gluten with bread but it’s actually a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, bran as well as a food additive that thickens or stabilizes and is added to meats and processed foods. Bread on the other hand, also means money and there is plenty of it being made by food manufacturers jumping on the gluten free bandwagon. There is no small irony that gluten makes bread fluffy!

Part of the wide spread hoopla can be traced back to Ms. Chelsea Clinton’s nuptials and the news that the festivities included a $10,000 gluten free cake.  Snort at that if you must, but about 1% of the population suffers with celiac disease for which gluten is like eating a slow killing poison. I’m not one of them. I have gluten intolerance or sensitivity and you may too, especially if you are 50+.

To be fair, I must disclose that I subscribe to Time magazine and I usually find their reporting and coverage both responsible as well as reflective of my own sensibilities. (I also think Joel Stein is very funny.) This week’s issue, covering the dilemma that is Pakistan, was no exception but for the inclusion of a one page piece on the aforementioned gluten free trend. The focus of the article was on the recent surge in gluten free products now being offered at our local supermarkets and the misconceptions that consumers may possess about the health or weight loss benefits that might come with going gluten free. It also pointed out that gluten-free has become a major selling point and consumers are equating it with “low carb”.  It noted that some people may suffer from gluten sensitivity but there is no data on this.

Now I understand that my relationship to gluten may not be as newsworthy as Chelsea’s cake, but to all my contemporaries who suffer from arthritis (My knees are a mess. Thank you Nana Sophie), autoimmune complications (I have a wanky thyroid.), depression and/or ADD -- or have children or grandchildren that do – going gluten free may help alleviate some of the symptoms. And no, I’m not going all Jenny McCarthy on you. The connection to gluten and “curing” autism is none. Shame on her and the Doctor who claimed that inoculations caused autism.

So, here’s how I became gluten free. About a year ago my husband sent me an article (We email back and forth a lot.) about the connection between arthritis, autoimmune problems and gluten. It explained that gluten was being added to many foods that it was never in before and at higher levels. As a result, people who like breads or pasta (and who didn’t climb on the whole wheat wagon with me?) and other foods to which gluten is added; may over time develop gluten sensitivity. It went on to state that removing gluten from your diet might help alleviate some of the attendant symptoms.  Individuals reaching their 50s were most likely to be affected. Apparently we’ve been around long enough to suffer.

So, I called my friend Mary Anne, nutritionist and Celiac sufferer for her advice. My knees were a mess, painful enough to require a heating pad every night and being threatened with replacement by my specialist. Was there a test I could take to determine if I was indeed gluten intolerant? No, she replied. In fact when she had taken a test her condition didn’t even show up. The only way to determine if you are affected by gluten is to take it out of your diet for two weeks and see how you feel.

What a pain in the neck this was. I love to cook and this meant completely revamping my repertoire. All the pastas and breads disappeared. The first week was really rough. But I did it and lo and behold the pain in my knees disappeared. They still creak sometimes especially in rainy weather, but what a difference!  My son is now gluten free and finds he can concentrate on his homework more easily. He says that if he eats gluten now it makes him sleepy. Yeah us!
My household has adjusted and I find the gluten free adjustment has made me look more carefully at all of the foods we eat.  My carb intake now includes more rice and potatoes and corn – all gluten free. I love Chex cereals, gluten free and not expensive either. You can go to your local Whole Foods and ask for their gluten free product list and they’ll give you a 17-page print out. My only advice - don’t buy the gluten free English Muffins -- ever. They taste like wallpaper paste.
I didn’t take any tests but I can tell you that omitting gluten made a real difference. No one can actually diagnose your sensitivity but if you suffer from any of the ailments I’ve described, you may find relief in the gluten free aisle. 



  1. Nice blog! I like your writing way. I'm doing practice GRE here: . I hope it's useful for GRE test takers.

  2. Glad to hear that going with the trend worked for you. Since I'm married to a wheat farmer, I have to be pro-wheat, but that doesn't stop me from believing that moderation in all things is a good rule to live by. A balanced diet of lots of different things - but mainly veggies - is probably the best route for anyone.