Tag Archives: gluten-free diet

Our Ancestors Didn’t Know Better, That’s Why They’re Dead

If you spend enough time researching nutritional advice on the internet, you will learn that processed grains are bad, dairy is bad, meat is bad, cooked vegetables are bad, corn is bad, soy is bad and vegetables that are acidic are bad (although no one actually agrees specifically which vegetables are acidic when consumed).

For every ailment, there is a diet-based “solution.” You have to eliminate meat, and dairy, and fruit, and grains and fats and pretty soon you are eating cabbage soup, wondering why you are doing this.

Then there are the counter-indications. Eat meat, but only grass-fed, free-range, hormone and anti-biotic free. Eat organic fruits and vegetables. Eat whole grains. Essentially: Eat this diet that I am telling you about and oh, also buy my book.

These diet advisors tend to make the same argument – we used to only eat X, so if you eat X now, you will be healthy and skinny like our ancestors were. We never ate grains 10,000 years ago, so you shouldn’t eat grains now, and you will be healthy and skinny. We almost never ate meat, and now we eat too much, so to be healthy and skinny, you must not eat meat.

I’m here to tell you that all of this is bull honkey. 10,000 years? That’s a long time to be eating something for it to be terrible for us. And if we’re going to measure the nutritional value of our food by how long we have been eating it, then we should immediately stop eating tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and peppers, among many others, because we have only been eating those for *gasp* 500 years! Well, by “we” I mean everyone who is not descendent from native American cultures, particularly those of South America. They ate that stuff for way longer.

I know, I know, tomatoes did not originate in Italy, it’s horrific, but we can move past it.

Basically, before 1492, the majority of the world was eating a pretty localized diet, and starving as a result. Grains, like rice and wheat, were staples, but they were not ideal in feeding large amounts of people. Then, thanks to our buddy Chris Columbus, the world started to share crops, and now no one really remembers what came from where. Clearly our bodies adapted pretty well to eating potatoes and tomatoes and peppers. Let’s not get me started on corn. Let’s just say, it’s easy to plant, easy to grow, and will feed lots of people, which is probably the only reason it’s around today. It’s not even remotely as nutritious as the potato, but I digress.

Furthermore, the other argument about ancestral eating really irritates me. “Our ancestors were thin, muscular, self-sustaining folks, which must mean their diet is superior to ours.” Of course our ancestors were thin, they were starving half the time. They also had to farm all of their own food, or scavenge for it. Poverty and thinness used to go hand in hand, now it is poverty and obesity.  Why? Because we have plenty of cheap food with almost no nutritional value that is readily available to anyone. These processed foods are also stuffed with corn by-products. Yes, corn is nutritionally worthless, but it’s been filling the bellies of the poor for hundreds of years. Moving on.

But what about all of the terrible diseases – diabetes, heart disease, cancer – that are killing hundreds of thousdands of people each year, and are “clearly” related to processed grains and sugar and meat? Think about it this way – we used to die really young. If you were 50, you were ancient. Some people made it longer than that, but for a very long time, no one lived long enough to have to worry about some of those diseases. Also, it’s not that they didn’t exist, it’s mostly that no one knew what they were. It wasn’t clear why dad had died suddenly. Or why mom fell asleep and never woke up. We weren’t healthier – we were just more ignorant and died more immediately of diseases we can now cure altogether or manage for decades.

As for cancer, it has always been around. Before meat became the enemy. Before cars. Before processed grains and low-fat food and anti-oxidants become everyday words in our vernacular. Cancer is us, mutated, evil, and bent on destruction. It can happen to someone who eats only vegetables, or someone who eats only sugar and fat. There are a few guarantees – like smoking- that cause cancer for sure. But the majority of causes are a result of living.

It’s true, living leads to death. Will being a vegan or gluten-free make us live longer? Will it make our quality of life better? My guess is no, unless you are allergic to gluten or animal products.

People love to write into the nutritionist who “changed their life.” One man lost 30 pounds in a few months, and is now full of life and vigor after cutting out grains. Well, if you read carefully, his new diet also reduced his calorie count (grains pack a pretty big calorie punch). If you were 30 pounds over weight, and lost it, you would feel great. That would be 30 pounds you were no longer carrying around. Plus, these diets almost always include exercise, which increases energy, helps sleep, and improves mood.

I assure you, I am ranting with a purpose.

Everyone is different. We all process food differently, and different foods make us feel different ways. I know that sugar is not my friend. Dairy and I have a strained relationship. Fat, veggies, meat and I are super duper best friends. I know this because I pay attention to how I feel after I eat. I have kept a food journal. I have taken the time to see what my body needs. And now my food decisions are easy. But that doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally eat the things that may make me feel crappy or are not nutritionally ideal. I mean, corn is a useless grain, but I love me some chips and salsa now and again.

The point is that no one has the answer for everyone. We are such a mix of cultures and food histories that saying in general, eat this, not that, is useless. The Irish once survived on potatoes and milk – a surprisingly nutritious combination. More nutritious than a fast-food hamburger. They did it because humans are resilitent, and they will eat almost anything in the face of starvation, and our bodies will figure it out. Our bodies are figuring it out, in fact, no matter what you eat. They will figure out it even if you don’t eat anything at all.

So all I get from the books on diets claiming to have the answer to preventing cancer or solving whatever ails you is that they’re just taking what works for them, and describing it in unnecessary detail. No one will sell a book by telling you, well, you’re just going to have to take the time and energy to figure out what foods make you feel good, and even then, there isn’t any guarantee it will do any good.

Because in essence, everyone is a little bit right – all food causes some type of issue – tomatoes cause inflammation, grains are hard to digest, alcohol is a neurotoxin. So what’s an omnivore to do? My initial response was, well, they’re asking us not to eat. Which sounds ridiculous, until you read the research on fasting. Not eating, something humans have had to do for thousands of years, can actually be good for you.

I’m out of time here, but next week (on Wednesday this time, I promise), I will go into the arguments for not eating and it’s health benefits. You read that correctly. Till next time.

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Looking for a Mandate

I would like to announce with certainty that the man friend and I are very clearly not affected by gluten. Or that we are. But the fact is, after two weeks of carefully planning meals, annoying/annoyed waiters, and research, we have no certain answer.

Let me take you back two weeks. We started with risotto and macadamia encrusted sole, and moved our way through one carefully prepared meal to the next. There wasn’t necessarily a jump in energy, in fact, sometimes we felt pretty terrible, which I’ll just go ahead and blame on the elevated amounts of corn we were eating. It’s delicious and terrible. The second week, the momentum of intense cooking slowed down. Making elaborate meals from scratch is exhausting, as is cleaning up after them. So we forayed into the outside world, where I quickly found that people either get the GF thing, or they look at you like you’re an idiot or a jerk. “You want no tortilla on your burrito? Really?” Yes, really.

To cap it off, we traveled to Phoenix to visit friends and see some spring training goodness. It was an incredibly short trip, but what I learned was, Mexican food is your friend. Yes, corn is the enemy, but when your choice is nothing vs enchiladas, well, enchiladas it is. Also, when making changes to an order, be very very clear. Otherwise, the breakfast burrito sans tortilla, and steak instead of sausage, no potatoes, will end up as steak and potatoes. Perhaps the waiter in that instance thought, “Why does she even bother eating out?” Or maybe he was hung over. I have no idea. Either way, that’s what we were doing that morning, and I can’t tell everyone else that we can’t go out to eat because I need to monitor every ingredient that goes into my meal.

Back home, we feted our reintroduction to gluten with a wine and food pairing dinner that a friend of ours put on. The food was amazing. The wine was amazing. The gluten was minimal, but present. And so the next morning, hung over from the 5 or so glasses of wine we had happily drank, we both had oatmeal. The man friend described the way he felt after that as “all holy hell” while I had a few cramp-style pangs in the abdomen. But oatmeal doesn’t have that much gluten at all, it’s simply cross contaminated. Then, of course, I waited much too long to have lunch, and felt more than a little run down walking back from Trader Joe’s with my half loaf of a whole wheat miche. I made myself two open-faced sandwiches, chowed down, and then pretty much conked out for a nap. Dinner was gluten-free.

Both of us were tired, and although there was a bit more random stomach pain on my side, it wasn’t anything that I wouldn’t normally assume was indigestion. Or intestinal elves. Yesterday, more bread, and no pain, less sleepiness, and generally, not feeling too shabby. And today, besides the unnecessary glass of beer I had with lunch, I feel just dandy.

Basically, this leaves us nowhere. It’s not like our bodies hate gluten. Or want to let us know that they love it. Perhaps our experiment should have run longer, a solid month instead of 2 weeks. Either way, when you work so hard to curtail one aspect of your diet, it almost makes you feel proud. Like you accomplished a great feat. Not that it’s really a great feat, it’s mostly just annoying, but after being on the diet, if the only people I really anger are waiters, I’m not terribly worried about it. I’m almost inclined to not eat gluten, partially because we still have GF products in our pantry (fyi GF rice pasta is yummy), and partially because I trained myself to care.

So what’s the next step? I think there’s a good chance we might get blood work done. It might be more expensive, but it will certainly be more conclusive. Because in all honesty, if you don’t have to be gluten-free, why would you be? Sure, it got easier as we went along, but I’d rather have one less item on the bad list and not scour each label for malt syrup or hassle the wait staff. Also, upon reading up on different experiences, it turns out that it takes up to a year for some people to feel completely well and for symptoms to disappear on their GF diet. A year seems, well, superfluous without actual medical proof.

So, the experiment was eliminate gluten, see how we felt, reintroduce it, and observe our reactions. Conclusion? We’re probably not gluten intolerant, but pending blood work, that is uncertain. Yay, I guess. Off to make a pie. Or a tart. Or something delicious filled with dense flour that doesn’t fly everywhere and stick to everything. Yay to that, for sure.

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Grain Drain

This will be a short one. Just a week into this gluten-less existence and I’m over it.

I went to a movie premiere last night (City Island, if you must know, and what a funny, charming film!) and then the after party. Waiters traveled the bar with appetizers, all of which looked delightful. But they were all on some sort of bread. So I stood there, hungry, hoping my glass of white wine would provide enough stamina, dreaming of pizza, when a waiter asked me why I wasn’t eating the delicious offerings. When I mentioned being gluten free, he rushed off and brought me back a bowl of tomato soup. I was seriously grateful and very impressed. The gluten issue isn’t on everyone’s radar. In fact, when I ask if there’s wheat in something, I’ve had waitresses reply, “Oh no, there’s no meat in it.” Hmmm. It’s starting to dawn on me on how inconvenient it is to severely limit any type of popular food from your diet.

Plus, both of us felt roundly unwell yesterday after the enchilada fest on Sunday night. I guess I should start following my own rules and cut out the corn. So here’s to planning this weeks menu (which I have yet to do) and quinoa, brown rice, and GF baguettes.

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Gluten Freedom

It’s day 5 of our intentional abstinence from gluten. It should be day 6, but it turns out my boyfriend didn’t realize Tamari sauce and Worcestershire also have the stuff, and he marinated our skirt steak in it on Sunday, which we both had again on Monday for lunch. But since that snafu we’ve been doing well in avoiding all gluten-laden products, whether overt or hidden.

Besides that, I have been hitting on all cylinders in the kitchen. Most of what we eat I make from scratch, and we’ve been enjoying the spoils of my labor. I’ve even managed to make a rhubarb apple pie. Which leads me to the conclusion that eating GF doesn’t necessarily mean suffering. You just have to be willing to cook. And research. And spend too much on a really small bag of almond meal. Luckily the interwebs are filled with people much more experienced than I in using alternative flours. They shield me from wasting those expensive little bags of grain.

As for how we feel, well, there hasn’t been any difference. Granted it’s only been a few days, but one would assume that if a gluten issue existed, that going off the stuff would make some sort of dent. Of course, there’s always the possibility that going back to gluten in a week or so will be painful. Which will be the answer we need. We’re hoping that the return to gluten is delicious and uneventful.

Mostly, I miss making actual bread. The kind that takes 5 hours to make. But I’m sure our respective gluten sensitive relatives will appreciate the experiences we are gaining. Right now, the boyfriend is making corn tortillas on his new press. I have a GF parmesan crust waiting to go from the fridge to the oven for the lasagna tart. Last night we used a mix to make pizza dough, and were thrilled to eat our black olive and mushroom pizza while drinking St. Peter’s Sorghum Beer (it’s a Pilsner style lager and gives no indication of its GF status flavor-wise, something the man friend appreciated). Tomorrow night it’s shredded chicken enchiladas. I’m starting to wonder if all this deliciousness will affect our waistlines in the negative sense.

I’d like to think not, since each dish requires planning and some sort of effort. Perhaps having to spend more time in the kitchen preparing the food instead of simply running out to grab something, coupled with the fact that we can’t eat more than we planned – since next day’s lunch depends on it – keeps our activity high and our portions in proportion. It sort of makes me wish that I’d weighed myself at the beginning of all this. Except, of course, that I don’t own a scale. And that I think weighing yourself daily is the surest way to be unhappy with your weight. (read: my Wii Fit, for that exact reason, is tucked snugly underneath my TV console. I don’t care how much heavier I am since yesterday. Or two weeks ago. I really, really, just don’t care. But thanks for telling me, Mii, and ruining my day.)

Now that I’m done with the snark, it’s back to the kitchen.

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Experimentation

The words “gluten-free” seem to have permeated my world in the past few years. First, it was from my family, as I have two members who suffer either from Celiac’s or gluten sensitivity and were diagnosed years before it was mainstream. Then Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods started carrying products for those afflicted with the auto-immune disorder. Now it seems that it’s all the rage with all sorts of people, from helping autistic spectrum kids, to dieting, to healthy eating aficionados.

I have mentioned in a previous post that discusses the dangers of any type of sensitivity to gluten, particularly because it prevents the absorption of nutrients. It’s a strange concept that you can eat a diet of whole grains and still be malnourished, but there it is. After reading an article about these dangers, my boyfriend and I – he also has a family member with diagnosed gluten issues – decided to go Gluten Free, or GF, for two weeks to ascertain our reaction to not only the lack of gluten in our lives, but also what happens when we return to it. I have a nagging feeling we might have to extend it to three weeks, but time will tell.

I already have experience working with GF flours, spotting hidden gluten in products under the guise of malt syrup or hydrolyzed proteins, so it seemed that living GF would be not much different than not, just slightly more vigilant and full of planning.

My boyfriend, who I can only call a full-blown beer snob and not terribly happy about giving up his suds, agreed gamely to “my idea” as long as he didn’t have to worry about where to eat lunch everyday – ie packed lunches. We’ve been making the slow descent since last week, and today is our first official day. I’d like to report that I feel fantastic, but in fact, I feel terrible. Mind you, this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with my GF diet. I  had soft-boiled eggs this morning, and there’s a good chance that they were on the undercooked side. Lunch, which was essentially a repeat of last night’s meat and potatoes, didn’t go over well either. The reason I say that there’s probably no correlation to the GF diet is that I’ve abstained from gluten for this exact amount of time before, quite on accident, with no adverse effects.

Here’s hoping it’s not Salmonella. Ew.

Anyway, I’ll be posting updates to our progress and how it all turns out. Also, I made a week-long menu, carefully planned out as to make sure that not only were we well fed, but also that the man friend had his lunch pack for work. I thought I’d share it with you all here, since the boyfriend remarked that he could certainly stay GF is we ate like this every week.  I’m making this all from scratch to ensure it’s all GF. Oh, and breakfast is either gluten-free granola/cereal with fruit and Hazelnut milk, or some combination of the GF baguette/english muffins and eggs/cream cheese or almond butter. Lunch is just left overs from the night before. Salads are also included with each dinner.

Monday: Slow cooked Sole filets encrusted with macadamia nuts, Cheddar and pea risotto.

Tuesday: No-lard refried black beans with creamy polenta.

Wednesday: Slow cooked Pork Adobo with fried rice cakes and salsa verde.

Thursday: Pork Adobo remix – TBD

Friday: GF pizza, toppings TBD. (Any suggestions? I’m making my own sauce, and going to stick cheese on it, but besides that, I haven’t decided)

Saturday: Shredded chicken enchiladas in an Ancho chile red sauce, tortillas will hopefully be made at home.

Sunday: Lasagna tart with GF Parmesan crust, zucchini, shredded chicken, spicy jalapeno tomato sauce, more parm, and either Ricotta or cottage cheese.

Then next week, the dinner planning begins again!

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