Gluten Freedom

About 10 years ago, my naturopath suggested that I have an intolerance to wheat. She prescribed a wheat-free diet for 30 days and told me to carefully track any physical and/or emotional changes that I experienced during that period of time. I don’t remember many of the minor changes, but I do remember that for the first time in my conscious memory I wasn’t continuously exhausted. And this felt like nothing short of a miracle!

After years of being tested for iron deficiency and for viruses like mononucleosis, years during which I would regularly sleep for 12-hours a night only to need at least one 2-hour nap during the day, I was no longer losing my life to sleep. And it seemed as though wheat had been the guilty party.

But what happens when you’re in your early 20s, you’ve recently moved out on your own for the first time, and you’ve been given a diagnosis that restricts your ability to eat all those quick and oh-so-convenient meals that are readily available via every food court, fast food restaurant, frozen meal, and take-out menu? If you’re like me, you say: “Quality of life, be damned – I’m going to eat wheat, feel bloated, exhausted, and achy.”

Well, maybe you don’t quite verbalize those thoughts, but you do think to yourself: “I’m going to eat wheat because it’s so much easier than not eating wheat.”

Not only does wheat constitute the basis of many typical (North) American meals – think burgers, pizza, sandwiches/wraps – but also, and not everyone knows this: wheat is in EVERYTHING. (Yes, capital letters ‘everything’!)

Why just the other evening, I was out with friends taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Ottawa Ribfest and I pointed out that I needed to find a vendor who was specifically gluten-free. Confused by this statement, one of my friends asked, “Where is the gluten in ribs? It’s just meat.” Technically, he was correct. The meat itself contains no wheat or gluten. However, many of the vendors were using sauces that contain wheat (nature’s favorite thickening agent).

And this is the challenge to living a wheat- or gluten-free lifestyle: sneaky wheat appears in the most unlikely places. Some of the sneakiest examples that I’ve found are: salad dressing, soya sauce, licorice, and some brands of potato chips. But if you are committed to enjoying a life of gluten freedom (a term which I’ve ruthlessly appropriated from my sister), then you need to be aware of your gluten-free (GF) options.

I have to admit that in the last 3 years since I’ve taken my wheat intolerance more seriously and begun to live a life that is almost entirely gluten-free (if I had to give it a number, I’d say it’s 98% GF – but that’s really just an arbitrary figure), I have been pleased to discover many more delicious, affordable, and accessible gluten-free options than there were 10 years ago. I remember wandering down the organic aisle of the grocery store (yep, there was only one aisle back then) staring at an unappealing 500 gram bag of rice pasta and being disheartened with its $7 price tag. There was no way that I could afford to buy something like that regularly – and to be honest, I was in no rush after having tried it once and being utterly displeased with its mushy texture and bland taste. But now, not only are GF products more affordable, but they are also more widely available (especially here in Ottawa, which appears to also be the GF capital of Canada!!).

This doesn’t mean that I can or do always reach for the prepackaged gluten-free food. In addition to being committed to gluten freedom, I am also a fan of eating local, fresh, and as unprocessed as possible. This is why I continue to develop a repertoire of creative alternatives when I can’t locate healthy, affordable, and accessible GF products. For example, last year for my birthday party, I made these fun eggplant pizzas, which were totally customizable for each party guest. I also frequently turn to spaghetti squash, which many of you are probably familiar with as a delicious, affordable, and healthy alternative to wheat-based spaghetti. Recently, I found this recipe for spaghetti squash lasagna, but I haven’t tried yet… If you get a chance to make it before I do, please leave a comment below and let me know how it turns out!

Stay tuned here for more posts about my GF lifestyle, including recipes, favorite products, and perceived health benefits. Also, if you’ve interested in trying out a cleaner and less gluten-filled diet but aren’t sure where to start, I can help you out – simply send me a request for services.

Until next time,