We Might Belong On The Gluten-Free Bandwagon

Gluten-free seems to be the new big thing in food lately. Some say that switching to a gluten-free diet will cure nearly anything bothering you. While that’s certainly not the case, there is a growing body of evidence that many people might be sensitive to gluten, even if they’re not completely unable to eat it. And for those who truly need to be on a gluten-free diet, the influx of new products in the grocery and restaurants with labeled gluten-free menu items has made it a lot easier for them to find foods that comply with their dietary needs.

I’ve wondered if my family would see any benefit from going gluten-free. I have no digestive problems, but I do have a constant battle with low energy, especially after eating. Aaron, on the other hand, has a long history of stomach aches, cramping, and other digestive problems. But I’ll admit I also feel like gluten-free is the new fad that, while necessary for a small percentage of people, is being adopted by some for no reason other than being trendy.

While at BlogHer in August, Udi’s Gluten Free Foods was there as a sponsor and suggested I try going gluten-free for 14 days to see if there was any benefit to it. I expressed interest, and they sent me a sampler of some of their products to get me started.

I’ll confess: I did the challenge more for Aaron than myself. He’s never talked with his doctor about his digestion issues, and I suspected something in his diet was probably the culprit. If he was willing to try it with me, then maybe we’d have a clue to his stomach issues, or at least be able to cross one potential cause off the list. (Note: we didn’t have the kids go gluten-free. I didn’t feel the need to stress them out with a sudden shift in their diets for such a short period of time.)

We started on October 1 and stayed gluten-free for 14 days. The Udi’s bread, cookies and muffins were great to help with our craving for baked goods, but we didn’t limit ourselves to those items. I found a gluten-free pasta at the grocery made from corn and quinoa that was just as delicious as any wheat-based spaghetti.

It was HARD to go out to eat. Everything had to be carefully scrutinized, ingredients checked, restaurants vetted over the internet before we made a choice, etc. And even then we still ran into problems. We carefully checked before going to a local pizza shop for dinner one night. They advertised their gluten-free pizza crusts – too bad they were all out of gluten-free pizza crusts at the time. I had a salad and some baked gluten-free fries for my dinner that night.

I also found that gluten is in nearly everything. Sauces were a big hidden source of gluten, especially soy sauce. Even some lunch meats have gluten.

But there were also several foods we already were eating that were still safe to eat. My ham sandwiches were fine as long as they were on gluten-free bread. Pirate’s Booty cheese puffs and hard cheeses were still OK. Our Indian dinners we make at home were also naturally gluten-free. Some McDonald’s entree salads were still fine, too. And Nutella? Still gluten free. (Yay!!)

While we did have to be more careful and switch some of our usual products to gluten-free versions of the same food, it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. I didn’t feel deprived of any food. And the gluten-free foods tasted really good, too. Udi’s whole grain bread has a lot more flavor and texture than the bread I had been using. The bagels and cookies are also delicious. They were moist and had plenty of flavor, erasing my worries of food that tasted bland or had a hard texture.

At the end of 14 days, it was time to return to gluten. To make it even more of a gamble, it was the same day I was leaving for a three-day trip to Cleveland. I hoped that nothing horrible would happen to me.

The results: I do not appear to have any gluten sensitivity. While I enjoyed the foods, and did notice that I wasn’t quite as foggy-headed after eating, I didn’t notice any significant differences overall.

Aaron, on the other hand, was a different story. Throughout the challenge, he said he didn’t feel all that different. I started to doubt that gluten was a problem for him. But then he went back to his usual diet and, well, Monday was a rough day for his insides. Not to get into too much detail, but he felt pretty lousy from the stomach cramping and intestinal upset. He’s already returned to eating gluten-free to see if it will calm his digestive system down again, and will be seeing his doctor to get more information.

(If he’s willing to call the doctor and talk about this, then I know it must be pretty severe. He hates going to the doctor and hates discussing this topic even more.)

The next step will be deciding if we’ll try going gluten-free with the kids. Mira’s pediatrician has said it would be worth a try since she had a blood test for allergies that resulted in no actual allergies but an elevated IgE level, meaning she was having an inflammatory response to something. And if one or two members of our household are gluten-free, then there’s a good chance most of the food the other members eat will be gluten-free, too, just for ease of food preparation.

I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of having family members who need to be gluten-free. It is a little more expensive – or a lot more if you buy mostly convenience items – and requires more thought and planning to eat outside of the home. But if it’s needed for the health of my husband and/or my kids, of course I’ll suck it up and do it. At least it’s easier to find products and support for it now.

Big thanks to Udi’s for giving us the push with the 14-day gluten-free challenge! It helped us think more carefully about what we eat and may have even uncovered a clue to Aaron’s health.

Full disclosure: Udi’s sent us product samples and coupons to help start the 14-day gluten-free challenge, but we still supplemented beyond that. And while most beer has gluten, I can happily report that most vodka is gluten-free.

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