First of all, let’s take a look at what gluten is and why you cannot eat it while you’re celiac or gluten-sensitive, and then I will tell you why the gluten-free diet is not as scary as it may seem at the beginning and that you have a lot of food options.
So what is gluten?
Gluten is a mixture of plant proteins, gliadin and glutenin, that exists in cereals grains, like wheat, barley and rye.
When you make the cake using the wheat flour, the gluten in it reacts with water what makes the dough elastic. Then, during the fermentation, the carbon dioxide bubbles are released and that’s the reason why it grows. If you have a nature of an experimentator, you can wash the starch out of the flour and see the grey, elastic mass of gluten.
Unfortunately for celiac and gluten-sensitive people, this mixture can be found not only in cereals and bread but also in the sausages, chocolates, beer, sweets and yoghurts as many of them contain plant (wheat) derived proteins. It’s estimated that about 1% of the population is celiac and those people can be so sensitive that even crumbles containing gluten can be dangerous for them and make them feel sick.
There’s a difference though between being celiac and gluten-sensitive. The former is an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction to gliadin that creates a problem with absorption of nutrients. The only known treatment so far is following the gluten-free diet for the entire life.
The latter causes of a variety of symptoms that are caused by consuming gluten but while it’s removed, the symptoms are fading.
While at first the thought of following the gluten-free diet for life or even a long period can seem overwhelming and impossible, in reality, it’s not that bad. And I’m telling you that on the basis of my own experience.
First of all, after you will remove the gluten from your diet, you will feel much better – the bloating, diarrhea, feeling nauseous, foggy brain, chronic fatigue or muscle aches that you might experience before will slowly start to disappear. And after you will notice the improvement, you will be able to appreciate the whole new world of food as you will be forced to discover the vegetables, groats and grains again.
I said that it’s not so difficult so now let me explain a bit about your new diet: you’ll have to give up bread, cakes and cookies as you knew it but there are many replacements: in the health shops and big supermarkets you can find gluten-free bread or sweets but unfortunately usually they are packed with additives. As I am sometimes lazy, I prefer to use some no-bake recipesinstead of experimenting with different kinds of gluten-free flour mixes. There is also a quite informative article with tips on a gluten-free diet on the BBC website.
You can use buckwheat, rice, chickpea or millet flour (and those are not the only option) for baking or use rice or corn cakes instead of bread.
If you were a fan of porridge, then there are alternatives too: millet, rice, coconut or buckwheat flakes, that you can mix together or find the kind you like the most. Other breakfast options are all kinds of eggs: scrambled, fried, boiled or you can even learn how to make scrambled tofu or chickpea omelet (and believe me, they are very, very tasty). You can also toss some vegetables, cooked meat, nuts, and avocado into the salad or you can just use leftovers from the dinner before.
What about pasta???
Now, I used to be a fan of pasta. But because of the new diet I had to follow I learnt to like groats – again buckwheat, millet and rice. There is gluten-free pasta on the market but usually made of corn and I’m not the fan of this taste. You have to remember, though, that couscous, barley or spelt are also the kinds of wheat, although spelt is sometimes well tolerated by gluten-sensitive people. Generally, you have to remember to ask about the gluten-free menu in every restaurant you will go, tell your friends who invite you to the party what you can eat and what you cannot (and be very specific about it) and learn how to have fun eating again.
I’ve done that three times already, as I was put on a gluten-free diet twice for at least half a year when I was a teenager but back then I didn’t realize that I have to follow it, so now, ten years later I’m doing this again as I found out that I’m gluten sensitive and have a terrible reaction to wheat.
But of course, it’s not always so positive – I have moments of depression, thoughts like: “why the hell is that so annoying”, “I want my bread with butter and cheese (I’m dairy-free as well)” or “I don’t care anymore, I eat what I want” but whenever that happens and I stray from the right diet, I feel the results immediately. So then I try to be strong, don’t give up, figure out the tenth different kind of breakfast and enjoy the cakes that either I make on my own or are made in places that cater for gluten-free people.
And if I can do it, then I’m sure that you can do it too, my gluten-free friend. So let’s stay with our diet and support each other.