Sunday, April 11, 2010

Going Gluten Free

When I started working with my acupuncturist, in fall of 2008, she suggested that I try three weeks with no dairy, no wheat, and no sugar. I've always had a sensitive stomach, and I was having energy issues in the afternoons, which led me to have a sweet snack as a pick-me-up.

I knew I was lactose intolerant, but love bread, love to bake, and eat a ton of carbs. Oh, and I have a huge sweet-tooth.

And did I mention these three weeks fell between Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Nonetheless, I did it. I got to know the raw foods aisle at my local Whole Foods (which, by the way, I haven't visited since) -- specifically for 'no sugar' options that helped manage my cravings for something sweet.

I didn't notice feeling any different during the three weeks on the restrictive diet, but afterwards she suggested I add the foods back in one at a time. And what do you know, when I ate wheat, I felt crappy and my stomach acted up. (Which for me usually meant cramps and an urgent bathroom trip -- gluten intolerance manifests differently for different people.)

So I jumped into a gluten free lifestyle. At first, it was hard, because we hadn't found good substitutes for the wheat products that we knew and loved. I went through our kitchen and pantry and threw out or donated everything that I couldn't eat. Which is a lot. Most people don't realize how much food contains wheat-based or gluten-containing products. Soy sauce, and any products containing soy sauce are out. (You have to use wheat-free tamari, and just to make it more fun, not all tamari is wheat-free.) Wheat, barley, rye, all out. Oats -- questionable, because they don't contain gluten themselves, but are often cross-contaminated in processing. Now I buy certified gluten-free oats from Bob's Red Mill. Pasta, couscous, bulgar -- all creative ways of using wheat.

I started trying gluten free products at Whole Foods and doing research online to identify quality brands. I also found local gluten-free restaurants and bakeries. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I get to benefit from a pretty high density of alternative bakeries and restaurants, which helps, although I'd love to be able to eat Chinese food other than P.F. Changs. (Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that they have a gluten free menu, and it's not bad, but it's also no where near the quality of the Chinese food that I used to be able to eat.)

I also started investigating gluten-free baking, and lucked out with my first cookbook purchase: Annalise Robert's Gluten-Free Baking Classics

I ordered my special flours through Authentic Foods and noticed that they sell gluten-free pasta. And not the rice-based pasta that Whole Foods carries that is slippery and has no taste. Corn pasta that looks and tastes like regular pasta! I order it in bulk, and recommend it to everyone I find out is gluten free.

(You can also order it from Amazon in a wider selection of pasta shapes/sizes: Le Veneziane Italian Gluten Free Corn Pasta)

Also in the bread area, I have to recommend Udi's which is available in many Whole Foods and can be ordered online. Their white sandwich bread is the best facsimile of regular wheat bread that I've found, and their blueberry muffins are awesome. Very high quality products.

The Whole Foods Gluten Free Bakehouse products are pretty good. I like the hamburger buns, although they're considerably more dense than a wheat-based bun. More like a biscuit or a scone, but the flavor is good. The Prairie Bread is good toasted.

There are some fabulous gluten free bloggers out there, who post some really amazing recipes. My favorites are Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, Tartelette, and Cannelle et Vanille. Note that the last two haven't always been gluten-free, so some of their older posts may use regular flour.

I want to add a note about the difference between gluten intolerance and celiac. Celiac is an auto-immune disease where eating gluten causes the body to attack itself. People with celiac need to avoid all gluten, and frequently rely on gluten-free certification to make sure the levels are below a certain maximum. People with gluten intolerance have a wide variety of symptoms, and are always gluten intolerant to varying degrees. However, just because you don't manifest symptoms doesn't mean it makes your body happy! When I started going gluten free, I still occasionally indulged in a croissant from my favorite patisserie. But then when it became clear that my infertility was linked to an overactive immune system, I really went as completely gluten free as I could.

It helps that my husband and I mostly eat at home, because restaurant food can be challenging. That said, there are lots of options. I find Thai food is easy, because dishes tend to use fish sauce instead of soy sauce (always good to ask, tho). sushi is also easy, particularly if you bring your own wheat-free tamari -- you'll have to avoid anything fried (tempura/karaage). Pizza is getting a lot easier -- many pizza places are now offering gluten-free crusts (for a premium, naturally), and there are some good pre-made crusts for making pizza at home. The best I've found is Rustic Crust Gluten-Free Napoli Herb -- the website has a store locator and you can also order online. Mexican is easy -- just make sure to ask if the tortillas are flour or corn -- usually burritos are made with flour tortillas. In & Out is the best fast food choice: if you ask for your burger protein-style it comes wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun. And, if you're very sensitive to gluten or have celiac, their french fries are fried in oil that doesn't fry anything else (which isn't true at most other fast food places).

High end restaurants are more and more educated about gluten intolerance (again, I benefit in part from living in the Bay Area). When you make your reservation, let them know that you're gluten intolerant, and ask if they can accomodate. And at a restaurant, let your server know and ask them to confirm with the chef if there's any question as to the ingredients for a dish. (Sauces and soups are particularly challenging, as flour is often used as a thickener.)

The first 3-4 months of going gluten free are challenging, because you have to rethink all your patterns around food. But if you do in fact have an intolerance, it's so worth the effort. It turns out I don't have a sensitive stomach -- it's just sensitive to gluten! Traveling is so much easier and less stressful, and I know my body is happier.

Please leave any specific questions about gluten intolerance in the comments and I'll do my best to address them!


  1. My husband was diagnosed with Celiac Disease a few months ago. It has completely changed the way we eat, shop, cook and travel.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I'll get tested for gluten sensitivity next week and am sort of anxious about the result... but of course, if it will help my fertility, I'll cut out as much gluten/wheat as possible.

  3. Hi.. just stopped by after your comment on Maddy's blog.. I'd recommend Bob's Red Mill bread mixes - they (and my bread maker) have been my life-saver over here in China!

  4. Thank you so much!!!! So glad to read this. I have a feeling I will be emailing you questions! =)

  5. Hi! So glad I came across your blog - I was looking for others struggling with fertility and found you, then found this post! I'm still at the beginning of my infertility journey - about to start Clomid in a few weeks. I have a ton of respect for those like you, who have been through so much and can still keep their head up. As for the gluten-free, I had to post here because I just went gluten-free a few months ago. I've been questioning lately (it's the holidays..) whether or not I need to do this. I've noticed that since I went gluten-free, I have less stomach pains, and way less bloating. Now that a few months have gone by I find myself wondering if I'm fine, after all, and this whole hassle is just stupid. I suppose the best way to find out is by re-introducing gluten into my diet and seeing what happens! Either way, for now I'll stick with it. I love Udi's, and I also really love Glutino. Those pretzels cost a lot, but taste so good! I'm also in love with their bread.

    I'd love to keep up with your journey - both with IVF and going gluten-free! Check out my blog if you get the chance, I'd love some feedback! Thanks!

  6. I just found your blog and this is the first thing I've read from it, thanks for posting this. I am too cutting down gluten and dairy as well, I haven't been as strict as you but with my upcoming FET I definitely have to start NOW. Thanks for sharing all this, thanks so much.