While on my mission in Finland, I started getting strange, tiny blisters that would break out along my knees, elbows and bony parts of my body that itched horribly. Seven years and seven different doctors later, I finally got a correct diagnosis: dermatitis herpetiformis or Duhring's Disease.
This condition may or may not be symptomatic of Celiac Disease, but like Celiac, the only way to control it is through a gluten-free diet. I’ve been living gluten free (GF) for roughly 11 years. While my symptoms aren’t as severe as cases I’ve heard of others with Celiac, I still have to watch my intake.
I’m not even close to a medical expert on the subject nor have I done exhaustive research on it, but I often get questions from friends who’ve found out that they or a family member has some problem that may be related to gluten. For what it's worth, here's a breakdown of helpful info:
- I’ve recently read that there is a difference between gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity. Unfortunately, the latter is almost impossible to test for. The only way I’ve read of so far to test for a sensitivity is simply to try a GF diet. Wikipedia actually has some good info on gluten-free, Celiac, DH etc., so start there if you think you may have a gluten problem.
- For those of you out there who may be at wits end with what the doctors are telling you and are still experiencing strange skin conditions, unexplainable fatigue, bowel distress, weight loss/gain among other symptoms, you may want to consider trying a gluten-free diet to see if it helps.
- Gluten problems are often misdiagnosed in the States or get tagged as IBS, psoriasis, eczema or some other general diagnosis that’s basically a cop-out when the doctors don't really know what's happening. If you've been diagnosed with any of those problems and still haven't seen results, try going gluten free for a few weeks and monitor your symptoms.
- A GF diet can be difficult as you’ll have to not only avoid gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, rye), but also all their byproducts like distilled vinegar, malted barley, many flavorings and extracts, most any condiment because of the distilled vinegar, and foods you’d never suspect had gluten, such as licorice which contains wheat. Learn to read labels and to know what to look for, refer to some of the sites I list below.
- Having said that, there are plenty of people who can do the vinegars because the gluten should have been processed out, but for the few who still react, it’s good to start cold turkey and slowly add questionable items back into your diet to test for reactions. Bottom line, the info you get initially will likely be an overreaction, so don’t feel life is over yet. You’ll likely be able to eat most of the items in the hazy area. I enjoy pickles, ketchup, mayo and most any other condiment just fine.
- Oats are a gluten-free grain, however some people do react to them, perhaps because of cross-contamination in the handling or packaging process. Could be urban legend, but I’ve heard raisins are forbidden because of the possibility of flour used on the conveyor belts to minimize the sticking. I’m fine with oats and with raisins and although you can buy GF oat products, they are significantly more expensive. You don’t have to pay top dollar for GF oats if regular oats will work. You’ll just have to test it out.
- The good news is with the awareness of GF diets, especially as it relates to improving the symptoms of autism, the selection of GF foods has increased dramatically. It’s very easy now to find GF items in almost any grocery store and some stores even mark or label their items with a GF tag.
- There are lots of alternate flours that are GF. The usuals are rice and corn, but you’ll also see buckwheat, quinoa, teff and a whole host of others. I really like the bean flours as well. Fava, and Garbanzo/chickpea are some of my favorites.
- Baking with GF usually requires a thickening element like tapioca starch, potato starch, xanthan gum, agar agar, etc. You can’t just sub a GF flour for regular flour in a recipe—made that mistake—ugh.
- Making your own bread from scratch is tedious, but many mixes are available. I usually just buy mine already made from the frozen section in my local store’s specialty/organic section. I must say, the breads aren’t great. My favorite prepared bread is Food for Life’s rice-pecan or rice almond bread. GF bread is really dense so use open-faced sandwiches or the bread overwhelms every other flavor. Toasting the bread greatly enhances its edibility.
- If you don’t have nut allergies, almond flour is a fantastic substitute for dessert crusts and other breads. Some of my favorite almond flour recipes are frangipane and Swedish nut bars. Both of those desserts were originally GF and designed specifically for almond flour so they work out every time.
Some sites that will help fill in the gaping holes of my knowledge:
- www.celiac.com (This site has people piping in on forums and you can often find the latest info about living GF here. You’ll also find real answers and a less neurotic approach to finding GF foods and tons of info and links to just about everything GF.)
- www.csaceliacs.org (You’re going to get the neurotic versions here, but this is for the lowest common denominator. Some people are actually sensitive enough to gluten to warrant the neurosis of the site, so start here and slowly introduce other foods to see where you lie.)
- www.allergygrocer.com (This was a site I found while living overseas. They specialize in all forms of allergen-free products, egg, soy, casein, etc, and of course GF. I love their mixes, especially the Miss Robens mixes, and their customer service.)
- www.amazon.com (Amazon actually has some of the best prices and selection on GF food. The only problem is the free shipping items usually come in bulk. So if it’s something you need a lot of, like GF pasta, you’ll save a lot of money, and if you’re a regular Amazon user, they’ll notify you when something is on sale.)
- www.gfoverflow.com (This is a searchable database of GF items. This is cool because before you had to go to each individual manufacturer to get their GF list!)
- www.glutenfree.com (Just one of many sites that sell GF foods. I’ve not used them yet, however.)
- www.ultimateglutenfree.com (This site is a guide to GF restaurants and stores. I’ve never used it, but it looked good when I googled it.)
- www.augasonfarms.com (They are a food storage site, like Emergency Essentials, Shelf Reliance, etc., but they have items specifically labeled GF. In fact, if you are a Costco member, you can get a slightly better price on Augason’s GF bundles, but you have to order it at Costco online. The shipping is included with Costco’s price.)
- www.allrecipes.com (They have a fantastic selection of free GF recipes! One of my favorites is the flourless peanut butter cookies—they’re even better than traditional pb cookies.)
This posting will undoubtedly be a work in progress, but I welcome any comments, corrections or insights that I can add to it.