Last week, one of my favourite websites, Refinery29, published an article featuring the perspectives of some young women who went gluten-free. I thought I’d share my take on g-free living by filling out their survey and why I chose this lifestyle.
Are you completely gluten-free?
Yes. I am very strict since I was diagnosed as a celiac. If I slip up, I notice it right away… and in the end, it’s never worth it!
What made you decide to go gluten-free?
Last summer, I was really pale and lethargic. Throughout my teen years, I suffered from cramps and indegestion. I cut out all fatty and greasy foods, dairy and sugars from my diet but I was still hunched over all the time after eating and always looking for the nearest restroom. For years, my doctor would blame nerves or anxiety, but I was a happy, carefree teenager! I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease (a hyperthyroidism disorder, another auto-immune disease like celiac disease) two years prior, and even though I was on my way to remission, I was still feeling sick and losing weight. My doctor decided to do a celiac blood test and lo and behold! The gluten sensitivity test turned out to be positive. I immediately and drastically changed my diet, cutting out all wheat products. Within a couple days, I immediately noticed a difference and have been 100% gluten-free ever since.
Take us through a typical day of meals for you on a gluten-free diet.
For breakfast, I usually eat Rice Chex cereal with 2% milk (I love dairy…) and some fresh berries or bananas mixed in. In colder months, I usually make a loaded omelette filled with gouda, ham, tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms, since I love savoury breakfasts.
For lunch, I eat either a green salad with chicken and/or chickpeas or I make gluten free sandwhich wraps using Food For Life tortilla wraps. Gluten-free deli meats like May Family Farms (in Canada) are readily available. In general, they are more expensive because they don’t have cheap fillers like flour!
For dinner, I eat with my family and it usually consists of a typical Eastern-European meal like schnitzels fried in Kelloggs Corn Flake Crumbs, roasted chicken, steaks, sausages or grilled chicken. My sides are usually rice, but we are a big potato family. If I eat out, I try to go to Korean, Japanese or Thai restaurants that cater to my diet without changing the whole meal.
What’s the hardest thing about being gluten-free?
Eating out. Many times I get frustrated by not being able to eat at the newest restaurant or the Italian fare in Toronto. I’ve learned that I usually end up ordering the most expensive thing on the menu (hello steak or whole fish of the day), but in the end, I’m happy to be able to enjoy dining in one the most culinary-inclined cities in North America. I even managed to travel through Italy for three weeks, eating my weight in gluten-free pizza by researching and planning ahead. And never hesitate to ask! Your server is there to help you.
What do you like about being gluten-free?
I like that I eat healthier now. My old metabolism couldn’t keep up with my old diet of eating a dense white bagel for breakfast. My diet used to be entirely bread-based, and now it’s the opposite of that. I’ve learned to adapt, and learned to cook gluten-free for myself in a strange foreign country. I have learned so much about food, nutrition and labels, that I even know how to read food labels and ingredients in Dutch, German, French, Italian and Hungarian. Ahh the joys of travelling gluten-free. It’s opened my eyes to a supportive community and set me up to be healthy for life. My grandma suffers from osteoporosis, and I’m so grateful I might be able to dodge that same fate.
Have you noticed a difference in your health or the way you feel since going gluten-free?
Immediately. My life literally changed after only a week of living gluten-free. My symptoms were nearly gone and only come back if I eat something dubious. After doing some further research, I learned that celiac disease often brings out other thyroid-related auto-immune diseases. I read the list and my jaw-dropped when I saw Grave’s disease listed. Since then, I’m more confident I can keep my health in check with my new diet and way of life.
Do you ever cheat?
Only by accident. In Europe, flour has a different composition than in North America, and I was able to eat spelt and kamut pasta (in low doses). Since returning to Canada, I can’t stomach spelt bread, and it’s probably for the best. This might not be considered cheating, but I recently found out I can handle drinking Bud Light and Corono, that boast less than 20ppm (parts per million) gluten in one bottle of beer. Celiacs can supposedly handle that much in one day, but keep in mind that 20ppm is less than one breadcrumb! That’s why it’s crucial to never cheat and be aware of what goes into your mouth.
What gluten food do you miss the most?
French baguettes and almond croissants. Paris was a hard trip for me, Parisians really do walk around town holding breadsticks under their arms. If it weren’t for Laduree, I might have given in!
What kind of advice would you offer to anyone who is considering gluten-free?
If you think you have it, do a blood test before cutting it out of your diet. There’s no sense in depriving your body of fibre and grains just to lose weight or make things easier. The blood test usually reveals the intolerance and it’s well worth the money for the special test. If you or anyone in your family suffers from osteoporosis, thyroid disease, crohn’s and colitis, take a blood test! You might be surprised, or you might be relieved, either way, it’s good to know for sure.
What are some of your favorite gluten-free brands/foods?
In Europe, I fell in love with Schar products. My favourite were their Spekulaas (gingerbread cookies shaped like windmills) and they are coming to US stores like Wegman’s in time for Christmas. (Cue cross-border shopping trip!) I also loved Schar’s flour mixes that are unfortunately a European exclusive. In North America, Bob’s Red Mill Pancake Mix is so delicious and easy to make. Udi’s makes amazing cinnamon raisin bread, bagels and hot dog buns! For little treats, you can’t beat Glutino’s version of the classic Oreo.
But above all, I enjoy eating richer, more authentic foods and exploring Asian cuisine!
Where are some of your favorite places to eat gluten-free?
I could write a book about my gluten-free adventures in Europe (coming to a newsstand near you…) but in Toronto specifically, I love Hero Certified Burgers. They make amazing hamburgers, and I love that they only charge 79 cents extra for the gluten-free bun. For mainstream pizza, Pizza Pizza revamped their gluten-free crust and it’s now delicious and only $10. As for restaurants, I love Riz, a pan-asian restaurant that even serves gluten-free spring rolls! Off the Hook is a cute little fish and chips joint on the edge of Greektown that serve gluten-free battered fish, and have a selection of g-free beers to compliment. Toronto is full of Indian, Thai and Japanese restaurants, so I’m always experimenting too.
Can you offer some advice about eating out at restaurants when you are gluten-free?
1. Call/email ahead. If you’re going to a venue that might not be the most gluten-free friendly (French, Italian, generic), call ahead and notify them of their allergies and what options they have for you.
2. Ask your server right away for a gluten-free menu. If they can’t offer you one, ask them to check with the chef which items can be modified or are g-free already. It’s easier making a choice from an already narrowed-down list than taking a shot in the dark and frustrating your server (or date).
3. Steer towards foods that are more naturally prepared like steak, fish, salads and rice dishes. It’s way more likely these items are gluten-free.
4. You don’t even have to skip dessert. Ice-cream or creme brulee are usually gluten-free, and are always my favourites.
5. Don’t feel like you’re high-maintenance. No one would scoff at dietary needs of a diabetic, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed of (politely) asking for food that can accomodate your dietary needs.
What are some of your tried-and-true gluten-free recipes?
My favourite recipes used Schar flour, and if you can get your hands on some, here is my formula for yummy french crepes!
– 110g of Schar Flour Mix B or C
– 250 mL of milk
– 1tbs of butter or vegetable oil (I prefer butter or margarine)
– 1 large egg
1. Melt the butter in a microwave
2. Mix all the ingredients together, slowly adding the flour in.
3. Set your stove to a medium heat, and In a buttered crepe pan, spread a thin layer of the batter.
4. Cook for a few minutes and flip it to the other side until both are golden brown.
5. Taste the “first pancake” and adjust batter by adding more milk or flour mix.
6. Enjoy with some maple syrup, fresh berries or nutella!
There’s a lot of controversy around the idea that gluten-free is not a healthy lifestyle. What do you have to say about that?
I can’t imagine stuffing our faces with genetically modified white wheat at every meal is a healthy lifestyle either.
I will be sharing more recipes, gluten-free restaurants and tips on a new section on my blog, Off the Grain.