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Gluten-free for one week

Posted Jun 19 2009 5:41pm
I don’t know about you, but the moment someone tells me I can’t have something is the moment I really start to crave it. Maybe it’s a leftover teenage rebellion thing. Or maybe it’s more like that mind game: do not think about a pink Volkswagen Beetle. (Now you’re thinking about one, right?)

Precisely because we always want what we can’t have, I’m very careful of how I present dietary suggestions to people. For example, even if I think it would be a good idea for someone to avoid greasy fast food, I wouldn’t say: “No more double cheeseburgers.” That’s like putting a cheeseburger on a silver platter, surrounding it with flashing lights, and attaching a sign: “Don’t Touch.”

Instead, I would probably say something like: “How about steering clear of double cheeseburgers for one week? When the week is over, you can always go back to eating them. But in the meantime, notice whether your symptoms improve when you don’t eat cheeseburgers.”

I’m keeping my own advice in mind, starting today, as I attempt to follow a gluten-free diet for one week. Why? 1) I’ve suggested this same experiment to clients in the past, and feel like I really ought to try it myself. And 2) I’d like to find out whether some long-standing digestive issues might be related to gluten sensitivity.

A little background about gluten: it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and to a lesser extent, oats and spelt. In some people, their immune system perceives this protein as a foreign invader. This causes inflammation and damage in the small intestines -- called celiac disease -- and interferes with the absorption of nutrients.

By some estimates, one out of every 133 of Americans has celiac disease, and millions more have some degree of gluten intolerance. But symptoms are often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, or attributed to stress.

Avoiding gluten requires a major dietary adjustment, certainly at first. Gluten is present in many of the foods we unthinkingly eat throughout the day, like bread, cereal, crackers, and pasta. Gluten-free eating means no more grabbing a sandwich or a slice of pizza or a chocolate-chip cookie. It also means reading carefully: gluten hides in many processed foods, often under other names like “modified food starch.”

On the other hand, as celiac disease becomes more widely recognized, it’s become much easier to find gluten-free products. Have I purchased any of these to replace my usual menu items? Nope -- I don't eat a lot of processed foods, and also, frankly, I didn’t plan that far ahead. I’ll hit the grocery store tomorrow, but getting through today’s meals might be a bit of a challenge.

More info on gluten-free eating tomorrow.
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