If you have just found out that gluten is now banned from your diet for one reason or another, you have my condolences. But do not fret. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It just takes a little adaptation. I’ve been through it, and I promise I lead a normal life. Sometimes, I even completely forget that I’m coeliac. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to run after the waiter at Pizza Express, having forgotten to specify that I needed the base to be GF.
The most important thing is not to let it define you. You don’t have a problem. Gluten does. Let me help you.
My Theory For The Sudden Outbreak of Gluten Intolerance
One of the reasons why no one takes gf-eaters seriously is due to the sudden outbreak of gluten-free diets. Thus making it strongly resemble a fad. Blegh.
Yes, some people who haven’t been diagnosed as intolerant, allergic or coeliac do pursue an on and off relationship with gluten and play an important role in making it faddy. However, there is a reason why all these people occasionally say no to the gluten.
Gluten is very difficult to digest, so generally you will feel rather bloated and uncomfortable after having ingested some. According to recent research conducted around the world, it has become more so these past few years due to the rise in GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).
Companies are constantly trying to find quicker and cheaper ways to produce food. In particular, bread. Gluten is what makes bread, bread. It’s the elastic that binds the dough together, that makes your tart base spring back when you’re rolling it out, that makes puff pastry rise, that helps to knead and redistribute the yeast and make your loaf nice and fluffy on the inside and beautifully crisp on the outside. A stronger gluten will make the bread-making process much easier. And a genetically modified wheat grain, unnaturally strong in gluten is what we can find in most products today. Our bodies are not used to this effect and thus have a hard time accepting it. Hence it has a tendency to deposit itself on the walls of our intestines, blocking the passage of other foods. This is why some people occasionally like to take a break from it, but will not have a problem eating breads from the local baker who mills his own, natural grains.
Of course, other theories have been formulated. As this is still an emerging subject, you will find discrepancies between your reads. Having been through them myself, I can guarantee that you take no risk following the motto: ‘Down with GMOs!’
With this in mind being coeliac could actually be a good thing! So smile 🙂
Follow these 5 steps to make your new life a whole lot easier:
1. Know What Gluten Actually Is & What It Does To You
Gluten is a group of proteins found in some cereal grains including wheat, rye, barley, etc. (link to the list below). Its two main proteins are glutenin and gliadin. I will not bore you with other specific biological details, because that’s the essence of it. And that’ll be enough to shut up your snarky friends who try to test you.
For us coeliacs, in short, here is what happens when we eat gluten: it deposits itself on our intestinal walls and destroys the little hairs that protect them , eventually burrowing holes right through and impeding the absorption of nutrients. Basically creating a big mess that can eventually, in the long term, lead to anemia, infertility (for women), and gastrointestinal cancer. This thought is what helped me get through sausage roll temptations. In the short-term – symptoms vary with people – if anything, I get a bad stomach ache – others can have way worse symptoms.
2. Know Where Gluten Hides
Click Here to access the very long gluten list I have established over the years.
3. Tell your friends
You’d be surprised at different people’s reaction to your new diet. Some of course will transform into judgmental & scornful t****, and you’ll have the impression that you have to justify yourself to them. Don’t. Bother. If they’ve decided that you’re being precious and difficult, that’s their problem, not yours. You, have other things to worry about. Like feeding yourself.
Others will surprise you in a different way. My heart has literally melted on many an occasion, when a friend would make the effort of buying me a special gluten-free substitute at a dinner – or adapting the whole dinner to fit my diet. Or attempting to make the cake gluten-free. Or actually remembering that I can’t drink beer and buying me a case of cider for their party. Or accepting to drive to the other side of town to try out the new gluten-free pizzeria. Some may even go as far as saying that that’s how they knew who their true friends were. Ahem.
Either way, spread the word. That way, they’ll think about you when someone tells them about that new place that has a very generous gluten-free menu, or that new bakery that does gluten-free pain-au-chocolat, or that there’s a new gluten-free taramasalata in the supermarket (I wish).
4. Always Be Prepared for a Gluten-Free Drought
If you live in London – you’re fine. However be prepared for any trip you take. Before going to the airport, taking a ferry, jumping on a train, anything – make yourself a sandwich or two and stock up on snacks. Although many places now offer gluten-free options, you never know when you’ll be out of luck. I do know it’s a bit of a pain to have to burden yourself with an extra bag just for food, but I can’t tell you how happy that bag will make you. Better be safe than sorry.
5. Don’t Trust Restaurants
As a chef, I can tell you that when a cheque comes through for an order of gnocchi for position 1 – who until then had asked for their amuse-bouche and starter to be gluten-free, followed by a jaded waiter claiming ‘yes, I did tell them that there’s flour in the gnocchi but they said that was fine.’ – derisive sniggers can be heard all around. And because of these situations, chefs tend to not take the demand for gluten-free food seriously. ‘Oh that’s fine, they won’t notice, it just has a tiny bit of flour’.
Do not assume that chefs know what contains gluten. Most of them Do Not. This is a relatively new disease and they haven’t been trained for it. So even if you sound like a pest, don’t hesitate to say ‘so this is definitely gluten-free – that means that your BBQ sauce doesn’t contain soy sauce? Or do you use the gluten-free Tamari soy sauce? Oh gosh, that would be so amazing thank you so so much, I can’t tell you the last time I was able to eat BBQ ribs!’ and a quick check to the kitchens might just save you from a night of intense pain. It’ll be much easier to spot the potential hidden gluten once you’ve mastered the gluten list.
Just a few examples to enforce my point:
I’ve had to send back a fish soup containing a loadful of barley (IN A TWO MICHELIN STARRED RESTAURANT), after actually having to argue with the waiter who kept coming back to tell me : ‘but the chef says there’s no gluten in barley’. Bloody google it Mr Chef!
I’ve been offered rye bread and spelt bread, again having to argue with a waiter who was convinced that these grains were gluten-free.
And don’t even get me started on staff food – that’s when I truly realised to what extent I had to inspect and control everything that was being prepared to save my ass.
Generally, a chef wouldn’t even think to look at the ingredients of a ready-prepared food to check for gluten. If there’s not ‘bread’, ‘flour’ or ‘pasta’ in the name, they will not consider the food to be hazardous.
Don’t worry though, I’m not saying that you can never eat out again, just cover your back and stay alert. And you will definitely be pleasantly surprised in some places where the whole team is very alert and efficient.
Not that hard, is it? With these 5 steps in mind, I promise you life isn’t going to be as dramatic as your doctor’s face was when announcing the supposed terrible news.
On that note, I’m off to eat a big ass (gluten-free) burger…