Sunday, March 9, 2014

Goodbye Gluten

The Luckiest {Household} has recently joined the ranks of many around the country/interwebz who have gone gluten-free. Being gluten-free has become so popular that it seems like, and is often referred to as, a bandwagon or fad diet. For many it may be, but even a little bit of research on the effects of gluten on your body is enough to make just about anyone question if they should be eating it.

For us, it started with my thyroid. Just before I got pregnant with Reagan I had some blood work that showed a very slightly low thyroid function, known as hypothyroidism. Since we were trying to get pregnant at the time, my doctor recommended that I see an endocrinologist, who prescribed a thyroid hormone supplement. When you're pregnant, hypothyroid is associated with lower IQ in babies, so even though I wasn't experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism, it was best to go on meds for the health of the baby. I was totally fine with that.

Fast forward to after Reagan was born. I was given the option to stop taking the meds if I wanted since my numbers were so very slightly low. I am personally someone who hates taking medication unless I absolutely can't do without it, so given the choice, I decided to try to improve my hypothyroidism with dietary changes instead. When I started my research, I quickly learned that the thyroid is very similar to gluten on the molecular level, so if your body is sensitive to gluten and producing antibodies against it, they may also be attacking your thyroid {autoimmune hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's thyroiditis}. That, in addition to reading just-plain-scary stuff about gluten in your system, led me to the decision to go gluten-free at least for a while to see if it made a difference.

When you read about the process of going gluten free it can be a little overwhelming. Advice included throwing food away, cleaning your pantry top to bottom, and throwing away your toaster. Cross-contamination is a big deal for people with severe celiac, but since none of us had any digestive trouble I decided to just phase it out instead doing a cold-turkey clean sweep of the kitchen. We ate what we had and only bought gluten-free foods going forward.

The first thing we ran out of was bread since Carsen ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every single day for lunch. When the bread was gone I started giving her peanut butter and apples instead. At first I was worried that she'd be begging for her PBJs, but she never said a word. One week after the bread was gone, I also noticed that Carsen's eczema was completely cleared. We had been battling it for months, had switched to all-natural soaps and were applying Babyganics eczema cream to it 2-3 times a day to keep it under control. I realized I hadn't put the cream on her in days and yet it was clear. I immediately thought of the gluten - it was the only thing we had changed. About 2 weeks after that we had a crazy evening and decided it needed to be a pizza night {again, since none of us was suffering severe effects, this was kind of an "oh well" circumstance}. In a few days Carsen's hands were bright red and bubbled up with eczema again. That was enough confirmation for me that her eczema was a result of {or at the very least made worse by} gluten, and we needed to be strictly gluten-free.

Another thing I found when reading about going gluten-free was that most of the recommendations are to seek out certified gluten-free foods and avoid anything that could possibly be cross-contaminated. Again, I totally get that for people with severe reactions. For us so far, we're staying away from any foods that have wheat or wheat gluten, barley, or rye listed as an ingredient. For example, Cheerios are an oat-based cereal. Wheat is not an ingredient, but they are not certified or even labeled gluten-free because they may contain traces of wheat. So far those foods don't seem to be a problem for us, and I see no need to go extreme if it's not necessary.

In all honesty, the transition has not been difficult. We didn't eat a whole lot of wheat in the first place except for sandwiches and occasionally pasta or pizza for dinner. You do have to be careful with some pre-made foods like condiments, sauces, and soups since flour is sometimes used as a thickener, but for the most part I make those types of things myself. I also haven't purchased any GF specialty foods like GF bread or pasta. We're just finding alternatives, like apples and peanut butter instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The reality is that most of the alternatives are much healthier choices anyway {apples vs. bread is a shining example}. Pinterest is, as always, an amazing resource for finding recipes. For breakfast we do mostly smoothies or eggs. If we're in a hurry and need cereal, Chex and most granolas are GF. I eat salad a lot for lunch and the girls love peanut butter and fruit or peanut butter on a rice cake. Dinners have been the easiest since we normally just have meat and vegetables, occasionally rice. Snacks are a little tougher, but nuts, fruit, cheese, and raisins have all been our go-to options over the past few weeks. I have made several new specifically GF recipes that were really good like peanut butter cookies and brownies. I'll share a list of some of our favorite GF recipes in another post ;)

Have you ever considered going gluten-free? Did you worry it would be too hard? Feel free to ask away if you have questions about our GF transition. And if you're looking for information about gluten or reasons for going gluten-free, here are some links I came across/found helpful while doing my research:

How Gluten Wreaks Havoc on Your Gut - article by Dr. Amy Myers
Gluten and the Thyroid - an article by Dr. Mark Hyman
The Gluten-Thyroid Connection - an article by Chris Kresser. Noteworthy: while I don't discredit him and actually found the info in this article to be especially helpful, I feel it is always worth noting when the author of an article is also selling a book/program/seminar or otherwise making their living on that information.
How to Go Gluten Free - a really great blog post that advises the RIGHT way to go gluten-free: skip the fake packaged products and just eat real, naturally gluten-free foods!

I personally like to think about going gluten-free not in terms of what I can't have, but what I should have instead. After all, it's a choice to be healthier. I'm simply leaving out unhealthy foods and eating something healthier in their place :)

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