Give us this day our daily bread…
Last month I wrote about my husband Jon’s decision to try a gluten-free diet. At the time, I wrote, “I donâ€™t personally believe that gluten is bad for everyone. Most of us can eat it without consequences.” I would have agreed with Michael Pollan’s take, published a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times Magazine. When asked what he thought of gluten-free diets, he answered, in part, “Could it really be that bread, a staple of Western civilization for 6,000 years, is suddenly making millions of us sick? I’m dubious.” It just seemed far-fetched to me that a food that so many of us consume on a daily basis was evil.
In contrast to my husband, who has always had what he calls a bad gut, I’ve always had a stomach of iron. Other than morning sickness related to pregnancy, and the occasional case of the flu, I can eat pretty much whatever I want without consequences. As Jon gave up bread, and I started preparing gluten-free food for him, I gleefully noshed on full-octane pizza dough and took my daughter out for burgers. But then I had a strange experience, pretty much from out of the blue.
After not consuming gluten for about three days because I was eating with my husband, I met a friend for coffee and ate a cookie. In fact, it was one of the homemade oreos I immortalized in my post about working from a local cafÃ©. It was good – every bit as good as I remembered. But within an hour or so of eating it I felt bad. I felt bloated and a little nauseous and just generally not good, and the next day I had a mild digestive upset. It wasn’t anything major, but it surprised me, because of me belief that I can eat anything.
Since we were already mostly gluten-free at home, I decided to try going gluten-free for a few weeks myself, and then I bought a lovely loaf of locally-made organic sourdough bread. I thought maybe the cookie reaction was a one-off, or it was caused by all that sugar and fat, so I needed another data point. I am engineer, after all. Bread in hand, I sat down to a lunch of soup and half a loaf of sourdough. And man, did that bread taste good, all covered in butter. I ate it with relish. And then, about an hour later, I felt crappy.
I honestly don’t know what I’m reacting to – whether it’s actually gluten, or wheat specifically, or white flour, or what. I’m also fairly certain that if I started eating it again that I would stop noticing that crappy feeling within a couple of days. But I’ve noticed some positive side effects since I’ve gone off gluten, which make me inclined to stay off of it. For one thing, like Jon my sinuses are clearer now than they were. For another, my skin is also noticeably clearer. I don’t have Celiac disease, and my reaction to gluten is hardly life-threatening, but I also don’t think it’s all in my head, especially because I was never expecting this.
For the time being, the kids are still eating gluten. I’ve toyed with the idea of clearing it out of their diets to see what happens, but the truth is that I’m just not ready to make this kind of decision on their behalf. They’re not displaying any obvious signs of distress on their current diet, and asking them to give up wheat would be a big deal.
For instance, Hannah went to a birthday party just this past weekend and ate vast quantities of pizza and cake. If I were clearing gluten out of her diet I would have to provide alternative food for her to eat. And sometimes she would find herself in the position of having to abstain from having a treat the rest of her class got to enjoy, if I didn’t happen to get a heads-up that a mom was bringing in birthday cupcakes. It would be inconvenient for me, yes, but more to the point it would be a big sacrifice for a six-year-old to make. If she had serious allergies we would do it in a heartbeat, but she doesn’t, so imposing dietary restrictions feels extreme.
I honestly don’t know how long I’ll remain gluten-free. Right now it’s working for me, and I’m mostly okay with it, although I do have my moments. I can bake gluten-free cookies and gluten-free cake and gluten-free banana bread and they’re all great, but gluten-free bread is never the same as actual bread. And when I bought two boxes of Girl Guide cookies out of habit and then realized I couldn’t eat them, I may have cried a little. But I’m committed, and I’m an adult, so I’m sticking with it for now, even though those Girl Guide cookies do look awfully good.
Have you ever given up gluten, dairy, sugar, meat or something similar? What was it like? And what would it take for you to try eliminating gluten from your own diet? I’d love to hear!