I usually write about my whacky life and this is probably a detour from that, but not completely. Although I have lived the life unusual, it has not been without come-uppance karma. In my childhood I lived off of the five food groups—sugary, salty, crunchy, greasy, and gooey, plus my early adult life of partying, drinking, smoking, and, well other stuff, left its toll. One of them was something that seems to be catching up to a lot of us—Gluten allergy and intolerance.
According to people who track this sort of thin, Gluten intolerance is rampant. Just take a look at Amazon’s offering for cookbooks and you’ll see a lot of gluten free titles. Search “Gluten free” on Amazon and you come up with thousands of titles.
I’ve read that many people don’t even know what’s wrong with them, they just feel awful, have rashes, migraines, digestive problems, joint pain, weakness, depression, and a host of other symptoms. The lucky ones figure out that they have a problem with gluten or wheat—no drugs or surgery required.
WHAT IS GLUTEN?
Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, and oats that makes our bread rise to a light, elastic loaf instead of a brick. It holds pasta together. If you’ve ever eaten rice pasta, you know how mushy it can get, and fast. Overcook it by 30 seconds and it can turn to slush. Rice has no gluten. Gluten is the stretchy stuff that helps traps yeast bubbles in rising bread dough. Without it, bread is dense, heavy, and crumbly.
I spent years not being able to eat anything with wheat. At first, I thought it was gluten intolerance, but it turned out to be an actual wheat intolerance instead. I discovered this when I started eating Spelt and Kamut breads and had no bad reactions. AHA! It’s the wheat. Spelt and Kamut have gluten.
GLUTENS ARE NOT ALL ALIKE?
Kamut is a version or our common wheat, “triticum” but is not hybridized. It is an organically grown ancient grain that yields a low harvest. Kamut is mainly grown in Montana and Egypt. Kamut is an ancient relative of durum wheat (the best pasta is made from durum). It is high in nutritents and low in gluten.
Spelt is from the Bronze age about 3,000 years ago. It is now grown mainly in Central Europe. It was hybridized only once from emmer wheat and wild goat grass.
Wheat pervades nearly every kind of food in the Western diet, it’s hard to avoid. It is in anything that requires flour such as gravy, sauce, soup, bread, cookies, any baked goods, anything battered, like fried fish, corn dogs, fried shrimp, and more. Even Asian foods, traditionally hooked on rice flour, make much of their foods with wheat flour now. Hell, there’s even wheat in some lipsticks, vitamin supplements, and lunch meats!
So, people have been eating wheat for thousands of years with no problem. What’s the deal? Why now are we getting sick from it? The wheat we use today is not the wheat our great grandmothers ate. Today’s wheat is so hybridized that some people think it is no longer compatible with our digestive systems. And, since we eat so very, very, very much of it, our bodies are rebelling.
Researchers at the International Food Allergy Association (IFAA) seem to agree. In an article published by Purdue University, the IFAA said, “For most wheat sensitive people, Kamut grain can be an excellent substitute for common wheat.” Their research was done on people who have an immediate immune response (allergy) and those with a delayed immune response (intolerance).
In the intolerance group, 70% showed more sensitivity to common wheat than Kamut. In the allergy group—the severely allergic—70% had little or no reaction to Kamut.
Although some people with gluten intolerance can tolerate Spelt and Kamut, not everyone can. I was fortunate. Kamut and Spelt were just fine for me.
They contain gluten, but apparently it is more tolerated than the highly hybridized regular wheat.
Going gluten free is difficult, considering how much flour is in foods. Going wheat free is a little less of a problem, but is still a challenge. It is especially a challenge for people who don’t cook or bake.
I’m lucky to know how to bake. When I had my wheat intolerance, I learned to bake with Spelt and Kamut in a way that made the bread nearly identical to regular wheat bread. It isn’t easy and it took months of trial and error to discover the secrets. I had to add natural protein strengtheners to help the gluten in Spelt hold its integrity. The gluten in Spelt and Kamut is delicate and collapses easily. The dough has to be soft and not kneaded too much.
Spelt and Kamut work great as is in baked goods that are not kneaded (like bread). Cookies, cupcakes, muffins, breading for frying, and so forth can be made with Spelt and Kamut with no problems at all. In fact Spelt makes the greatest pie crusts because its gluten doesn’t form strong bonds to make the crust tough. Biscuits came out light and fluffy with a nice crust. Brownies were chewy and delicious.
But, all that is NOT going gluten free. Spelt and Kamut have gluten. So if you want to try the Kamut and Spelt route, test it carefully or consult your doctor.
Going gluten free is easier today than it was ten years ago because of increased awareness of the growing number of people sensitive to it. Sprout’s (a chain of natural food stores) carries very good gluten free products including frozen mac and cheese, cookies, and pastas. I’m sure any good natural food store has tons of gluten free products. Some of them taste like they came from the table of the creature from the black lagoon, but some are really good. I was thrilled when major chain restaurant BJ’s started offering a gluten free, thin crust pizza that is fabulous. I still order it. So, with more awareness there will be more choices.
If you eat in restaurants, you have to be extra careful. I once ordered tacos from a restaurant. The corn tortillas had a strange texture. When I asked about it, they told me that their tortillas were a combination of wheat and corn.
When eating out, ask about the ingredients in the dishes if there is any doubt about what’s in your food. Remember that gravy and sauces are usually thickened with flour. Salads usually come with croutons—dried, fried bread. Thank Zeus that butter is still gluten free. If there was a way to extend it with flour, I’m sure they would.
MAKING YOUR OWN
Since I cook and am a pretty good baker, I have lots of choices. If you are interested in baking from scratch, I’d be happy to share some recipes. Most are not gluten free, but are Triticum aestivum L. (common wheat) free. I do have some good recipes that use rice flour, which is gluten free. Just send me an email request or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to share tips and recipes or recommendations if I can.
CURING GLUTEN INTOLERANCE
I’m sure you noticed that I talk about my wheat intolerance in the past tense. Yes, I am no longer sensitive to it. How did that happen? I read once (sorry, I don’t remember where) that if you stay away from the food that you are sensitive to long enough your body will reset and the intolerance will go away. I’m not sure this works for allergies though.
I stayed off of wheat for more than six years. I also used supplements to help rebuild my intestinal wall, lots of probiotics (I like Udo’s 8), Five-Lac (a probiotic from Japan), L-Glutamine powder, digestive enzymes, and eating a lot of fermented, probiotic foods like KimChi, yogurt, kefir, lassi, raw sauerkraut (I make my own), Kombucha (a soft drink. We make ours), and such. I also used a lot of Re Hu Tek, an energy system from Egypt, sort of like Reiki, but more direct. I don’t know if the Re Hu Tek had anything to do with my recovery or not, but I’d like to think so.
One day, I just had a feeling that I was okay now. I ate a piece of bread. Voila, no problem. I started slowly and now I eat wheat just fine. I can’t tell you how good it is to go into a restaurant and not have to order my sandwiches minus the bread, or to have to inspect every order of rice to make sure it didn’t have Orzo in it. Orzo is tiny pasta that looks like rice. I had to ask for ingredients lists for soups to make sure they weren’t thickened with flour. AARGH! Happy those days are behind me.
So, again, if you want tips, recipes, or recommendations, please let me know. I’ll help if I can. Leave a comment. I will get it in my email box. Or, email me directly
Here are some web sites that I thought had good information.