Top Ten Myths About a Gluten-Free Diet

Lately I’ve been bombarded by people telling me I just have to read some new blog post or online article that I look up only to discover that it’s perpetuating one of these top ten myths about a gluten-free diet! Not only are such posts less than accurate, they often take on a tone of hostility and condescension.

I’ve also run across a few people of late who claim to have begun to eat gluten-free because the food is healthier, but in the midst of the conversation inadvertently reveal that they do not understand what gluten-free means. Perhaps similar conversations are the reason for the tone of hostility I’ve noticed in the other articles.

With all of the finger pointing and misinformation flying around, it seems like a good time to address the top gluten-free myths inundating the internet.

Myth #1
You are not sensitive to gluten unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease.
According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, based on a prevalence study published in 2014, 83% of the 3,000,000 people with celiac disease in the US remain undiagnosed. That means there are about 2,490,000 gluten sensitive people in the US who are not identified as celiac that will, without question, benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Under current medical protocol, celiac disease is only diagnosable as end stage disease. In other words, a person with celiac disease has an autoimmune response to gluten that over time damages the villi in the small intestine to the degree that the damage can be detected by a biopsy and a blood test that shows positive celiac disease serology. Without both of these, a patient will not meet the gold standard for diagnosis of celiac disease in the US.

Because the damage happens over time, or may manifest in the skin as dermatitis herpetiformis with or without the characteristic intestinal damage, gluten may be causing symptoms and damage in a patient prior to the patient meeting the criteria for celiac diagnosis. Beginning a gluten-free diet can reverse the process and prevent the development of diagnosable celiac disease.

Beginning the diet sooner also removes the added risk of the gluten sensitive patient developing celiac related cancer, malignant lymphomas, small-bowel neoplasia, oropharyngeal tumors, renal disease, neuropathy, osteoporosis, and unexplained infertility.

Myth #2
A gluten-free diet is difficult to follow.
This myth is often perpetuated within the medical community. Doctors, nurses, and nutritionists frequently state this as fact in research articles. If a medical professional tells you it will be difficult to follow this eating regimen, why would you think it would be easy?

While it is true that eating lots of prepackaged, processed, and restaurant food will require additional effort to research, read labels, communicate with chefs, and find acceptable choices, the process is not difficult or overly cumbersome once you get the hang of it. It just sounds that way on the surface.

Cooking gluten-free food is no more difficult than cooking regular food. Gluten-free baking presents more challenges. With the right ingredients and a great recipe, these are surmountable. If you love baking, you’ll find the learning process fun. If you hate baking, the choices of available gluten-free baked goods for purchase grows larger all the time and many options are available on the internet.

Myth #3
No gluten-free food tastes as good as gluten-containing food.
If you love homemade ice cream, potato salad, coleslaw, barbecue ribs, grilled steak, baked pork tenderloin, chicken & rice, fried catfish, chili, baked potatoes, sautéd zucchini and summer squash, french fries, baked sweet potatoes, fresh green beans with new potatoes, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, corn-on-the-cob, pickles, carrot & raisin salad, cornbread, and fudge you already love a bunch of foods that are typically gluten-free. In fact, you can make any of these items just like my grandmother made them and they are automatically gluten-free.*

Perhaps this myth is usually stated with substitute foods in mind like gluten-free vs not gluten-free cake, pie, pancakes, bread, pizza, pasta, etc. This is understandable if you are in the habit of buying packaged food. There are many terrible packaged products on the market. It is extremely frustrating to pay a premium for something that tastes so bad you end up throwing it away. Of course, like anything, there are also good products available.

If you cook the food yourself using recipes that are not only created gluten-free, but rigorously tested for both taste and texture, you’ll be amazed at the quality of the “substitute” foods. At Cooking2Thrive, our standard is that the recipes we create will be tested at least 3 times and result in a product that is approved by tasters with a discerning palate who are NOT gluten-free.

Myth #4
Only foods labeled gluten-free are allowed on a gluten-free diet.
Fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, meat, seafood, poultry, milk, honey, sugar, corn, rice, buckwheat, tapioca, quinoa and distilled alcohol are all naturally gluten-free and remain so unless something containing gluten is added to them.

In addition, many packaged, processed foods that include no ingredients containing gluten are acceptable for gluten sensitive people. If those products are made on equipment that also processes wheat, rye, or barley, they should probably be avoided. If they are made in a facility that processes wheat, rye, or barley (but not on the same equipment), they come with some risk, but may be well tolerated on a gluten-free diet.

Myth #5
You can’t be gluten-free and eat out in restaurants.
While eating food prepared in a kitchen other than your own inherently brings some risk, most people with celiac disease have good success finding gluten-free options in locally owned restaurants where they can easily communicate with the chef and the staff.

Depending on your level of sensitivity, you may also be fine eating at a fast food or chain restaurant. Many offer a gluten-free menu upon request, identify gluten-free choices on the regular menu, or list nutritional information on their website. If you use lemon slices rather than salad dressing and make sure to order without croutons, restaurant salads are often gluten-free even in the most remote, rural locations.

I hate feeling bad and never want to unintentionally eat gluten. I also hate feeling isolated and I love an adventure. I’ll go to any restaurant at least once. If I feel really uncomfortable with every single choice once I get there, I will drink something, enjoy the conversation, and eat later. If I know the restaurant choice in advance, I’ll see if there’s a menu posted online. If I don’t feel comfortable with the menu, I can eat a snack before we go so I won’t get too hungry if the options listed prove to be the only ones offered.

Even traveling from one end of I-40 to the other this year, I can’t think of a single time I had difficulty finding an acceptable choice in a restaurant.

Myth #6
A gluten-free diet is inherently healthy.
I really don’t know where this idea comes from. If the idea is that a gluten-free diet means you don’t eat any bread, cake, pasta, cookies, muffins, and pie, then I guess it could be considered healthier than the average diet. If you choose to bake your own cake, pie, muffins, and cookies and thereby eliminate some chemicals and gums from your diet, I suppose that’s healthier. If you choose to get in the kitchen and cook more fresh food, it definitely can be healthy, but I don’t think that’s the usual reference.

In fact, this misconception sometimes amuses me. I took some cookies to a party a few months ago. I listed all the ingredients on a card and identified them as gluten-free. Lots of people ate them. As they stuck their hand in the bucket to grab a cookie, I kept hearing people say they were choosing them because they were healthy. These delicious cookies are full of butter and sugar and while they may be healthier than a prepackaged cookie, they are by no means healthy. They are a dessert designed to be consumed rarely and in small quantities.

While the specifics vary, most gluten-free flours are more dense than wheat flour so when you eat the typical gluten-free bagel, brownie, muffin, or slice of bread, you ingest more calories and carbs per serving than in the equivalent sized wheat flour version. It is not uncommon for packaged foods to rely on additional sugar to enhance the flavor and counteract the bitterness of some GF flours. Of course, this sugar adds even more carbs.

The bottom line is that, like any diet, a gluten-free regimen will be as healthy as the choices you make. It is not inherently anything other than gluten-free which is healthier for some people.

Myth #7
You will lose weight on a gluten-free diet.
While some people may lose weight initially because they eliminate junk or fast food from their diet, often the opposite is true.

Once a person with celiac disease becomes too sick to absorb nutrition, they can begin to lose weight and waste away. Adherence to a gluten-free diet will reverse this process and weight gain often occurs. For a person who is unaffected by gluten, substituting the higher calorie counts of gluten-free breads, crackers, muffins, pancakes, cakes, and crusts can contribute to weight gain rather than weight loss.

Myth #8
Eliminating gluten from your diet will deprive you of essential nutrients and fiber.
Most people think of eliminating bread when they think of eliminating gluten and most of us were taught by the old food pyramid that carbohydrates like bread are the basis for a healthy diet. That representation grossly overrepresented the importance of grain based carbohydrates to a healthy diet and left many people with the idea that giving up bread is tantamount to starving yourself of nutrition.

On its own the processed wheat flour used for commercially produced bread does not contain many nutrients, but in the US, by law, wheat flour must be enriched with folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, and iron. You can also get these nutrients from other foods. Folate is found in many foods including: spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits, beans, peas, and lentils. Riboflavin is available from foods including: mushrooms, spinach, and pork. Sources of niacin include: tuna, salmon, halibut, chicken, turkey, pork, and peanuts. Thiamine is available from: tuna, trout, salmon, walleye, mussels, pork loin, beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, eggs, sunflower seeds, and wild rice. Iron can be found in: spinach, Swiss chard, cumin, parsley, turmeric, greens, asparagus, romaine lettuce, soybeans, lentils, seeds, beans, peas, brussels sprouts, beets, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and liver.

Whole grain bread is not the only, or even the best, source of fiber. Two slices of whole wheat bread contain 3.8 grams of fiber. In comparison, black beans contain 15 grams of fiber per cup, lentils have 15.6 grams per cup, an avocado has about 10 grams, edamame has about 9 grams per half cup, frozen peas have 8.8 grams per cup, a pear has about 5.5 grams, and brown rice has 3.5 grams per cup.

Myth #9
If you don’t immediately feel better after beginning a gluten-free diet, you should go back to a regular diet.
While some people may see a reduction in symptoms immediately, it can take weeks, months, or years in the case of dermatitis herpetiformis for a gluten sensitive person’s body to fully heal from the autoimmune attack unleashed by exposure to gluten. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, in the US in 2014 the average length of diagnosis for a symptomatic patient was 4 years. That’s 4 years from the time the patient seeks help. The disease process may have started years before that.

It is unrealistic to believe that the damage accumulated across 4 years or more would dissipate in a matter of days. If you’ve ever broken anything, sprained anything, or had surgery, you know that the healing process takes time. It often is a series of forward progress followed by a return of symptoms followed by more forward progress. Many experts estimate that it takes about a year to heal the damage done by a single ingestion of gluten.

While your doctor may not suggest it, a full year of strict adherence to a gluten-free regimen will give you a more realistic idea whether the diet will be beneficial. There’s nothing inherently dangerous in eating gluten-free, so you can eat healthily on the regimen as long as you make balanced choices.

Myth #10
What we know about gluten’s effects right now is absolutely all there is to know and therefore irrefutable truth.
As with all scientific exploration, what we know about gluten’s effects on humans right now is the knowledge that we’ve gathered up to this moment. It is not the be all end all of knowledge in this area.

In fact, we’re early in this area of study. As new scientific studies are conducted and new facts emerge, some of the information may appear to conflict with what we already know. Gradually, the overall picture will become more clear. Eventually, this can lead to a change in medical protocol. This is how the process normally works.

Hopefully, recognizing that none of us currently have the facts that we will have ten years from now can serve to soften the rhetoric of condemnation generated from both sides of the gluten sensitivity issue.

There is no reason to condemn someone who has not been diagnosed celiac for following a gluten-free diet if it makes them feel better because there is a chance that they fall into the 83% of undiagnosed celiacs who will benefit from the diet.

Those who adopt the diet just because they believe it’s inherently healthier will benefit from being more mindful of their food choices and learning about nutrition. This is a step in the right direction, even if it’s sometimes misguided, that can afford the knowledgable friend an opportunity to share additional facts and resources.

However you view a gluten-free diet, it is my wish that we all dial down the finger pointing and condescension and focus on being respectful, kind, well informed, open to new ideas, and interested in new facts as they are revealed through scientific research. That sounds like a great learning environment to me and I love to learn!

*In this GF list, the cornmeal breading for the catfish does not have added flour nor does the cornbread. The potato salad was made using Miracle Whip, and the coleslaw is vinegar based.


Removing Our Performance From the Context

Achieving our goals may be as simple as putting removing our performance from the context. Did you watch the World Cup wondering how the players were able to focus in spite of the incredible pressure of competing against the best of the best with the eyes of the entire world on them?
One of the secrets to success on this level is a training technique used by top athletes. That technique is to remove the task from the context. For instance, the basketball player shooting a free throw in a pressure situation has repeatedly practiced standing at a free throw line which is always the same distance from a goal that is always consistent in height and circumference, shutting his eyes, and making the shot. When he’s at the line in the last seconds of a game with his team two points behind, the player has been coached to remove the context from the task and shoot exactly like he does in practice. Use of this technique minimizes the psychological pressure of the specific situation and allows the player to perform consistently. Players who visualize and best master this concept are those who become dependable winners.

When we watch these winning athletes play, we often describe them as poised, composed, and cool under pressure. We recognize that they possess an air of confidence and we see that this gives them an advantage over their opponent. We also often believe that they are different from us. Not only are they physically superior, they must have mental superpowers or exceptional toughness. Some of us compare ourselves to these winners and determine that we can never compete at their level.

Because we know we are not professional or top tier athletes, we may fail to realize the impact on our psyche of having just compared ourselves to winners and determined we cannot measure up. Those of us who fall into the comparison trap (and to compare ourselves is always a trap) carry this judgement into our own fields of endeavor. We feel inadequate, inferior, shamed, and limited. Without even knowing it, we direct ourselves to feel afraid to step into the fullness of our own power and potential. Even so, we desire to be winners, so we try hard. Then we try harder. We work longer hours. We meet our goals, but we feel no joy. We feel no sense of accomplishment because we do not believe that we’re perfect or the best, so we do not allow ourselves to believe that our achievements count. We keep chasing perfection or promotion. We keep trying to win, but instead bend to outside pressure or begin to believe others’ perceptions of us.

We are aware enough to know that we want to feel better, so we create context designed to accomplish that purpose – We tell ourselves things like: I don’t know why my husband doesn’t realize how special I am and how much I give to everyone around me. I would have reached my sales goals if the company distributed accounts fairly. I work with a bunch of boors who have no taste and aren’t nearly as sophisticated as I am. I was on track for a promotion until my coworker started schmoozing our boss so he picked her instead. None of our assistants ever give me complete work so I spend all my time fixing their mistakes rather than excelling at my job. I always attract cheaters. I need a better job, but no one is hiring. There’s no way to have a full social life if I’m totally gluten-free. I can’t possibly find the time to cook with all the other things my family wants me to do.

This list will grow and evolve and provide the underpinning for the circular road of fear we are following. Our footsteps on this circular path get deeper and deeper. We create a groove and wear it into a smooth chute along which we glide round and round and round forward then backward again and again. Round, and round, and round, we are stuck and have disavowed ourselves of all responsibility for it. We believe we are limited by our lot in life, other’s behavior, and the curves life has thrown us. Seen in the context we’ve created, we have no control over our lives, no power to change, and sufficient reason to believe that we cannot win.

To further seal the fate we’ve created, we do one final comparison: I shouldn’t feel bad. There are lots of people who have it much worse than I do. We have sealed the deal. Since we have it better than some, and we will always believe we do, we tell ourselves we are winning. Even if we are aware that our bar has become so low that we demean, disgrace, and dishonor ourselves daily, we have created a context in which we can defiantly defend our position and hang onto our fear. On the surface, we may even manage to appear humble and noble. Surely you can see how superior we are to be sacrificing ourselves for the good of the family or the good of the business. Never mind that we’re destroying our relationships with anger or our quality of life with depression.

So what can happen if we use the athletes’ training technique and remove ourselves from the context we’ve created? Let’s say instead of pushing back against the sales manager we believe is limiting us by not giving us leads, we get to work 30 minutes early every day, or only take half of our lunch hour, and use the additional time to research and contact new prospects. Like an athlete in training, we do this every day whether we manage to set an appointment or not. We continue to do it when we are selling very little and when we are selling a lot. We are not swayed into complacency when we get the top salesman award and we are not distracted from our path when we have a slow month. Is it possible that training ourselves to keep forward momentum in good times and bad will lead to greater sales over time? Will it possibly make us feel like we have more control over our work situation? Will it possibly contribute to a calmer and more peaceful work environment when our energy is focussed on moving us forward rather than on angrily fighting an unfair system?

I will argue yes because I’ve been that new sales person more than once – the one that didn’t get an account list to work. Did I have a greater challenge than some of my co-workers? It certainly felt that way, but it also made me feel like I’d really won when I landed a good piece of business. It also gave me the training and confidence to leave my employer and start a business. It kept me going as I ran that business when I couldn’t see where the sales I really needed were going to come from. I just kept working, networking, reaching out, building relationships, and it kept paying off…eventually. It still does. While I no longer own that business, I have banked tons of great resources and goodwill that help me even now. The technique is to stick with my commitments and work toward the goal whether the crowd roars for me or against me.

I have enough perspective to know that I am not well suited to all endeavors, that I will fail and learn from that failure, that down time is critical to prolonged success, and that there will always be room for improvement. I feel happy about all of this because I trust my training and my process. These allow me to remove myself from context that would distract me and stay on course to feel powerful, peaceful, and proud of my progress.

How do you tune out distractions and stay on course?

My Kitchen is a Sticky Mess

My kitchen is a sticky mess. Today my doorbell grandchildren showed up for a cooking lesson with soda and candy in hand. We’ve all learned a lot.

There was a simple plan in place. One of them had agreed to help me with a pork tenderloin recipe at 3pm. That plan went by the wayside when 3 of them showed up at noon. Of course they were hungry. After I shared my tuna croquettes and green peas with them, there was a flurry of activity in the kitchen.

The oldest brother mixed the glaze for the pork tenderloin while the middle brother chopped celery and red bell pepper for a white bean tzatziki salad. I sent the youngest to the back porch for some dill. Of course, he had no idea which plant that was. Not wanting to end up eating something ornamental and poisonous, I joined him on his search.
We started our exploration of back porch flora with mint. I had him smell each herb. We identified them by name and discussed what each might be used for. Of course no lesson is straightforward with this crew. We got interrupted several times with questions from the other two. Eventually, the conversation culminated in a pesto tasting.

Before we arrived at pesto, I had to demonstrate what 3/4 cup means. I had given one of the kids a 1/4 cup measuring cup and a recipe that called for 3/4 cup of tzatziki. He was at a loss for how 1/4 cup related to 3/4 cup. I must admit this had me shaking my head a bit. After all, these kids are 12, 13, and 14.

Anyway, that led to a more general lesson on fractions. We filled a one cup measuring cup with water from a 1/4 cup measuring cup, counting each time until it registered that there are four 1/4 cups in one cup. Eventually, that led to a recognition that 2/4 and 1/2 are the same. We tried doubling a recipe that called for 2/3 cup flour and it still took a minute for them to grasp that 4/3 equals 1 1/3 cups. Cooking is such a practical way to deal with fractions. A few bad batches of biscuits and you’re bound to step up your math game.

Then it was my time to learn. The oldest taught me how to make a drink he invented that combines orange soda with candy and ice. The drink was tart and tasty, but it’s going to require a real food processor or blender. Today, we made it using the larger of my food choppers which was up to the task in the beginning, but totally burned out before we were done. During the process, orange soda was transferred to every surface in my kitchen and half of those in the breakfast room. I still feel like I’m sticking to my computer and my phone.

I also learned about the risqué videos kids watch on Instagram – unfortunately, by seeing one with my own eyes. I learned that you cannot allow any cursing or it’s out of hand in less than a minute. I learned that Stewart sometimes likes to wear a little bling. Most importantly, I learned that every single one of you with multiple teenagers must have nerves of steel and astronomical grocery bills.
Now it’s the end of the day. I am tired. My kitchen is a sticky mess and we’ve all learned a lot. That’s often the way it goes in the kitchen.

Gluten-Free Summer Freeze-Out Diet

Enjoy a gluten-free summer freeze-out diet! My list of preferred summer food includes all things really, really cold! Perhaps it’s because my kitchen and favorite sitting room hold heat late into the evening, or perhaps it’s because it’s, well, really hot outside. At least once per summer I resolve to eat nothing but ice cream until the leaves turn orange.

Today, I’ve been making a list of all the things I want to include in my Specialized Gluten-Free Summer Freeze-Out Diet. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Lepops Gourmet Iced Lollies
These delicious frozen pops are handmade using locally grown produce and herbs. If you buy several, they throw in an insulated bag. My grand dog Stewart likes many of the flavors including Cucumber Jalapeño.

red mangoRed Mango® Frozen Yogurt
What I love about Red Mango is that the frozen yogurt retains the tanginess of regular yogurt instead of tasting just like ice cream. I don’t really have a favorite flavor here. I try whatever sounds good. My next choice will be the Taro flavor.

gelatoTalenti® Gelato
I especially like the Sea Salt Caramel flavor with its chewy chunks of chocolate I’m totally curious about the Black Cherry and Black Raspberry & Chocolate flavors too, but they never seem to be available at my local store.

cherrygarciaBen & Jerry’s Ice Cream
The names may be better than the ice cream, but Cherry Garcia® will pass in a pinch.

bbtattooBlue Bell Ice Cream
We can only hope Blue Bell gets its problems worked out. I like their flavors and the party they hosted at the facility in Broken Arrow.

I don’t much like sweet tea, but I’m still intrigued by Chef Andrea Litvin’s recipe for Sweet Tea Granita as published in Garden & Gun: I think it’s the ice in the photo that keeps luring me in.

Ice cold anything is appealing to me when the mercury tops 100. Later this week I’m going to a fundraiser featuring ice cream cocktails that combine locally distilled spirits with locally made ice cream. It sounds like the perfect way to enjoy giving back!

I may not be totally serious about eating nothing but ice cream this summer, but I love the idea! Have anything you’d like for me to add to my list? Let me know and I’ll try it out.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”