The Daily Beet

19 Mar Food Allergies: Gluten

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Natala here, reporting for allergy shopping duty!

Why am I writing about allergies? Because I once, almost killed my husband before we even started dating. You would think that almost killing someone would be some kind of warning sign, but my husband looked past that and married me anyway! My husband is severely allergic to nuts. Nut allergies are serious business, especially peanut allergies (which he also has). Many people do not know this, but peanuts are an airborne allergy, so if you are on a plane and the kid next to my husband opens up his crunchy peanut butter sandwich? It’s not good, and usually involves having to move somewhere else. Thankfully some airlines will make an announcement that there are no peanuts allowed, if there is someone that could die on the plane because of your trail mix. On that note, if you have severe food allergies, or if your child does please consider wearing a food allergy bracelet, to be on the safe side.

However, aside from nuts when my husband first went plant-strong he was allergic and had severe food sensitivities to the following:

ALL vegetables- except very well cooked spinach.
ALL nuts
All fruit – except very well cooked pears/peaches
Many beans

and because of the particular plant-strong diet that I follow I can not have the following:

soybean products

And of course because we are allergic to suffering for decades with nasty, horrible diseases we do not eat: meat, dairy, eggs, oil, processed foods nor do we eat anything with added salt.

So what do we do? We just drink water. Kidding! We drink seltzer as well. Kidding again! We LOVE food, love, love and more love. If you are suffering from food allergies, or one of your family members is, there is no need to worry. Yes, you will have to plan a little bit more, but all in all it is not so bad.

*I’d like to add that because of his plant-strong diet, my husband reversed his food sensitivities to fruits and vegetables, so he can now eat things like tomato with out going to the ER (which happened, twice).

So let’s break these allergies down. Today we are going to focus on gluten.

Gluten: Gluten-free products seems to be in every store now, because recently the fear of gluten has sky rocketed. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of this fear is totally warranted. However, not everyone has a gluten allergy or Celiac disease, and for people who do not, gluten is a perfectly healthy thing to consume, so long as it is in it’s whole grain state. The trouble with gluten, like so many other things is that it gets lumped into this ‘bad food’ category, because there happens to be junk food made with gluten. Many people who feel ‘better’ after getting rid of gluten, feel better because they are eliminating a lot of the processed junk they were previously eating. If you suspect a gluten allergy, you should get checked out by your doctor first. Also, before you self-determine that you have an allergy, try going plant-strong for a couple of months, eliminating all of those processed foods and other junk foods (like oil/animal foods) to see if you start to feel better.

Gluten allergies and Celiac disease are serious business. Thankfully there are plenty of products out there that you can still enjoy even if you have a gluten allergy. Beware though, just like there are junk food vegan products, there are junk food gluten-free products! Just because it says ‘gluten-free’ does not mean it is healthy or even healthier than it’s gluten counterpart.

Gluten is found in the following grains: Rye, barley and wheat. Because you are eating plant-strong now, many of the products that sneak gluten in, will be automatically eliminated because they are not plant-strong (like processed junk food).

So with that, let’s look at some of the grains and starches you can eat that do not contain gluten:

Brown Rice
Potatoes of all variety
Corn products
Oats *just be sure they are gluten free oats*
Wild Rice

As you can see you have plenty of whole grain options that do not include gluten.

In addition to the grains, there are plenty of products now available made from gluten free whole grain. Instead of using whole wheat lasagna noodles in our “Sweet Potato Lasagna” use brown rice noodles instead. Instead of using whole wheat cereals try using gluten free oats, or brown rice crispy cereal (like rice krispies). If something calls for whole wheat bread crumbs, opt of corn based bread crumbs instead.

Breads and tortilla wraps might be a little harder to find. There are a few gluten free breads that will fit the bill, but often they can contain things like eggs or excess oil. Instead of whole grain wraps, go for corn tortillas or big collard greens, collards make GREAT burrito wrappers.

Instead of whole wheat flour – try making your own gluten free oat flour – simply put your oats in a blender and blend them until they become flour. There are some gluten free flours on the market as well that you might enjoy.

Just because a recipe has a gluten product in it does NOT mean you have to toss it out! Get creative with recipe revamping. We have yet to find a recipe that can not be made gluten free. Even seitan recipes! Happy Herbivore has a great post on gluten free seitan. Lindsay also has a great post about gluten free flours.

Sometimes it is best to keep things simple. Having gluten free oats and fruit for breakfast, a big soup with beans, veggies and brown rice for lunch and a couple of sweet potatoes topped with your favorite greens, chickpeas and salsa for dinner. Simply combining a gluten-free (healthy) starch, a bean and a vegetable will always make a great meal.

Here are a few resources for great gluten free recipes:

Gluten Free/Fat Free Recipes
Fat Free Vegan Gluten Free Recipes
Straight Up Food
Forks Over Knives Gluten Free Thanksgiving Recipes (but good anytime of year!)
Healthy Girls Kitchen Gluten Free Recipes

For more information about grains and about gluten, Dr.McDougall has written a very informative article, found here. There is also a great forum topic lead by Jeff Novick found here – look for the comments by Jeff.

Are you gluten free? What tricks and tips do you have for others who are following a plant-strong gluten free diet?

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Natala Constantine
  • Lisa
    Posted at 09:06h, 19 March

    Hi Natala! I can’t believe you guys had so many limitations! I feel a lot better about my limitations now though. I really like what you said about keeping things simple, I think that is where I go wrong, a lot.
    I can’t wait to hear more from you on allergies! My son is allergic to nuts and that is the excuse I’ve been using not to try this out!

  • Donna
    Posted at 09:10h, 19 March

    I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, I had all of the classic symptoms like a lot of weight loss (I am already thin) and severe vitamin deficiency, and that was when I was eating what I considered a healthy diet which included meat/dairy/eggs. One of the things I realized was that if the animals I were eating had consumed gluten which was HIGHLY likely, and then I ate those animals, wouldn’t I then consume gluten? My Dr. agreed (though he is not vegan) and I cut out animals, then watched Forks Over Knives, and then read your book. I have found it very, very easy to be gluten free and do this diet, in fact more so than before! This is a really good post, I really like that you point out that there are plenty of healthy grains that people can eat. I also agree that if you can make it simple, it is a lot easier.
    Thanks for the great work. I am glad some of your husbands allergies went away! Also I am glad you didn’t kill him haha.

  • Jess
    Posted at 09:21h, 19 March

    It is really interesting about what you said about Celiac disease, I have Celiac Disease, I have for years, well before gluten was everyones number 1 enemy. It honestly kind of gets on my nerves with the amount of people who believe they can’t eat gluten, not that I don’t think there are some who truly can’t, but there are a lot that like you said just need to eat better.
    Celiac disease is awful and causes so many horrible things to happen. When people tell me they have it and they haven’t been tested and they don’t have thins like severe malnutrition, bruising, muscle weakness, nerve damage, severe abdominal distress. I think a lot more people DO have it today, but not as many as people think. My Dr. told me that most people actually have some form of IBS, which is often caused by poor eating, and that often it gets misdiagnoses as the patient having a possible gluten allergy.
    I’m not harping on people who believe they have gluten problems, I really think everyone should get tested who suspects it, especially to see if they are suffering from severe vitamin deficiency.
    I think you are right in that people who are not sure should try eating totally healthy FIRST to see if that helps their symptoms.
    My Mother, who is overweight was convinced she had a gluten intolerance as well and after I went vegan *it was a few months before I cut out oil and things like that* she also followed and wouldn’t you know it, her energy problems, stomach upset and weight gain started to all improve, greatly.
    Sorry for the soap box, but people SHOULD get tested and if they are not sure, or they are not suffering greatly and have not changed their diets I think it is important that they first get rid of the meat, dairy, eggs, processed food , oil and then see how they feel after that.
    Just my 2 cents!!!!
    Love when you write Natala!!

  • Lori
    Posted at 09:24h, 19 March

    Thank you for this! I was wondering if I could be gluten free and vegan/low fat!
    Really interesting what Donna said about animals eating gluten, I had never thought about that!
    I’m going to go shopping today!

  • Patti
    Posted at 09:25h, 19 March

    I don’t have a gluten allergy, but I wanted to say how much I love when you write 🙂

    I really like this line:
    And of course because we are allergic to suffering for decades with nasty, horrible diseases we do not eat: meat, dairy, eggs, oil, processed foods nor do we eat anything with added salt.

  • Mark O'Leary
    Posted at 10:19h, 19 March

    My heart goes out to people with food allergies/sensitivities, but…
    do you really need a Medic Alert bracelet? Is someone likely to give you peanuts while you’re unconscious?

    Just asking.

    • Understanding allergies
      Posted at 10:41h, 19 January

      I can understand that this may be confusing. The medic alert bracelet is to alert individuals as to why you are passed out on the floor. If someone has anaphylaxis, they may have a few minutes to be injected with epinephrine to allow time to get to the hospital or they may die. The last thing you need is someone trying to figure out what is wrong with you as precious time slips away. I know to those with a limited understanding of food allergies these steps seem silly and dramatic, but after you have seen your daughter unable to breathe, you will protect her in any way you can. As with all serious medical issues, time is of the essence. Finally, if you have a serious allergy, doctor’s recommend them.

  • Engine 2 Team
    Posted at 10:48h, 19 March

    Mark – the alert bracelet is very important, especially for children who have nut allergies because it is important for a medic/first responder to know that they could have had something to cause the reaction so that they can treat them properly.
    This can also be the case for adults with severe allergies, let’s say someone accidentally eats a nut and starts to swell up and stop breathing, people around them would have no idea that they have a nut allergy, nor would the first responders.

    There have been many lives saved because of the bracelets, especially in children.

  • Mary
    Posted at 10:54h, 19 March

    As a parent with a child who is allergic to nuts, I am really glad you wrote this artcile, so many people do not take it seriously and do not undertand that my child could die if he was to be given a cookie with peanuts in it.

    And yes, Mark, bracelets or a necklace are 100% necessary, I am not with my child 24/7 and while I do my best to let everyone know about his allergies, it is not always a guarantee that everyone will know.

    I think this proves that there needs to be education about the severity of allergies. I especially get upset when parents at my childs school give me and the other nut allergy parents a hard time about this, my child could die or be seriously ill, I would do every thing to protect another child, it seems like a very simple solution and if they would just calm down and think through something, like how to make cupcakes or treats with out nuts, this would not be an issue. It is just hard for them to undertand because they are not in the same situation.

    Looking forward to the series, I am glad your husband was okay after your cooking fiasco! I guess that it is easier in adults because they can express what is happening, and can give themselves a shot if they need to.

  • Lisa
    Posted at 10:57h, 19 March

    My daughter is also allergic to peanuts and she absolutely wears a bracelet! We got her a pretty one, that she likes wearing. You are right E2, they can save lives. Thank you for making people aware that nuts are airborne allergies as well!

    You don’t know how many people do not believe me and will have open containers of peanuts at a party, and we have to leave. I just don’t get what the big deal is, people can go with out nuts for a few hours.

  • Pam
    Posted at 12:05h, 19 March

    YES! I don’t think that people realize how serious gluten allergies are, before I was diagnosed I couldn’t even work because of the severe symptoms. My Doc. told me the same thing that many people have IBS and just need to adjust their diet.

    This is a great article, I really like the recipe resources and the gluten free wheat gluten!

  • Karen Aherne
    Posted at 12:13h, 19 March

    I have a great sympathy for people with allergies. I am allergic to Casein. (That pesky protein in all dairy products.) I had issues over the years, in my 20’s and 30’s, but always thought it was attributable to other things at the time. Once I hit my 40’s it really began hitting me hard. Thinking it was the TRILLION stones in my gallbladder, we had that removed, but when the allergy finally put me down on a daily basis (to the point where I thought I had cancer) the Doctor said I might be lactose intollerant. From that point I was able to break down the items I was eating and discover it was a casein allergy. Going Plant Based has been the best thing that ever happened to me. Not only am I no longer ill, but I feel the best that I have felt since I was a teenager (but since that was the 80’s – without the bad hair!) I recommend a plant based diet to anyone who asks me how I lost all this weight! I tell them I have more energy than I have had in decades! My wonderful husband came along for the ride as well, and feels better than he has in years as well! We are very happy and the knowledge that we are going to live healthier lives longer is a great plus!

  • Heather
    Posted at 12:20h, 19 March

    I feel the opposite of one of the celiac commentators above. I wish more people wouldn’t eat wheat. As far as I know it’s mostly in the USA a GMO, non-organic product & even if you don’t have “allergies” or noticeable ones per se, IMO no one ought to be eating it. The Amish have a different version of wheat & they also don’t stuff it into silos full of pesticides & other preservatives to keep the bugs away.. so I think Gluten free is the wave of the future for us all. Or it really ought to be. There are over 300 symptoms of this disease: http://glutenfreeworks.com/blog/2010/06/24/over-300-symptoms-linked-to-gluten-and-celiac-disease-how-is-this-possible/ I don’t know why folks balk at it. Going gluten free has been wonderful experience for me & my family. We also lost of a lot processed junk in the process & my two boys no longer exhibit ADD or ADHD type symptoms (possibly also linked to food coloring & refined sugars)

  • The Engine 2 Team
    Posted at 12:25h, 19 March

    Here is another good forum on gluten – Jeff Novick does a great job in addressing the issue: http://www.drmcdougall.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=5609

  • Jen
    Posted at 12:30h, 19 March

    I thought I had a gluten problem until I went plant-strong! Turns out I had a junk food problem! I think that people get confused with processed grains and good grains. However, my husband is allergic and so I appreciate the links and suggestions. He was diagnosed a few years ago.

  • Engine 2 Team
    Posted at 12:56h, 19 March

    We just wanted to add – if you do not want to include gluten in your diet, that is completely okay, if that is your personal preference. You definitely do not need gluten to be on a healthy plant-strong diet. We feel this way about any other food – just like you do not a certain vegetable, bean or fruit to be healthy. It is about the overall picture of your diet, not one particular part necessarily.

  • Regina
    Posted at 13:52h, 19 March

    What a great story. I also have reactions to every fruit I can think of as well as many veggies. It makes it scary to try new things. I’m hoping to see an allergist soon. It’s encouraging to know that someone else has dealt with these issues.

  • Allys
    Posted at 17:14h, 19 March

    Natala, thank you so much for starting this series on a plant-based diet while living within allergy restrictions. My husband also suffers from nut, soy, and corn allergens. Looking forward to learning more about substitutions for these in your coming posts!

  • Mary
    Posted at 19:25h, 19 March

    Wow that is a lot to keep track of! So glad we only have one food sensitivity in this house.

    Just FYI-Rice Krispies are not gluten free. They have malt flavoring which is made from barley. Arrowhead Mills makes a puffed brown rice cereal that is just the rice and nothing else, which makes a good (and unsweetened!) substitute.

    • Lindsey
      Posted at 13:48h, 20 May

      Rice Krispies has a gluten free cereal now! It’s in a yellow box instead of the blue.

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