Wheatless for the Holidays? —by Jinny Batterson
My digestive system is not aging gracefully. Various rumbles, gurgles, and emanations that annoy both me and those who happen to be around me seem to occur with increasing frequency. So I started researching diet a bit more carefully—perhaps eliminating one food or group of foods could cause me to be quieter and less fragrant, digestively speaking. A few weeks ago, I decided to try an elimination diet, removing certain kinds of foods that might be causing at least some of the problem. At first, I thought I’d swear off dairy for a while, but I found that I relish milk, cheese and ice cream too much to go dairy free for very long. That left gluten, one of the most frequently mentioned causes for digestive disturbances.
It took me several trips around the Internet to discover that the term gluten, officially, applies to the protein in all grains, so eliminating gluten completely is a pretty restrictive practice. However, the gluten that most people react to is the kind found in varieties of wheat, barley, or rye. Other grains, such as oats, buckwheat, corn, flax, millet, quinoa, and rice, contain varieties of gluten that are less likely to provoke gluten sensitivity and allergic reactions. I started reading grocery labels more carefully. Spaghetti noodles and other pastas? Made from wheat. Bread? Nearly always containing at least some wheat. Breakfast cereals? Most brands I checked had at least trace amounts of wheat. Then there’s the quandary of how purely “gluten free” a food needs to be to avoid triggering a reaction—even some foods advertised as gluten free have fine print on their labels indicating they have been processed in facilities that also process wheat products. What to do?
I tried to avoid wheat for a couple of weeks. I ate rice cakes and homemade cornbread. I found a few brands of gluten free breads and bagels at local grocery chains. During the elimination experiment, I coached my husband to be sure to make his sandwiches with “his” bread and leave “my” bread for me. Though I thought I noticed a little improvement in my gurgle and wind quotient, the difference was pretty small. Besides, it was really hard to attend any social event without exposure to all sorts of yummy confections containing, you guessed it, wheat.
The holiday season is fast approaching. My chances of remaining wheat-free through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year are next to nil. If my short-term elimination diet trial has left any impression, it’s that the challenges of those with really serious food sensitivities are greater than I’d imagined. In the future, I’ll try to be more careful what I feed any guests with known food allergies. As for me, the best I’m likely to manage is to keep my wits about me, eating moderately to avoid some of the seasonal weight gain I often experience this time of year.
My wish for all during the upcoming holidays is for plentiful and healthy meals, washed down with a glass of good cheer, all finished off with a satisfying if noisy burp.