We are now a gluten-free house, because one of us has been diagnosed with Celiac disease. (In a rare attempt to be respectful, I’ll refrain from telling you which one of us it is.) According to a random website that looks official, Celiac “…damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy.” And the villain doing the damage is gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. No problem, right? Avoid wheat, barley and rye and you’re good to go. Putting barely and rye aside for a moment, because really, who would miss them, let’s focus on wheat.
Wheat is what makes the staff of life the staff of life. Delicious bread is made of wheat flour (except when it’s made of the aforementioned grains, which is why I said delicious bread). Wheat flour is the main component of cookies, and cakes, and muffins. Wheat flour is in pizza crust, bagels and pasta. Wheat flour is in places you wouldn’t think to look, like soy sauce, and probably under your bed. Not eating wheat is not easy.
The doctors will say, sympathetically, “You can do it, just shop around the perimeter of the supermarket.” They mean that natural, unprocessed foods (and I use the term loosely) like produce, meats, and dairy are all okay to eat when you’re going gluten free, but if you venture down the aisles, shopping becomes risky. The fact that my husband is trying to embrace his inner vegetarian makes hugging the perimeter a little more enticing, but because I don’t like to cook, providing sustenance for my little family has become quite the challenge.
It turns out that you don’t have to have Celiac disease to have gluten intolerance. According to our dietician, wheat is now the seventh most prevalent allergy and that’s good news for Celiacs. Whenever there’s a growing trend, like an allergy to gluten, there are enterprising manufacturers waiting to make a profit. Consequently, the number of gluten-free products you can find in supermarkets is growing rapidly. They cost more, those manufacturers are no fools, they know they’ve got us over a barrel, but there’s more and more of it out there. You can get gluten-free cookies, pizza, and pasta. There are specialty shops for gluten-free cupcakes and muffins, and birthday cakes. And yes, you can buy gluten-free bread. But that’s where, so far, we draw the line.
Gluten is, according to this stray video I found, a protein that helps makes wheat flour rise. When you bake bread without gluten it’s firm, inflexible, and reminiscent of Wasa, the scourge of dieters everywhere. This is not good news for lunch given that the traditional American lunch is – a sandwich! But as long as there are leftovers from dinner we can finesse lunch.
Apparently, science is working on something that will help people digest gluten, or at least keep it from damaging your intestines, much the way they’ve dealt with lactose intolerance. We look forward to that, sure, but in the meantime, living gluten free seems to be agreeing with us. We’re all eating a healthier diet, which has to be a good thing, as long as the stress of trying to keep all of us fed doesn’t kill me…