Health And Diet: Wheat-Free Living

Learning how to eat a wheat free diet is challenging, but the reward is better health and freedom from celiac disease.

We're all familiar with people who don't eat carbohydrates to lose weight. However, some people don't eat carbs not because they want to lose weight, but because grains literally make them sick. For reasons not completely understood by medical science, they can't digest the gluten in grains. Many people are not aware of the problems gluten sensitivity can cause, and so do not realize that their illness may be caused by the ordinary food which they are eating.

Inability to digest gluten is sometimes referred to as celiac disease, which means that the body is unable to digest and break down the gluten which is in grain, primarily in wheat, but also in rye, and barley. This undigested gluten injures the digestive system, and the only remedy is complete avoidance of any food which has gluten in it.

Celiac disease when left untreated renders the sufferer more vulnerable to all kinds of other health problems, including cancer, malnutrition and weakening of the bones. The most common symptom is diarrhea after eating, but there can be other, less obvious symptoms, such as an itchy rash, or acne. If you suspect you may be sensitive to gluten, contact your doctor and seek medical advice.

Those of us who've been diagnosed with celiac disease or wheat allergy often feel stunned when we realize we'll never be able to eat wheat again. How can we possibly do it? So many pre-packaged and restaurant foods contain some form of gluten as an ingredient that it seems like there's wheat in almost everything we eat. So we have to read the labels on our food, and ask a lot of questions.

Some foods are obvious. Any kind of pasta, bread, cookie, cake or cracker probably contains some wheat unless it is specifically labeled Gluten Free. Other foods are trickier to spot. Gluten is often a thickener in sauces, and may show up in ice cream or pudding, or even a vegetable dish. So we read the labels and ask our questions, and we may feel like we'll never be able to figure out how to eat "normally" again.

However, there are ways to live a wheat free life without giving up all our pleasures. When it comes to eating out, it's better to go someplace where the food is cooked for you on the spot, rather than shipped in already prepared. For example, a local hamburger joint can make you a plain hamburger, without the bun, and can tell you if they cut up their own potatoes for fries. If there is a salad bar, you can usually select the vegetables you like and the steer clear of the croutons.

When attending parties or eating at other people's homes, it helps to bring something you know you can eat. Call ahead and ask what will be served, and offer to bring something. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can ask the host or hostess if they can put aside a portion of salad or meat to prepare without croutons or seasoning. The worst case scenario is to eat before you leave home, so you are not hungry. However, most people are willing to do what they can to help if they know in advance. It's important to plan options for yourself so that you don't feel as if you have no choice.

If you're craving breads, pasta and the like, there are excellent gluten free products and mixes on the market. You'll want to check out your favorite neighborhood market or the health food stores in your city. If they don't carry gluten-free products yet, encourage them to do so. You'll be doing others a favor. The internet is another great resource for wheat-free living, with myriad sites offering products, recipes, information and support groups for the wheat free life. Some sites even offer handy little cards which can be presented to friends or restaurant staff. These cards explain gluten problems and celiac disease, and define what foods the bearer can and cannot eat in a tactful and friendly manner.

There are also lots of wonderful gluten free food you can prepare at home. You can eat as much as you like of all kinds of vegetables and fruits and meats, and probably of rice and corn as well- ask your doctor what grains are good for you. If you haven't cooked much before, now is the time to learn. Again, check out those internet web sites for tasty recipes. When you find something you like, prepare a larger quantity and freeze portions for later, so that you have some easy meals and treats on hand. Having plenty of good food you can eat is one of the best ways to avoid eating something that will make you sick.

If you can eat rice, get yourself an electric rice cooker. This handy little appliance turns out perfect rice and keeps it warm until you're ready to eat. Cold rice makes a great addition to soups, and can also be reheated with a little milk or broth as breakfast cereal. Some rice cookers also double as steamers. Another handy kitchen tool is the electric grill. Although designed originally for meat, it also cooks squash, eggplant, potatoes and other vegetables to tasty perfection.

Learning to live without wheat requires a big adjustment, but you can do it. At first you'll spend a lot of time reading the ingredients and planning your meals, but with time it will become easier. Soon you'll develop a routine that works for you and you'll be feeling better, to enjoying improved health and appreciating the benefits of a wheat free life.

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