I’m a gluten-free, “In the Kitchen” author here at FLT. I love food, cooking, and baking. I have been on a strict gluten-free diet for three years, in a love-hate relationship with food for lots of years.
But now I have a surprising revelation.
Please allow me to share a little bit of my story and why food has been my enemy.
Around 1997, I started having noticeable gastrointestinal issues. At first, I chalked it up to stress. I was finishing college full time, working part time, and planning my wedding. Now that’s stress!
As a young adult, I didn’t give much thought to going to the doctor. I just lived with bloating, gas, mild abdominal pains, and the extreme opposite of constipation. I read that loose BM’s and going #2 multiple times a day is “normal” for some people. Perhaps I was just someone with a very fast digestive system.
Fast forward to my pregnancies. (Our oldest was born in 2004, our middle was born in 2006, and our youngest was born in 2009.) I really enjoyed pregnancy. I felt better. Okay, maybe more tired, but my digestive system seemed to react like a normal system should. My #2’s were down to once or twice a day and no longer loose.
Our Preemie Daughter’s Anemia
During our youngest daughter’s pregnancy, I developed serious hemorrhaging in the third trimester. My doctor told me it was a placenta previa. Long story short, I ended up on complete hospital bed rest for over three weeks, meaning I could not get up, and using a bed pan as a toilet. A lot of women get constipated in pregnancy anyway, and the inactivity of bed rest would normally complicate it more. Different nurses were always offering me stool softeners. I did not need them at all. In fact, my issues seemed to get worse. (Nasty hospital food!)
Our daughter was born a preemie and in the NICU for fifteen days. When she came home, she had BM’s like me, but I also saw blood. Another long story short, she ended up anemic and back in the hospital at a month old for a blood transfusion. Then she was put on a very expensive formula.
She did well on that formula and did not have any more anemia. Therefore, the doctors did not follow up with any testing or further investigation. However, once she began eating more than formula, rice cereal, and baby food, bowel issues returned, explosively. (No signs of blood, though.)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome :: Now What?
I had undergone a colonoscopy in 2010 because I had mentioned to my doctor that I had seen some blood in my stool during my pregnancy. The results showed some inflammation in my bowels and I was simply told I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
I was already big into nutrition. I bought organic whenever I could. I served balanced meals. I tried to stay away from as many processed things as possible. So I didn’t know what else to do.
Then one day, I watched an episode of Dr. Oz. That day, he had a special guest, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, talking about eating a gluten-free diet. The symptoms she described for Celiac Disease seemed like they could fit what our issues were. I went to the library and checked out her book. I read it cover to cover and immediately made the decision to give gluten-free eating a try to see if that helped both me and my daughter. I jumped in with both feet, cleaning out my cupboards and refrigerator of gluten containing foods and switching the products I bought.
From that day in January of 2011 until now, I have been immersed in gluten-free living. Shopping, cooking, baking, educating relatives and teachers, helping other people, finding restaurants to eat at, and overseeing holiday meals to control our diets.
My daughter and I both benefited from eating gluten-free. Our bowels improved markedly very rapidly. Because of this, I suspected a gluten sensitivity or possibly Celiac Disease. It wasn’t until after I had already switched our diets that I learned we couldn’t be tested for those things unless we were consuming gluten. Especially for her sake, but even for mine, I did not want to go back to gluten to be tested and ruin what seemed to be helping.
Over the years, my daughter would occasionally have a day or two of diarrhea again, it seemed especially when we were staying with family. They seemed suspicious of whether the diet was really working. I chalked it up to the fact that she could have eaten something that was contaminated, especially at someone else’s house. But there were other times she snuck a gluten filled cracker, cookie, or cereal at grandma’s house and she didn’t have any adverse reaction. Those times always puzzled me.
At first, being gluten-free seemed to make me “normal” like when I was pregnant. As I got more into the diet, and expanded to include boxed, processed, and fast food that was gluten-free, the quality of my bowels began to decline. I began to experience discomforts and diarrhea here and there. I noticed other foods start to bug me, like tomato sauces, onions, garlic, Jell-o, some dairy, and other things that were indeed without gluten.
I limited my dairy intake by using almond milk and completely cut out soy. As I was eliminating certain foods, it became apparent that other things were bugging me.
A Low-FODMAP Diet
This past summer, I came across two books that were written for IBS sufferers, outlining the low-FODMAP diet. One of the books was written by experts in this area of research in Australia, purporting to ease symptoms of IBS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and Celiac disease. (The low-FODMAP diet is gluten-free.)
I read the books cover to cover and excitedly jumped in with two feet to see if this was my answer. I was now armed with a whole bunch of new knowledge about fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyls – the acronym for FODMAP. In a nutshell, there are certain foods that contain these sugars (saccharides) that cannot be broken down or digested by some people. It makes the bacteria in their guts go nuts and ferment and cause a whole lot of havoc. Wheat, barley and rye are in those groups of indigestible sugars, hence why the diet is gluten-free.
The diet was more restrictive than just gluten-free. I was meticulously reading labels and revamping my recipes to make them low-FODMAP. Indeed, it did seem like some of the foods that were bugging me were foods to be avoided on this diet. Again, at first, my bowels did respond well. But after the first two weeks, things began going backward again.
I was frustrated and beginning to feel hopeless that my bowels would ever be normal. I began wondering about any other chemicals, additives, or preservatives in food.
This past Christmas, I made a gluten-free strawberry pretzel salad to take to three different parties. I posted about it on Facebook and a gluten-free friend of mine commented by asking, “Doesn’t the Jell-o bother you because it has modified food starch in it?” I had read the label of the Jell-o box before I used it and was sure it was gluten-free. I went on an online search to make sure. I came across an article that breaks down every ingredient in Jell-o and where it comes from in manufacturing. (Oh, and the salad did bug me and if I ate too much sent my bowels into a fit.)
Jell-o is gluten-free and there was no modified food starch listed. So I thought maybe my issue with the salad was the dairy – the whipped topping and cream cheese. But as suggested by the low-FODMAP plan, I had been taking dietary enzymes, including lactase (the enzyme to break down lactose, the sugar in milk), whenever I ate milk products. Even with the lactase each time I ate the salad, I had stomach pains and loose bowels.
In my research I was led to a discussion board on a Celiac site. Someone mentioned that gelatin (all gelatin) contains MSG. That took my research in a whole new direction. I ended up on the Truth In Labeling site, and reading another book, which also stated that gelatin has MSG. It listed other foods that seemed to bug me that weren’t covered under being gluten-free or low-FODMAP.
Glutamates, Sulfites & Phosphates
I was diving into the world of avoiding glutamates (of which MSG – monosodium glutamate is one), sulfites, and phosphates. It connected something for me. I had always been told I was allergic to sulfa drugs. Several sources say there’s no correlation between people who don’t tolerate sulfa drugs not being able to tolerate sulfites in their diets, but others say there can be a connection.
I have found that there are far more hidden sources of glutamates (MSG) in our diets than you would believe. Even if a product says “no MSG” on the label, it likely does contain glutamates.
I have learned so much about the food manufacturing business – the way things are grown, harvested, processed, added to, enriched, and packaged. I’m trying to not be angry with what big business has done to our food. But it’s hard not to be.
There are also naturally occurring glutamates, sulfites, and phosphates in gluten-free foods like dairy, the enzymes in cheese, cornstarch, xanthan gum, cooked meat, eggs, and the list goes on. People can have varying degrees of tolerance. There are toxic levels. That is why I could have still been reacting, despite eating gluten-free, because my threshold is very low.
Wheat, barley and rye all contain gluten (a protein), sugars that are indigestible by some, and glutamates. So unless someone is tested to know for sure about the gluten, they won’t really know what part of the grain they are reacting to.
A New Way to Eat
I have again revamped how I eat. I am no longer gluten-free. To avoid all the glutamates in the gluten-free food (cornstarch, xanthan gum, enriched rice, etc.), and to avoid the regular high-glutamate wheat flour, (regular wheat flour usually contains malted barley flour in it…check your flour label…which is very high in glutamates), I need to use 100% organic, unbleached, unenriched, hard white or whole wheat flour.
I started using this flour to cook and bake with, some organic 100% wheat pasta, organic unenriched shredded wheat, and 100% whole wheat crackers. I’ve cut out all hidden sources of glutamates, sulfites, and phosphates in anything packaged. I’m buying as much organic as possible and making other substitutions and precautions.
Guess what? My daughter and I are both handling the reintroduction of this type of wheat just fine! I might have found the answer I have been searching for! I’m excited, but this also means that my diet is even more restricted because I need to control the ingredients on a different level. My time in the kitchen might go up, but my body finally seems happy!
© 2014, Kristen Hamilton. All rights reserved. Love it? Please share, pin, tweet or email but do not use my work without permission.