Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gluten-Free? Me? No way! (Or so I thought!)

It’s quite fashionable and trendy to eat a gluten-free (GF) diet these days. Fashionable, trendy, and EASY. Wifey and I went on a cruise a few weeks ago and there was an entire section of the buffet labeled “Gluten-Free.” Granted, most of the items on the buffet were obviously and naturally free of gluten like meats and potato and they also had some kind of bread but the point is, even a major cruise line is jumping on the GF bandwagon. And why wouldn’t they? Almost 1/3 of Americans report being GF! If the United States has 320 million people, 106.667 million of them report eating GF even though estimates 1/133 people have celiac disease (CD), which equates to 1,418,671 people who need to eat GF. 

And need to they do; CD is a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. 

CD can lead to a number of other disorders including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers, and other autoimmune diseases. Ugh! So clearly it is imperative that some people eat GF, but I found myself rolling my eyes at everyone else who was eating this way just to be trendy.

I choose to be vegan for a plethora of reasons. However, as time goes by, I see that the ethics of a plant-based diet is my primary motivator. I don’t eat animals because I don’t want to contribute to their suffering. I’ve always been an environmentalist and science clearly shows a plant-based diet is better for our planet. Yes, I realize I’m talking about the trendiness of a GF diet when it is clear veganism is also, thankfully, trending now. 

This is my blog so I guess I can overtly favor one thing (diet) over another, right? My point is to show that I have made a decision to eat a certain way and have my reasons yet I found myself wondering about the sense behind the GF movement. After all, eating GF doesn’t benefit other sentient beings or the planet.
Is GF a marketing gimmick used to sell us certain foods at a higher price? The economic factor is definitely part of the puzzle but so are cognitive biases which power the economic machine: the availability heuristic, the availability cascade, the social desirability bias, and the bandwagon effect (I am clearly experiencing the bias blind spot effect so no need to comment about that. Ha ha). As I first stated, it is first and foremost a social trend. It is cool to be, or at least claim to be, GF.

If you didn’t know by the name of my blog, I like to run. As a population, runners are notorious for having higher rates of anemia than the average Joe. I am no exception. My blood work often shows me flirting on the edge of anemic red blood cell count. Recently, I also displayed markers indicating possible CD. I discounted this possibility, mainly due to my disdain at the thought of having to join the hoards of those eating GF and also because I was not experiencing any symptoms (symptoms include: bloating or gas, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, itchy skin rash, tingling/numbness, pale mouth sores, joint pain, delayed growth, poor weight gain, thin bones, infertility, headaches, depression, irritability, and discolored teeth).
I visited with a gastroenterologist and scheduled an endoscopy to take a gander at, and biopsy, my duodenum. 

To make a long story short, results showed I have asymptomatic CD! Whaaaat??? Ugh! What now? Now I have to make drastic changes to my diet as limiting food containing gluten and derivatives is not enough; even the smallest amount can damage the villi in the intestine. To be honest, the diet is easy. Finding options that are both vegan and GF can be a little trickier but there are still a ton of delicious, nutritious, and satisfying foods I can eat and enjoy. The main struggle I have is being “that guy” who asks about GF options. But if worrying about other people’s opinions of me is my biggest challenge, I’d say I’ll be just fine.
On the bright side, I’ve found GF products that I would not have taken a look at before my diagnosis. 

GF Chex cereal is amazing (and rightly falls into the vegan junk food category) and is a perfect dessert! The only big changes I’ve made are with grains. Although oatmeal is technically GF, it is a rotation crop therefore can be contaminated with wheat, etc. There are certified GF oat options but the recommendation is generally to steer clear of oats for the first year after diagnosis, introducing them again only after giving your intestine time to heal. Oh boy! I used to eat a lot of oatmeal! With this in mind, I wanted to replace it with something. That something is quinoa; it is the perfect replacement even though the consistency is quite different! Change is good, right? “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” ~ George Bernard Shaw.

I’ve not only changed my eating habits, I've also changed my perspective. I’m now a plant-based GF foodie and I accept my GF brethren for whatever reason they choose to live GF. Do what makes you happy and healthy, peeps.