We took a little week off for a breather but Lea from Can Eat Attitude is back on the blog with me again this week to continue our chat about gluten. As a Coeliac herself I knew she was the perfect person to discuss this tricky subject with and my seriously complicated relationship with it.
If you haven't already make sure you check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this chat as we've covered some great topics so far like the pros and cons of the Free From aisle and attitudes towards gluten free lifestyles.
This week we're heading to the supermarket - what is it like to shop and cook gluten free?
V: As a Coeliac what are you missing from your diet by not eating gluten? And what do you have to eat more of to compensate?
I read that actually you might absorb MORE nutrients going gluten free, rather than be lacking. Surely this is a compelling reason to go gluten free, if it's true?!
L: Hahaha, I get asked this sort of question a lot!
Gluten itself doesn’t really provide any nutrition. The foods that contain gluten can easily be swapped out for other nutrient dense, naturally gluten free whole foods: rice, polenta, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, teff are all great substitutes for gluten containing grains.
I’ve no concerns about nutritional deficiencies from my gluten free life. As you mentioned, as a Coeliac on a gluten free diet I do actually absorb more nutrients. This is because my body mistakenly sees gluten as a foreign body and my immune system responds by attacking it. The villi (little finger like protrusions in the intestines) get damaged and flattened in the process of an autoimmune response and that means I’m less likely to absorb nutrients from my food. But when I stick to gluten free, those villi can recover and do their job properly – absorbing the nutrients I need from my food.
I would have been born with Coeliac Disease and I lived my life on bread, pizza, pasta etc and I hate to think about the damage that did to my poor body. Just before I was diagnosed my weight had dropped to around 6.5 stone, I was beyond exhausted and I was sick all of the time.
Now I feel better than I have ever felt, ran a half marathon last year, am up by 7am every morning and am even setting up my own business: all the result of going gluten free, altering my lifestyle and getting more of the right nutrients into my body.
V: See now here you're starting to sound like someone I want to emulate... eat like me, act like me? I mean, if I go gluten free will I start waking up by 7am and running further?!
L: I can see how that snippet taken as a soundbite would give the gluten free diet a lot of appeal, that's definitely a problem. But I don’t think there’s much in the way of reputable evidence that non-Coeliacs going gluten free also absorb more nutrients and would always recommend anyone with concerns speak to their GP.
V: Definitely; if someone is concerned they might have a gluten allergy or intolerance the GP is always the recommended place to go first (you can read more about who to listen to about what to eat in another of my blog posts). And just because it worked for you and made you feel like this, doesn't mean it will have the same results in others.
But let’s get back to the kitchen, because we all know that's my favourite place to be! What are your nightmare things to cook being gluten free?
L: I’m not sure that anything particularly worries me these days as I’ve had a lot of time to adjust. In the beginning my everyday meals were a nightmare and I’d end up eating the same things over and over again because it was easy and safe (jacket potato with ratatouille was my lunch every day for about 3 months) but that doesn’t really work for me anymore.
Cooking gluten free and vegan can be tricky sometimes, especially when you throw into the mix that my partner has a nut allergy and so many gluten free and/or vegan recipes use nuts as replacements but it’s challenged me to get more creative and have more fun in the kitchen.
V: I am already having heart palpitations about you two coming to stay and finding rogue nuts in the kitchen....!
L: I guess if there's anything I'd say I’m not much of a baker so my cakes and pastry can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. But then I don’t practice those too often as I’ve not got much of a sweet tooth and have never been overly concerned with treats. I’d be really interested in hearing what your readers are most scared about cooking gluten free!
V: I am exactly the same – savoury is my haven and I think you can make so many nutritious naturally gluten free dishes that you don’t really feel deprived.
I have to force myself to make sweet things for the blog and the boyfriend with a sweet-tooth (as I’ve talked about before!). My sister is an incredible baker and makes birthday and wedding cakes for friends as well as paid clients. But she really struggles too with substitutes when asked to make things gluten free or egg free for example – she's written me a recipe that's going live on the blog next week, keep your eyes peeled!
Talking of substitutes what is totally gross and you wouldn't touch, even though it's gluten free? Mine's buckwheat. Sorryyyyyy!!!
L: Hmmmm, that’s a tough one, probably just most of the processed stuff in the supermarkets. I’m afraid I like the taste of buckwheat (in the right thing), could eat quinoa ‘til the cows come home, eat millet porridge most days and enjoy an amaranth porridge as a luxury leisurely brekkie. I eat heaps of rice and love chickpea flour although I seem to need to take it easy on the chickpeas. I find coconut flour tricky to work with without a recipe but I love the taste.
L: Shipton Mill do a great range of gluten free flours such as Teff and Millet which are really good – I’m not much of a fan of the “gluten free” flour blends as I don’t love their ingredients lists but naturally gluten free whole-food versions are great.
I guess the short answer is that there isn’t anything I won’t touch now; I’ve retrained my palette and am a lot more open minded about new ingredients these days. I think you just have to look at some of these gluten free options and remember that they will taste/feel different to what you’re used to and embrace that.
V: Okay good answer. Just as long as I know that you won’t cook me anything with buckwheat when I come round for tea! The different flours sound good though and maybe I should experiment more with; I have gone with the more conventionally available gluten free flours so far. An extension of getting more discerning and checking my labels…
L: Yeah, I don’t think I can promise not to play hide the buckwheat, if I’m honest now that you’ve laid down that gauntlet! Also, you’ve tried some that I haven’t gotten round to yet – green banana flour?!
V: Haha, yes! My sister bought it for me for my birthday and I made pancakes with it! I was surprised to find an ingredient that the amazing folks of Instagram hadn't found yet!
Weird question maybe, but would you eat gluten if you could? What would you like to eat or think you'd love?!
L: Ah, well now, that hypothetical question may not be so outlandish in a while as I understand scientists are working on drugs to allow gluten sensitive people to eat the stuff!
I know this isn’t what you mean but I have to speak up for the Coeliacs here and say that no one would choose to have the disease – it may just seem inconvenient to onlookers but there can be some serious related health issues.
Putting the joking aside for a second, it’s important that people understand that for those with Coeliac Disease, not eating gluten isn’t a choice: it’s essential. I think most people on a gluten free diet for medical reasons would much rather be able to eat the same as everyone else and not have to have special separate meals: think of the little kids that get diagnosed that have to take their own food to friend’s birthday parties and aren’t allowed any cake, I’m sure they’d much rather eat gluten.
V: Completely. My little seven year old sister has friends who are allergic to things and not being able to eat party cake like everyone else is totally crushing at that age, or any age for that matter. I've talked about that before on the blog and wanting to fit in.
I think that's where this guilt comes in from me for being a part-time gluten-free follower. For some it really is an issue that has to be taken seriously with very real consequences if they're not strict about it.
L: All that said, I do love my life now, and being a Coeliac is part of who I am (something talk about over on my blog) so I can’t imagine going back to eating what I ate before. I have a much more balanced and nutrient dense diet now and it shows in every aspect of my self and life.
Six years ago I felt quite differently and did cave a few times to the temptation of the crusty buttered bread everyone else was eating. If eating gluten now could somehow be great for my body then a crusty French stick would probably be what I’d eat. But it’s not an option for me and the accidental “aversion therapy” those slip ups gave me helped rewire my preferences and now I don’t even tend to feel envious of what other people are eating (mostly).
V: Ahhhhhh the crusty French baguette. I’m a total sucker for that too. And pesky bread being served up before a big sit down meal when you’re starving is sometimes hard to avoid without a will of steel…
Has being coeliac affected you in any other unexpected ways?
L: I think in short, it started my food discovery and journey to feeling at my very best. I’d never have imagined a decade ago that I would have had the energy to climb Mount Snowdon in the dark, run a half marathon, study nutritional therapy or quit my 9-5 to start my own business. I’ve met amazing people on this path that I never would have if I hadn’t found out I was Coeliac. I make better choices for myself in all senses now and that all starts with food.
V: You’re an inspiration lady!! I reckon next week we should round off but with some crucial gluten free topics we haven’t covered yet. We’ll get a bit science-y (but within our realms of experience and expertise of course) and finally dig into what you feel a blogger’s responsibilities are if they’re advocating gluten free. See you next time.
L: Can’t wait!
Lea Tierney is a freelancer and passionate food nerd helping others discover their Can Eat Attitude by sharing how she lives abundantly (not restrictedly) with Coeliac Disease and a vegan lifestyle. Check out her website for recipes, information on her workshops and if you're interested in the gluten free life a little hub of all Lea's articles on the subject.