Allison’s new gluten-free diet cleared everything she loved about food off of her table. She used to enjoy baking and eating out with her husband at fancy Italian restaurants, but now she had to say good-bye to homemade chicken pot pie, Olive Garden’s fettuccine alfredo, and all of her favorite all-purpose flour-filled delights of muffins, breads, and cookies. She reluctantly started eating more salads, gnawing on celery, and ordering her Subway in between two lettuce leaves that looked like they’d been around since the turn of the century.
Allison found that her gluten-free diet (popularly referred to as a G-free diet) caused her to fall into a dietary rut. She was confused about why God would allow her to have these health complications that made eating three meals a day such a challenge. She became so frustrated that she ate only apples and peanut butter for a full week until she ran in desperation to her fellow G- free friend who taught her the joys of gluten-free cooking.
Yes, I did say joys. Because eating gluten-free can not only be tolerable, it can be a pleasant pursuit leading to the discovery of foods and recipes you might not otherwise try, as well as a road bringing your body to a healthier and happier place if eating G-free is what it calls for.
Let me slow down for those of you who are saying, “What in the world is gluten anyway? Some competitor of Elmer’s?” Uh, not quite, but close. The definition of gluten is “a tenacious elastic protein substance especially of wheat flour that gives cohesiveness to dough.” So, in a sense, it is like a glue in that it holds together the food that it’s made with, allowing it to rise and have a chewy texture, which is why everyone and their mother keeps a bag of Gold Medal flour in their pantries. Gluten is present in wheat, rye, and barley and is found in hundreds of foods, which is why at first glance a G-free diet looks as restrictive as your teenage daughter’s skinny jeans. Breads, pastas, pretzels, cereals, crackers, soy sauce, soups, and lunch meats are just some of the foods to eliminate when beginning a gluten-free diet.
You might be wondering what kind of person would adopt such a limited diet because, the last time you checked, wheat wasn’t exactly considered a junk food. It’s true, throwing some whole wheat flour into the pancake batter is still a healthy habit...if your body can handle it. While many people have no problem consuming gluten, there are thousands of others who suffer from chronic conditions that limit their tolerance of this protein. For people with Celiac disease, consuming gluten causes a reaction in their small intestine, resulting in damage to the intestine and difficulty in absorbing nutrients.
Celiacs are not the only ones who adopt a G-free lifestyle. People with gluten sensitivities or wheat allergies also try to stick to a diet without gluten. And those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which includes ten to fifteen percent of America’s population, often experiment with a gluten-free diet to find out if going G-free might ease their symptoms.
In her book The Gluten Connection, Shari Lieberman suggests that many people are misdiagnosed and relegated to live with a disease that could be improved with a gluten-free diet. These diseases include not only digestive disorders, but other chronic problems such as skin diseases, neurological disorders, and other autoimmune diseases. Lieberman writes, “Gluten sensitivity is a chameleon- like disease. Instead of confining itself to one area of the body...and exhibiting one set of defining characteristics that can be easily diagnosed, it can develop in many different, unsuspected ways.”
- abdominal pain
- joint pain
- muscle pain
- constipation and/or diarrhea
- acid reflux
- skin irritation
- sinus congestion
A common one-word question is “Why?” Why am I sensitive to gluten? Why did God make me this way? While there are no simple or complete answers to these questions, there are some truths that give insight. Our bodies were conceived in sin, corrupted before we were even born. Sin [humanity's separated state from God] is why people have gluten intolerance, cancer, AIDS, and any other physical problem. But trials can be a blessing because they strengthen our faith. The book of James instructs us to “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
IS THIS THE 'ANSWER'?
I imagine many of you who suffer from chronic health complications are tempted to start looking at the gluten-free diet like Charlie Bucket eyeing a Willy Wonka chocolate bar. You begin to ask yourself, is this the answer? Will this solve all my problems? Does G-free hold the golden ticket leading to long-term health and happiness? Let me answer that one for you with a big fat no.
First of all, let’s remember that just as Charlie was one out of millions of children hoping to find a golden ticket, very, very few people find that one simple change in their lives, such as a gluten-free diet, will bring all of their bodily discord into perfect harmony. Second, beware of latching on to something of this world that will never bring you complete satisfaction. A gluten-free diet is not sinful, it is not bad, it is not wrong. But it is something that can easily become an idol. For, “the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” So, love God, not the world. Put confidence in Jesus, not your diet. Seek wholeness in Christ and try a G-free diet to see if it will aid in your physical health. Let’s move on.
While you may or may not be going gluten-free yourself, it is probable that someone you know is either already on or beginning this diet, and it is becoming more and more important to know G-free specifics in order to accommodate, if not yourself, those around you. You might be tempted to gape at all those Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Panera Bread Cinnamon Crunch bagels floating out the window (trust me, they weren’t doing anything for your health anyway), but let me turn your head back into the kitchen where there still sits many healthful, tasty foods that are naturally gluten-free. Fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, nuts, yogurt, and milk are all G- free. Don’t think you have to give up grains, because many exist that do not contain gluten, such as rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and sorghum.
And if just the thought of relinquishing your pasta obsession causes you to break out in a cold sweat, be assured that there are plenty of gluten-free substitutes for those foods that are typically made with gluten. Gluten-free pastas, flours, granola bars, breads, cookies, crackers, and pancake mixes are available online, at health food stores, and sometimes even at your local grocery. Many books and cookbooks have been written to promote awareness of the problems people have with gluten and offer instruction to those who decide to adopt a gluten-free diet. There are also countless blogs available online that offer hundreds of gluten-free recipes. Here are a few of my favorites: glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com, glutenfreemommy.com, celiacteen.com, and glutenfreegirl.com.
YOUR TURN TO COOK GLUTEN-FREE
Becky Metcalf, creator of thatfamilywiththecats.blogspot.com, started going gluten-free in August 2010 when she found out she was sensitive to wheat, dairy, sugar, corn, and oats. Soon after she began mixing her own flours, creating her own recipes, and blogging about her new lifestyle. Becky says, “I had come to the realization that God has made a plethora of foods for our enjoyment (why else would we have tastebuds?) and for me to be so depressed over losing a few flavors is pathetic, in light of all the other foods that I had to try! I started the blog at that same time, because I knew I couldn’t be the only person in the world experiencing difficulties and wanting to try out new foods and stuff.” Here are a few of Becky’s favorite gluten-free recipes. [PUBLISHER’S RECOMMENDATION: Print the receipes below along with this article, gather additional resources, then start a gluten-free cooking class at your church or in your gym as part of your fitness ministry. CONTACT US. We can help you get started.] You can find more of her delicious creations on her blog, thatfamilywiththecats.blogspot.com.
Click on the 5 FREE recipe links below and then click the PRINT FRIENDLY graphic to print them.
- gluten-free lasagna
- gluten-free waffles
- gluten-free Oyako Donburi
- gluten-free sandwich bread
- gluten-free salsa chicken
Sure, a G-free diet means giving up some foods here and there, but it could also mean a vast improvement in health for those who struggle with chronic problems. It is important to recognize the responsibility we have to nourish our bodies properly, and also to remember the truth that God is ultimately in control of our health. In Psalm 139 the psalmist writes, “You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.”
God knows every detail about our physical bodies. He has given us a certain amount of freedom in how we treat them, but He is sovereign over them because He created them. Whether you’re sick or well, on a gluten-free diet or not, eating whole wheat bread or brown rice, be confident in His promises to provide and care for you in every situation.
Beyond your diet --- It's time to hit the gym and workout. Anna Connelly is not just a good writer with gluten-free tips you can use. She is a gifted musician. Her November 2017 release of the three part oratorio, Kingdom, offers some Bible-rich listening that will inspire and challenge you while you workout. The first of these three parts, Messenger, is online for you to download or stream. This isn't your typical gym tune. However, if you listen to it from start to finish for the full twelve minute duration you'll challenge your spirit to more deeply consider God and your relationship with Him.
Looking for a way to improve your diet while doing your physical fitness and having fun with family and friends? Read how you can grow your own dinner in A Workout With Man In Overalls. Then read more articles in our Nutrition department and Gardening department.
This article appears in the April/May 2011 issue of Faith & Fitness Magazine.