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Monday, June 6, 2016

A Year Without Gluten: Our Family's Journey So Far

It's been a little over a year since we removed gluten and dairy from Ari's diet and I thought now would be a good time to chat about our journey in the hopes that it might help others. While ours is far from being figured out, our journey over the past year and a half has taught us many things- how we eat and even how we think about food has changed considerably in that time- and I like to think we were already quite informed about food before Ari's diet became a curve ball to figure out. If you've followed the blog for a little while, you'll know that Ari and Will are the inspiration behind many of the recipes I share and have adapted for these dietary changes. I get asked quite a few questions about how we came to the conclusion to remove gluten from our then 18- month old's diet, what we eat, and general tips and suggestions, so I'm going to do my best to share about our experience in this post.


I have been asked 'what does your family eat?' on more than one occasion. I sometimes ask myself the same question on evenings when it's been an especially busy day and I'm facing the task of cooking dinner and have no idea what to make. Toss in a picky toddler and you have the recipe for a cranky mama. Those days are still the most frustrating for me, the ones where I can't fall back on a quick and easy option, where I have to improvise. But in many ways, those are the times where I've been forced to think outside the box and come up with new ideas. Thanks to Will cheering me on (and putting up with many of my frustrated culinary tantrums) I've began to think of food less as 'what we can't eat' and instead focus on everything that we can. And that little change in perspective has helped a lot. In addition to the swaps for gluten free versions of things like bread and pasta, our family has found other new foods and recipes to love: I make most of my own salad dressings and marinades, bake way more than I ever used to, and changed what we consider to be a meal or snack (Ari loves seaweed, something I never would have tried outside of sushi before this experience). If you're looking for some tips and ideas, see below.


Favourite Gluten Free Foods

  • gluten free pasta, bread & crackers (look for whole- grain versions)
  • quinoa flatbread (this is also delicious as a pizza crust)
  • oatmeal raisin cookies (these are like little granola bar balls)
  • seaweed, raisins, and naked popcorn
  • nuts and homemade trail mix
  • lots of fresh fruits and veggies
  • zucchini 'noodles' 
  • if you're looking for some other ideas, see the blog's Recipes page 
Tips for healthy gluten free eating
  • Healthy options aren't a guarantee- just because something is gluten free doesn't mean it's a healthy option; while white rice, corn, and potato flour are popular ingredients in place of wheat flour, they lack nutritional benefit
  • Pay attention to sugar content- pay attention to the sugar content in gluten free baking, etc. Many of the store- bought items we've come across are loaded with sugar to compensate for a lack of flavour  
  • Look out for crappy ingredients- while common in many gluten free products, I try to avoid certain ingredients if they're not organic/ non- GMO, such as corn. This can sometimes limit choices and I can't always do this, but I try
  • READ THE LABEL- if it isn't labeled as gluten free, it isn't. Of course I'm not suggesting a banana isn't gluten free. What I'm referring to is anything from salad dressings and condiments, to potato chips to... anything you can think of. Some products are 'gluten free' but processed in a plant with wheat and/ or other allergens. If you are highly sensitive or have Celiac disease, this risk of cross- contamination can be a problem. (I remember getting angry when a jar of baby food- plums- had wheat in it. I had bought it to help Ari's digestion and if I hadn't read the label I would have accidentally made the problem worse)
  • It's trial and error- And trial and error. And trial and error. Going gluten free isn't budget- friendly, especially when you're trying to figure out different gluten free flours, mixes, recipes, etc. It can also be frustrating and time consuming. A recipe you know in your sleep probably won't be the same when it's gluten- free, and figuring out a version that's close to what you want can take several attempts (just the other day I tried whipping up a batch of GF pancakes and since I switched up the combination of flours, they were too soft to flip so I ended up having to bake them in the oven! And I totally admit getting angry- they're just pancakes for goodness sake, not a souffle!)
  • Rethink why you eat certain foods- We don't need wheat in our diets to be healthy. The same with dairy. But we do need quality foods to meet our nutritional needs and some fun stuff tossed into the mix so we don't go crazy (everything in moderation, right?). A big change we made was taking our toaster out of the kitchen. I don't buy bread as often since store bought GF loaves are pricier (I'm still working on perfecting a sandwich bread we love) and without really intending to, we've almost removed this carb from our diet. 


As I've said, we're also mostly dairy free, so that can make things a little interesting, but not impossible. What we do isn't perfect, but it's worked for us so far, and I'm always trying to make gluten/ dairy free versions of meals we love. Some things I've just had to accept won't be the same, or even possible (mac n cheese and soft tortillas are 2 things that have eluded me). And as someone who isn't limited to her food choices, this admittedly can be frustrating when I just want something familiar (but before I get too pouty I remind myself that Will feels this way too, but doesn't have a choice, so I try to shut up). And baking gluten and dairy free is in a league of it's own, but I'm learning what blends of different GF flours work best for sweet (some combination including coconut and tapioca flour(s)) vs savoury  (some combination of brown rice and quinoa flour(s)) recipes.

Before and since our family faced these dietary crossroads, I know of many friends whose families have had to adjust what they eat- whether it was for themselves, a spouse, or a child. Like us, they didn't make these changes because they were trendy, or a fad, it was out of a need for change. With Ari, we suspected things were amiss when she broke out in head- to- toe rashes and had other lingering health issues she couldn't kick, but there are a variety of symptoms to be aware of, and I suggest you look into them based on what you're experiencing. Be an advocate for your health. Since embarking on this health journey with Ari, we've had her at doctors, naturopaths, a paediatrician and gastroenterologist, had xrays and an ultrasound, blood tests, and various other tests along the way. And we're still not entirely sure if what she suffers from is something we can resolve or 'fix' or if it's something we'll have to contend with forever. We just don't know, but we'll keep doing the best we can.

Whether a dietary change is something new that you're trying to navigate, or you're just looking for more information, I hope this post helps a little and I'd love to hear how your family has adjusted around dietary needs. We have learnt so much more about food in the time since making these changes, gone beyond gluten and dairy free eating- researched, read, and watched (thanks Netflix!) as much as we could to educate ourselves not just on 'eating healthy', but trying to gain a true understanding of nutrition.