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Posts tagged ‘gluten-free’

Gluten-Free Bread Showcase.

For those who are unaccustomed, gluten-free bread is kind of terrible.  It’s like the bread can’t commit to being bread.  It starts out strong – looks good, smells good – but once you try to make a sandwich out of that sucker, it falls apart into a crumbly mess in a matter of milliseconds.  For the last year, I’ve been entirely gluten-free (and I feel better for it – more here on the how and why), and over the course of my gluten-free adventures, I miss proper bread the most.

There are some decent options, though, and they’ve been tested by adults (Chris and I) and kids (Birdy) alike.  Here are some of the top contenders in the Sparling household:

Udi’s is the first kind of gluten-free bread I’ve ever tried, and I want to like it more than I actually do.  It’s not bad, but it’s my least-favorite option.  The pieces of bread themselves are tiny, the bread can’t hold up unless it’s toasted, and when it comes into contact with peanut butter, it becomes sludgy almost immediately.  But it will do in a pinch, and the other Udi’s options are infinitely better than their actual bread.  (Like the hamburger buns.  Those are legitimately awesome.)

Rudi’s is slightly better than Udi’s, but the similarity in names confuses the hell out of me.  Are Rudi and Udi brothers fraught with conflict who once had a unified bakery but then split off and created their own gluten-free fortresses?  Whatever the case,  Rudi’s bread is slightly studier than Udi’s but with the same “better when toasted” consistency.  The pieces of bread seem slightly bigger than Udi’s on the whole.  This brand is a little better but only marginally.

Three Bakers was my favorite bread until two weeks ago (more on that in a second).  This bread is decent in size, better than Udi’s or Rudi’s in consistency, and doesn’t have to be toasted in order to be tolerated.  This bread can hold up to cold cuts and doesn’t shrink and die when touched by condiments.  Three Bakers hold up pretty well when compared to the other kinds.  And it makes bangin’ French Toast.

 

For a long time, the frustrating fragility of gluten-free bread had me baking my own bread, and the preferred bread mix was Pamela’s.  While I’ve made my own bread from scratch before, it takes a reasonable amount of time, and Pamela’s mix on the gluten-free setting for the breadmaker works really well.  It’s thicker and more moist (worst word ever but it applies here) than the store-bought breads, but it falls apart pretty easily when not toasted.  (Sensing a theme here?)

Two weeks ago, though, I found a real winner.  A REAL WINNER.  The Schar brand of bread popped up in the gluten-free section of our local grocery store and holy shit, this stuff seems legit.  It can hold up without being toasted, which is the first kind of GF bread I’ve found capable of unlocking that achievement.  It has a consistency and texture closest to regular bread (in my opinion) and it stood up to the sandwich-in-a-cooler-on-the-beach-for-five-hours test.  I realize I’m holding this stuff up against a strange standard of failure (“This bread sucks the LEAST!”), but it’s been the most successful substitution I’ve found in my 12+ months going gluten-free.

The main drawback to all of these options?  They are pricey.  $5 or $6 for a loaf of bread is ridiculous, which prompts us to buy less of it and embrace other non-bready options more.  But the gluten-free world keeps expanding, and as someone who dove in headfirst and ditched a year’s worth of bellyaches, I’m wicked grateful for these options.

Feed Me.

“I spent [insert slightly obscene amount of money] at the grocery store this afternoon … again,” I said as I put the grocery bags on the kitchen floor.

Chris looked over and assessed the content of the bags.  “It goes into our bodies.  This is what we should be spending our money on.”

Food is an important topic in our house, ranging from its complicated relationship with my diabetes, its influence and  role in my daughter’s health, and overall how society pushes a confusing food agendaFood is a reward.  Food is a punishment.  Food is confusing as fuck and I’d rather just view it as food.

But as much as I’d like to say that I follow all the “rules” and do right by my body at all times, I slip a lot.  Unhealthy food habits creep their way into my regimen almost unnoticed at times.  (Sneaky little bastards.)  For example, about a year ago, I actively tried to cut back on the amount of coffee I was drinking, but after a few months of half-decaf and picking water over iced coffee, I found myself reintroducing that second, and then third cup of caffeinated awesomeness.  (Because that’s a huge problem for me – coffee is awesome, and I like it very much.)  But despite how much I might want to snuggle up with a giant iced coffee, it’s bad news to consume so much of the stuff.  I need to scale back.

I also have a tendency to defer to things like prepackaged and pre-measured yogurt in order to take a crack at keeping blood sugars from going nuts.  If I need a snack, it’s easier to reach for something already carb-counted, but that’s not always the best plan because I’d much rather avoid pre-packaged, if I can.

I won’t even mention the gluten-free journey, because that’s been an exercise in dedication and frustration all unto itself.

Basically, I’ve worked hard to cut out some bad eating habits, and some of them are working their way back in.  This trend needs to be met with an “Oh hell no” because I work too hard at being healthy to derail efforts by something as daily as food.  I need to revisit food logging, even for just a few days, to realign my brain with my mouth and hands.

In the past, I used an app to log food choices, but this time, I have a sharpie marker, a piece of printer paper, and a firm resolve.  I need to see my choices in black-and-white (or, specifically, teal-and-white, as the teal sharpie marker is really lovely) so I can make better choices.  Otherwise, I’ll end up swimming in an endless pool of iced coffee and protein bars.

… which kind of sounds delicious, aside from the whole “protein bars looking like poop” thing.  I think I need to stop this post now, because it just derailed.

Gluten-Free … Still.

I don’t have celiac disease.  I don’t have gluten-sensitivity antibodies.  My endocrinologist ran a slate of tests to determine if my body was pro- or anti-gluten, and nothing came back weird.  As I mentioned last September, the basic gist is that my body seems to have no trouble at all with gluten.  Except that it totally does.

For a good, long time, I felt crummy.  To revisit last summer:

“I was exhausted – falling asleep on the couch and having trouble maintaining my normal vampire hours.  I was moody and grouchy, especially later in the day.  (And I’ll just offer this up because I know you’re thinking it:  I’m not pregnant.)  My hands, on some mornings, were tingly and pins-and-needlesish.  And my stomach was angry, but in a really passive-aggressive way.  I had sharp pains in my stomach, but not all the time.  I had wicked bloating, but not intensely all the time.  I just had a permanent belly ache, and it was becoming the norm.”

I’ve been entirely gluten-free since last August, and those symptoms up there are gone.  The bloating, tender belly pain is gone, as is the majority of the thick brain fog that had settled in for several months.  (Not all the brain fog, though.  I am still space shot in ways that will never repair themselves, but gluten isn’t to blame for that.  That’s all organically me.)  No more pain.

Overall, I haven’t included a new pile of gluten-free replacements for foods, but instead am just cutting out gluten sources.  I bake our bread, so that’s gluten-free, but I don’t often eat bread.  Or pasta.  Subbing in more vegetables, meat, and fruits works better for my personal diabetes crap and preferences than replacing my diet with a bunch of gluten-free specialty foods.  Again, this is easier for me because I don’t have a problem with foods that have come into contact with gluten (I can pick the croutons off a salad without having a belly ache afterwards) and also because my response to eating gluten isn’t an immediate gastrointestinal disaster but instead a sharp bloating that, all things considered, I can totally work through for a night.

I just don’t want to feel unwell; the change is worth the effort, for me.  So I am totally gluten free.  And I am still squeamish to talk about it because it seems like stupid trend-following witchcraft and food bandwagon’ing.  “Gluten-free!  It’s the modern MUST for foodies!”  I kind of feel like a tool requesting a gluten-free meal or asking a server if they have a gluten-free menu, but the handful of times that I’ve eaten gluten in the last year have left a now-predictable and very uncomfortable mark.  I feel lucky as fuck to have figured this out, because I felt like absolute garbage before cutting gluten.

Which is what I try to remember when I’m sheepishly asking someone about the gluten content of a meal.  I’m not doing this to be trendy or snobby.  I am doing this so I don’t feel terrible the majority of the time.  I’m doing this so my kid can hug me around the waist without me wincing from pain.  I’m doing this so Chris doesn’t think his wife is suddenly 98 years old.  Whether lab work proves a sensitivity or not, my body has spoken loud and clear, and I’m listening.

 

Chocolate Chip and Heath Bar Cookies OMG.

I can’t cook, but I can bake.  (Which is a bit ironic, because the things I create are best avoided, for my own, personal blood sugar reasons.  /digression)  And for our annual holiday dessert party, I worked with a cookie recipe from the How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook to bake up some delicious treats.

Here’s the low-down on how Birdy and I baked these up:

ingredients

1 3/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp xanathan gum
1/2 tsp salt
10 tablespoons salted butter, melted
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup Heath Bar bits

The recipe in the How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook is pretty spot on, but we tweak it just a little bit.  The ingredients in the book call for unsalted butter, etc. but Birdzone and I made some changes based on preference.  (We like cookies that are chewy and soft, and this chart serves as a gorgeous guide.)

First, we combined the flour, baking soda, xanathan gum (the magic ingredient!), and salt together in one bowl.  Then we whisked together the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in another bowl, mixing until it was smooth.  To the butter, etc bowl we then added the egg, milk, and vanilla and beat the crap out of that mixture with a whisk until it was one smooth mixture.  Then we added the flour mixture to the butter bowl (Does this make sense?  Refer to the original recipe for accurate info.) with the intention of mixing it together slowly, but when Birdy helps, she dumps the whole bowl in at once, so it all went in at once.  (Oh my, run on sentence.)

Once the bowls are combined, we add in the chocolate chips and the Heath bar bits.  Then the dough sits, tightly covered, for 30 minutes.  Only we left ours for 45 minutes, which made it even easier to work with.  (I haven’t tried refrigerating the dough overnight, but that’s next on my list.)

After 30 – 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  The dough is ready to shape into tablespoon’ed balls (that sounds perverse, sorry) and spaced out on the cookie sheet.  Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the middles don’t seem sludgy or weird.

The final product is a chewy, delicious cookie that doesn’t have any gluten in it and will make everything other than your blood sugars happy.  (The photo up at the top of this post is of our first attempt at these cookies, without Heath Bar and without extra butter or salt.  They were good, but not nearly as good as the ones we didn’t snap pictures of … mostly because the cookies didn’t last long enough to photograph.  They were that good.)

Happy baking and for Pete’s sake, BOLUS.

 

Pros and Cons of Going Gluten-Free. (and a brief lament about the smooshed banana)

It’s been about seven weeks on this “no way, gluten!” lifestyle, and I’m starting to find my footing.  But there are still many pros and cons to balance, so I’m listing them here.  That way, I can look back at this post in a few months and be all, “Pfffft.  Whiner.  You’re in the zone now.”

Here we go – PROS and CONS of Going Gluten-Free in ALL CAPS at times because that’s the only way my brain can operate this morning.

CON:  It’s a pain in the ass, doing this.  Reading food labels for carbohydrate content and grams of sugar in pursuit of better blood sugar control is second nature to me by this point.  After 28 years with type 1 diabetes, I’m comfortable with the carbs.  But trolling labels for that bright, shiny GF logo, or reading through each ingredient to ensure that I’m not inadvertently eating gluten is a new adventure, and one that I find very intrusive.

PRO:  As a result, weight management has been easier lately.  Which I guess is a plus but at the same time, I’m hungry, so I can’t call this a total pro.

CON:  I’m hungry.  (See above.)  All the time.  Mostly because I’m unsure of what to eat, and that insecurity leads me to eat the same things all the time.  Staples like hard boiled eggs, grilled chicken, spinach salad, yogurt, almonds, and every fruit I can get my paws on dominate my days.  Menu items like gluten-free pizza, butternut squash (done with GF ingredients), and chicken soup are being explored, but my natural inclination to be a lazy chef makes this sort of exploration tougher.

PRO:  Eating the same things all the time makes me very familiar with how they map out, blood sugar wise.  So I’m best able to pre-bolus with precision and my post-prandials aren’t gross.  This is boring as eff, but effective for diabetes management.

CON:  Low blood sugars have been really weird lately, especially the ones that follow a visit to the gym.  Before going gluten-free, I’d eat froast or some other glutened up snack to keep my blood sugar steady through cardio (yes, there are other options, but I can’t pretend to have chomped on kale during a run – that would be a big, fat lie and kale hates lies).  Now, I’m erring on the side of fruit and sometimes those sugars get in and out of my system too quickly to hold me for an entire workout.  I’m still figuring out what foods work best to deal with during- and post-exercise hypoglycemia.

PRO:  Glucolift Wildberry tabs are gluten-free.

CON:  Traveling is weird now, too, keeping gluten off my plate.  Airports are not designed for people with dietary needs or preferences, especially little airports like the one I frequent here in Providence.  Finding foods that are gluten-free while on the road is tough, with little exception.  Once I land somewhere, I’m fine, but while in transit, I keep my bag stashed with snacks.

PRO:  I’m learning a lot about what foods travel well.  These gf bars are among my favorites to toss in a backpack, and while they are not as healthy as something fresh, they can stand up to traveling with me and they are more filling than the Southwest pretzels that I can’t eat.

CON:  Bananas do not keep well in backpacks.  They turn brown quickly and often end up smeared on … oh, let’s say the lid of a laptop.

PRO:  I wash my backpack more often than I ever have before, and now it permanently smells like dryer sheets.  Which is a nice contrast to my computer, which smells permanently like bananas now.

CON:  I hate being “that girl.”  The one who asks waitstaff if certain menu options can be made without gluten.  The one who reads labels before taking a bite of anything.  The one who might be mistakenly marked as someone following a “trend diet” instead of someone who is unhappily-but-smartly following through on feedback from her body.  As good as I feel off gluten, I wish I could still eat the stuff and not make waves.

PRO:  I’m learning not to care about feeling slightly embarrassed because DUDE I feel so much better.

“You’re more … you.  The change between then and now is significant,” Chris said the other day.

He’s right.  My mood/disposition/health/everything since kicking gluten out of my diet has been ten steps in the best direction.  All of the non-celiac gluten sensitivity symptoms are gone.  The “head fog” where I would forget what I was doing or what I was about to say has receded.  The numbness and tingling in my hands and wrists is gone.  The ache in my hip joints after running is gone.  I don’t want to spend the afternoon taking a nap on the couch.  My energy is back.  My face is less puffy.  I can chase Birdy without feeling like my feet are in lead boots.  It took months to tune in to how poorly I felt, but now that I’m feeling better, the change is undeniable.

As much as I miss being more carefree about food, a gluten-free diet is the best fit for me.  And after almost three decades of type 1 diabetes, what’s one more food constraint?  So long as coffee and wine remain in the mix, I’m good.

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