Firstly a disclaimer, I want to make this clear that I’m writing this based solely on my own experience of being diagnosed with Celiac Disease and your experience or symptoms may not be the same. If you are experiencing symptoms you should visit your doctor. I also wanted to say that this is not a pity party and my sharing of this story is only in hopes that if you feel as if something is not right with your body, that you will search for answers. Figuring out what is not right with your body is a process and takes time – so don’t give up! You know your body better than anyone else.
I had always been a really healthy and energised person and around when I turned 17 I no longer felt that way. I was chronically fatigued, felt like I was going to faint on the daily, constant flu symptoms and any exercise felt exhausting (I’m talking walking from the bust stop back home). My symptoms were trembling, hot flushes, mouth ulcers, teeth translucency, weakness, headaches, nausea, throwing up, body aches, depression, anxiety, abdominal pressure/pain, brain fog, low iron, b12, folate and fevers. What I thought and what I was consistently told by doctors is that I had a weak immune system and because I worked with the public that I was just more at risk. I would get what I thought to be a ‘flu’ and no one around me would ever catch it (obviously not that I wanted them to – but I thought it was strange) not even my partner or my family who were living in the same household. My symptoms went on for just over 2 years.
I felt like I had tried absolutely everything. I took all the vitamin C supplements, the iron, the herbal immune boosting pills and nothing made a difference! Not even slightly. I can’t even begin to describe how defeated I was and how shitty I constantly felt. On one hand I had people telling me there was something wrong with me and that I should just ‘do something about it’, and on the other I had everyone else (including doctors) telling me there was nothing wrong and that I was just being dramatic. This caused a whole lot of anxiety as I felt pressure to act like a regular 20 year old and go out and have fun and do things! I felt like a failure because my body just couldn’t do what I wanted it to and that it was my fault for not doing a good enough job taking care of it! Every time my friends would ask me to come out I would just fill up with dread because I knew that if I went out for a drink I would end up with a ‘flu’ the next day. I felt defeated and so alone. No one understood how sick I was and that I couldn’t just ‘come hangout’. I was exhausted and anxious to the point that I wouldn’t go see my friends because I thought my body couldn’t handle it and I would end up getting sick again. I was told over and over again that I was a drama queen, to just ‘get over it’ and that there was nothing wrong with me and it was ‘probably just a virus’. I had lost all faith in doctors as not a single one had helped me.
It wasn’t until one day I was talking to one of my good friends that she suggested I go see her Naturopath. Now, can I just say THIS WOMAN, is just amazing. I honestly have no words. She made me feel heard and safe and she acknowledged how I was feeling and reassured me that we would work together to get to the bottom of my symptoms. She not only has taught me so much about health and my own body but she has inspired me to further my own learning and sparked my love for taking care of my body. She almost straight away suggested that I may have Celiac Disease. It was a relief because I finally knew what was wrong with me but it was also so daunting because I had no idea where to start. I did my own research and learned through trial and error. There has been many accidental glutening incidents and a lot of bad tasting gluten free meals (I’ve gotten better though). It was all worth it for my health, and now I love cooking even more than I did before! I kind of see it as a challenge of ‘how can I make this gluteny food delicious in gluten free?’.
Moral of the story – take your health into your own hands. We can’t expect all doctors to be knowledgeable about everything but we can expect them to listen and to refer us to someone who does know and can help. Keep pushing and asking questions and don’t take the ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’ bullshit. Keep looking until you find your Alison (my naturopath). There will be someone that can help you. And please, please don’t blame yourself or your body for not feeling well or functioning how it ‘should’. Sometimes you are just doing your best and that is all you can do.
For people in the Byron Bay area – Alison’s facebook if you need to contact her for an appointment. As written before, I highly recommend her as someone who understands and listens to what you have to say not only about your symptoms but how you have been feeling, which to me, made all the difference.
SO, that leads me to the next part of this blog post – I have put together a guide for Celiacs who are new to this whole process!
I have written this comprehensive gluten free guide because I know how hard it can be when first starting out on a gluten free diet and I wish there had been a blog like this to let me in on all the gluten free secrets! I’m not going to sit here and nag you to stop glutening yourself because I’m sure your doctor will tell you how important it is to stay 100% gluten free so learn from my mistakes and continue reading.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a storage protein that is naturally found in some cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is different to a gluten sensitivity and/or intolerance. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to your small intestine when grains with gluten or contaminated with gluten are ingested. What happens is when someone with Celiac disease ingests gluten, their body triggers an immune response that essentially attacks the small intestine.
Watch out for foods that say may contain as they are likely processed with other foods that contain gluten. Even though you may not get any symptoms (that you know of) it could still be damaging your small intestine. Someone with gluten intolerance could get away with eating may contain but someone with Celiac disease should not risk it.
What grains can you eat?
- Uncontaminated Oats (will take more about that below)
What grains are a no no
- Brewers yeast
Can you still eat the foods you love?
You can still eat an abundance of foods you still love don’t worry! There are so many products out there that I have mentioned below.
Gluten Free Flours
There are heaps of gluten free flours that are usually used in combination with each to make a flour ‘blend’. You can buy many different types of flour blends or make your own and they are made to replace gluten flours to optimise your baking. They also often have thickeners like guar gum or xanthan gum that mimic gluten by adding elasticity for pastries or other baked goods. A lot of recipes (including some of my own) have these listed in the ingredients but don’t worry they aren’t hard to find (I buy mine at Coles or Woolworths (in Australia) and most health food shops sell these).
- Potato Flour/Starch: used to thicken (sauces, gravy’s etc) and in frying to increase crispiness.
- Sorghum flour: used in flour blends for baking to add flavour and texture.
- White rice flour/extra fine white rice flour: used in flour blends for baking, for thickening up sauces and stews and to increase crispiness for frying.
- Brown rice flour: used for thickening sauces and stews and adds a nutty flavour to baking (breads and pastries).
- Corn flour/starch: used in frying foods, thickening soups, gravy’s and stir fry sauces and are used in flour blends for baked goods.
- Coconut flour: primarily used in baking but can be very drying so need to be careful with substituting this one.
- Almond flour/meal: added to baked goods such as muffins or pastries for texture and moistness.
- Teff: used in flour blends mainly for baking such as flatbreads.
- Arrowroot flour: used to thicken sauces and stews and can be added in flour blends.
- Chickpea flour: used in traditional Indian cuisine (batters and breads), can be added to baking for a higher protein and fiber alternative.
- Tapioca flour/ starch: for thickening sauces and stews/soups, used for dusting and gluten free frying and in flour blends for baking.
- Cassava flour: used in flour blends for baking.
- Buckwheat flour: high in fibre and protein and has so many uses! It adds a great nutty flavour to savoury dishes (for example gluten free naan bread), it is also used to make Japanese soba noodles!
Gluten Free $ Money Hacks
Eating gluten free can be expensive and it sucks having to pay 10 bucks for a loaf of bread, especially when you don’t have a choice. But, there are ways to reduce the cost of living a gluten free diet. Here are a few of mine below that I find useful:
- Don’t go straight to the ‘free from’ aisle. A lot of products just happen to be gluten free. For example, rice crackers in the biscuit aisle (be careful of flavouring). The ‘free from’ aisle is notorious for being more expensive and if you can get away with other products that are cheaper than you should (every little bit helps when you’re living on a budget).
- Making your own food. I know a lot of us don’t have the time to make everything from scratch so what i’m saying is find something that you love making (like cookies) and find a recipe instead of paying a million dollars for a packet of biscuits!
- Choose naturally gluten free grains like rice and quinoa which can be cheaper than buying some other products such as pasta which have to be made gluten free.
What to look out for + questions to ask when eating out
- Knowledgeable staff are a good sign
- Menu keys (gf) (gfo)
- Ask about cross contamination!
- Celiac certified restaurants – these restaurants take more care with food handling and cross contamination and therefore are generally a safe place to eat ( I still look at reviews online to make sure)
- Swapping foods – sometimes when there is nothing else to eat you have to resort to swapping out certain ingredients i.e. burger without the buns.
- Pasta cooked in the same water is not safe for a celiac
- Ask if they have dedicated fryers for gluten free options
- Watch out for pizzas and other foods that are cooked on the same surface
- Ask them to use separate utensils
- What is ‘low gluten’? – Usually what low gluten means and why you need to double check is some places like Gloria Jeans in Australia has signs on their cabinet cakes that say low gluten and what they mean is that there may be cross contamination because the gluten free items are in the same cabinet as the gluten ones. Its best to make the right decision based on you.
The No No’s
Don’t be alarmed about the amount of foods I have written here! You can find almost all of these made gluten free. I have only written these so you know to go find a gluten free alternative.
- Wheat and other gluten free breads, wraps, pizza bases muffins and crumpets.
- Wheat pasta, risoni, gnocchi, couscous, ramen noodles, soba noodles
- Crackers, pretzels and some chips with gluten in the flavouring
- Cakes, pastries, biscuits, pancakes, waffles
- Breakfast cereals containing wheat cereals such as puffed wheat and cereals containing wheat starches and wheat derived sweeteners such as corn flakes or malt such as milo cereal.
- Croutons, breadcrumbs and some salad dressings
- Asian sauces that contain soy sauce and wheat as thickeners such as hoisin and stir fry sauces
- Gravies and stocks (they use wheat as thickener sometimes)
- Beer (look for certified gluten free beer that has been brewed with rice etc)
- Brewers yeast
- Lollies and ice cream with ‘glucose syrup derived from wheat’
Hidden Gluten to watch out for!
- Vitamins and supplements ( I ate vita-gummies for ages before realising I was glutening myself!)
- Over the counter medication (check with the pharmacist if you aren’t sure)
- Hot chocolate powder
- Protein shakes and protein bars
- Makeup such as lipstick or lip balm that you may accidentally ingest
- Some meats that are processed such as salami and marinated meats
- A lot of vegan mock meats are made from wheat!
What is cross contamination and how do I avoid it?
Cross contamination is basically anything that has touched gluten. Whether that be a chopping board with crumbs, oil in the fryer or same knives/spoons touching something with gluten on it. If you are Celiac, you need to be aware and ask staff when going out for meals so you can avoid getting sick. Also things to think about when at home –
- Sharing the same toaster
- Pasta in the same water
- Crumbs in the butter!
- Crumbs in the oven
- Not washing up properly after
Can temperature kill the gluten?
NO! Temperature cannot kill gluten. Gluten is a protein molecule therefore cannot be killed from a temperature food is cooked at.
Are Oats gluten free?
Naturally oats are gluten free BUT they are often processed with other grains containing gluten therefore are not safe for a Celiac to eat. There are uncontaminated oats and in America they are called gluten free but here in Australia oats are not legal to call gluten free but lookout for the ones that say wheat free and then also say not processed with gluten. Same goes with bread made from oats and oat flour.
About gluten free baking and how is it different from regular baking
Okay. This ones a tough one because there is a lot to it. I learn better from trial and error. You will understand what I mean if you are a baker. Gluten adds elasticity, flavour and texture. Basically gluten free baking is a huge pain in the ass and it drives me nuts so when you find a good recipe hold onto it and don’t let it go! I avoid it at all costs until I randomly get into a baking mood and get all motivated to make all the gluten free bread and treats (kind of like cleaning… oops). My favourite gluten free bloggers are mentioned just below. They (along with myself) will help you with all your gluten free baking needs.
My favourite gluten free bloggers
My favourite gluten free places in Melbourne
- Rochella (melbourne) best gf bread in the world
- Shimbashi (melbourne) completely gluten free Japanese venue with tons of vegan/vego options
- Hella good souvlaki
- A25 pizza
- Glazed gluten free patisserie
- Nirankar Restaurant
- Rice paper scissors
- Ciao Mumma
- Stalactites Restaurant
The best gluten free places to eat in the Byron Bay region
- Cardamom pod
- No bones
- Earth n sea pizza
- Fish shop called dory’s
- Chef and shuka
- Che bon
- The belle central
- Thai by night
- Red Wok
My favourite gluten free brands
I have included links to each of these brands to make it easier for you 🙂
- Barilla gluten free pasta
- Coles i’m free from gluten free puff pastry
- Bob’s red mill flour blends
- Pimp my salad
I hope I could help in some way and now this all seems less daunting!