Rebecca's Ponderings

Dining Car

*** In August, 2010, we encountered some new dietary challenges in our family. For a more recent update, please click here. For background to our story, please continue reading…


In April of 2008 I discovered, with the help of my herbalist, that I am gluten intolerant.  We later discovered that both of our children and my mother are as well.  Going gluten-free was quite an adventure and required that I re-learn how to cook.  It also presented social challenges which I had not anticipated.  However, the confidence, energy, and general well-being that I have gained as a result of being gluten-free are worth the inconveniences.

I often find myself fielding questions about gluten allergies and intolerance from friends, relatives, even total strangers.  With that in mind, I have put together some of the most common questions I receive, along with some statistics and resources that I have found helpful.

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.  Most oats are also contaminated with gluten because of the way they are grown and processed.

So did you go gluten-free because you had digestive symptoms? No.  Actually, I didn’t realize that I had digestive symptoms.  I tried a gluten-free diet because I was exhausted all the time, had trouble concentrating, struggled with bouts of depression, had tingling and numbness in my arms, and was extremely sensitive to cold.  After being gluten-free for a while, I realized that my stomach didn’t hurt.  I had been enduring chronic abdominal pain and bloating for years without recognizing it as abnormal.

How did you determine that your kids had it? My children suffered from chronic constipation.  Their doctor had told me, “Some people just don’t go as often as others.”  Once I went gluten free, we found out that chronic constipation is a prime indicator of  wheat allergy and gluten intolerance.  They went gluten free and the stomach aches, bloating, and even some behavioral problems drastically improved.

Did your doctor test you for it? Unfortunately, no.  Most doctors in the US are completely uninformed about it.  The average person with Celiac Disease suffers for 10 years before being diagnosed.  The blood tests are completely inaccurate.  There is a fecal test available which is accurate, but only two labs in the US offer it.  After reading about gluten intolerance and consulting a herbalist (certified as a Medical Herbalist in the UK), I chose to follow an elimination diet.

Can you eat white bread? I am constantly amazed at how many people have no idea what is in the food they are eating.  Enriched white flour is finely ground wheat.  Cakes, cookies, crackers, breadings, and pastas are all made from wheat.  In addition, malt comes from barley and is found in beer, cereals, and some potato chips.

Can’t you just take the hamburger off the bun? I wish it were that simple. Unfortunately, I must watch for cross-contamination. Something as innocent as spreading peanut butter or mayonnaise on bread and then re-dipping the knife into the jar can make me very ill for days. Many restaurants fry their battered chicken and french fries in the same oil. Dining out can be especially tricky.

What do you miss the most? Honestly, I don’t really miss the “goodies.” I have managed to find comparable recipes for just about everything we like to eat. What I really miss is the spontaneity of ordering pizza and going to dinner with friends.  Now, I must plan and research ahead of time to be sure that we will be able to eat.

What is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance? With an allergy, an individual may get hives, itchy or watery eyes, runny nose, wheezing or diarrhea which appear very quickly after ingesting the offending food.  With gluten intolerance, the reaction is delayed, even by a day or two.  The symptoms include: digestive upset such as diarrhea, bloating, and constipation; skin rashes and hives; fatigue; inability to concentrate;  joint or muscle pain; anemia and other nutrient absorption challenges; and headaches or even migraines.

My friend has Celiac Disease or Celiac Sprue. Is that the same thing? Sort of. Celiac Disease occurs once the lining of the small intestine has been completely destroyed. When someone who is gluten intolerant eats gluten, it damages the lining of their small intestine.  This can eventually lead to Celiac Disease.

What books and resources do you recommend? I highly recommend Living Without magazine.  Their recipes have all been excellent (unlike many others I have found).  The Gluten Connection by Shari Leiberman was very helpful in explaining gluten intolerance, it’s symptoms, and how to get tested.  Two websites: and are also reputable and thorough.

Do you have any recipes you can share? Honestly, most of the recipes that I use (and would recommend) came from  Their recipes work for me, in my kitchen, and without a lot of weird ingredients (other than the special flours we have to use). To get started, stock your pantry with sorghum flour (I much prefer that to garbanzo bean flour), cornstarch, brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and xanthan gum.  They are expensive.  Shop around for the best deals. Personally, I like to shop at Earth Fare; they usually have the best prices on specialty items like that.

** Update: My favorite flour blend was adapted from Living Without Magazine. It is 1.25 cups of sorghum flour and 1 cup, each, of cornstarch, tapioca flour/starch, and brown rice flour. I use this blend for just about everything I make. **

Please feel free to leave a comment if you would like more information.


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