I know it can be hard to keep track of every little thing. Almost everyone that goes through your door has some kind of dietary restriction, and you would probably explode if you tried to keep track of every detail in your memory banks. They may be bigger than computers, but I mean, it`s not like your brain can pop a can of spinach and become Dexter like Popeye`s muscles explode with the stuff. (90`s cartoon Dexter, not current mystery show.)
That`s why they invented bloggers. Well, that and other things. The main point is that they are useful people to go to, especially on all things allergy and diet related. That`s why a quick search on WordPress reveals endless recipes and tips if you type in “x free”. We are real thinkers like that.
But to give you some background ideas and a bit of the basics, we might whip you into foodie shape as easy as [gluten free vegan] pie.
Why go gluten free? If you have problems with gluten, it is absolutely necessary that you completely get rid of it. It causes all kinds of nasty side effects, and there are over 300 symptoms of it! Celiac Central has a nice mini list for quick referencing.
Basically, gluten makes you feel crummy if you are at all sensitive (And many recent studies suggest something like 1/3 of all Americans are) . You are depressed, anxious and tired, get rashes or eczema, become too fat or too skinny, can`t sleep, embarrassing problems ranging from losing bladder or bowel control (IBS and Crohn`s) to constantly throwing up or not being able to concentrate on the simplest of tasks. (ADD, Autism) It isn`t just those with Celiac disease who get these symptoms. They were just at a point where they were gluten sensitive, and the gluten had worked as acid to destroy the intestines. As a result of this, they will be malnourished (nutrients will slip through the holes in their gut) and useless to society until they figure out what the problem is, and purge the gluten from their diet so they become peppy and energetic again. The difference between gluten sensitivity and celiac is very similar to the difference between HIV and AIDs. Gluten sensitivity just means that, though gluten poisons and corrupts your body, your body is still mostly intact. Celiac means that the damage has been done and can never be completely fixed. You are still hurt by ingesting gluten either way!
Only 15% of the American population have been diagnosed as a celiac. However, 1 in 3 Americans statistically have gluten sensitivity. That is a ton of people! Even worse, it is almost never diagnosed by a doctor suggesting the test. Those that have been diagnosed often forced their doctor to put them through the test. Many people will not be diagnosed until eleven years (national average) after they have hit full blown celiac. Overall, the biggest symptom is usually just a constant feeling that you aren`t feeling too well, even though it has always been that way or your doctor can`t find anything wrong.
Some more useful and concrete symptoms are:
- Looking like a vampire. Dark bags, super pale skin. Acting like a vampire and not sleeping too.
- Always sick. Or really grumpy. Migraines, rashes, you name it.
- Mouth sores, depression, irritability.
- Numbness or brain fog.
- Not enough energy to do your favorite tasks, or something simple you used to be good at.
- No symptoms at all! Gluten intolerance is mostly a hereditary problem, and you can look at your relatives to see if they have any signs of gluten intolerance. Just because the problem isn`t obvious in you doesn`t mean it isn`t there!
Over time, the gluten will take a toll on you, and your body will lose the will to fight. Many people with sensitivities to gluten will sense their body`s weakening, and will often wonder if they can live with their undiagnosed health problem.
Many people have tried going gluten free for one reason or another. They usually try it for a week or some other short amount of time and get disgusted with the whole process and give up. You can`t say you are ‘safe eating it’ that soon!
Most people will exhibit mild to extreme withdrawal symptoms the first month, and even up to the second. In people with gluten sensitivity, gluten can act exactly like a drug:
- You get high, then crash later after eating it.
- You get so many daydreams and so unfocused to the point that some feel like they hallucinate!
- You crave more and more and more breads, pastas, and any other source of gluten-full poison. You crave it so much that it may be all you think about.
- You get terrible withdrawal symptoms, becoming irritable or even vicious without your fix.
Gluten is absolutely harmless if you aren`t allergic. But so very many people feel tired and worn and even depressed, every single day, I wonder why you would automatically assume you aren`t. Why not see if you could make all that go away magically in your own life? Besides, you won`t have anything to lose if you try it. Only if you don`t, and later find that you should have while you are languishing on a hospital bed.
I will often go to a restaurant and ask if they could take the gluten free sauce and put it on mashed potatoes, or I will ask if a seemingly innocent dish of vegetables is gluten free. You`d be surprised at how little knowledge people have on the subject! I once had a waitress tell me that a dish was definitely not gluten free, as it said very plainly in the dish`s name that it was made with rice! I had to work very hard to keep my laughter internal on that one. All grains do not contain gluten, and rice is actually one of the main grains used by gluten free eaters!
So to stem the tide of all this silliness and confusion, (Though many regions, including Boulder, D.C., and L.A. are gluten free friendly) I decided to share the real facts with you.
There are some grains that definitely have gluten:
- Wheat berries
There are grains that are firmly in the semi dangerous zone, which those who are sensitive to some gluten may be able to eat, but is best treated as dangerous. Only a minority of people who are gluten sensitive or celiac can eat this stuff, and it takes a lot of expensive tests to be sure. I suggest you just stay away from these!
- Other ancient ancestors of wheat, which are still technically wheat no matter how much time has gone!
There are some grains that fall in the middle, and may be victim to cross contamination:
- Anything not certified gluten free! Other grains can have pieces of flour leftover from a shared production line, and some grains like oats will literally absorb the gluten from a neighboring field of grains!
There are grains that have absolutely no gluten
- Sweet rice
- Buckwheat! Don`t let the name confuse you, there is actually nothing wheaty here!
And there are plenty of flours that are not made of grains at all, and are instead made by grinding nuts or seeds, thereby being not only gluten free but also grain free! (Many people are allergic to any grains at all, and the majority of the whole population does not process grains well, and will either supplement or replace all other flours with this section`s.) This is some of what Paleo eaters use as their flours, though they mainly go low carb in general.
- Blanched almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Chickpea flour (don`t use in dessert baking! This is a very savory flour, and should only be used in savories!)
Paleo eaters mainly also skip dairy and legumes. That means the chickpea flour is out, as is lima beans, peanuts, and a handful of others.(Green beans are an exception.) Paleo eaters focus on veggies, fruit, seeds, and meat; focusing on the hunter-gather diet that many of our ancients ancestors depended on, with some modifications for the modern world. My favorite Paleo blog is Elana`s Pantry.
The Dairy Aisle
Lactose, Casein, milk allergy, and dairy intolerance are actually all separate problems. In fact, the only similarity they all share is that not eating any dairy products takes care of all three problems. Did you know that 75% of the world population cannot handle dairy for one reason or another? Farm animals have been raised in only a short period of modern history if we look at the whole world timeline stretched out, and our bodies haven`t really had time to adapt to the new part of our diet, let alone in the vast daily ozs the U.S. at least recommends.
Here`s the quick rundown of what each one means:
- Lactose Intolerance: This means that your body doesn`t have any, or enough, lactase. Translated, this means that your body doesn`t know what to do with milk or milk products. This has pretty mild symptoms like bloating or gas. There is normal milk available for sale that has had the lactose removed that is safe to ingest. There are also pills you can take that have the lactase your body doesn`t make, enabling you to have all your favorite dairy products in moderation.
- Casein Intolerance: This one has horrible symptoms and even worse damage to the body. Casein is a protein found in milk, and is often taken out of the milk and put into foods with labels that say non-dairy or dairy free.
- stiffness and aches
- clinical diarrhea
- strange and tingly feelings in his fingers
- shortness of breath
- chest and abdominal pain
- Dairy Intolerance: This is usually just a word that describes all of the above. It could mean a normal intolerance, or it could actually refer to an allergy. Either way, you can have negative effects from eating cow, sheep, goat, donkey or any other animal`s milk or milk products. There are real, and infrequently observed definitions for this though.
- Your immune system cannot handle this object, and attacks every cell of it like it is a piece of disease or a virus. This includes:
- Extreme Allergies
- Most people think of the word allergies as only meaning this. Very few people who are allergy sufferers have this extreme a problem. This is where anaphylactic shock, heart issues, and difficult or impossible breathing come in. As I said, this is relatively rare and most people only suffer through a long and steady decline in health than an instant one like this provides.
- Internal Allergies
- It`s only a problem if you eat this thing
- External/ Enviromental allergies
- It`s a problem if you are near it, or if you breathe it in
- Extreme Allergies
- Your immune system cannot handle this object, and attacks every cell of it like it is a piece of disease or a virus. This includes:
- Your digestive system cannot handle or process this type of food, usually a form of protein. Lactose and casein intolerances fall into this category.
- Your immune and nervous system are closely tied to your digestive system, so you may have stronger and less visible indicators. (It`s not like you`ll get a rash or something that is obvious to all the world, like an allergy does.)
If any of the above terms apply to you, it really is just best for you to stick to plant milks, like almond and rice milk, and plant butters, like vegetable shortening or coconut butter, to take the place of real butter. Oils are often used in baked goods to replace butter. Really, it just takes a tiny bit of research to make absolutely scrumptious and healthy dairy free foods!
It is important to note that allergies are really very serious creatures. Even if you do not instantly die, and are merely affected by sniffles and grogginess, it can cause a gradual decline in health and wellness that could leave the gate wide open to serious illnesses and diseases in your body.
A seasonal allergy is actually a very important symptom to take note of too. If you get colds and sneezing and ten pounds of pills and twenty gallons of sprays at certain times of the year, or even a much smaller and more understated manner, this could point to a more serious food allergy or intolerance. In fact, this is one of the most prevalent symptoms of dairy or gluten allergies or intolerances. And if all your suffering, much of it so internal and so embedded into your daily life as to seem normal, could all magically go away by switching your side dishes and buying a different set of cookbooks, why not do it? After all, you`ve been looking for the magical pill for years, haven`t you? That pill is usually a simple case of change in diet, not dieting!
Going on with my theme of allergies, I will briefly address other dietary dilemmas faced by many people. There are roughly eleven million people in the United States alone who can not handle any of these nine recognized major food allergies! And here they all are:
- Wheat- if you are allergic to gluten, there is much more than wheat that you must stay away from! I included that list with the gluten information above.
- Tree Nut
- Sesame, the newest addition to this nasty family!
Isn`t that a special family reunion there? But, seriously, it is important to be aware of all these dangerous foods, if only to help a friend out on her birthday or some other special event. There are many sources just for those who can`t eat any of these foods. Since I myself only have to deal with two of the listed allergens, I don`t know everything about it. But there is still hope! Here are some places I would go to if I found out that I was allergic to all of these, or if I was making food for someone else`s birthday party:
- There are blogs upon blogs to read, full of fun recipes and safe dining:
- Be sure to look at the news and products listed here, as they will be fully tested and reviewed before they are posted and supported.
- Enjoy life Foods is currently the most popular major allergen free company. Their loco cocoa bars are super yummy!
Now, if I were a really sweet and good little sister, I would bake and cook egg free. My sister should, but she is good at feigning deafness, especially when her doctor tells her something she doesn`t want to hear. As such, she pretends she doesn`t need to go egg free. (Though I`m proud of her for starting to go gluten free this year! Yay being proactive!) Maybe I`ll have a change of heart and make egg free stuff later. In the mean time, I have ideas for the egg free person in your life! If you need to go egg free, there are plenty of options for you, especially when you are baking.
- Ener-G`s (usually only does well at replacing up to two eggs!), Bob`s Red Mill, or other commercially available egg replacer
- Tofu (also good for egg dishes that are cooked, like a quiche or scramble)
- Tapioca starch/flour (different names, one thing)
- Potato starch
- 1 egg = 2 Tbsp. potato starch
- 1 egg = 1/4 cup mashed potatoes
- 1 egg = 1/4 cup canned pumpkin or squash
- 1 egg = 1/4 cup puréed prunes
- 1 egg = 2 Tbsp. water + 1 Tbsp. oil + 2 tsp. baking powder (may have gluten, be careful which brand you buy)
- 1 egg = 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed simmered in 3 Tbsp. water
- 1 egg white = 1 Tbsp. plain agar powder dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water, whipped, chilled, and whipped again
The important thing to note about eggs is that your replacement must do the same job the egg would have done. In the cases where you just want to brush egg on for that shiny look, there is a kind of gel that bakers use on fancy foods (like petit fours and tartlets) in France. If you want to replace the yolk, then agar agar would probably work best. If you just want the protein of an egg, there are so many options! Quinoa, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, and almond flour are all good sources of protein, vegetarian, and most are available in a flour form!
Humane Eating: Vegan and Vegetarian
And yet, there may be some qualm holding you back. You or a friend is a vegan, and they couldn`t possibly eat this stuff. Allergens are all very good, but what about my morals? Well, you need not fear my friend! In fact, my dairy free and egg free section just covered all of this. Except for a bug that was stepped on accidentally by a worker in the fields, (Making your vegan/fairtrade/etc foods cruel) I have just covered a million things that are absolutely vegan! I don`t think I included anything that wasn`t. If I was mistaken, and some cruel industrialist slipped baby seal into the soy, please warn me and I`ll be sure to protest it. Wanna join the rally I`d host if the baby seal thing were true? I bet you do. We could have a PETA party, with gluten free pitas! (I love my little puns.)
All joking aside, I really am passionate about organic, environmentally sustainable harvesting and growing methods, and fair trade food. It is important to call each thing different, because they really are.
The USDA started labeling things organic in early 2002. They have some standards for what organic means, but a product can easily be only sort of organic and have one or another of the many organic seals. According to the USDA, “Agricultural products labeled “100 percent organic” and “organic” cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients” and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel.” So, it is crucial to know what organic really means, and how organic the organic labeled foods really may be.
But organic mainly means good for you, not necessarily the environment. And some of the extra labels tacked on to your food may mean absolutely nothing at all! Even the USDA website makes no secret that many of these labels are misleading, though not in so many words.
- Pasture raised and Humane
- There are no USDA regulations for this, so it probably means absolutely nothing. Don`t pay extra for this one, unless there is a creditable private certifier`s label.
- organic animals’ pasture diet may be supplemented with grain
- Grass Fed
- “…the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides.” And only most of the diet must be grass. What about the rest of what their food? Their sickness is my sickness once I`ve eaten something!
- “There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.”
- Free Range
- “the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle.” Who`s to say what the shelter was like, or how much room they had outdoors? Perhaps it was only a one inch outcrop of the building!
- Cage free
- This really means they weren`t kept in cages. However, there is no minimal amount of room to move, so the animals may be so close together there is no room to move or even sit.
As a general rule of thumb, vegans won`t eat or use anything that was connected to animals in any way. That means honey, eggs, and milk or dairy. Vegetarian tends to mean that they are willing to eat those things, just not fish or seafood, poultry, and meat. Those who say they won`t eat meat tend to mean that they are okay with seafood or fish, but that`s a fuzzy zone. People who refuse to eat cruel food usually mean they won`t eat ‘smart animals’ like pigs, sharks, and dolphins; or food gotten through cruel methods, like industrialized living and slaughtering areas, or dolphin tracking and sometimes catching tuna. (as opposed to the fleeting small family farms that are gobbled up by big businesses. There`s a million documentaries, watch those.)
Fair Trade and Local
There is more at stake than just the animal or plant`s growing conditions. How is the farmer or packager doing? Is he or she able to feed their children? Do the workers have a home, food, and decent working hours? Is your food from a foreign country and liable to have sweatshops or child labor doing the work it takes to get your products to you?
And what about the environment? If a product is labeled organic, the crops may still be imported and highly watered in an arid area, such as corn grown in the Western States that is shipped to the East States, or further. It could be argued that stripping the water table and depriving local wild animal and plant populations is almost worse than using fertilizers! (I`m poking you, Californians. Where is your answer, oh keepers of all things green and eco friendly?) The ground may be depleted of nutrients because good farming practices, such as crop rotation and a purposeful fallow field, are not followed. Many tropical fruits are harvested by cutting down the trees, to save costs on buying ladders or other appropriate supplies.
What about processing and transporting your food? Fuel is burned and pollution is produced to get you Mexican strawberries in the dead of Winter. Coal is burned in the factory that packages your food.
It is very expensive to get some magical product that was grown three miles from your house, with native plants, organically, with rain barrels to supply the water and solar panels to power packaging and post post consumer content material (or even no packaging at all!), with farmers and workers paid a lot of money, with lots of vacation time and short work days. All of this would be amazing, but having it all at the same time seems impossible to me. You have to do the best that you can. You must choose your battles and decide if the farmer at the farmer`s market that uses pesticides but lives ten miles away and grows only native crops is better than an organic and fair trade product grown in India and packaged in five pounds of Styrofoam (Which, by the way, is a product that will never decompose. Never!) in a coal and nuclear powered factory. It is a terrible decision that weighs terribly on everyone`s mind. You could also choose to make no decision, and either grow everything yourself or pretend there is no problem with anything you buy. But that means you are not supporting good business`s practices either!
It is a hard decision, and one that is vital to the world that you make it!
Sugar and Diabetes
We need to make food sugar free! But why? Yes, because I need it to be, and yes, because it`s healthy for you. But let me explain why to the former and latter.
Why sugar free for me? I get horrible migraines, acne, and a really bad temper if I have refined sugar or even more than two small fruits a day. If I eat only three spread out and even balanced meals a day, I have been known to faint in the past! I will also have a real hard time sleeping at night, and a really hard time staying awake during the day. That`s one of the reasons why I started my mini-meals routine.
If you have similar symptoms, sugar may be getting at you too. Some people can have five or even six fruits a day and feel energized and healthy. Then, there are the rest of us. Unbalanced sugar intake (eating it all at once, or all after dinner) can really throw off your immune system, (lots of colds) circadian rhythm, (can`t sleep) adrenaline system, (nervous and high tension) and all kinds of other things!
Even if you don`t have any symptoms, all these allergies floating around show that you really should diversify your diet for optimal health. That doesn`t always mean ‘diabetic friendly’ sweeteners though. Even if you don`t have diabetes, switching between beet sugar, maple sugar, agave, and other natural sweeteners will be much healthier for you.
But how will you know if you don`t have diabetes? There are many symptoms, so it can be hard to figure out. Here is a list of some of the more common problems:
- being very thirsty
- frequent urination
- weight loss
- extreme weight gain
- increased hunger
- blurry vision
- tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
- wounds that don’t heal
- extreme unexplained fatigue
- black outs or nausea, and anything funky with your sight
There are certain kinds of sweeteners you need to use if you have this problem. Many have turned to the convenience of artificial sweeteners, however, emerging research shows that many people can get sick from these in their own right. Quite a few have found that these sweeteners affect their blood sugar just as negatively as plain old sugar, and many others who have no excessive sugar problems are allergic to the artificial ones! In my personal experience, every time I try a diet soda, I get sick. My aunt gets terrible migraines and numbness all along her joints, so it is scary to think of what state her body will be in a few decades after years of daily diet sodas. Also, am I the only one who mainly dislikes sodas? I`ll have 1/2 a cup maybe twice a year, and I won`t want it the rest of the time. The bubbles hurt my nose, and the taste is so obviously fake it disgusts me.
Diabetes can be a life threatening problem, and you should get tested right away! However, there are many people who will show symptoms, but when diagnosed are found to have no insulin problems. That is where hypoglycemia comes in. It means that your body can handle small amounts of sugar over time, but will have extreme highs and lows in blood sugar (usually perceived as energy in yourself) over the course of the day.
This is actually the problem I deal with. The main way to deal with it is to eat as close as possible to every two hours. Be warned: as close as possible means a max of thirty or so minutes off time, not an hour or more! This means that you will end up eating tiny balanced meals about seven times a day. It is often easier for those with this problem to set a cell alarm and pack all the necessary food. It wastes a lot of time to get up to buy food from a cafe or vending machine if you have to do it so often during the day!
If you find you do have hypoglycemia or diabetes, it is important to look at each of your small meals as meals! That means that if each meal is packed in a one cup closed container, there should be about a third of protein, a third of fiber, and a mixed bag of other nutrients filling it up. For me, this may mean a layer of stir fry vegetables, covered by a layer of mushrooms and chickpeas, covered by a layer of peanut sauce. If you find you have hypoglycemia, it is really an opportunity for you to have a lot of different flavors during your day!
If this is your circumstances, you can have my little darling shot glass serving size desserts quite easily. Just make sure you eat one between waking up and about noon (or if you are a nocturnal college student, between waking up and whatever is your noon equivalent is the point!) That way your body will be able to sort through the sugars at its strongest time of day (metabolically speaking!).
If you do weird frequent meals or other tweaks to your life, remember that those around you are super understanding about diabetes, if nothing else. When you explain that you need to eat that little thing right now because you are controlling your hypoglycemia/almost to the point of diabetes through food instead of medicine, they`ll almost always let you do your eating. I`ve even had understanding librarians, professors, and flight attendants! It`s a problem most of the world is aware of, and so many people have an aunt or relative with this problem, they won`t be upset if you explain things properly.
There are pretty similar symptoms for hypoglycemia as for diabetes. The main difference is confusing to me, as I somehow sit on a line between the two.
If you are eating low sugar and mini meals for weight loss, you are in good company! Many diets, including the Belly Fat Cure, support this type of sugar restraint, and many doctors approve it. It keeps your metabolism constantly revving and burning, and that`s how you burn off weight!
There are many natural sweeteners out there that are perfect for baked goods or even cooking. There may be hundreds when you include high and low glycemic options including or besides sugar. But I want us to really focus on the low glycemic options which cause much less of a blood sugar spike.
- Can actually improve your dental health, but don`t go overboard- it will still hurt your blood sugar if you use too much!
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Jerusalem Artichoke Syrup
- Very few people have heard of the vegetable, let alone the sweetener! This may be a little difficult to find, and your best bet is to scour Google.
- Coconut Nectar
- Be careful of this one. It`s not 100% safe, so I`d skip it if your diabetes is really bad.
Sugar itself is very sneaky and will hide under many guises. Watch out, a sugar by any other name will still leave you and your body in pain! These are all made from the sugar cane plant, and are all basically the same thing.
- Corn Syrup has the same effect on your health, whether it is low or high fructose. It is just as over processed, and sweet corn itself is a genetically modified and mutilated plant. I steer clear of this one.
There are a lot more sneaky culprits out there. Think of it this way: if it is sweet, don`t over eat. You shouldn`t over eat in general, but this is especially true for things that can have such a fast negative effect on you.
A lot of unsweet things, like ketchup and beef jerky, can have hidden sugar as well. Check labels, or better yet, do more home made!
Then there was that last little bit I talked about earlier, the topping on the cake. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. No, the real deal here is that we make these darlings safe and healthy for everyone, or at least a lot of people. We can go to the ingredients list for that one too!
We only have a few steps to solve that. Add some fiber and protein! I know exactly how I`m doing that, and you will too once you read the recipe. However, there are always other options out there! I am adding the fiber and protein to balance out and delay absorption of the sweeteners.
Some ways of including the fabulous and miraculous fiber:
- Ground flax seed
- Powdered phsylium husk
- Add steel cut oats
- Use whole grain flours
- Eat a salad with any desserts you make!
- kelp noodles
There are even more ways to add protein to your baked goods!
- Brush some egg yolk on for shine and protein
- Peanut butter frosting anyone? Mix up 1 c peanut butter, 3 tbsp cocoa powder, 1/4 regular banana.
- Whey protein powder.
- It can be done, but it shouldn`t be! It tastes icky to me.
- Use nuts or seeds as a topping or decoration!
- Hemp protein powder
- High protein flours, usually from nuts (also grain free!)
- Coconut flour
- Almond flour (to make almond petit fours more almondy!)
- Quinoa flour (the most complete protein there is, it has all the amino acids!)
- Garbanzo bean flour (I don`t recommend it. It is high protein, and high bean flavor. Who ever heard of sweet beans! It tastes yucky. That`s why I don`t use Bob`s red mill`s famous and beany all purpose gluten free flour!)
We have now run the gamut of gluten free, dairy free, egg free, low sugar or sugar free, fiber, and protein; and how all these things can be incorporated into your edible projects. For the record, it is way easier to incorporate all of these into your cooking. This is hard, but that`s okay. After all, these are just occasional treats. Right? Right.