Living Without Wheat

Some days it seems like everything has gluten in it. If it doesn’t include wheat as an obvious ingredient, some other gliadin derivative or malt is listed. If you are intolerant of, have an allergy to or suffer from the effects of ingesting wheat, gluten takes everyday eating out of the mainstream, especially if breakfast means a quick drive-through at Tim Horton’s. Gluten is used as a binding agent to prevent crumbling, much like the reason eggs were added back in the pre-industrial age of cookery.

Celiac Disease

People who have Celiac disease cannot breakdown wheat or products that contain gluten, the protein derived from wheat. Its sticky undigested mass clings to the intestinal walls where it rots and clogs the absorptive surface. Not only does this glue-like substance block toxins inside the body, it also prevents protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals from being absorbed.

Effects of Gluten

A little bit does matter. Other than the discomfort of bloating, diarrhea, cramps, the presence of gluten also causes anemia, weight loss, fatigue, and irritability. Aside from these unpleasant physical results, cheating on the gluten-free diet adds a little gluten here and there until a hard lumpy mass has accumulated in the intestine. Surgery is necessary to remove the permanently damaged piece. Eventually, when there is no more intestine to remove, a colostomy bag is installed. The damage doesn’t stop here; other conditions can develop from the toxins that are stuck inside the body.

Why are People Intolerant of Wheat?

You have to wonder why so many people have food allergies. If whole grains promote health, why are so many people inheriting the tendency that prevents them from absorbing its grainy goodness? Wheat intolerance has become so prevalent that major grocery store chains devote entire aisles to gluten-free products; gluten-free bakeries populate the downtown core; and gluten-free menu selections sprout within the food and beverage industry.

Celiac Disease and Candy Culture

People who have Celiac disease cannot pick up a candy bar on the fly and wolf it down. One misguided Cadbury crème egg can cause a whole night of cramping, bloating and crying. If the print is so small that the ingredients are illegible, it is better to forego the likelihood of adding gluten to the next x-ray. Children afflicted with Celiac disease can suffer intermittent painful celiac reactions during Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and birthdays celebrations. Each episode adds a little more glue to the inside of the intestine. One small gift of candy proves how much harm a little gluten-based additive can be and how prevalent they are in snack foods.

Reading Labels is Mandatory

Gluten is also found in other grains: rye, barley, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Oats are safe as long as they are not packaged in an environment that also processes wheat, rye or barley. Seemingly innocent sauces like Worcestershire, soy and barbeque have wheat starch in their mixture. Most meatballs and hamburger patties are made with wheat flour. The only kind of hot dogs that are wheat-free are Butterball turkey wieners. Even some brands of ketchup contain wheat. Some rice crackers have wheat in them while others do not. Just when you find a wheat-free breakfast cereal, the company changes the ingredients and suddenly starts adding wheat. What was safe one week is not necessarily so at the next time of purchase.

Gluten-Free Cooking

Simply substituting rice flour doesn’t always work. Rice flour is stickier; cookies don’t slide off the pan as easily and can rip during the lift. Muffins and quick breads don’t rise as well because it is the combination of wheat flour, baking soda and baking powder that instigates the rise.

My son was born with Celiac disease. It has been a labour of love learning how to eliminate wheat from traditional family recipes. A lot of trial and error has produced a great cookie recipe library, tasty muffins, fluffy tea biscuits and an edible pie crust. Adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to most dough mixes often helps it to rise. We have discovered that stuffing can be made with cooked rice and ground up mushrooms instead of bread crumbs and the layers in lasagne don’t have to be pasta-based. Pizza crust can be made out of flattened mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie doesn’t even need a shell to cook. We are working on a bread recipe which is by far, the biggest challenge yet. Thinking outside the box has an entirely new meaning now.

Fortunately, a lot of support, recipes and resources are available. A helpful place to start is, the Canadian Celiac Association website. If you have any tips to share, please add them here at

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