The whole ‘I’m off wheat’ thing -

The whole ‘I’m off wheat’ thing

The number of celiacs has increased fourfold. Then there are all the newly gluten ‘sensitive.’


Gluten intolerance was a recurring theme this year among high-profile, self-anointed nutritional gurus: on her we-love-to-hate-it website GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow crowed about her seven-day gluten-free “cleanse” and BabyCakes, the fashionable vegan and gluten-free New York bakery that sells US$30-a-loaf banana bread. The View co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck promoted her book The G Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide to Middle America. And former Playmate Jenny McCarthy, who claims a gluten- and casein-free diet helped her son recover from autism, showed off the buff bod it gave her on the cover of the May Shape. So when you’re besieged by “I don’t eat gluten” demands this holiday season, know you’re not alone.

Dufflet Rosenberg, the owner of Toronto’s Dufflet Pastries, which offers gluten- and wheat-free desserts, can relate. Customers regularly come into her stores griping, “I’ve got guests who don’t eat wheat,” she says. “As for why, I’ve heard everything under the sun—from asthma to autism, every kind of digestive disorder, lupus. Some people say, ‘gluten makes me sluggish and not eating it makes me feel so much better.’ ”

The spectrum of those who are “gluten-free” is now so variegated, it’s difficult to sort wheat from chaff. At one end are celiacs afflicted with an autoimmune disorder that makes them highly allergic to the protein found in wheat, barley and rye—Western diet staples. Their number has risen fourfold in the past 50 years, according to a Mayo Clinic study published in the July Gastroenterology, which claimed that for every diagnosed celiac, 30 suffer from it undiagnosed. Also on the rise are those who are gluten “sensitive,” says Penny Kendall Reid, a Toronto naturopathic doctor. “It can have a huge impact on quality of life, causing gas, bloating, and general ‘yick’ factor,” she says. She blames the uptick on high gluten intake and increased stress, which decreases the production of digestive enzymes that break down gluten that in turn creates small inflammations in the bowel: “This working 10 to 12 hours a day, then racing around—our bodies are not designed for it,” she says. At the other extreme are “gluten-free” dabblers, among them Paltrow (who also serves up “yummy” recipes for penne alla arrabbiata and bread stuffing), and one woman who buys $9.99 gluten-free bread because she believes it’s easier to digest.

Hasselbeck, a celiac, straddled these worlds in her book, marketing it to the 99 per cent of the population that is not celiac as a guide to weight loss, clearer skin and better sleep, much to the chagrin of the U.S. Wheat Foods Council. It also ticked off some of her fellow celiacs concerned that anyone on a “gluten-free” diet will be dismissed as a faddist, says Jim McArthur, executive director of the Canadian Celiac Association. “They say, ‘I have to do this, it’s a food-safety issue, it’s a health issue, it’s not a lifestyle issue.’ ” Gluten is so institutionalized in the food chain that it’s in everything from communion wafers to matzo meal. That makes eating treacherous, says McArthur: Worcestershire sauce can be “gluten-free” or not depending on whether it’s made in the U.S. with white vinegar or in Canada with malt vinegar.

“It’s easy to go hungry as a celiac,” says Victoria Edlinger, who opened GF Patisserie in Cochrane, Alta., 15 months ago. So desperate are her customers for a good gluten-free butter tart, they’ll drive from out of province: one woman drove 10 hours from Penticton, B.C., for artisanal breads. Little surprise delicious gluten-free products, like Mary’s Organic Crackers, develop a cult following.

More frequently, though, “gluten free” is code for “taste-free,” yielding cinder-block breads, drywall crackers and bakeries that smell of regret. Simulating gluten’s texture and flavour is trickier than splitting the atom. Rosenberg is currently mentoring someone making gluten-free fresh bread. The bagels are “interesting,” she says, “as long as they’re smothered with peanut butter.”

The reflex to duplicate food that tastes good because of gluten has created a “gluten-free” bizarro universe. Whole Foods has a dedicated gluten-free bakery and is designing new stores with gluten-free aisles. General Mills issued gluten-free Rice Chex and gluten-free dessert mixes under its Betty Crocker brand. Genetically modified gluten-free wheat is currently in development—as French bakers sob into the Seine. Which means there’ll be plenty to dish out at the gluten-sensitive holiday table.


The whole ‘I’m off wheat’ thing

  1. Many people who are just diagnosed with Celiac's Disease have a tough time locating restaurants with gluten-free items or even locating gluten-free products. A location-based website has launched to find gluten-free recommendations in your area

  2. Then there are the people who no longer eat bread and its relatives because the soaring price of wheat made it impossible for their tiny food budgets to manage. Such people have turned to other foods to serve as staples instead.

    • Lets say a person eats 2000 calories a day – or 14,000/week, which is a fairly healthy amount to eat. The 10-11% of the total (rich in fibre and some vitamins too) one gets from a loaf of bread is probably one of the least expensive components of a person's diet. A loaf of bread (and I don't mean wonder bread) is about $3.50 at my supermarket – I have a hard time believing that cutting out bread is a financial imperative.

    • If anyone things eating GF is cheap, they haven't done it!!!!!! This is one of the most expensive ways to eat. you can pick almost any specialty GF item and it will be about 10 times the price of its gluten counterpart.

      Good luck if you think you'll save money like this.

  3. FYI: celiac is not an allergy… maybe you already knew that but just didn't feel like giving the full explanation. It is an auto-immmune disorder. i consider it much more damaging than an allergy.

  4. Go Victoria!
    GF PATISSIERIE is our favorite gluten free bakery in Canada

  5. My "bizarro universe" as you call it, consists of homemade cookies and cakes that taste exactly like my old wheat-filled versions. And for what I don't make myself, I do have places like GF Patisserie who make those things. Like the best thin crust pizza, lemon loaf and hamburger buns, all of which you can't tell the difference either. One day, they will hopefully be selling all over the country.

    Whether it's big companies removing the barley malt from their products, or smaller independent bakeries making our favourite foods, I just say Thank You.

  6. For years I had stomach issues and was tested for ulcers, IBS, and other related issues. Doctors were not asking the right questions or I was not giving the right information. All I knew was that I had problems and could not put my finger on any one thing.

    I have a very intuitive nurse friend who suggested I try going without wheat products. Within 3 days my world changed.

    I went to the library and read all that I could and found out that wheat, barley, rye, and many derivitives of these things were found in almost ALL of the food I had in my cupboard. So many 'hidden glutens' that are in many regular products would have made it impossble to isolate the cause of my distress.

    I am sure that many others are affected and have no idea. Hopefully articles like this will raise the awareness out there. Even if there are those who just 'feel better' by not eating gluten I say, Go for it!

    Celiac tests rate results on a scale of 1(lowest) – 20(highest). You are not diagnosed with Celiac disease unless you are at a level of 8 or higher. (may be 9).. That doesn't mean if you come in under the 'diagnosis' level that gluten does not affect you.

    • I was in the same situation plus numerous other issues: severe iron deficiency, joint pain, constipation, hemorrhoids, migraines, repeat sinus infections, depression-like symptoms. There were all sorts of diagnoses from colitis, IBS, fybromialgia, depression, anxiety, thyroid issues, auto-immune disorder, etc, etc.etc. All sorts of doctor’s appointments, weight gain and just looking bloated, negative effects on my personal and professional life. I paid twice out of pocket (I live in Ottawa, ON) for a Celiac test which came back negative both times. I felt bad and worse and then a bit better and all over again. Years passed, i am managing somehow, I got a minor skin rash and noticed my tongue was white, my mom said I used to get white tongue and mouth cankers as a child a lot. Off I went to the health food store to buy acidophilus, the girl working there suggested I do a candida cleanse (cleanse kit including acidophilus ) for better results. I decided this one time to try it out. I also excluded for a month sugar, dairy, gluten, red meat, fermented food, mushrooms, some starches. It was challenging 2,5 weeks later I needed size 4 or 2 pants ( instead of my new usual 6 or 8)…and I looked healthy despite the weight loss. My face looked like its old self not bloated. After the cleanse, I started re-introducing foods gradually, I had a huge bad reaction when I included gluten. I was in hell!!! Every time I try gluten it is hell. Yes, gluten-free is expensive ($7 dollar bread), not very easy to find everywhere and the taste is not always great. I got my life and old self back !!!
      During my last physical my doctor warned me my cholesterol was a tad elevated; nothing to worry about and that eating gluten-free might be a factor (along with my love for cheese) since gluten-free products may contain cholesterol gluten products do not. We evaluated the pros and cons, and decided I stick to gluten-free and ease on the bree a little.

  7. Three cheers for GF Patisserie! It's not just our favourite gluten free bakery in Canada, but it's one of the best ones too!

  8. Jim McCarthy is the executive director of the Canadian Celiac Association, not Jim McArthur as you stated in this article.

  9. Everyone has a limit as to how much wheat gluten they can digest. Some can not digest it at all. With the majority of processed foods having wheat added to it, and all the burgers and fried food and pasta America consumes, yes everyone at some point and time in their digestive lives are 'celiac', which is basically the description of one who is not digesting food correctly due to too much gluten gumming up the pipes.

    Getting an MD to admit that there is major issue with not digesting foods, not absorbing ADEK, is hard to do . But getting an MD to admit that just taking wheat out of a diet can alleviate problems with, skin, sleep,ulcers, dementia,arthritis,IBS,chrones,autism,mental health, mood swings, fertility is next to impossible, because it would not be lucrative at all for them nor the rX companies.

  10. Too bad she didn't know that there is a bakery that does gluten free and other breads on the West Bench in Penticton

  11. Another great resource for delicious gluten-free products is JK Gourmet…they make the best-tasting granola anywhere! They also offer the most finely-ground almond flour that is ideal for baking (from appetizers to mains to desserts…)., and you can download sample recipes for the almond flour from the site.

  12. Great article. I have to eat out for my job almost daily and the restaurants who are able to prepare gluten-free dishes for me will always get my return business! If the dishes are not gluten-free, I always know within an hour of eating. As for the $30 banana bread, if it doesn't make you sick as a celiac, it's worth it! Now let's see what we can do about getting the 30 undiagnosed people for every one who is diagnosed treated. For those who are in celiac denial for whatever reason – yes Celiac disease can kill you – through direct and indirect health implications!

  13. Having been newly diagnosed with Celiac Disease (and initial blood test results that had my GP saying not once, but twice "I've never seen numbers so high"), I struggle almost daily. It is incredible tiring to have to think and question almost every single thing I put in my mouth. I am not gluten free because I want to be. I am gluten free because I HAVE to be. Gluten, to my body, is a poison not an allergen.

    And frankly, thank god for places like GF Patisserie. From May 28 to July 1 this year I did not have one taste of fresh bread (all GF bread I had found up to then needed to be toasted or it was like eating crumbling drywall). I just about cried living the Patisserie that first day.

  14. Bookmarked this site, really enjoyed the information. The Acai Berry

  15. Why does the author feel the need (or assume the right!) to be so snippy about a serious medical condition? First, she clearly doesn't even understand what celiac disease is, it is NOT "autoimmune disorder that makes them highly allergic to the protein ." It is an autoimmune disorder, it is not a food allergy. Our bodies react very differently than would someone with a food allergy: a celiac won't have an anaphylactic reaction, we are likely to have short-term digestive problems, and long-term problems like cancer (that's what I had after going 35 years with undiagnosed celiac disease), neurological damage, chronic GI problems, etc.

    It's difficult enough, and expensive enough, without magazine writers complaining about our needs and belittling our food options. Yes, some GF foods are bland, but others are delicious and healthful. We need to encourage more people to get tested so that the 1% of the population who are celiac can improve their health and swing the market toward products that are both tasty and good for everyone.