After a dark evening last night, I'm feeling much better about my decision to not go on a gluten-free diet. This all started a few months ago when I mentioned to my new doctor that I'd had stomach problems for, essentially, my whole life. Being a bit of a go-getter, he thought about it for a while. At my next appointment, he suggested that I might have coeliac sprue. Coeliac sprue, or celiac disease (CD), as it's usually called in the States, is an immune-system disorder whereby gluten molecules trigger an immune response that's directed against the villi that line the small intestine. The villi are like tiny fingers, vastly increasing the surface area of the small intestine. Without them, the body's ability to absorb nutrients drops dramatically. Sufferers are malnourished, lose weight, become anemic, and may develop a nasty skin disease called dermatitis herpetiformis. So, wow. Scary. Turned out there was a blood test, which looks at the levels of antigliadin antibodies (that's IgA AGA and IgG AGA, if you care). I had the test. My levels were high.
The conclusions were that I don't have coeliac sprue, that I do have irritable bowel syndrome, and that I should have my gallbladder removed. He also recommended that I go on a gluten-free, high-fiber diet, despite not having coeliac sprue.
A gluten-free diet sounds pretty simple—just don't eat gluten, right?
But gluten turns out to be in almost every food you can imagine. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, or barley. It used to be thought that it was in oats, as well, but recent studies show that gluten in oats is generally the result of wheat contamination.
So wheat, rye, and barley—bread, donuts, cereal, cookies, sure, okay, you could live without those, and there are substitutes available, made from rice, potatoes, and corn, among others.
But, hey, barley's the main ingredient in beer! That's okay, too, I don't really like beer.
And most other alcohol is made from grains that may contain gluten. Well, okay, you could just not drink alcohol at all (even if the alcohol is prepared so that there is no gluten, it could be contaminated later).
But, hey, there's wheat in soy sauce! Not to mention , many salad dressings, and much, much more. Oh, yeah, and anything made with flour, which usually means wheat flour—count out most gravies, soups, and sauces. And almost all fried foods—most of which are breaded. Even tempura, which is usually mostly rice flour, often contains a bit of wheat flour.
Even foods like Rice Krispies turn out to be flavored with malt, which comes from barley.
Take a look at the ingredients list for any food or drink you come across. You'll be surprised just how many things contain gluten. At least you can look at the ingredients in a grocery store before you buy a product. How many restaurants give you a complete list of ingredients with your menu? And even if they did, how could you know that they didn't dust a pan with flour when they were preparing your ostensibly gluten-free meal? Or that they used different oil to fry french fries than they use for breaded chicken or fish? You can't. And if you have coeliac sprue, even tiny amounts of gluten can hurt you.
Hence the depression, relieved by the fact that I don't have (provable) coeliac sprue, along with a bunch of research leading me to conclude that going on the diet without real evidence could actually be a bad thing, as it would prevent real indications from ever appearing.
So I'm better now, although I still have painful stomach problems, and we're kind of back to square one on fixing them.
And now you know one of the big reasons I haven't had a lot to say here lately.