Livin’ La Vida Gluten and Dairy Free

Try avoiding wheat and dairy for a few days, she said. It’ll be good for you, she said. She is the acupuncturist I went to seeking relief from back pain about 2 months ago. Besides acupuncture and “cupping” (look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s) she also advises on nutrition. After asking me what I typically ate, she noted that I consumed a lot of wheat and dairy. I had just discovered the bliss contained in full fat Greek Gods honey flavored dairy, was a dedicated cappuccino drinker and an avid pizzaiola, so not surprising. Wheat and dairy are associated with inflammation and may play a role in your back pain, she said.

Ok, I’ll bite. At this point I’m trying everything in phase one of treatment for lingering back pain before I move on to phase two which involves an injection of slow, long acting steroids into the back (Epidural Steroid Injection). I have nothing against modern medicine and am confident my pain management Dr. will do a good, safe job of it, but still….let’s just hold off a bit on the poking of the me with big needles, shall we?

Thus began the gluten-free, dairy-free lifestyle. It started with a period of adjustment wherein I realized several times after the fact that, d’oh! that has wheat in it. I talked to a few people and got a few pointers and started looking and thinking more closely about what I was eating. Found some stuff that didn’t taste so good and some stuff that was DEElicious (Outside the Breadbox chocolate chip cookies, for one).  Had a few cranky moments (ok, hours) when, working late, starving and with a few errands ahead of me, I couldn’t just drive through the Wendy’s and get a burger or grab a slice of pizza at the Costco.

Outside the Breadbox, a Colorado Springs company, is dedicated to gluten free baked goods and they have quite a few good substitutes like their Brown Rice Bread. Toasted, with peanut butter and jam, it is a wonder.  I have reacquainted myself with rice noodles and, luckily, my husband is a great cook and up for a challenge. We learned how to cook and love brown rice as a side dish or with a little almond mile and raisins, a good dessert. I’ve upped the servings of veggies and fruit.  This regime cuts out a lot of options and generally wipes out the dessert menu, which has an upside. I am fiercely triumphant when I point out that meat, potatoes and dark chocolate have neither wheat nor dairy.

There are tough moments though. Monday night is our Pasta and Prosciutto night tradition, and now I cannot participate easily. Either I fix something else entirely or substitute wheat free pasta. So far I have found only tolerable substitutes. Sometimes the home chef (aka spouse) finds it easier to pop a pizza in the oven and directs me to the freezer for some gluten-free boxed dinner. Sometimes I am signed up to provide grilled pizza at the company picnic even though I can’t eat any. I will have to learn to make a gluten free dough and find some good cheese-free toppings. Sometimes the place I am eating does not have very good options–a sandwich bar and a salad bar with cream-based dressings and a dessert table where everything has wheat, dairy or wheat AND dairy except the fresh fruit salad. Nothing against fresh fruit but I wanted a decadent dessert–the best I could do was add maraschino cherries and colored sprinkles from the ice cream bar.  The hardest test ever was when they brought freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and milk around in the first class cabin. I managed, but just barely.

I bought a couple of paperback gluten-free cookbooks but I have to eliminate all the options that call for dairy. I’ve begun amassing the gluten free flours and other baking aids like xanthan gum but I haven’t quite put it together to try. I DID make an almond flour orange cake recipe I found on the recipe after reading about the Starbucks gluten-free brouhaha. It was pretty tasty but came out a bit too moist and, like Starbucks, developed mold before we could finish it all.  More to come!

After one particularly disheartening set of meals on a business trip, I came home to find a phone message from my Dr’s office with my annual exam lab results. The nurse sounded VERY happy with my labs–all good stats, in normal range and mentioned a cholesterol level of 169. This was down from last year’s 224 so a very good, unexpected result. I have to assume it is related to the regime.

What have I learned so far:

  • I can turn down bread, pasta and other wheat products
  • I can turn down milk and other dairy products
  • Trying to do both gluten AND dairy-free is more than twice as hard as either one of those
  • Gluten-free substitutes for wheat products are quite expensive
  • Cooking gluten-free substitutes takes special flour, baking powder, etc and requires something new: Xanthan gum