Saturday, March 23, 2013

What about this wheat free thing you’re doing??

I’ve been asked lots of questions  and decided it would be easier to address them here for everyone than continue to type emails.  So…here you go.

Who is participating?

Ryan and Logan and me, for sure.  Jim, for the most part, since he eats what I fix.  Smile  Hailey eats some meals at home, but because she needs a sandwich lunch every day for clinicals, there’s bread in the cupboard for her lunch.  Her chips have wheat, and she’s free to eat cookies or whatever else she wants.  I’ve asked both she and Jim to be courteous of the boys and to be accommodating for the month.  They’ve been great, and our weekend in Spokane doing the hotel-and-dining-out thing wasn’t a big deal, in large part because they were willing to go along.  

Why 31 days?

Easy.  It is a full calendar month.  For the boys, who have dreaded this experiment, it was clear to see, with a predictable start and finish.  We’ve used these 31 days to work on the practical application of Phil 2:14 (Do all things without grumbling or complaining.).  They’ve been amazing!  As a bonus, they have earned $1 each week they go without complaints.  (They don’t get allowances, so I pay them for work above and beyond their expected chores.  This was a huge challenge, and some incentive to keep positive attitudes—their work for the month—was appropriate.)

What made you decide to go wheat free?

Ryan has, for years, dealt with significant eczema.  The ‘solution’ always has been to treat him with topical steroids.  When I took him in for his 8 year check up, the pediatrician (whom I ADORE!) looked him over and recommended that we start using a much stronger steroid cream since Ry’s eczema was continuing to look bad.  The only drawback was that his preferred prescription comes in an ointment (petroleum based product), not a cream.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not wild about slathering my child with a petroleum based anything on his largest organ (the skin) with the most direct route to bloodstream absorption!  Plus, the underlying problem with the ointment is that it treats the SYMPTOM, not the problem.  In addition, Ryan is dinky tiny.  His growth rate has been incredibly slow for years, and he sits at the very bottom of the growth charts.  He eats like a football player, and although it’s never been pursued, we have discussed the possibility of food allergies or metabolic disorders with his ped. in the past.  Changes to his diet seemed like the most reasonable option at this point, especially knowing that eczema is often present when allergies are possible.  Not knowing Ry’s medical history and background, we were working with big question marks.

So why wheat?  Why  not eggs?  Or dairy?

Simple.  Ryan can’t stand eggs and doesn’t eat them, so they weren’t a likely culprit.  The boys are Asian and as such more likely to be lactose intolerant, so we already monitor dairy consumption.  (Neither of them seems to have trouble, fortunately.)  As we looked at Ryan’s diet, it seemed more and more likely to be wheat.  One sign of potential food issues is cravings.  Ryan LIVED on wheat based products.  His idea of a great day food wise would be bagels for breakfast, macaroni (and cheese, if he had to have it) for lunch, and spaghetti, french bread, and caesar salad with croutons for dinner.  He CRAVED the wheat products.  That made me very suspicious, so I started doing more in-depth research.  I didn’t like what I learned.

What did you learn?

I read extensively and asked questions of several knowledgeable, trustworthy people in my world.  All of them pointed me the same direction:  researching the pitfalls of modern wheat.  The more I read, the more I realized that I, too, likely deal with wheat sensitivities.  Migraines.  Skin rash (mine is most likely a type of eczema).  Arthritis-like pain in my thumbs.  Thyroid issues.  Food cravings and weight gain, with ‘normal’ levels of consumption.  A family history of diabetes—type 1 and type 2.  Difficulty sleeping.  Low-grade seasonal depression.  ALL of those can be attributed to wheat consumption.   Armed with the knowledge, we made a decision:  try 30 days of wheat free eating.  Everything with wheat, not just the obvious choices of bread/bagels/pasta.  Everything.

What did we have to lose?

Well, besides 30 days?  Not much.  Except tons of food, I guess.  Cleaning out the pantry and the fridge was an eye opening experience.  I got the boys involved—they each earned $1 for reading labels and sorting items.   In addition to pulling out the cereal and crackers and pasta, we had to pull out almost all salad dressings.  Ketchup.  BBQ sauce.  Any soy based sauce.  Many sodas.  Chips.  Pretzels.  Prepared soups.  Anything with ‘natural flavoring’ or ‘caramel coloring’ on the label, since the assumption has to be that it is from wheat unless specifically marked otherwise.  We were all surprised at the number of things wheat is part of, and we currently have a 25 gallon rubbermaid container filled with the off-limits food.

So…what have you learned?

Lots!  Ryan and I are clearly gluten sensitive.  We learned that in spades early this week when I made pizza for dinner.  I used spelt flour, which is wheat free but not gluten free.  I got up the next day feeling miserable, with a headache that Aleve didn’t touch.  Ryan got up scratching himself fiercely, and one place on his neck was back to bloody.  He’d been itch free for over 2 weeks, and his skin was definitely clearing!  For me, it was a second ‘test’ that I had failed.  We will do some challenge testing on Ryan pretty soon, but I suspect he will have trouble as I have.

Moving forward…?

For me, it’s pretty straightforward.  I’ll avoid wheat and gluten as much as possible.  I don’t need to ever have another migraine, and if no wheat means no migraines, I’m all for it.  Plus, I like sleeping well and feeling great!  It’s really a no-brainer for me.  I’ve also cut back tremendously on other grains (rice, corn, oats, etc) and am totally okay with that.  For the most part I don’t miss it at all, and on the occasional moment I’d like something like that to eat, I remind myself that I’ll feel better without, and that usually takes care of it.  I don’t feel even slightly deprived (chocolate dipped coconut macaroons, anyone??) so I can see eating this way for a  long time.  Ryan’s going to be a harder sell.  He likes the gluten free pasta we’ve found, but he misses his breakfast bagel something fierce.  Today’s project is to make some gluten free bagels for his dining pleasure.  Smile  We’ve found child-acceptable substitutes for many of his favorites already, including pancakes, waffles, and oven pancakes (Dutch babies).  Long term, I know he’ll miss cinnamon rolls and monkey bread, but perhaps by the time fall comes and I bake those again I will have found a recipe or 2 that will work well.  I think, though, that overall he’s going to be willing to stay mostly to totally wheat free because we’re seeing several significant changes for him.  Clearing eczema. No headaches or leg cramps. No stuffy nose.  And the biggie:  growth!  He’s gained nearly 2 pounds and grown just over 1/2” since March 1.  This is a child whose growth has been so slow for the last 7 years we’ve discussed medical tests.  We’re taking the growth as a huge affirmation of this decision.

I hope this helps!  Let me know if I missed anything.  I’m happy to answer whatever questions I can! 


  1. You're all doing amazingly. This is hugely encouraging. What a blessing to have found answers to so many issues. Not that it's an easy change, though. I knew wheat was in soy, but never thought about ketchup! We rarely buy salad dressings, but I didn't think of wheat in those, either.

    The hardest things for me, I think, would be pizza, which we have weekly, and sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls. We have each of those things rarely, but they're pretty impossible to pass up at those times! But coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate sound pretty good!

    1. Most soy sauce sold here is fermented wheat, not fermented soy. To get real soy sauce, you have to go to the health food part of Fred Meyer. They sell tamari sauce, which is only soy, no wheat. You can also get it on Amazon and at most health food/specialty food stores. I haven't looked at Uwajimaya or other Asian food stores.

      The other thing is that ANYTHING that has 'natural flavoring' or 'caramel coloring' or 'caramel flavoring' or 'modified food starch' on the label HAS to be suspected to contain wheat. That leaves virtually nothing from the prepared foods at the store. Not a huge issue, since we moved away from most prepared foods (including soups and cream soups)many years ago. But still...

      I hear you on the pizza. The other thing that is missed here is pasta. We've not found a gf option we really like yet. Oh well.

  2. The term "natural flavors" is also often a cover for MSG, which we always want to avoid, too.

    But I was thinking about your post and had to come back and comment again about the spelt. I remember from the years when we thought Princess Bossy was allergic to wheat that spelt is a variant or close relative of wheat. Some people with wheat sensitivity can use it successfully, but some can't. So your reactions to spelt may have been the gluten, but may have also just been to the spelt being too close to wheat.

    The quinoa pasta wasn't good? I'm not huge on pasta, but there are times when spaghetti or lasagna just hits the spot. :)

  3. Jennifer - really? Ketchup has gluten? Ugh. I did not know that. I'm early into my gluten-free journey so I'm still learning. I will say that I seriously suspect I am gluten intolerant. My cravings are already gone which surprises me - and makes me very happy! I definitely have been dealing with many symptoms related to gluten sensitivity - diabetes, chronic stomach pain, bloating, cravings, aching joints, and in the last year or so even migraines. I just got a cookbook called Gluten Free on a Shoestring, and I'm pretty sure she has cinnamon muffins! :) I can send you the recipe if you'd like. She also has a blog -

    1. It's the natural flavoring that can be derived from wheat. Isn't necessarily, but when we were cutting things out to see if being wheat free was helpful, we cut out ALL potential sources of wheat. Your mileage may vary. :)