Reprieve, or What I Learned From Going GF/CF

It’s time for a reprieve.

After six weeks of experimenting with a gluten and casein-free diet for L., we’re in the “rechallenge” phase.  Gradually and carefully, J. and I are adding wheat products and dairy products back into his meals, and with the help of his teachers and school staff, we’re keeping a close eye on the results.  Depending on how he reacts, this reprieve will either be temporary (I hope not); or permanent (we’d all prefer that, frankly).  We’re a few days into this new phase now, and so far, so good — but I’m not going to stop holding my breath anytime soon.

As with anything else in life, I think it’s important for me to reflect on the past six weeks and try to look at them through the lens of self-education.  What did I learn?  How might it help me/us in the future?  Was it worth it, even if we find that L. never needed to go on this diet in the first place?

As a food blogger…yes, it was worth it.  I have to make a very ugly confession, which is that sometimes in life, I have been almost cavalier about other people’s experiences with food-allergic children.  In my early twenties, I worked with someone whose three children were all allergic to wheat, dairy, shellfish, nuts, and strawberries.  I remember feeling…blank about that discovery.  He explained to me that his family had never gone out to eat, not once, not anywhere.  I was still…blank.  I mean, I’m sure I made all the right noises and gestures and got through the conversation without making some gigantic and irreversible social gaffe (I can assume this based on the fact that he still spoke to me after that day), but it just didn’t register with me, beyond a fleeting thought that it sounded kind of miserable.  Shameful, I know, but I was barely an adult.  I just didn’t have any perspective.

Certainly the last decade or so has improved me in many ways (I hope, I hope), but the food allergy thing probably only went from a “dimly sympathetic” rating on the empathy scale to “moderately concerned.”  It never inched towards “alarmed and engaged.”  Not until the universe handed me my comeuppance in the form of a GF/CF diet.

So, yeah, as far as food allergies and special diets are concerned, I’m now an engaged citizen of the world.  I’ve lived the life of a food allergy parent, fully and vividly, for a month and a half, and I’ve learned a few things about this GF/CF lifestyle.  Mainly:

1. Going GF/CF is mentally tiring.  Not exhausting, for me, but tiring and consuming.  Which means that for anyone less comfortable around food, it must be DRAINING.  Everything had to be reconsidered.  After five years of lunch-packing and meal planning for this family, I was on more of an auto-pilot setting than I think I realized — until I was forced to abandon a number of the formerly “safe” staples and find substitutions that would work for L. AND his nut-free school.

2. Going GF/CF can be incredibly expensive at first.  I’m certain it doesn’t have to be prohibitive if it becomes a lifelong dietary prescription.  But it IS more expensive, even if you try to avoid all the fancy packaged products that are out there and just stick to real food.  For one thing, if you plan at all to bake ANYTHING to replace an old gluten-filled favorite, the flours and gums and so forth that are frequently required are hideously pricey compared to good old whole-wheat flour.  For another, the whole food products that you end up choosing to fill the void — vegetables, fruits, and proteins — are among the most expensive in the grocery store, per serving.  And that’s any grocery store, organic or non-organic.

3. GF/CF doesn’t automatically feel healthier.  I wondered when we started this diet if it was going to seem somehow healthier or more “pure.”  I figured that with all the discussion out there in the world about the evils of grains and how beneficial many people find a wheat-free diet to be, I might feel more virtuous on six weeks of a wheat and dairy detox, so to speak.  It turns out that — for me, at least — GF/CF didn’t feel any better or more special.  In fact, I struggled with many things that didn’t match up with my ideals.  Gluten-free flour blends tend to be loaded up with starches and gums that don’t seem particularly beneficial, in many cases (when was the last time somebody touted the health benefits of tapioca starch or xanthan gum?); baking with whole-grain alternatives like millet and buckwheat is possible, but not easy, and certainly not cheap.  Potatoes, never something I intended to make a major staple of our diets, started showing up altogether too frequently for my comfort.  Dairy substitutes were a bit easier, but it’s definitely a new learning curve to read the labels on almond milk or coconut milk beverages and try to avoid a minefield of sweeteners and emulsifiers.

4. But it’s not impossible, and it can be almost (ALMOST) fun.  Somewhere on the other side of “ridiculously trying” emerged a freedom with cooking that was born of my need to keep us all from culinary boredom.  It turns out that cheesesteak hash, chicken nuggets crusted with a special crumb blend comprised mainly of popcorn, and meatballs bound with finely ground pure oats were good enough experiments in the gluten-free world to possibly keep in our rotation permanently.

5. And we found some new foods and new resolve.  Quinoa is now one of L.’s absolute favorites, having had to stand in for his beloved cous cous during the diet.  J. has encouraged me to switch permanently to the brown rice pasta we tried on the GF plan, insisting that it tastes just as good as the wheat stuff and tends to go a bit lighter on the stomach.  Almond milk found a place in our lives.  And we’ve determined that, regardless of the outcome of this rechallenge to L.’s system, we will likely want to continue being somewhat vigilant about the VOLUME of wheat and dairy we consume.

Sometimes — okay, OFTEN — I think it takes a real crisis to shake us out of the comfortable nooks in life and make us rethink our perspectives.  Going GF/CF, forcibly, made me confront how much we as a family rely on the crutch of grains (whole grains, yes, but still…) to provide us with easy calories.  Don’t misunderstand me; I’m happy to be able to break out the flour bin again and relax a little.  But I’m also happy that I got the opportunity to make myself think a bit more creatively and produce recipes like this one, which made a beautiful quick dessert for our Mother’s Day picnic…and got L. to try something containing raspberries for the first time in his life.  (He liked it, too.)

GF/CF Raspberry Crumble Bars

GF/CF Raspberry Crumble Bars

Filling:

2 1/2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons sugar (I used organic unbleached sugar)
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Crust:
2 cups rolled oats (if you truly need this to be gluten-free, make sure they’re certified pure oats)
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds, divided
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tablespoons sugar (again, I used organic unbleached)
1/2 cup clarified butter OR coconut oil, melted

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8×8 inch square baking pan.
In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients for the filling (raspberries through cornstarch).  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the raspberries are completely broken down and the filling has started to thicken to the consistency of runny jam.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a blender or food processor, combine the oats with 1 cup of the almonds and pulse until everything is finely ground.  In a medium bowl, combine the ground oats and almonds with the salt, 4 tablespoons of sugar, and the melted butter or oil, mixing until the crumbs are sandy and hold together when lightly squeezed.
Press 2/3 of the crust mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the prepared baking dish.  Pour the raspberry filling over the bottom crust and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of sliced almonds.  Crumble the remaining crust mixture over the top.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until just golden brown.  Allow the bars to cool completely before cutting (or, if like us, you can’t wait, be prepared to eat them with a spoon).

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9 Responses to Reprieve, or What I Learned From Going GF/CF

  1. anelie64 says:

    Thanks for the potato response. We eat a lot of root vegetables, potatoes included, because I have found that we do better with far fewer grains. That way we can keep our grains to the ones (both kind and form) that we really like a lot, rather than using them as filler. Ah well, we all have to find our own best way to eat.

    • We also eat lots of root vegetables! And we don’t actually eat grains all the time. Truthfully, many of our meals are grain-free, so we can also be selective about which ones we eat and how much of them we consume.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Hello again, you may remember me as the commenter from a couple months ago who has a daughter L with SPD very similar to your son L. We just started our 6 week GF trial this week. I see that your next post shares that you reintroduced gluten & casein to your son without any issues. But did you see any improvements DURING the GF trial? Improvements related to processing, fine motor, toilet habits, etc? Just curious. I certainly agree that GF is a lot of work & is expensive! 🙂

    • Hi Stephanie! I do remember you, and thank you for coming back! :-) Sorry for the delay in responding, but I’ve been out of the country and am just now catching up. As to your question: We saw a few small gains during the trial, mainly in energy and processing, but nothing significant; and because we were also instructed to start supplementation with a fish oil complex and probiotic at the same time as we began the dietary trial, I’m told by many experts that the gains we did see would be just as likely to come from those interventions as from the dietary changes themselves. The only way to tell would be through the reintroduction phase, which, as you’ve surmised, has gone just fine. We have seen no backsliding of any kind, and L., thankfully, has continued to actually PROGRESS after we’ve put him back on gluten and dairy. I would say that the kid we have today is several milestones ahead of the kid we had when we started the GF/CF trial, but I can’t obviously say that the GF/CF trial is what did it. The only thing I will say is that it’s possible that just giving him a “break” from those substances allowed his body to right itself in some small ways, almost like clearing out a couple of cobwebs that were junking up the works? (I have no scientific proof of that, but it seems as plausible as anything else.) Bottom line: We’re continuing with probiotics and neuro supplements, because I do believe those have had a good effect on him; and we’re back on gluten and dairy, though not huge quantities of either in any given day. And L.’s wonderful. 🙂 Good luck with your little one, and keep me posted! I want to hear how it’s all going for you.

      ________________________________

  3. anelie64 says:

    I know this comment is late, but what’s wrong with potatoes? Granted, we don’t want a regular diet of french fries but what’s wrong with potatoes as the starch of a well-balanced with plenty of protein and fiber meal?

    • It’s NEVER too late to comment! 🙂 There’s NOTHING wrong with potatoes, per se — and believe me, my great-grandparents grew potatoes as one of the staple crops of their farm, so I really have no axe to grind here. I grew up eating plenty of them, and we enjoy them in our house, but I do find that they go a bit heavy on our stomachs if we have them every day. But we love them in potato pancakes, perfectly roasted, or in J.’s favorite crushed potatoes with herbs recipe — and L. would do anything for mashed potatoes. So I work those things into our meals moderately and try to save plenty of room for other things. That’s all!

  4. Once again I admire your honesty at dealing with a situation. I took have had the blank look and response when someone shared with me they were dealing with a food allergy. Then I became a food service manager and saw helicopter parents tell me about their “special” child who could not have this or that…it can be exhausting.
    But I started to do some simple research on my own, and I do mean barley scratching the surface….and discovered some disturbing issues. Food allergies and cancer has grown over the last 25 years by leaps and bounds….. autism and ADHD have increased more than they should have….yet what has changed? GMO”S…our food is different today then it was when I grew up. There are things in our food that were not in there before 1994…..hhmmm. It may not be the answer but it is something to think about and maybe change our diets. I know I am in the process of cutting out anything that has GMOs in it. We have eliminated almost all processed foods and heading towards as much organic as we can. It’s a long road, but we are also worth it.

    • Uly says:

      I don’t know about ADHD, but diagnoses of autism only increased after three things happened:

      1. The diagnostic standards for autism changed and became much easier to “fit”. Previously, many children who would now be diagnosed as autistic were instead given a diagnosis of “mental retardation” or even “childhood schizophrenia” instead. (Yes, I’m aware schizophrenia is nothing like autism. Regardless, that was the way it was!)

      2. The concept of the autistic *spectrum* became prevalent and Asperger’s entered the DSM.

      It’s important to realize that many, if not most, of the children being diagnosed on the spectrum today would not have received that diagnosis (if they got any diagnosis!) as recently as 25 years ago. When I was a child my parents *tried* to get me diagnosed as autistic, knowing a bit more about the subject than most people, but back then doctors wouldn’t diagnose you if you could talk. Now I help moderate a community for autistic individuals and it’s amazing how many people post that they only realized they might be autistic as adults, generally because a child in the family was being diagnosed. I literally can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that exact same story.

      The changing diagnostic standards increased the number of diagnoses. The increase in the number of diagnoses, combined with better reporting by the states, increased awareness of autism. The increase in awareness further increased the number of diagnoses….

    • Uly says:

      As far as cancer goes, has its incidence increased among all age groups? Or just among older people? The longer you live, the more likely you are to get cancer. As the lifespan has increased and fewer people in the US are dying at young ages due to accidents, preventable disease, and (recently) the high crime rate of the 70s – mid90s, it’s unsurprising if some of those people living longer are now living long enough to be diagnosed with cancer – especially as our ability to diagnose it has only improved.

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