Sunday, November 29, 2015

Gluten Phobia

This conversation is dedicated to you folks who find it amusing to make fun of people who don’t eat gluten. And you know who you are. You touch a loaf of bread and shriek, “Ohmygod, I think I came in contact with gluten.” You tell jokes like, “What is the recipe for a delicious gluten-free brownie? There is none, bwahahahaha.” So funny. You show pictures on Facebook of dinner plates infested with bedraggled asparagus and a naked, gray burger topped with a vomit-green pickle slice and label the picture “gluten-free dinner.” You share YouTube movies entitled “How to Become Glucose Intolerant So You Can Be Like Your Friends.” You speculate about the gluten and non-gluten properties of pancakes, soaps, sweaters, Ferris wheels, crescent wrenches, hamsters, and BBQ grills. You delight in sharing the photo series of famous paintings with the gluten removed. OK, yes, those are actually pretty funny, like the Vermeer below, but what does that prove?

We are not as far apart on this as you may think. I have as much trouble as you do with the gluten-free fanatics who blame everything from the melting of the polar ice caps to the popularity of the Kardashians on gluten. These gluten-phobes believe that consumption of bread caused Donald Trump’s psychosis. They attribute the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s to German Chocolate Cake, the British colonization of India on scones, and the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas on wheat fields. If they could erase the amber waves of grain from the “Star-Spangled Banner,” they would do it in a heartbeat. I swear on a stack of cookbooks that I am not one of these people. They give ordinary everyday gluten-free people a bad reputation and make us lose credibility. They are the Westboro Church of the healthy eating movement.

Thinking about those breads, pastas, and pastries you adore, you may wonder why someone would choose to avoid eating gluten. Please, stay with me here. Listen to the logic. Give me my moment on the soap box.

First, I admit that going gluten-free has turned into a popular fad spun out-of-control, much as fat-free became a fad several decades ago. A lot of people who could eat gluten without a problem shun it as if allowing a sliver of wheat bread into their house would cause the foundation to give way and the house to collapse. I can see why you laugh at people with no understanding of nutrition, and no clue as to why someone might give up gluten, becoming gluten-phobic. I don’t want to appear to have no sense of humor. I confess that it amuses me in a perverse way to bake super-delicious gluten-free breads and desserts and to bring them to potlucks and tell people to let the gluten-frees have first crack at them. Everyone there instantly appears to become gluten-free.

While many people can eat gluten quite happily with no evil results, there a lot of people who don’t fare so well on the stuff. Obviously, people with Celiac can’t eat gluten because the nature of the disease is such that they lack the ability to digest it. Also, gluten is inflammatory, so anyone with an inflammatory disease, such as arthritis, would feel better off gluten. Heart disease, fibromyalgia, and gout are other inflammatory diseases aggravated by gluten. Also, autoimmune diseases can be negatively impacted by gluten. Some people simply have a sensitivity to gluten that causes them to experience allergic symptoms when they eat it, like clogged sinuses, skin rashes, or itchy ears. It’s quite amazing how different each person’s body is from the next person’s.

Someone in good health who has no problem eating gluten has no reason to avoid it. And even those who discover they have a mild sensitivity to it can usually eat it now and then with no ill effects. But, if you eat gluten, beware. Here’s the big catch for everyone, whether genuinely gluten-intolerant or not. Commercial wheat contains dangerous chemicals that can make anyone get sick. Wheat is generally harvested (not everywhere, but in most places), by spraying it with glyphosate to desiccate the wheat to render it uniformly dry for harvesting. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s ubiquitous RoundUp, now banned in many European countries and proven to cause a host of diseases from Autism to cancer. So if you are good to go with gluten and you want to eat it, then only eat organic wheat, which, by definition is free of chemicals. The other issue about wheat, and all grains really, is that when they are refined they lose their nutritional value and become a burden on the human metabolism. Sugar and refined flours are the main cause of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a boatload of illnesses. That sentence should be in bold italics and underlined about fifty times. If you eat wheat (or gluten), eat organic only and eat whole grain unrefined.

I don’t eat gluten because it makes me sick. I’ll spare you the graphic description and the interpretive dance version of the explanation of what happens to me. Each of us is a unique ecosystem, an organism that functions in its own way. What works for one person will not work for another. The person who can best understand how a body works is the owner of that body. Each of us must pay attention and notice what happens as we munch our way through life, adjusting accordingly. Avoiding gluten helps me keep my system in balance. I don’t feel deprived. I eat well. We had a full table at Thanksgiving and nothing on it contained gluten. We had gluten-free macaroni and cheese as well as pumpkin pie. I have learned how to cook gluten-free. So don’t pity me, don’t make fun of me, and don’t dismiss me. Not everyone who shuns gluten does so because it’s a fad. Some of us do it because we’re in tune with what works for us. I love my gluten-free life.

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