I’m not one of these people who jump on every health bandwagon. So when it came to the newest catch-phrases such as gluten-sensitive or gluten intolerant, and many of the people I know were afraid of becoming a victim to this ingredient and began buying foods that swore they were free of that nasty gluten, I kept right on buying products that still had gluten.
I certainly knew about how gluten can adversely affect some people. A good friend of mine was taken to the emergency room three times from major stomach discomfort that were found to be caused by gluten. Her description of how she felt was frightening. Her stomach, she said, felt as if it was being squeezed and pummeled. It swelled. Then it felt as if something heavy was being placed on it. I felt for her deeply and was glad I wasn’t gluten intolerant.
So it was with shock and disbelief that I found out the hard way that I too, was a victim of that insidious ingredient gluten and more than likely had been for years. This problem was discovered by the simple act of eating a bagel. My husband Alan and I had stopped at a bagel place after playing two hours of tennis. I was never big on bagels but the store was close to the tennis courts and I was starved! We took our order home for a nice no-fuss, relaxing lunch.
That nice lunch we planned didn’t happen and we certainly didn’t get to relax. I was halfway through the bagel when I had horrible pains in my stomach and an intense bloated feeling under my breastbone. My stomach swelled to a soft round ball. It felt as if a heavy stone was laying on it and I couldn’t get relief. During the next hour I had all the symptoms of gluten intolerance—abdominal pain, gas, bloating, nausea and vomiting.
Now I’ve always had what my mother referred to as a nervous stomach. I was, she said, an over achiever. My stomach, my mother maintained, was not a happy stomach due to stress. Gluten in food was not something my mother or anyone, including my pediatrician, would consider as a culprit for my stomach problems.
Looking back however, my stomach issues seemed to coincide with certain meals, ones that contained pasta, (my maternal grandmother came from Naples, Italy and was a gourmet whiz with her pasta dishes), sandwiches made with whole wheat or rye bread packed for school lunches, and certain pastries. Eating fruit, meat, and vegetables never made me feel sick. It was gluten, not stress, that made my stomach not happy.
So what is gluten? Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. It helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that we would not expect to have it, such as chicken broth, malt vinegar, salad dressings, veggie burgers, soy sauce, seasonings, and spice mixes. Even catsup can contain gluten.
I am a person who has a healthy fear of hospitals so it was lucky for me that I remembered what my friend had told me about her gluten attacks and what was prescribed to alleviate the discomfort. For the next few hours, I drank ice cold seltzer which settled my stomach and dulled the pain. Thankfully I did not have to go to the emergency room. However, a week later, I did have myself checked by a gastroenterologist who assured me that I am indeed gluten intolerant and do not have Celiac disease. The symptoms can be very similar so don’t self-diagnose if you have any stomach issues. Consult a professional.
I’ve learned to live with being gluten intolerant. It helps that I’m not a big fan of bread and that my Italian heritage doesn’t mean I love pasta and have to have it no matter what. When I do want a good pasta dish, I have found that most restaurants will accommodate me with gluten-free dishes. Want a quick slice of pizza? There are pizzerias with gluten-free pizza as well. Most of the time though, salads with plain oil and vinegar, meats, veggies, and fruits are my steady diet and I do check the ingredients in everything I buy.
It may seem daunting to go gluten-free at first but for me, the advantages far outweigh the inconvenience. I still enjoy going out with my husband and friends for dinners and lunches—I just have to be careful to choose foods that don’t upset my stomach. As for alcohol, wine is fine and vodka is good mixed with cranberry juice.
I’m not deprived. Gluten-free is for me and I’ve never felt better.
© 2019 Copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reserved
Kristen Houghton’s new book, Lilith Angel, was published in April, 2019 and is already in the top “fiction top five” by Nielson Ratings. She is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. The first four books in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation, are now available in a special boxset. She is also the author of the Horror Writers of America award-winning Quick-Read, Welcome to Hell.