First of all I would just like to say I love bread (and cakes, but mainly bread). I love it. I used to eat it all the time, three times a day is fine with me.
However, I recently discovered the benefits of a gluten free diet. At the time I was living in Cusco in Peru, running a restaurant. It was stressful & hard work but I loved being able to spend my day making & thinking about food. Unfortunately I started to have a problem with my heart due to the high altitude of the city.
Basically I needed to leave as soon as was possible but I had a bunch of responsibilities so could not just get on a plane. I asked my cardiologist for advice about what I could do to improve my chances of not damaging my health permanently. The first thing he advised was to lose some weight, I am a chubber & knew he was right. I had tried to lose weight before with no success & I told him about that. He asked me if I ate a lot of bread & when I said yes he suggested the solution was pretty simple, (but horrifying) cut it out.
There are, it turns out, a ton of reasons to give up gluten. I now understand it is not just about weight loss it is about general health. I learned a lot about the history of wheat (more about this tomorrow) and read some alarming research about the effects of gluten on health. However, the most powerful image for me was this one; the doctor asked me to think about what happens when you mix flour with water. It turns into a horrible, slimy paste which you can use to glue things together. When you eat flour this is what is in your stomach. It’s pretty gross and it stops good digestion. This means you feel hungry when you shouldn’t because your stomach cannot extract all the goodness from the food you eat.
After a week or so I started to feel lots of benefits from avoiding gluten, more energy, and steady energy levels rather than fluctuations, no indigestion, less hunger (even though I was eating less) and fewer sugar cravings and I started to lose weight. Basically I felt a lot better. There were other reasons for this but I firmly believe the gluten thing was huge for me.
I arrived back in England in March and was determined to eat gluten in moderation. However over the months I have slipped and find myself eating more and more bread (who can go for a curry and not have naan?). Since then I have put back on some of the weight I lost and the other night I had indigestion for the first time in nearly a year. I have decided the only way to stop the rot, as it were, is to cut it out completely and then get myself used to only having it once or twice a week.
I am not gluten intolerant. I know people who suffer terribly from horrible symptoms if they eat even a tiny amount. However there are many health professionals who believe we are all slightly intolerant to gluten and that we would be healthier if we ate less. My experience leads me to agree with them. I am therefore embarking on a totally gluten free week to wean myself off the good stuff.
Last time I gave up gluten my situation was very different so I intend to approach it in a different way. In Peru it is impossible to get gluten free flour, xantham gum, rice flour and many of the other wheat substitutes so I just ate a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables and meat. It was quite extreme but pretty easy as ill health and possible death are incredibly motivating. Now I am living in England and I want to try to have a more normal diet but without gluten, I am after all a glutton!
Becky (the other glutton & another fan of all things baked) and I were talking about this today and she suggested that I write a diary for the blog. I realize that a gluten free diet is something most people do not consider important and I totally understand. I used to feel the same way. I am not a health fanatic and dislike people banging on about their latest diets and fads but this is not a fad. This is just a simple strategy to be a bit healthier, it’s not like I am planning to cut out chocolate here! I am hoping that I can find some great alternatives so that cutting down does not seem like such a joyless chore. This is not the end of enjoying bread and cakes but I know that it is beneficial to my health to cut down massively.
So without further ramblings here is the menu for day 1:
A grapefruit, easy and yummy. I love fruit for breakfast.
Japanese rice crackers, brie & tomato chutney with a banana cardamom lassi.
Until I found these rice crackers I was horrified by them but these are really good, super crunchy and not all dry and tasteless and weird like normal rice crackers. They are a great vehicle for getting loads of creamy cheese and tangy chutney into your mouth.
I reckon the key to following any diet where you are trying to give up something you like is to find other things which are satisfying, abstinence is no fun. Having a few really tasty things like chutney in the fridge means you can make a quick, easy meal out of practically nothing. Making a lassi is not something I would normally do but they are really tasty and I added the cardamom for maximum happiness.
Leftover chilli chicken with an aromatic Pilaf.
I did not want to eat the chicken for dinner but I hate waste so I made a really aromatic Pilaf with crispy fried onions and added some mango chutney and lime pickle. With a couple of simple things it turned into a deliciously complex meal which was really satisfying. I read somewhere (or maybe I made this up) that using spices in food to give more complex flavours is a good tip for people on a diet as it makes you feel more satisfied and therefore full. I did not do it for this reason I just like to add spices to everything.
A gluten free tea cake.
Today I went out to buy some gluten free ingredients to bake with such as flour, ground almonds, rice flour etc. I also treated myself to some gluten free teacakes (I am a sucker for a hot buttery tea cake). Friends have told me that gluten free bread is awful but I liked the tea cakes. The only discernible difference was the texture. It was pleasingly crunchy and chewy at first and I was overjoyed. However as you eat it the texture becomes more crumbly and dry so the finish is not the same. Honestly though I will happily devour the rest of the packet and enjoy them so that is a win and I will try some other store bought breads.
I have made a loaf with a mixture of gluten free & chickpea flour. It weighs a ton, it did not smell great and it doesn’t look amazing either but the most important thing is how it tastes. I will find out at breakfast.