Week 3 is behind us and my daughter and I are still on track with eating gluten-free. My husband found some new products that addressed a few cravings -- Udi's frozen gluten-free pepperoni pizza was really good! And I heard rumors that there are GF egg rolls and dumplings at Whole Foods, which will make my daughter a happy camper.
One basic question though is "Why go gluten free?" It's certainly trendy right now. My daughter and I don't have celiac disease, so it's not a medical requirement to avoid gluten. (When people with celiac disease eat gluten, the gluten triggers their immune system to "attack" the small intestine, which leads to many digestive and health issues. They're sensitive to even the tiniest amounts of gluten in foods.) My daughter came to me before the holidays and said that she had read eating gluten-free could help with the auto-immune disorder that she developed a few years ago and which has been flaring badly recently. I was immediately on board with it because having her begin to take the initiative to deal with this issue was a huge step in the right direction. I started researching why and how people go gluten-free and found a lot of very interesting information.
The books I read talked about the evolutionary reasons for avoiding gluten. Those who follow a Paleo diet will recognize this approach. Basically, humans didn't evolve to eat gluten. Our earliest ancestors ate meat, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. They didn't eat dairy or wheat, rye or barley, since this required farming, processing, milking, etc. -- more than our ancestors were able to do. So when we do eat gluten, it causes inflammation and, in some, an autoimmune reaction. Some nutritionists say that eating a lot of gluten, especially highly-processed gluten like refined white flour, can lead to brain fog, fatigue, headaches, joint pain and arthritis, skin issues and infertility.
Depending on how it's processed, wheat (especially white flour) can cause insulin levels to jump, leading to a host of reactions -- low blood sugar, inflammation, insulin resistance and more. I have always had significant troubles with insulin resistance, so I found this especially intriguing. Plus, taking away processed wheat meant for me that I could no longer have easily-purchased cake, donuts, cookies, etc., which would be an immediate huge improvement in my diet. Yes, there are gluten free prepared muffins and baked items at the store, but frankly they're not great and 90% of them are frozen. I've made a couple of sweet baked items at home, and they were very good but spending an hour or more to prepare them makes them much less accessible. Also, if you have some bothersome ongoing health issues that nothing else seems to fix, especially skin rashes, frequent upset stomach, infertility, or general achiness, it's definitely worth trying a gluten free diet to see if it helps.
What are some reasons NOT to go gluten free? Eating gluten-free is not a good way to lose weight. In fact, many GF products have more sugar and less fiber than wheat-based products. If you substitute fruits or vegetables for toast, bagels, pretzels, etc. though, you will probably lose weight and feel healthier. But just switching your gluten bagels, pretzels and toast to gluten free products is not the way to go. You'll end up getting less fiber and nutrients.
What changes have my daughter and I noticed after three weeks? Both of us have lost a few pounds, especially in the belly area. She says she just generally feels less bloated, like she's slimmed down all over. More significantly, the eczema that I deal with every winter -- an incredibly itchy and painful rash on my neck and upper chest -- is almost gone. Normally, my neck and upper chest are bright red, mottled (sometimes even welts from scratching during the night) and unbearably itchy from November to March. I've tried cortisone and the thickest moisturizing lotions I can find, but nothing has helped. I've had this every winter for at least 15 years. I noticed yesterday that the eczema is almost gone. My neck and upper chest are just a bit pink and barely itchy. This is a HUGE improvement in my quality of life.
So, what did we eat this week?
Breakfasts, as usual, were generally GF waffles and bacon for her and an egg and slice of GF toast for me. Lunches are generally leftovers. Snacks are fruit or popcorn.
GF = gluten free
Dinner: Pork sirloin with apples and sage, rice, broccoli
Dinner: Skirt steak, quinoa with butternut squash and cranberries, spinach
Dinner: GF pad thai, GF yellow curry, white rice, and GF salmon avocado maki from Blue Taleh (kudos to them for their GF menu!)
Dinner: Shrimp and smoked sausage skillet (recipe below), white rice
Dinner: Chicken & broccoli mac and cheese (recipe below)
Dinner: Udi's GF Pepperoni Pizza (yum!)
Wondering where I get my meal ideas? I use some cookbooks but mostly choose and modify recipes from my weekly Emeals meal plan that includes 6 different gluten-free recipes every week. They have 14 different meal plans to choose from, and you can switch meal plans at any time without an extra charge. I've been on both the Quick and Healthy Meal Plan and the Gluten Free Meal Plan, and they're both great! Use this link to get a free two-week trial.
Chicken & Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese (Gluten Free)
12-16 oz GF macaroni elbows (I used a mix of Ancient Harvest and Barilla)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup GF all purpose flour (I used Trader Joe's)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried thyme
4 cups milk (add in some half and half for a richer sauce)
1 cup chopped cooked chicken, from a rotisserie chicken
1 small broccoli crown, cut into small florets and pieces
2 cups shredded cheese (your choice -- Monterey Jack is very mild, cheddar gives a sharper flavor. Feel free to use what you have; I used a combination of Colby Jack, Monterey Jack, and Brie)
Salt to taste
- Cook GF elbows according to package, drain, and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Melt butter in a large Dutch oven. Add GF flour, garlic and thyme and stir briefly until clumps have dissolved.
- Add 1/2 cup of milk to pan slowly, stirring, until it is well-incorporated into flour mixture and there are no clumps. Slowly stir in remaining milk. Use a whisk if necessary.
- Cook sauce over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thick. Add cheese and stir until melted. Add broccoli and chicken and stir until well-incorporated. Taste and add salt as needed. (I use a pretty significant amount of salt, probably 1 1/2 to 2 tsp. It's definitely needed to bring out the flavors in macaroni and cheese, whether GF or not.)
- If pan is large enough, add elbows and mix well. Otherwise, mix sauce and noodles in a large casserole dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes. If desired, sprinkle GF bread crumbs or parmesan cheese on top before baking, for a crispy top.
Sausage and Shrimp Skillet (Gluten Free)
1 lb smoked sausage links, sliced (use turkey sausage for reduced fat)
1 onion, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
3 summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 15 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups GF chicken broth
1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Saute sausage, onion, peppers and garlic in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat 5-10 minutes, until sausage is cooked and vegetables are tender.
- Add summer squash, tomatoes and broth. Bring to low boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring, until summer squash is crisp-tender.
- Add shrimp, stir well, and simmer until shrimp is cooked (it will be whitish-pink and tightly curled), about 4-5 minutes.
- Serve with rice.
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