COPING WITH A GLUTEN- AND WHEAT-FREE DIET*
review by Beatrice Trum Hunter, food editor of Consumer Research magazine, NOHA honorary member, and author of many books on nutrition
Against the Grain, the Slightly Eccentric Guide to Living Well Without Gluten or Wheat, by Jax Peters Lowell, Henry Holt, New York, hardcover, 291 pp, resource guide, index, $22.50
Against the Grain offers a wealth of practical information for gluten- and wheat-sensitive individuals; how to get started, how not to cheat, how to accept the condition psychologically, and how to meet the constant challenges. Lowell demonstrates that by being creative, one can cope with this health problem in a gluten- and wheat-pervasive culture. She details strategies for food shopping, assertiveness training for restaurant dining and traveling, and adaptations for the enjoyment of foods on festive occasions. She lists airlines and notes those that can accommodate with gluten- and wheat-free meals. Fourteen pages explain gluten and wheat intolerance in 14 different languages. These can be photocopied and carried to countries where the languages are spoken. A sample: "I do not speak your language. I’m allergic to wheat and all its derivatives. If I eat any food, product, chemical additive, or stabilizer containing even a trace of this grain, I will become ill. If necessary, please check with the chef to make sure my food does not contain any of the ingredients listed above and help me order a meal I can safely enjoy. Thank you very much!" (This technique could be useful, too, for those who are sensitive to lactose, fructose, MSG, corn, etc.; merely by substituting the vital words.)
Label reading skills are vital and some knowledge of food technology is helpful, too. For example, coffee substitutes may be grain based. The culturing of veined cheeses may depend on bread mold. Prepared ketchups, mustards, and horseradishes may contain wheat-based white vinegar. Some jelly candies may be coated with a sugar solution in barley water. Pre-basted turkeys may contain gluten in the "butter" mixture injected into the birds. Cooking sprays contain grain alcohol.
In a practical way, the author describes many specific food products with brand names that are gluten- or wheat-free. Also, she lists mail order suppliers and describes their offerings.
Despite the practical suggestions in this book, there are a few drawbacks. The author spends much time and effort in trying to obtain food products – rather than basic foods. Readers are led down this unwise path, which may result in food selections that are less nutritious than their simple counterparts. She lists buckwheat as a no-no, although buckwheat contains no gluten and is not ever a true grain, despite the "wheat" in the word. She advises readers to avoid millet, spelt, and kamut, and questions quinoa, without providing evidence. Many gluten-sensitive individuals can tolerate these grains. On the other hand, she stresses corn, to which many are sensitive. And, although rice is low in allergenicity, a steady diet of rice cakes, without rotating grains, sets the stage for allergenicity inducement. She considers carrageenan safe, despite many findings to the contrary. However, overall, the book is a good contribution and will help celiacs as well as those suffering from various medical conditions, including regional enteritis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome [includes dryness and inflammation of the eyes, dryness of the mouth, and enlargement of certain glands in front of the ear], dermatitis herpetiformis [chronic crops of blisters, accompanied by itching and burning], and schizophrenia, for whom gluten avoidance has been shown to be beneficial. Although it was not the author’s intention, the strategies outlined in the book might be applied, too, for lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, and other health conditions that require certain food avoidance.
*This review is reprinted, with permission, from Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, 911 Tyler Street, Port Townsend, WA 98368 (360-385-6021), May 1996, page 118.Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Summer 1996, pages 4-5.