Life After Gluten

Behold my wedding cake. The confection – flourless chocolate – was our only option. But guests, even months later, waxed rhapsodic about its rich, creamy goodness . This cake is a bit of a metaphor for my husband’s allergies. His intolerance to wheat (gluten), soy, and dairy limits our options – and yet since marrying him, I eat much better (for taste and health) than ever before. A few weeks ago, a woman told me her daughter had gone into a depression after being diagnosed with celiac disease, convinced her life as she knew it was over (ah, the power of food!). I’m here to say, “All is well.” A few quick tips . . .

Get thee to – a great source for food ideas, recipes, and medical information.

We LOVE the Gluten Free Mall. Most items are reasonably priced – and especially helpful for multiple allergy folks. For example, in stores, most chicken broth and bouillon cubes contain wheat and/or soy. We stocked up on these and make soup at least once a week (chicken and rice; butternut squash, potato leek).

Some gluten-free brownies/chocolate cake mixes are great, but I am not a fan of bread mixes or pre-made bread; they are usually dry and will just make you yearn for the “good ol’ days.” Instead of mourning bread, embrace the corn tortilla, rice noodles, rice crackers (better than Wheat Thins any day), and open faced smoked salmon-sandwiches on rice cakes.

However, if you want “breaded” items – such as chicken cutlets or breaded eggplant – try garbanzo bean flour . I actually like the flavor better these days. Oh, and for Thanksgiving try the pie-crust. I also like their microwave popcorn – the only soy-free brand I’ve found.

Speaking of soy . . . in some ways, this allergy is trickier than gluten. Soy is used as a “filler” in just about everything processed. Don’t believe me? Try finding a can of tuna fish without soy. Really. The place to go for soy-free is Whole Foods. Yeah, I know they are more expensive for a lot of items – but for some staples (like soy-free tuna fish) it’s no more pricey than your local supermarket. Also, the staff will look up the ingredients for any prepared food and will even help you shop or (give you shopping guide pamphlets) if you request — and I recommend it, especially if you are new to the allergy. Just call up your local store – they make a lot of money off we allergy-folk, so the costumer service is pretty posh.

Quick note: beware of the word “spices” on the ingredient list. My husband has had reactions to foods when that was the only unknown ingredient – I don’t know whether soy or gluten is the more likely culprit, though I’m guessing soy.

We just don’t do prepacked, processed food anymore – much to my tongue and body’s delight, not to mention the environment’s. We buy fresh fruits and veggies, meats, and eat a lot of rice and lentils. Red lentils, by the way, are a great substitute for mashed potatoes. They are moist without needing milk. I was addicted to pre-packaged for years because it was easy. What I forgot is that it is also pretty easy to cook, and that there were hundreds of easy, allergy-friendly recipes. We love the Moose-wood cookbook and find that French cookbooks (think Julia Child) are especially friendly.

But Can I Go Out to Eat?
More and more restaurants now provide gluten-free menus on demand, including Outback Steakhouse, P.F Changs, Legal Seafood, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Bonefish Grill. There is MUCH more awareness about celiac in the restaurant industry these days, and most kitchens will willing check/modify ingredients for you. If you live in Utah, get your list here. Also, the “low-carb options” on menus are often celiac-friendly. (When we ask restaurants to hold the bread, they just assume we are on Atkins.)

If you have a soy allergy, these menus aren’t as helpful. My husband and I tend to frequent American, French, or Italian Bistros when we go out. The bisto menu is very gluten-free friendly (and they usually cook with olive oil, which my hubby needs) – and we simply clue in our waiter. Also, sushi is a good choice — as long as you hold the soy sause and avoid California Rolls — fake crab has gluten.

Oh, and if you are lactose intolerant, Sharon’s coconut and chocolate sorbets are every bit as creamy as most ice creams.

I’d love to hear your suggestions if you are living with food allergies. And since this is a Mormon-themed blog, I do have a question — have you ever seen a ward provide rice wafers instead of bread for sacrament (for all or for one congregant)? This isn’t an issue for us yet (DH isn’t Mormon) but could be for our children . . .


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. AmyB says:

    That is a gorgeous wedding cake. I don’t have any food allergies, but in your case it sounds like a blessing in disguise. I could use a kick-in-the-pants to help me eat more healthily.

    On you rice wafer question- I’ve not seen that, but during one of our first Sundays in our new branch they used Ritz crackers for the sacrament.

    I have the details fuzzy, but I remember a case in the news about a Catholic girl from New Jersey who had a wheat allergy. She petitioned the pope to be able to have some other kind of wafer for communion and he said no. Kind of crazy.

  2. stacer says:

    My ward in Boston provided rice wafers for my friend who had a wheat allergy. It was just a little cracked cracker put on the tray of the person who would pass it to him. I’m sure if you spoke with the EQ pres/bishop about it, you’d find it’d be no problem.

    Also, thanks for the link. I have hypothyroidism, and my dr. wanted me to try going off dairy for a few weeks as an experiment, then off wheat after bringing dairy back in for a while, to see if I’m sensitive. Since I eat dairy and/or meat at almost every meal (farm girl here), it’s been so hard to figure out what to eat–it’s in so much! So I hadn’t started yet. But hopefully this will give me some ideas.

  3. Deborah says:

    AmyB — it’s a bleeing in disguise for me; I’m certainly healthier. My husband might disagree. (He loves to say, “I’m allergic to wheat, dairy, soy — basically anything that tastes good.”) But we do eat very well, and he too will ultimately admit that he is healthier for being “sick.”

    Amy/Stacer: I heard a similar story about a Catholic girl with celiac in MA in the Boston Globe a couple years back who couldn’t receive first communion. Luckily, we seem more flexible with our symbols — but Ritz Crackers? 🙂

  4. Tona says:

    There are rice communion wafers for Catholics, but I guess it is more difficult to get approval for a first communion, because the wheat bread is important to the ritual. There was an article on that this month in the Bston Globe – a girl with celiac who was looking forward to first communion but was allergic both to the wafer and to the wine/juice because of juvenile diabetes.

    As far as Mormon congregations go, we have a family in our ward with gluten and dairy allergies. They provide an appropriate slice or two of bread that they have brought so they know it’s safe, and the priests and deacons quietly make sure that tray goes to their aisle. No one makes a big deal out of it. I would guess that most people in the ward don’t even know that the accomodation is being made. I think the family is more comfortable bringing the bread themselves, but it would be provided for them if they’d rather not have to bring it themselves every time. Luckily most Mormons are open to having various foods stand in for the bread & nearly everyone has a story of when something a little out of the ordinary had to substitute. An allergy should be pretty straitforward for a ward to accomodate. At least it is in ours.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    Deborah, I’m so glad you wrote this post! Really, it couldn’t have come at a better time. My son keeps getting diagnosed with more and more allergies. We’ve known about the eggs, dairy, and peanuts, but last week, we found out about a possible soy allergy and the celiac problem.

    I have to admit the soy and gluten sent me over the edge because soy is in everything processed, and I hate the idea of taking away Asher’s graham crackers (I’ve found no better way to get through Church than with a baggie full of graham crackers in my backpack!).

    Your blog is a great resource for me. There’s a lot of scary-looking recipes and psuedo-scientific information to wade through on the Web.

  6. Deborah says:

    Emily! It can be so daunting to encounter this for the first time. My husband’s celiac was adult-onset, and he goes back and forth about the benefits of that. Pro: “Sigh, I had a great childhood” Con: Habits are harder to break as an adult.

    Actually, we wonder if he had undiagnosed food allergies as a kid and if that contributed to some of his early learning challenges (that have since worked themselves out . . .). Some research points to some “look-alike” ADHD/autism symptoms as responses as untreated/diagnosed food intolerances.

    Anyway, since it’s hereditary (his dad has celiac too), this is something we will likely be dealing with — so I’m kind of glad I’ve gotten used to managing it pre-kids.

    As for church snacks, try this

    Also with soy — beware of vegetable oil. Mexican food is great, though, especially where you live — corn tortillas, fresh salsa, beans. Oh, and I have a recipe for the best (easy!) mayo — made with olive oil. Tuna salad, egg salad, potato salad. Yum! You’ll never go back to soybean Hellman’s again. Let me know if you’re interested.

  7. Susan M says:

    My brother is gluten-intolerant and I’m diabetic. We make perfect travelling companions.

    I have a new kid in my nursery who is gluten-intolerant, and it’s hard because crackers are just so obviously the easiest nursery snack! We’ve been doing raisins, rice cakes, bananas…His mom just told me she found some gluten-free fruit snacks, so we’ll probably do that too.

    I hadn’t even thought about taking the sacrament. People don’t realize how sensitive an allergy it can be. My brother can’t have anything that’s even come in contact with anything with gluten in it.

  8. deb's sister sarah says:

    It was the best damn cake I’ve ever tasted! Flourless cakes rock!

    That said, I write about celiac diesease for my job, and did you know it is estimated that as many as 1 million Americans have celiac disease but remain undiagnosed?

  9. Mike says:

    “have you ever seen a ward provide rice wafers instead of bread for sacrament (for all or for one congregant)?”

    Can’t say that I have, but we one used a Hershey’s bar for the sacrament when I was in the boy scouts. Anything to make teenage boys interested in taking the sacrament in the woods…

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  13. Bill says:

    Just to inform about the catholic thing. Catholics believe that it the priest really does turn the bread and wine into Christs body and blood. But this requires that a properly ordained priest says the correct words over unleavened wheat bread and fermented grape wine. So for celiacs like my brother’s wife, they only drink the blood. There ARE NOT rice wafers that are permitted, ever. It wouldn’t become the body of Christ even if the correct prayer was said by a priest. Its just what we believe.

  14. Tracy M says:

    Deborah, thank you SO much for this post. Still totally new to being wheat-free, but I’m finding it’s not the horrible cage I first imagined. I’m certainly eating better, and I feel about a million times better- that alone is worth it!

  15. Tracy M says:

    Oh, and yes, in our ward we have a man with Celiacs, and there is usually a wafer or cracker for him on the sacrament tray. Sometimes it appears to be rice, sometimes corn. I imagine they supply it to the deacons…

    p.s. Your cake is beautiful!!

  16. Kiri Close says:

    I would like to swim in that cake.