Tuesday, October 13, 2009

21 Days of Food From the Other Side: The Gluten Challenge

the universal sans gluten bumper sticker

For the celiac or gluten intolerant, gluten is evil incarnate.

It lurks in the heart of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, in the soul of Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels, and in the crust of Sam's Chowder House deep fried popcorn shrimp located in dazzling Half Moon Bay.

It is the crusty loaf of an Acme Bread batard. It sings a siren song so wistful it brings tears while tasting the sublime and famous Citizen Cake Cupcake. Gluten is a friend to food, a sister to the bakery ensemble, and it proudly occupies more than 90% of the stuff on supermarket shelves.

Evil or not, it has been our vice, and sustenance for the past 21 days. And this day brings the moment we knew was inevitable, the divorce. The union is shattered, broken by the simplest of excuses. We cannot maintain a relationship without becoming severely ill in mind and body, and let's face it, spirit.

Why did we hook up in the first place?

Blame it on the doctor. She suggested we take the newer celiac panel tests since neither of us have had a modern day test. In order for a gluten antibody test to be accurate, one has to have ingested gluten, for a long while. Depending on the literature anywhere from one month to several is the suggestion. Since we have been gluten free for a very long time, the longer challenge is the preferred choice. If you are the counting type, it means stuffing anywhere from 8 to 11 equivalent slices of bread in your face on a daily basis.

Testing for celiac is not simple. Here is the scientific brouhaha . If you test positive, then the next step is an endoscopy to take a sample of the lining of the small intestine to test it for the disease. The lining gets totally stripped of the helpful villi if you are a celiac. Those consequences mean you don't absorb necessary nutrients and suffer from a host of ailments, like osteoporosis, malnutrition, and constant unhappiness in the gut.

The incidence of celiac in our country is much more prevalent than once thought. One of every 133 people. Those are big numbers.

The gluten challenge is simple in theory, harder to do in real life. While you are gluten free, your body heals, the symptoms abate and you lead a normal(ish) life. But once you ingest gluten, the dirty rotten scoundrel makes life miserable again. And in order to get an accurate reading, it must be for a period of time to start the damaging cycle. It sounds counter intuitive, but there is a good reason to do this. All ailments that seem celiac are not always celiac. There could also be underlying issues that need investigation that seem to also abate when gluten free.

The first few days of the challenge are like an illicit affair. The temptations that you've avoided until now are yours for the asking. Oh, the power. Oh, the choices. Oh, the misery. Gluten-free gave you good health, energy, and the ability to have a good day in body at least. After the first few moments of having your cake and eating it too, the bill collector comes calling.

Bent over, gripping the guts to hold everything in, and not paying any attention to the anvil and vice in your head was the mantra for that first week. Sleeping sitting up, discovering the old, but still good, Nexium in the medicine chest , downing Tums like candy, and chewing Pepto Bismal like breath mints got you through some of the day.

Milano cookies do not taste as good as they once did. Three times was the magic number for trying to find perfect ravioli, which do not exist. Several baguettes later, not one of them held up to what we ate in France. At least 300 croissants later we knew they didn't hold up to French standards. Oreos still tasted great if you removed the cookie and just ate the middle. Ring Dings look so much more appealing when Brenda Lee Johnson swoons over them.

Pizza is overrated, although cheese is not. Crispy fried seafood tastes like crispy fried bread crumbs if the seafood is overcooked. A lumberjack pancake breakfast is enough to feed the Jolly Green Giant and all of his friends. Who eats that stuff? And after several burgers with buns, not one was good enough to not peel away the bread.

This is the last day, the day before the blood tests. And there is not one item on our list that I want to eat. But like a good student, I will search for my 8 slices of bread in some form or another. I hear Izzy's Bagels calling.

Or maybe that is just the ringing in my ears from 21 days of too many Advil.

citizen cake cupcakes : worth every gluten laden bite