After eliminating other options, my husband and I entered the Gluten Free (GF) odyssey as an experiment to see if our daughter Dasie’s health would improve. Surprisingly enough, Dasie was amenable to trying a GF diet. I wanted her to start immediately, but relented to beginning after her sister’s surprise party, Thanksgivikkah and her twin friends’ birthday party. After all, how could I deprive her of one last onslaught of jelly donuts, birthday cakes, pizza, and treats? Better to start when she was psychologically prepared and there isn’t any gluten culprit waiting in the wings.
First, I started by scouring my regular turf, ShopRite. It turns out that there is quite an assortment of GF products there, including breads, pizza, and cookies among them. The next question was, how will it taste, will she spit it out, stage a protest, or will it be palatable to her tongue?
I was wary because when I enlisted my son in a GF diet, the results were disastrous. There was less of a selection, and I bravely attempted to bake GF pizza dough and challah on my own. Spending extra time in the kitchen is not my idea of fun, but it would have been worth it if there were positive results. Instead, rebellion ensued: He felt cheated from eating his regular food and did not understand why this unfair treatment was being imposed on him. Needless to say, stress levels were high and the diet was dropped in a matter of weeks.
Fast forward, nine years. This attempt is going better with Dasie, who is pleasantly cooperative and a real trooper. The products taste better and there is more of a selection (at a higher cost than your average products). Several kosher companies offer it: Udi’s, Rudi’s, Enjoy Life, and EnerG.. Some definitely taste better than others, meaning that some brands will be going by the wayside. It’s just a matter of substituting and being careful about ingredients. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. We have yet to explore Whole Foods, kosher natural food stores, and Amazon.
I spoke with Dasie’s friend’s mother who has been on a GF diet for many years. She offered her expert advice for navigating the GF world. In a show of support, her daughter brought GF pretzels to school for Dasie. She loved this crunchy pretzel that substitutes potato and rice flour for wheat flour. We haven’t figured out challah yet, but will be researching that area. We have also just begun the uncomfortable, but adaptable foray into bringing GF food to birthday parties. Hopefully, this will get easier over time, especially since other kids have differing allergies and will also bring their own stash.
A GF diet excludes the protein gluten, found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (cross between wheat and rye). People may undertake a GF diet to counter the symptoms rendered from celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. Effects from these disorders are similar and can include anemia, diarrhea, headaches, joint pain, rashes, digestive problems, brain fog, and a host of other symptoms. According to the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment in Boston, about two to three million Americans suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten causes inflammation in the lining of the small intestines, resulting in the malabsorption of nutrients. An estimated 18 million Americans have a gluten sensitivity according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Although they experience similar symptoms of those with celiac disease, they do not have the antibodies and intestinal damage of those with celiac disease. A positive blood test for celiac disease antibodies, followed by a small intestinal biopsy can confirm a diagnosis for celiac disease, but there are no tests for gluten sensitivities. Those with wheat allergies may exhibit allergic reactions to wheat products only and should avoid consuming wheat. Symptoms include hives, swelling and irritation around the mouth, nausea, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis.
Back to the story. We planned to visit grandma in Queens, which usually culminates with a trip to a local pizza shop for dinner. In anticipation, I contacted the pizza store and asked if they sold GF pizza. I was assured by an employee that they served gluten free pizza. A few days later, at the restaurant, I placed the order for GF pizza and was told that, to the contrary, they don’t offer it. I told them that I called and was assured (repeatedly, in fact), that they do sell GF pizza. They wanted to know to whom I spoke. Since I didn’t anticipate this situation, I wasn’t able to point fingers at anyone.
My husband darted out of the pizza place and headed three blocks to the competitor. He returned with good news, that the other pizza store sold gluten free pizza and french fries. I explained the situation to Grandma who refused to budge, due to her fear of tripping on the trek in the cold, dark, wintery weather. Dasie and I walked three blocks and ordered pizza and french fries—at an exorbitant price, of course. I laughed at the size of the pre-made pizza, but Dasie liked it, except for the bottom of the crust which I sliced off. We shared quality time while I ate the crusty pieces. She was content, but asked, “How long will I have to be gluten free?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it might be forever. But, we are all happier that she feels healthier, which is what really matters. And, next time we’ll know which pizza place to frequent.
By Shelley Fisher