Saturday, July 05, 2008

reflections on the 1 week wheat-free challenge

The week long challenge is over and I started the first day beyond the wheat-free zone no differently, with my oaty breakfast. There were no cravings for pancakes or even real toast. So I ask myself just how different my diet was during the week and whether it was truly representative of my usual eating habits?

I already have dietary restrictions around most dairy and meat as most of you would are aware. I had some hesitation about taking on another potential limitation to my way of eating but I figured that I didn’t eat wheat for nutrition, just for convenience and variety. I had considered going gluten-free and it would have been if my oats were certified coeliac friendly (though a member of the grass family it is usually cross contamination from other gluten-rich grains in the manufacturing process that is problem with oats).

Another aspect that I wanted to incorporate into my challenge was to use produce already in the pantry and fridge and if I wanted any ‘special’ wheat-free requests I had to wait and see what the SE could get in his regular supermarket shopping trip. Although a short hop away are many specialist stores catering for all sorts of dietary restrictions, I wanted to see what it would be like for the ‘average’ person or family who for health reasons needed to live a wheat-free life. All the evening meals were communal so we would cook for each other as usual. The SE made no complaints. Well one. This wouldn’t be the week the solstice cake got it’s grand unveiling.

Of course it could be argued that we mightn’t be the most ‘average’ household in many respects. On the food front we’d already switched to wheat-free pasta 90% of the time and bread is not a daily part of our diets. But who wants to be normal anyway? In the average wheat worshiping home, a little preparation for the challenge is recommended to make the transition easier.

So just how normal was this week for us? These days we’d average 5-7 evening meals at home. The previous fortnight we’d eaten out 4-5 evenings a week but that was unusual as a result of family visits and trips away. Regardless of the challenge we both were hanging out for a week of home cooked food. But I did want to eat out at a place we’d normally choose just to see how it would go. This was only vetoed at the end of the week due to the large amount of uneaten food and leftovers still in the fridge, so I ate Thai food close to work on the last day for lunch instead.

After the end of semester madness, it was lovely to have the SE on duty in the kitchen again. I think he’d missed it as much as me. Consequently the cooking was evenly shared throughout the time. Neither of us made any dinners that were out of the ordinary. We tend to have a couple of fresh fish meals, tinned tuna for a backup, a legume dish or two, a curry, something with tofu and often a stir fry or a pasta dish. I had planned more grains dishes – a millet or quinoa pilaf at least but we made too many double-batch size meals to fit the extra ones in. There are always lots of vegetables. I was happy to see that quantity wise there was more than the recommended 5 serves (2.5 cups) of veggies and 2 serves of fruit in some form.

We did eat more sweet things than usual. The SE has become a chocolate fiend and I need absolutely no encouragement when it comes to the beloved bean. The ice cream had sat in the fridge for over 2 months and needed to be eaten. Tough job but someone’s got to do it. I’m sure I’d usually have more alcohol-free days (at least 3 or 4 a week). Though I imbibed more frequently the quantities were within those dreaded nutritional guidelines none the less.

Lunches were a bit annoying. Though on a workday I never have a sandwich, I often go Japanese for either nori rolls or ebi don. As both involved soy sauce I had to change my habits. If it is going to be a long day at work, I’ll often have a vegetarian combination of dhal, veggie curries, rice and condiments at Sheni’s Curries. However with the amount of chilli and rice in my evening meals as the week wore on, I decided to not double dose. I did however find an acceptable MSG-free Thai outlet in the city, where I will go back again to explore their few vegetarian options. But while workday lunches could be navigated, the weekend pull towards Babka or similar cafes was just too difficult to risk. Now that did peeve me somewhat. To read through a café menu and find nothing that suited all my food restrictions without ending up with just a plate of beans or an egg was quite disheartening.

On the whole the week wasn’t too much of a challenge. I was a little daunted about disclosing my eating and drinking habits for the world to judge but I think I came out pretty well.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement along the way. Glad my menus have been an inspiration to some. Maybe I will do a snapshot of my week again sometime in the future.

Some wheat-free friendly food tips

A good primer on where wheat lurks in common foods is on the food intolerance awareness site. There is also a reminder for carnivores that wheat is used as fillers and crumbs in many meaty delights.

Some beverages like beer, whiskey, soy milks and other such malt containing food contain wheat. (See link above for more details).

Tamari – unlike soy sauce and shoyu that are also fermented soy based sauces, tamari is wheat-free. I’ve always preferred the flavour and it is what I use at home anyway.

Grains – corn, rice, oats, quinoa, amaranth, millet, rye, buckwheat and barley all fit the wheat-free category. (contain gluten)

Spelt is a member of the wheat family yet I am amazed at how many retailers claim it is both wheat and gluten-free. I know at least one local pizza place that makes a spelt pizza base claiming it is gluten-free (the chef told me this is that this is what all the gluten-free products in Italy is made from, I haven’t verified that). Even some esteemed food writers seem to have confused this fact. There are a lot of reasons why spelt may be better tolerated by people with a wheat intolerance but over use of any alternative grain usually brings on the symptoms after a while.

Beans are great and versatile, though if you are carnivore meat and vegetables make an obvious wheat-free combination. Casseroles thicken up nicely with cornflour.

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Blogger docwitch said...

I'm on my 'last day' of the challenge, but I think I'll just keep going the way I am (dairy-free and gluten-free).

Overall, it's been a very pleasant way to eat, without any major upheavals or drastic changes to how I eat.

So you've been eating more choc too? I have.

Anyway, thanks for suggesting this AOF, it's been a good spur to me to try going dairy-free.

12:04 pm  
Blogger Johanna said...

interesting stuff - glad to hear your comments on oats and spelt as I think these are grains that seem most confusing when reading about GF food.

I think that with dietary restrictions it is useful to focus on the positive not the negative - we all eat so much vegetarian/GF/Dairy free etc anyway - it makes me think of my little niece asking if an apple is vegetarian as she gets her head around what it means. Your food diary has been helpful in showing there is still lots of delicious food available even if a GF diet does mean going without some foods

8:29 pm  
Blogger Ange said...

My question for you is, how did you feel, did the change in diet give you more or less energy or any other noticeable changes?

8:48 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Good question Ange. Because it wasn't significantly different to my current diet I don't know if I felt any more energetic etc. What I have been observing in the last couple of days eating wheat whether I feel any worse. What I can conclusively say is that when I eat bread (not sure about wheat in soy sauce etc) I wake up in the morning with some post-nasal drip down my throat and slight sinus congestion. But perhaps that is too much detail for a food blog :)

Docwitch - I think chocolate is part of the staying at home watching dvd's winter season!

Johanna - absolutely, when I set the challenge I was trying to encourage people to widen their diet not limit it, by reintroducing healthy foods that had fallen out of favour (millet for me, really will cook with it soon) or try new recipes. The biggest issue for GF (or in my case wheat free) is combined with my existing dietary restrictions some places have absolutely nothing or no balanced meal to eat! That and the bread.

9:30 am  
Blogger Sue said...

An insightful post with some great ideas. Pleased to find your blog and shall be popping back soon!

3:11 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks for visiting Sue. I loved your blog! Will be back for future visits :)

8:50 am  

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