Jeff SanGeorge In All His Gluten-Free GloryJun 28th, 2012 | By Julie Joyce | Category: Feature
As someone who’s been a vegetarian for 20 years and has backyard chickens and is thus subject to being made fun of endlessly, I confess that I’ve never paid much attention to the gluten-free diet, mainly because I’ve never had to. However, I’m interested in any different form of sustenance, especially one whose devotees describe how they haven’t been sick since going gluten-free. I don’t like being sick. I do like gluten though. I’m a glutton for gluten. Snarfles.
So since I truly know very little about what gluten actually is (but I’m pretty sure I once ate some fake meatballs made out of nothing BUT gluten), why it’s so bad for some of us, and what the benefits of a gluten-free diet are (besides the not getting sick part), I thought I’d turn to the founder of website GlutenFreeInNC, Jeff SanGeorge.
1. Can you tell us why you’re gluten-free, first of all?
I’m one of those people who doesn’t have much of a choice about eating gluten free. Because I have Celiac Disease, the choices are eat gluten free and be healthy, or eat “regular” food and get sick, and possibly very (very) sick. This disease is heredity and I have an uncle who was sick for 11 years and developed type one diabetes (among other things) from not being diagnosed. The wheat/ gluten was literally killing him.
1.5 Does everyone who eats a gluten free diet have Celiac Disease?
There are several reasons why someone would be on a gluten free diet, the least of them having to do with fads or losing weight. Many people have an allergy to wheat, some people develop an intolerance to wheat, and then some people (about 1 in 133) have Celiac Disease. Lately there is a fad of athletes eating gluten free for performance reasons. For the record,. If I could eat wheat right now I’d drop everything to raid the local bakery, pizza and beer shops!
2. Why did you decide to do an entire website devoted to the gluten-free lifestyle? Are there any other major local resources for this?
This website isn’t my first one about the gluten free diet. Back in 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I started a blog called Good Without Gluten. It was gluten free recipes and food tips. I started GlutenFreeinNC so I could continue to write about living gluten free, but on a broader way, not just confined to food. There are other websites out there that are good sources of gluten free news and information, but none focused on the state and local level like ours is. This website seemed like a logical progression for me because I have been a source of gluten free information so long that it just makes sense for me to share it in this way.
3. What is the single biggest hindrance to being gluten-free for you as an adult?
It’s a toss-up between dining out and attending a dinner party or cookout: both have hassles and pitfall.
Although, with the increased general awareness about the gluten free diet things are much better than they used to be.
4. What about kids who want or need to eat gluten-free? What challenges do they face when they’re eating at school or a friend’s house?
I don’t think there’s a kid in this world who wants to eat gluten free. There are some vegetarian or vegan kids who don’t like to think their food once had a face, but I don’t think that there is any similar remorse for murdering a wheat grain! It’s not at all easy for kids to keep a gluten free diet. There is a great organization called R.O.C.K. (raising our celiac kids) that is a good resource and support for parents and kids who have to eat gluten free.
5. For people who don’t necessarily have a health reason to go gluten-free, what benefits would they enjoy if they did eat less gluten?
It’s interesting to see the different groups who don’t eat gluten for different reasons. As I mentioned before several professional athletes swear by their gluten free diets for performance reasons. A few other groups who sometimes avoid wheat (wheat, rye, and barley contain the protein gluten) are people with Autism, and people with ADHD. Wheat tends to exacerbates both conditions. Also some mothers limit the amount of wheat that their children eat since it can sometimes make them “hyper.”
Last year I heard an interesting point that put some of this in perspective for me. The fact is that there are parts of the wheat plant that, if taken in high enough amounts, can hurt anyone’s stomach. A better way to think about wheat is that some of our bodies can tolerate more than others do. This line of thinking is a long way away from the “wholesome” image of wheat that we were brought up on.
6. I know that additives like red dye sneak up in totally unexpected things (like vanilla ice cream for god’s sake!)…does gluten turn up in places where you don’t expect to see it?
That’s one of the most difficult things, as wheat/gluten is (seemingly) in everything! Some hidden sources include soy sauce, some spices, flavored coffees, many ice creams, most canned soups, and even some fresh meats are packed in a broth made with wheat flour.
7. What about alcohol?
If wine had gluten in it I don’t know what I’d do! The general thinking on distilled liquors is that the distilling process removes all of the gluten, so spirits are OK for most. Beer is another matter. Almost all beer has barley in it. It’s pretty much an essential ingredient to make beer taste like beer! In the past two years there has been a huge growth in the gluten free beer market, with many more choices available. Most gluten free beer is brewed with Sorghum. Some taste like beer, and some not so much.
8. Have you encountered negative resistance to the gluten-free way of eating? Other than my earlier remarks, which are completely ignorant and meant completely in jest. I’ve suffered enough as a veggie so just trying to pass on the love.
When people perceive being gluten free as a choice they usually aren’t too sympathetic, but when they realize that it’s a medical necessity they are generally pretty understanding. I’ve met people whose friends and family members are completely unsympathetic and unsupportive of their gluten free diet. I couldn’t imagine having to deal with that.
9. Support-wise, what can we do if a friend or family member needs to go gluten-free? I imagine that any dietary change is rough and especially when people may not understand the necessity in making the changes, what should we all be aware of so that we’re being a positive influence and not becoming the people you need to avoid at parties?
The thing to remember about people with celiac disease is that the smallest crumb of gluten can make them really sick. One of the biggest challenges in this diet is cross-contamination. Something like using a cutting board that had bread on it, using a toaster with bread crumbs, or using butter with toast crumbs in it, is all it takes to ruin a celiac’s day. People with gluten intolerance and wheat allergies aren’t as sensitive, but being aware of cross-contamination is a huge help.
10. I always love it when a rabid meat-eater tries something like vegetarian chili and thinks it’s the best thing since, um, regular chili. Any specific gluten-free foods/recipes that you can tell us about that can cause this kind of “aha!” moment?
I can tell you that most substitutes for wheat aren’t going to get many people excited. Many people like to find good substitutes for the wheat products that they loved, but the truth nothing tastes like, and has the qualities of wheat, except for wheat.
For me, the focus of my diet was food that didn’t normally have wheat in it. For example there are several ethnic cuisines that don’t traditionally use wheat. I spent several years “playing” with these types of recipes. One of the real benefits of this diet is that it causes you to eat “closer to nature.” More often than not, pre-packaged and processed foods will have some type of gluten in them. I am healthier today because of the gluten free diet. Fruits and vegetables, potatoes and rice, fresh seafood and meat are the staples of my diet now. Being on the gluten free diet caused me to rethink everything I put in my mouth. It also forced me to spend more time cooking and being creative in the kitchen, both things that I now love to do.