Living Without Our Daily Bread: How to Go Gluten-Free- for Celiac Awareness Month

About celiac disease -  facts, realities and hope
May is celiac disease awareness month.

Living Without Our Daily Bread

by Karina Allrich

Since the birth of agriculture- when our ancestors began to cultivate and harvest grains- human beings have cherished bread. It was a minor miracle, this almost magical transformation of grain into dough. Bread became the staff of life, a daily source of nourishment, symbolic of spiritual renewal.

But what if bread was suddenly poison? What if wheat was toxic, and every bite of a toasted bagel, slice of pizza or forkful of penne inflicted damage to your body?

This scenario is a daily reality for those carrying the gene of an autoimmune disorder known as celiac disease.

Little did I know as I wrote my second cookbook, happily creating recipes for lemon infused pasta primavera and olive-rosemary focaccia, that a hidden twist in my own eclectic heritage would soon disrupt my life. After years of subtle symptoms, an acute phase produced a twenty pound weight loss, joint pain, skin rash, and malabsorption. By December, 2001, I knew I had celiac disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue or gluten sensitive enteropathy) is on the rise, and more common than previously believed, affecting 1 in 100 Americans.

Triggered by the protein gliadin found in wheat, barley and rye, celiac disease causes the body to attack the villi, those hairy little nutrient grabbers that line the small intestine. Eventually, those intolerant to gluten become malnourished, unable to digest foods and absorb nourishment.

And new evidence suggests that an even broader spectrum of gluten intolerance- dubbed non-celiac gluten sensitivity- may affect an ever widening swath of the U.S. population. Those wrestling with weight gain, pre-diabetes, allergies, and thyroid issues might do well to ask a medical professional about the deepening evidence of gluten sensitivity.

Once known as ‘wasting disease’ or ‘failure to thrive’ in infants and children, adult onset celiac is frequently misdiagnosed, most often mistaken for lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anorexia, and colitis. Unexplained anemia, osteoporosis, blistery skin rashes, migraines, neuropathy, or vitamin B deficiencies are often the tip-off to this disease known as The Great Masquerader. Left to its own destructive bent, undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies, brain lesions, ataxia, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Prolonged exposure to gluten may also trigger additional autoimmune diseases (AI’s like company).

The cure? A gluten-free diet for life.

That’s the good news.

cherries by karina allrich

As soon as gluten is removed from the diet, the body begins to heal. In children, this healing process can be dramatic, often within six months. In adults, the healing takes time. According to the Celiac Sprue Association, celiacs may require up to a year to heal, sometimes two, depending on the severity of the damage.


After the initial shock and adjustment to the daily reality of gluten-free living, the celiac’s ongoing challenge lies in searching hidden gluten in ingredients and recognizing its myriad sources. English muffins and frosted donuts are obvious no-no’s. But gluten may hide in such unlikely places as soy sauce, veggie burgers and herbal tea. It is a common additive in broth, bouillon, spice blends and prepared soups. It may also lurk in vitamins, medications and wheat germ laden lip balm.

Those of us with celiac disease must become vigilant, reading every label like a true detective.

Kitchens must be scoured for sticky gluten residue lingering on cutting boards and non-stick cookware. Toasters full of crumbs and old wooden spoons can become a source of gluten contamination. Old baking sheets and sponges can hide invisible gluten.

Sharing butter or grape jelly with greasy crumbs from your teenager’s toasted bagel is suddenly scary (we kept two jars of Vegenaise, jam, almond butter, etc in our refrigerator- mine sported Mom’s GF on the lids). When we kept a mixed kitchen, we had a designated gluten cupboard for non-GF breakfast cereals, snacks and sandwich bread. The rest of the pantry was labeled The Gluten-Free Zone.

It took a good 12 weeks for me to truly eradicate every trace of gluten from my diet. Overcoming each setback from unintended exposure took all the determination I could muster. How much gluten is safe for a celiac? Zero was the answer given by the Celiac Sprue Association of America back when I was first diagnosed. I continue to agree.

Even a speck of gluten the size of a crumb is enough to trigger the body’s immune system to attack itself. Which means eating out is very, very risky- a topic worthy of its own post.


There is, indeed, life after rice cakes- the first food turned to by newly minted celiacs. Naturally gluten-free alternatives to wheat such as quinoa, polenta, rice, Thai rice noodles and Mexican white corn tortillas have become favorite staples in our pantry. Potatoes are thankfully gluten-free. Brown rice, corn and quinoa pastas offer nutritious alternatives to standard semolina spaghetti, cous cous and macaroni.

Local markets often carry a variety of gluten-free flours, from classic alternatives such as potato starch and brown rice flour to lovely new choices in baking such as almond flour, sorghum flour, coconut flour, teff and millet flour, and flaxseed meal.

Boxed GF mixes make gluten-free baking a breeze for the beginner, and are increasingly available in most grocery stores. Being the intuitive cook that I am, however, I ended up experimenting, sifting together my own mixtures of gluten-free flours (I prefer a more whole grain, flavorful blend than most commercial mixes offer; most GF mixes feature cheap white rice flour and starches, or occasionally, bean flour- which is difficult to digest).

Baking with gluten-free flours is an art that requires an open, 'beginner’s mind' and a sense of humor.

I made many a brick door stop back in the old days, and winged more than my share of inedible hockey pucks into the trash bin. Gluten-free flours do not behave in the same manner as wheat flour, and the old rules do not apply. For instance, gluten-free bread dough and pizza dough are not kneaded. Dough is simply beaten like muffin batter and scooped into a pan. I’m still not used to it.

As the champions say, however, practice, practice, practice.

I am happy to report that deliciousness does ensue. We celiacs do not suffer a bland life. Take a gander at my Dark Chocolate Brownies, Coconut Layer Cake, Gluten-Free Pizza Crust, Gluten-Free Whole Grain Olive Bread, and Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies, if you don’t believe me.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Cape Cod Times Food Section, June 12, 2002. Author Karri Allrich retains the rights to this article ©2013. All rights reserved in all media.

All images & content are copyright protected, all rights reserved. Please do not use our images or content without prior permission. Thank you. 


Alanna Kellogg said...

When I talk to restaurants who are serious about gluten-free, Karina, I always direct them to your website for inspiration - as you sure provide for so many. All the best, always ...

Hannapat said...

A very informative post. I have M.E and follow a gluten, dairy and soy free diet so thanks for all your info. Xo

serifandspice said...

A timely post as today I'm suffering from my first "glutening" after going out to eat last night. I switched to a gluten free diet two months ago and am finally starting to feel some relief. I do not have celiac disease but I am self diagnosed gluten intolerant, which I feel many people think is less severe because there isn't a disease name attached to it.

I love your blog. Thank you for great inspiration.

katrina hall said...

As I read your beautifully written post, I was shocked to see the symptoms you list, which were almost all ones that my mother had. Wow. Thankful that was something I didn't inherit , and thankful you are out there for fellow GF'ers.

Ina said...

This is such a great article. By the way, it took me 3 years to totally heal, and put the weight back on. It has been 18 years of living gluten feels like a brand new life!

Anonymous said...

A diagnosis of IBD means that the doctor believes you feel that lousy. It doesn't give you any hint as to what is wrong, no hint as to what causes it, and no real assurance that anything done will result in feeling better. I don't really think of it as a diagnosis at all.

I was told to go gluten free for allergies. Suddenly I lost symptoms I didn't even know weren't normal sensations! But the "diagnoses" of "non celiac gluten intolerance" leads to the occasional confused person saying that I don't have to be so careful, while my diagnosed as celiac friend, must be strict, because she is really "sicker" than I am. My friend and I were both appalled.

But overall, I'm glad to have a treatment/diet/action that I know keeps me feeling well, and no "label" rather than a diagnosis that doesn't really have a clear treatment plan. I feel that IBD is just a medical term for "people who have bellyaches and a doctor believes they feel awful, but has no clue why." Then they just keep trying different treatments until the patient feels better, even if recovery is only happenstance.
Sarah M

Mary S said...

Thanks for all you do! I was diagnosed 2 years ago and it's been amazing even in that short of time how many great products are out there now. Of course, I still like homemade the best (have you ever tried peanut flour? Holy Yum, Batman!!) Thanks for your wonderful recipes and inspiring notes!

Michelle F. said...

I am printing this to share with my doctor, but also because it reinforces everything I've learned about my body the last two years when most doctors were wanting to put everything off on, " well, you're at that age...".

Weight gain, inability to lose weight, depression, hair falling out, shingle type blisters, and pre-cancerous polyps in the colon are all side effects of a gluten intolerance. Now, I am working to be as gluten-free as possible! Thank you for htis.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. Can you tell me, is it true that many people with celiac disease are also alergic/intolerant to dairy? Do they go hand in hand or is it just a coincidence to have both?

mynameispeggy said...

CD is not related to dairy allergy, but it is tied to lactose intolerance. The two are very different. The lactase enzyme that our bodies make to digest lactose is produced on the tips of the villi (in the small intestine). When the villi are damaged by CD, then lactase production is reduced--sometimes to practically none. If you aren't making lactase then you can't digest lactose, and it passes through your system undigested. Since your large intestine was not designed to receive undigested food, it revolts--the result being bloating, gas, discomfort. As the villi in your gut heal after going GF, lactase production sometimes comes back. Most people who are lactose intolerant still make some lactase and can digest some lactose, so each person has to find his/her own limits or take lactase tablets whenever lactose foods are consumed.

One common misconception is about cheese. Ordinary cheeses (not like cottage cheese) do not contain lactose, as it is broken down in the process of converting milk to cheese. Any cheese like cottage cheese that has the whey still has some lactose, as do milk and ice cream. Most lactose-intolerant people do okay with yogurt and are even helped by it because of the friendly bacteria it contains.

C.J. Williams said...

I'm really enjoying your blog! Excellent resource.

Kristyn Prochaska said...

I have just begun to look into this even though a decade ago I was tested for celiac disease. Instead, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I have had migraines since I was in college (20+ years) and I also have developed anxiety issues, depression, etc. Bottom line is that I have a lot of the same symptoms as a gluten intolerant person. However, if it could take a year to feel better, how will I know if I am gluten intolerant or if it makes no difference? My problem is that I LOVE bread and I have no willpower. If I don't see results soon, I am not likely to live this lifestyle on a maybe. Is there some way to know? While I may not be "healed" in 2 weeks, will I see improvement in 2 weeks? What is everyone else's experience with GF?

Unknown said...

Has anyone ever heard of a chronic cough being caused from gluten?

Post a Comment

Gluten-Free Goddess eBook on iTunes