Guest post: What the gluten-free diet isn’t

I am always excited to find someone else to talk to about food allergies and intolerances. Recently I stumbled upon 'A Little Bit Moreish' a blog written by Wellingtonian Elizabeth Kendall.

Alongside being gluten-intolerant, Elizabeth is also on a low fodmaps diet for my old friend Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I asked Elizabeth if she'd write a guest post for my blog, and she kindly agreed. Read on (and check out the recipe from A Little Bit Moreish at the bottom of the post) ...

Now, the first thing I should tell you about me is that I'm not a dietitian.

I'm an economist with tummy troubles and an unfortunate infatuation with cream cheese bagels. 

It has become evident - after many trips to the doctor and countless trips to the bathroom - that I suffer from both gluten intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome. 

And I like to write about that - not my trips to the bathroom per se, but my journey in the pursuit of both digestive health and deliciousness. 

My journey has had some ups and downs - some terrible stomach aches, some hangry moments, and some really tasty treats between endless bowls of rice porridge (which happens to be the most underrated breakfast choice ever, by the way).  

During my journey I have been confronted by some common - and sometimes alarming - misperceptions about what it's like to be gluten intolerant. And, while I am by no means an expert on the ins and outs of my digestive woes, I thought I might share with you my favourites - and my experiences of what the gluten-free diet isn't. 

It's flexible

One of the trickiest things about being gluten free and following the low FODMAP diet to treat irritable bowel syndrome is that there are some quite key differences between the two diets.

For people who have coeliac disease or are gluten intolerant, gluten triggers an auto-immune response. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, this means that the body is effectively being poisoned. For these people, gluten leads to a range of symptoms - many more than you would expect - including, for those with coeliac disease, visible damage to the gut, which can lead to long-term health problems including bowel cancer. A gluten-free diet requires strict exclusion of all sources of gluten.   

The low FODMAP diet, on the other hand, is about symptom management. There is nothing damaging about foods that are high in FODMAPs - indeed, many of these foods are very nourishing - but the sugars in them just happen to cause the gut to, well, misbehave (along with all the discomfort and social anxiety that comes with that). When on the low FODMAP diet, it is important to ensure that you are getting enough nutrients while keeping symptoms under control. 

So my low FODMAP diet is flexible, but my gluten-free diet most certainly is not.  

It'll make you lose weight

Not even close. Often gluten-free food actually has higher calories - debunking the myth that taste and calories necessarily go hand in hand. In general, gluten-free substitutes tend to contain more calorie-dense flours. Plus, gluten-free cakes and biscuits tend to have a bunch more added sugar. 

Sure, greater consciousness about food choices - or complete lack of catering - might reduce calorie consumption. But being gluten free in and of itself won't.  

It's a 'healthier' diet

I'm never sure quite what people mean by this. Yes, for someone who is gluten intolerant, avoiding gluten is certainly a much healthier diet. And there is much speculation that gluten intolerance is under-diagnosed - meaning that a gluten-free diet will be healthier for many people. 

But if we're talking about 'healthier' in the sense of a balanced, nutritious diet - then no. A gluten-free diet can be unhealthy. Just like the paleo diet and the raw food diet can be unhealthy.

There's no substitute for moderation, balanced nutrition, and body positive choices around diet and exercise. 

A healthy diet is a healthy diet. End of story.

It's made up

Nope, it's not. Ultimately symptoms are symptoms. And debilitating symptoms at that. 

When discussing my gluten intolerance with people who haven't heard of it, the most important thing is that now they have. I'm ok with people thinking that I'm a bit loopy if it gets the word out. Many people who have coeliac disease and gluten intolerance don't actually realise that they do, and so they live their life in discomfort. 

Awareness is the first step to acknowledgement and acceptance - and, for some, treatment. 

It's hard to stick to

Sure, sometimes being gluten free is hard. It's certainly hard watching people complain because their glutenous chocolate mud cake is a "bit dry" and there are definitely foods that I miss. Plus, gluten-free food is pretty expensive. You'd be amazed how many packets of gluten-free Weetbix it is possible to fit into a kitchen cupboard with a decent supermarket special and some determination.

But the terrible symptoms I get make sticking to a gluten-free diet pretty easy indeed. And, no, I am not tempted to have "just a taste" of a cronut - thanks for asking.

Living gluten free, while sometimes hard, is getting easier and easier as awareness increases, and more companies make an effort to cater.

And often, all that is needed to fill the glutenous void is a little bit of determination and creativity.

So, in that spirit, here is my recipe for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, low FODMAP 'cream cheese'.

Because at the end of the day I'm still just an economist with tummy troubles and an unfortunate infatuation with cream cheese bagels.

Decadent 'cream cheese' bagels  

This gluten-free, dairy-free, low FODMAP, vegan 'cream cheese' comes in two flavours. The recipe makes enough for 8 bagels.

Ingredients:
8 gluten-free bagels
300g firm tofu
1/2 cup natural almonds (about 60 nuts)
5 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

For maple & pecan flavour, you'll need 5 tbsp of real Canadian maple syrup and 1/2 cup of chopped pecans (about 40 nuts).

For raspberry & dark chocolate flavour, you'll need 4 tbsp of raspberry jam and 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips.

Method:
Drain the tofu of any liquid, then use paper towels to squeeze any excess liquid out of the tofu. Using a food processor, grind the almonds. Then add the tofu, lemon juice and salt, and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add walnuts and maple syrup OR jam and dark chocolate - or you can always do half of each. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. To serve, toast the gluten-free bagels and lather on the 'cream cheese' generously. Delicious accompanied by great coffee and a lazy weekend sleep-in.

Okay seriously, how yum does this recipe look!???