Allergens, Autoimmune, Celiac, Gluten, Gluten Free, Going Gluten Free, Hashimotos, Health, Hormonal Health, Hypothyroid, irish food, Kombucha, Leaky Gut, organic food, Probiotics, Sourdough, Thyroid, Underactive Thyroid
As you may know, I have an underactive thyroid, which I have been struggling to keep under control for as long as it’s been diagnosed (6 years this April). It seems I am in the minority in that I don’t respond as expected to treatment and my thyroid blood tests seem to swing up and down every 6 months or so. So around June of last year, I started to cut gluten out of my diet, in an effort to help my thyroid levels to stabilise. If you have any kind of auto-immune disease (mine is classified as auto-immune because of the presence of thyroid antibodies, and is therefore referred to as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) then it is well worth trying to heal it by changing your diet. I’ve written before about changing my diet by going vegan or at least part time plant based, but this time I’m talking about going gluten free.
For those of us unlucky enough to have an autoimmune thyroid problem, gluten can be a problem. Apparently most hypothyroid people actually have an autoimmune thyroid problem, but mainstream medicine often doesn’t address this enough. Gluten is similar to thyroid hormone on a molecular level, so the theory is that if you have a Leaky Gut (which sounds like you belong in the Leaky Cauldron – ha I wish!) meaning the lining of your gut has been damaged by environmental things like vaccines, antibiotics, certain medications, stress and who knows what else, then gluten can get into your bloodstream, where your body basically overreacts to it and treats it like an invader, releasing antibodies that end up damaging your thyroid gland. Like all autoimmune diseases, your body is basically attacking itself and your immune system is hyper sensitive and overreacting to stimulus. So by eliminating gluten, and by looking after your leaky gut, you can help to heal your body and get your thyroid function back to normal.
This is especially important if you are at childbearing age and wish to conceive, as under-treated hypothyroidism can make it very difficult, if not dangerous to conceive and carry a pregnancy to full term. It can also cause developmental problems for the baby even after they’re born, so it’s extremely important to have your thyroid, and the rest of your body, at optimal health before you conceive.
So with my endocrinologist’s advice, I gave up gluten last summer. At first it was fun to try out all sorts of new gluten free alternatives to things like pasta, bread, cereals and other starchy carbs. I quickly found a few pasta brands that worked as substitutes. Dove’s Farm brown rice penne and Kelkin’s corn and rice spaghetti are my go to pastas now. While they’re not exactly the same as real Italian durum wheat pasta, they are quite good smothered in a lovely homemade sauce. And for other times when I’m craving a starchy, Italian dinner, I make a risotto, which is naturally gluten free provided you use gluten free stock of course. Luckily, lots of brands have now introduced gluten free options for store cupboard essentials, like Kallo Organic Stock cubes. You get very good at reading labels when you’re trying to avoid gluten. Which can only be a good thing. You’d be amazed what gluten turns up in! Most processed food contains it in some form. So avoiding many of the more processed foods is a happy side effect of going gluten free.
Porridge is my breakfast of choice most of the time, especially in winter. Oats themselves do not contain gluten, but unfortunately most oats are processed in factories that also process wheat, barley and rye products, so they can be cross contaminated. Frustratingly, gluten free oats seem to only be sold in small, 500g bags and cost about twice as much as normal oats! So far, my favourite brand is Bunalun Gluten Free Organic Oats because they’re Irish and they’re organic too. I just wish they were sold in a larger bag! I get through at least one tiny bag a week, so I’m constantly running out. I’m on the fence about the whole gf oats thing, as I don’t know if I need to be so careful or if normal oats would be safe for me. For now, I’ll buy the Bunalun ones. But I REALLY miss my lovely jumbo oats like these Kilbeggan Organic Oats.
Brands like Dove’s Farm and Whole Earth do lovely gluten free cereals, but I try not to keep them in the house as cereals are still very high in sugar, so they’re strictly for occasional treats only. Plus eating cereal means I’m eating way more milk than normal, and it doesn’t agree with my skin. Even if it’s organic, unhomogenised milk like Mossfield Farm, it still seems to give me a lot of spots. All animal milk is full of hormones, so it’s no surprise they upset my skin.
As you can imagine Christmas really tested my will power. I would normally indulge in things like Marks and Spencer’s shortbread, but had to go hunting for gf alternatives. I found that Tesco’s Finest shortbread turned out to be the best one, tasting like the real thing. Walkers and M&S also do shortbread, for what it’s worth. I was also very lucky that all of the people who hosted me over the Christmas went out of their way to accommodate me and had gotten lots of gluten free alternatives in for me! That was really worrying me beforehand. I’m not a celiac so I didn’t want to make a fuss, but I didn’t want to break my diet before the 6 months were up! Luckily everyone was very understanding and I had lots of delicious food to enjoy!
There are some food brands that seem to just cash in on the whole gluten free bandwagon. Things like popcorn are naturally gluten free, as long as they don’t have any added seasonings that might contain wheat or barley. Most crisps and similar snacks will contain gluten however, so brands like Keogh’s are a great alternative. Sadly, my favourite Irish crisps O’Donnell’s got caught out last year for selling crisps labelled gluten free that actually had high levels when tested! Luckily, I’m not a celiac but I have a new found sympathy for actual celiacs. Eating out is a minefield, and if you actually had to worry about having a very painful reaction to gluten, I can see how you would be put off trying new restaurants.
The foods I miss the most are no surprise. Real bread, like Tartine’s Sourdough and slow fermented pizza dough from places like Paulie’s Pizza, are the foods I’m missing the most. There are plenty of gluten intolerant people who seem to be able to eat them without any reaction, but so far I haven’t tested this out myself. I fully plan to test out my theory by indulging in a Paulie’s Pizza and a loaf or 2 or Tartine’s bread! Because the bread is slowly fermented, it makes the wheat and the gluten inside more easily digested. I have to say I never had a problem with breads like this in the first place, which makes this strict gluten free diet all the more frustrating and difficult to stick to…
Tartine’s stall at the Supernatural Food Market on Pearse Street. How I miss that bread!
Cakes and sweet things are not actually as difficult to substitute on a gluten free diet. I’ve found that pancakes are actually quite easy to recreate. I just swap the normal plain flour with Dove’s Farm gf plain flour, or I do half that and half buckwheat four, which adds a lovely nutty flavour and is very nutritious.
Buckwheat pancakes from Tang on Dawson Street, Dublin. Very nice but so filling! I prefer light and fluff ones.
Delicious gluten free buckwheat crepe I had last year in Le Petit Breton in Drumcondra. Really tasty savoury one with ham and cheese!
I’ve had a few tasty buckwheat crepes when eating out as well, especially in places like Lemon. But obviously things like real croissants, or other delicious pastries and cakes are a no no. I can’t imagine never eating them again, and I have my doubts that like with sourdough, if made with the best quality ingredients, they would be a problem. But I’m happy enough to avoid them for the moment…
I’ve yet to find a gluten free bread that I actually love. So far, the best ones I’ve found are from Marks and Spencer. But they still taste like crumbly cake or plastic dough. And the long list of ingredients doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in their nutritional value! I don’t believe that bread like that can be better for you that real bread that only contains flour, water, salt and yeast. So I don’t eat them every day. But when I’m craving a bit of bread, they help to take the edge off…
Eggs Benedict served on gluten free bread in Honeycomb Cafe, Clondalkin.
I was over in London recently, and I have to say watching every last thing you eat makes eating out much less enjoyable. Most restaurants in Ireland have the allergens listed on the regular menus, but in London I had to ask for a special menu. It sort of took the fun out of looking for new restaurants. Although we did have a lovely brunch in Farm Girl in Nottinghill! I had their buckwheat pancakes but forgot to take a picture. Does anyone else get sick of photographing their food as a food blogger? Sometimes you just want to be in the moment and not bloody document everything! Anyway they were lovely and had a Middle Eastern twist to them. I also found that Le Pain Quotidien, while not an obvious choice for gluten free food, offered several options such as gluten free porridge and gluten free granola.
I also tried out the famous Crumbs and Doilies cupcakes, of Youtube fame. I had their Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcake, but sadly it was SO spicy that I couldn’t eat the cake part! It was as spicy as a really hot curry and I was really disappointed! Mr Cooksalot had a normal salted caramel pretzel cupcake which looked lovely. It was so tempting to break my diet but somehow I stuck to it…
Now that the 6 months are up, I’m sort of in two minds as to whether to continue or not. I don’t like the idea of doing this for the rest of my life. I had my thyroid bloods done in December, and they were really good! It’s the first time in ages that they’ve been this optimal. But I had them done again at the beginning of February, and they had swung the other way, going more under active yet again. My thyroid medication had actually been increased ever so slightly in the meantime, so I was really surprised. I had been feeling extremely stressed for the 2 months in between, so I think that might have actually affected it. And I had stopped my running in November, so I wonder if that made a difference too? I think I will stick to the gluten free diet for another 6 months, but I am planning a big blowout meal in Paulie’s Pizza soon! And I am so tempted to get some lovely Tartine Sourdough. Since I wasn’t reacting to either of those foods, it makes it very frustrating to have to stick to this restrictive diet. Healing my gut will be my priority over the next year. When I’ve taken probiotics, I’ve felt noticeably better. And foods like Kombucha, organic natural yogurt and even sourdough are loaded with gut friendly probiotics too. So I will continue taking the kombucha and the yogurt regularly, with maybe the odd bit of sourdough as a treat.
Have you gone gluten free? If so why? Has it made a difference to your health? Are you also struggling with thyroid disease, or another autoimmune disorder? Let me know if you are. I plan on doing a lot more gluten free related posts in the future, like where to shop and where to eat out. Plus I plan on posting some gluten free recipes that I’ve been creating over the past 6 months.
Here’s to our health!