Friday, June 3, 2011

Glutenista No More

I am a Glutenista in her recreation stage. A first-generation Italian, with both parents born in Bagnoli del Trigno in the Apennines Mountains, I chowed down on pasta three days a week, along with breads, home baked goodies and in the summer, fresh fruits and vegetables. My mom belonged to a social network of women who visited each other's homes on Saturdays and competed with each other for the Mrs. Joy of Cooking award home made cakes, cookies, pies and even an Irish Soda Bread (Madeline won the award that week for her delicious novelty). Naturally, I accompanied my mother, not for the sewing and gossip, but for the gluten goodies.

I wore a Chubbette , and Gabe, my brother, wore "Huskies," euphemisms for fat and not so fat kids. We exercised, playing outdoors every day in the summer and appeared very robust and healthy. We trailed the usual childhood disease path overcoming each one. But we were chronics. I had horrific bouts of eczema. As a three and four-year-old, I scratched my skin to a weeping ooze that nothing seemed to alleviate, certainly no home remedies like butter or lemon (a neighbor's caustic suggestion) or the little cotton gloves my father lovingly made for me along with the wise words to keep my hands in a prayerful position when I slept at night so I wouldn't make them bloody. His love soothed and the gloves felt good, and I did scratch less, but I still had the eczema.

My brother was severely asthmatic and I mean scary. A real heavy breather. And of course, the treatments were not what they were today. The doctors made home visits; nothing seemed to alleviate it. They went down South as a part of a new drug trial. But the special allergy shot that doctors gave him at Johns Hopkins nearly killed him and he came home to Patchogue much worse than before. A turning point came when someone tipped my mom off about this herb you smoked that alleviated the constrictions and asthmatic rat snarly breathing. Under mom's supervision, he tried it and the herb, indeed worked. He inhaled that smoke burning herb every time he had an asthmatic attack. We may have been the first Italian family back in the 50s to use medical marajuana. (I am joking; this was an herbal remedy for asthma that a practitioner of herbal medicine possibly uses. I never knew the name; nor does my brother remember it.) But when your first born is suffering miserably, you'll try anything. It worked.

My ingrained (no pun intended) love of flour products blossomed as my girth ballooned over the years. My love of pasta, bread, bakery items, pies, cookies, mostly homemade, with occasional processed, hydrogenated laden packaged sweets and snack foods to tie me over when I couldn't get to a good Italian bakery was legend. Obesity was the gene that ran in our family; members on both paternal and maternal sides were obese. When I periodically tired of my mirror reflection, I dieted and yo-yoed twelve times. It never occurred to me that a gluten allergy contributed to my weight gain because I was gluten intolerant. (None of the feeling full signals spark when that gluten protein is lurking on the scene in pasta dishes, bakery goods and bread baskets.)

This last time of weight loss was a lifestyle change a whole being change. During a Master Cleanse fast, I  discovered I was allergic to gluten, all gluten products. The pasta, the breads (even the delicious home made Italian peasant breads) the cakes, pies, ALL OF IT! The asthma (Oh, I didn't tell you I became asthmatic in my early 20s?) the eczema, the sluggishness, the fatigue, the achy joints, the headaches, all of these I experienced the last forty years were gluten exacerbated. Though I was under a doctor's care for the allergies, the eczema and the asthma (I had shots and inhalers and prednisone and would end up in the emergency room occasionally, but I learned to stay away from cats, dogs, smoke, dust, mold and trees and an X husband who was obese, smoked and had a dog...too much over stimulation for me.) none of the doctors even thought about gluten as the noxious flea sucking away at my lifeblood and inflaming my immune system.

I found out purely by accident; the process of elimination. I didn't eat pasta and bread for a few weeks, substituting them with green, organic, local. I had been influenced by discussions with friends who were organic and vegan and by the gentle nudging of two cousins, Robert and Ben, who are incredibly well, vital, handsome and energetic (they are older than I am) where others their age have long passed or are in nursing homes. Oh, I forgot to mention, they are into alternative medicine, are avid readers about health issues and they always apprise themselves of the latest advances in alternative health treatments, Holistic medicine and homeopathy. Back to gluten-free. My symptoms, except for the eczema (which I find I also get when I have any oils, even extra virgin olive oil) abated. I have been asthma free ever since. And I have not been ill in the past three years. I also attribute this to getting sun in the summer, allowing my body to produce natural vitamin D; the sun also heals my eczema. Recently, without having oils or gluten I have been eczema-free.

I will discuss more about this next week. However, I recommend the following websites if you have my old symptoms and others like arthritis, joint pain, osteoarthritis or any digestive diseases like colitis. irritable bowel syndrome, etc. Additionally, there is this site and this site. Next week I will review a book on gluten-free recipes that are not high on the unhealthy list. One must be careful. If you find you are gluten intolerant like I was, you must not overcompensate by still eating unhealthily. There is the right way and the wrong way. If you are deciding to become gluten-free, then why not do it the right way. It is working for me. But everyone is individual. Find out for yourself what works best for you.

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