Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Benefits of a Gluten Free Diet for My Family

This post brought to you by Reader's Digest Canada.

About a year ago, my son began getting sick. 

He experienced watery bowel movements, sinus infections, skin rashes, and rapid weight loss.

He began losing chunks of hair and had large, dark circles under his eyes.

He also alternated between extreme lethargy and almost out of control temper tantrums.

He had low Vitamin D and Iron levels, and was extremely dehydrated.  When the doctor tried to get a urine sample, it was hours before he passed any urine, despite the copious amounts of water we were feeding him.  It was all being expelled as diarrhea.

After multiple tests to rule out parasites or other illnesses  that children are prone to picking up at daycare, I mentioned to my doctor that a relative of my mother's had Celiac disease.  Normally, a patient is instructed to continue ingesting gluten until they are tested for Celiac disease.  Due to my son's young age, severe symptoms and rapid weight loss, our doctor suggested that we try him on a gluten free diet immediately to see if it made any difference.

The effects were astonishing.

Within a few days, his energy returned and his behaviour went back to normal.  The temper tantrums that had left both of us in tears had vanished.  His skin rash began to subside and his bowel movements took on a more normal colour and consistency.

Our next check up at the doctor's office showed that he had gained all his weight back and was again within a healthy range for his age.  The circles under his eyes lightened and his hair was getting thicker. He became a happy little boy again.

Fast forward to a year later...our eating habits have been completely overhauled.

We know that our son will probably need to be on a gluten free diet for the rest of his life.  He's been accidentally cross-contaminated a few times, particularly in the beginning when we were still figuring things out, and the reactions were always severe and prolonged.  He can suffer diarrhea for up to two weeks after just a few bites of something containing gluten.  

What are the benefits of a gluten free diet for my family?

For the sake of simplicity and to minimize the risk of cross-contamination, our house is a gluten free zone.  I didn't want my son to feel left out, and I was determined to provide him with a varied diet of delicious, healthy recipes that were also gluten free. 

Ensuring that my son gets enough iron, fiber, vitamins and other essential nutrients from his food made me more conscious of what I was putting in my cart at the supermarket and helped steer me to less processed foods.  Many prepackaged foods contain gluten in some form, so they were easy to eliminate.  Gluten free substitutes are sometimes available, but the higher cost led me to purchase those items sparingly.

Instead, I prepare most of our food from scratch.  Simple dishes, made with fresh ingredients.  Tons of fruits and vegetables, beans, seeds (such as quinoa) and grains, lean meats, fish and other sources of protein make up the bulk of our diet, with a few packaged treats on occasion.

I began cooking for the week on Sundays because I found it too difficult to come up with new meal ideas on the spot, and didn't want to rely on the same few standbys.  Curious about what a gluten free menu plan looks like?  Check out my Menu Plans tab and access every plan I've posted since the beginning of the year.
I signed up for a weekly produce delivery from a local food share provider, and from June to October get a variety of local produce delivered to my front door.  

Is going gluten free easy? 

Not always, and certainly not at first.  When I first downloaded a list of which foods are likely to contain gluten, I sat and stared at the eleven page printout in disbelief.  We've made mistakes, and sometimes fed our son something that made him sick.  Eating out was terrifying at first, and trying new restaurants still involves a great deal of research and questioning to ensure that the experience won't result in our son getting sick.  We never leave the house without "safe" snacks, and often get funny looks from strangers at social gatherings when we don't feed our son what everyone else is having.

But since it keeps my son healthy and safe, it's all worth it.

Reader's Digest Canada provides readers with information on healthy living, including information on the gluten free diet. They asked me if I would write about how a gluten free diet has had a positive impact on my family.

1 comment :

  1. A gluten-free diet can offer weight loss benefits if you focus on naturally gluten-free foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, non-fat dairy and whole grains.