Sorry for the delay in my latest post. I will make the wait worth it by giving you a delicious insider scoop! I am going to be doing a series of posts on gluten-free dining in Paris. I spent over a month there this past summer and had a glorious time filled with amazing food. The first part of the series is a bit about why I am gluten-free and what gluten-free means. Enjoy and let me know what you think!
I went gluten-free almost three years ago as an experiment to see if the shift in diet would help me manage some digestive problems I had been unsuccessfully dealing with for years. I had tried nearly everything else that conventional medicine and alternative-healing modalities had to offer so I was not too optimistic at that point but thought it was worth a try. After two weeks my symptoms were drastically reduced and I surprisingly found that I did not miss gluten at all. I discovered that with a bit of planning ahead it was very manageable to find things to eat that were suitable. In fact, I found that it made me more thoughtful about what I put in my mouth – most especially when I was in a rush to eat and get somewhere which happens all too often.
I should state here that I do not have Celiac Disease and I do not deem it necessary that my food be made in a secure gluten-free kitchen without a danger of cross-contamination. I always strive to know the ingredients of my food so that I can be sure that they are made without any gluten-containing ingredients but, for the sake of more flexibility in eating options, I do not require the same level of preparation restrictions as would likely be necessary for someone who does have Celiac Disease. For someone who does have Celiac Disease and would therefore need to be stricter I do, I would recommend contacting all non-specializing restaurants in advance (see these dining out tips from the Celiac Disease Foundation) by phone or email to ensure adequate options are a available. It is also a good idea to carry around an explanatory card in French for wait staff that may not understand exactly what you are saying (an online resource for Celiac Disease dining cards in various languages can be found here).
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains that are genetically related to it such as spelt, barley and rye. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that impacts the small intestine and causes deficiency in nutrient absorption and other varied and often severe gastrointestinal symptoms when gluten is consumed. There is no known cure and the most effective protocol of treatment in the care of Celiac Disease patients is to completely eliminate foods from their diet that contain gluten. There is also growing number of documented cases of a condition called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity – a newer area of study and research. This term is often used to describe a varied set of neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms that are improved by the elimination of gluten. While Celiac Disease has a genetic component little is known about why its prevalence has increased in recent years or what the cause of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity might be – research for more answers is ongoing.
There is a vast array of naturally gluten-free foods to consume including grains and seeds such as rice, teff, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat (which is not actually related to wheat), quinoa and millet. It is important to be particularly cautious when it comes to canned, bottled and other processed foods such as soups, dressings and sauces where soy or other gluten-containing ingredients are prevalent. For those that have Celiac Disease they could also be affected if they consume products that are not produced on separate manufacturing equipment or in separate facilities with gluten containing products. This is why oats are often an issue. Oats are a naturally gluten-free food but they are commonly processed on the same equipment as grains that contain gluten. Not all manufacturers clean machinery and keep things separate enough to avoid significant amounts of cross-contamination. There are manufacturers in the United States that produce gluten-free oats with dedicated equipment for that purpose. The United States labels products quite extensively as it relates to gluten (if only that were also the case for GMO and country of origin but I digress). The regulations on labeling standards differ by country. While there are dedicated lines of products and brands that produce gluten-free products in France and Europe, it is still less common than in the United States to find a gluten-free seal of approval on most supermarket items. In many instances, a closer inspection to the label often indicates if an item may contain gluten.
Stay tuned for my next post on naturally gluten-free French foods....