Posts Tagged ‘Gluten’

(WARNING: the following post is very opinionated, direct, controversial and I’ll likely take a lot of shit for it.  It was intended as an initial reaction to other opinions that recently appeared in my inbox.  I didn’t fire the first shot, I’m just responding with my own point of view.)

To gluten or not to gluten, that is the question.

Recently, there has been some scientific studies released that are creating some skepticism around the whole gluten intolerance thing in non-Celiac people.  Specifically, a surprising new study on the phenomenon of gluten intolerance has come down on the side of saying it just does not exist. In other words, if you’re not Celiac, you’re probably not gluten intolerant and are reaping zero benefits from maintaining a gluten free lifestyle.

The study, conducted by Peter Gibson, a gastroenterology professor at Monash University in Australia, reverses the results of his own previous study in 2011, which concluded non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a real condition.  Oh joy.  Anyway, this fact became known to me only recently when a string of “friends” on Facebook took it upon themselves to send me links to this new groundbreaking information as a way of saying (or so I took it anyway) “Ha! I told you so!”.

Well, isn’t that marvelous.  So I guess I can forget all about this gluten-free shenanigans then, right?

Here’s the thing: science can prove and disprove just about anything.  Look at the Greenhouse Effect for example, some scientists claim to have “proven” beyond a shadow of a doubt that the earth ozone is being depleted at an alarming rate due to the historically recent high levels of carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere and unless we can change our ways – soon – we’ll inevitably experience another global extinction the likes of which hasn’t been seen since dinosaurs roamed the earth, while other scientists claim it’s just all bunk and we have nothing to fear.  So if you listen to Al Gore we’re all doomed, where the brain trust that is Pat Sajak suggests we’re all just a bunch of “unpatriotic racists”.  It all depends on who you choose to listen to.  I see the debate on gluten no differently.

However, what really irks me is that these people have seemingly made up their mind based on something they inevitably read on the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed, or whatever intellectual online think tank they happen to subscribe to, not because they actually tried the gluten free lifestyle and came up with their own opinions based on actual experience.  Because they’ve read this “new study” somewhere, they’ve immediately concluded that gluten intolerance is a “fad”.  Hey, it’s easy to formulate opinions when you’re only base of reference is reading internet articles from behind a bowl of potato chips, right?  That really annoys me.

I assure you, this was not my thought process:

 

So allow me to try and respond to these naysayers.

First off, I’m a bozo.   I have no claims to being overly intelligent.  Even if I did read all the scientific research currently available on gluten I’d probably only understand maybe a very small fraction of it.  All I know is that when I decided to change my lifestyle nearly a decade ago, I tried everything under the stars…Paleo, vegetarianism, and most recently gluten free. It was all very trial and error based.  I simply adapted what worked and then dismissed what didn’t based on how I felt and how my body reacted over time.  In that time, largely thank to these ‘experiments’, my level of fitness is eons where it used to be back when I was in my “prime”.  I can do things now that I wouldn’t even have considered back then.  So when someone, particularly a person who probably does nothing better with their time than sitting in front of their computer trying to poke holes in my lifestyle philosophy by forwarding me links to “research” that disproves what I have found to work, yeah, I can get a bit defensive.  I admit.

Oh, and for the record, I am currently not gluten free.  I fell off the gluten free bandwagon around Christmas after four months of being sans gluten and haven’t managed to get back on board yet.  So I have experienced both sides of the gluten spectrum if you will; the before, during and after.  Based on that experience, I definitely noticed a huge difference in how I felt (then and now). Screw what the recent scientific studies say.

And make no mistake about it, I also understand the whole placebo effect thing too.  As food writer Michael Pollan suggests, the gluten free issue is a bit of a social contagion, where a “lot of people that hear from their friends, ‘I got off gluten and I sleep better, the sex is better, and I’m happier,’ and then they try it and they feel better, too. It’s the power of suggestion”.

Well, that’s all well and good but has Mike ever tried to swim 4k then ride his bike for 180k before dismounting and running another 42.2k?  Probably not.  As a budding endurance athlete, reducing the amount of inflammation I experience after a workout is paramount with success and I can say for sure, that while maintaining a gluten free diet that that recovery process was much quicker and effective (never mind that my ass turned into a veritable Krakatoa should gluten ever sneak its way into one of my meals).  Likewise, my weight dropped considerably where it had seemingly hit a plateau despite my considerable activity and healthy diet.  So if and when any of my “friends” (you know who you are) who took it upon themselves to forward me this ‘conclusive’ research can accomplish that feat, then MAYBE  I might pay a little more attention to you.  Deal?

What’ya say tough guy?

But as it is, links to research studies do little to sway my opinion on the whole gluten free topic.  I’m only interested in results.  Personally, I think everyone has some degree of intolerance to gluten.  There were simply too many noticeable differences to ignore when I first tried the gluten free lifestyle (which, truthfully, takes about two months to completely expunge your system of the gluten gunk and truly achieve a ‘gluten free’ footprint). However that level of sensitivity (or insensitivity) is unique to each person.  For some, the differences will be huge and immediately noticeable, particularly depending on how active their lifestyle is.  For others, it may be only slight to non-existent, particularly if they aren’t really active.  Someone who sits on the couch for hours on end may not experience any noticeable differences as opposed to someone who runs, bikes, swims, etc. It probably wouldn’t even register on their radar beyond an extra fart or two.   The point here is that you have to actually try it and see for yourself.  I’ve done that.

I’m not a fad follower.  Anyone who knows me knows that already.  So, please, don’t immediately assume that because I’m not a Celiac sufferer that I did not (and will not) benefit from maintaining my current lifestyle choice, especially as they pertain to gluten.  Reading ‘evidence’ on Huffington Post might be enough for some folks, but it means diddley-squat to me and I don’t appreciate the label.  I’ve made my choices and I respect yours as I hope you will respect mine.  Likewise, I have my opinions where you have yours.  I respect that too.

As for gluten free, despite the recent scientific findings I am still excited to get back on the gluten free train and look forward to doing so again soon.

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Succulent Socca!

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Nutrition, Recipes
Tags: , ,

They say that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’  and to that I say:  FUCKIN’-A!

Some people will bitch and moan about not getting their morning coffee and, while I enjoy me my morning cuppa Joe as well, it’s totally meaningless until it’s also accompanied by something warm, hearty and delicious to start the day.  Usually, I fall back on my tried and true two egg omelet with onion, mushroom and cheese (or whatever else happens to need being used up in the refrigerator) which requires a mere 17 minutes to prepare.  Yes, I have it that well timed.  I could make that shit blindfolded.  Other times I like to go out, specifically on the weekends or after a long morning workout for your typical eggs, bacon, toast and pancake special at the local breakfast diner here in town but, now that we’ve switched to gluten free, that option is off the table…literally.  And while I can still prepare my morning omelet with little difficultly, lately I’ve been craving a little more variety.

Enter an amazing and simple recipe I found for Socca (also known as farinata and cecina), a savory flatbread make from chickpea four.  Socca is a traditional golden brown, ‘chewy’ dish from Nice, France (Oh yeah, lookee me being all French n’ shit) but is more commonly associated with Middle Eastern cuisine…go figure.   Joel Rubuchon, eat your heart out!  Anyway, Socca is made of only two main ingredients making it extremely easy to prepare: chick pea flour and water.  Nutritionally, it’s high in protein, has a low glycemic index, gluten free and, most importantly, freakin’ awesome.  You can probably find it pre-packaged at supermarkets easily enough (check the health food or ethnic section), bulk food stores or Indian grocers but with chick pea four being relatively inexpensive at the bulk food store, hey, why not make your own and enjoy the fruits of your own labor?  Doesn’t everything you make with love taste a little bit better anyway?

Socca is extremely versatile in that you can use it as an alternative to wheat or corn tortillas; as an hors d’oeuvre or snack with hummus; as a substitute for traditional crepes or pancakes; as a thin crust pizza base; or as a side for curries or soups.  Me?  I like to use it as a wrap for a hearty breakfast burrito.

Socca Ingredients:

  • chickpea flour
  • water
  • oil (preferably with a high smoke point)
  • optional spices:
    • paprika (gives a reddish tint)
    • cumin
    • garam masala / curry powder
    • garlic, finely minced
    • coriander / cilantro, finely minced
    • cinnamon (great for dessert crêpes)

Instructions:

  1.  Evenly coat a frying pan (I prefer a cast iron skillet) with oil using a brush or paper towel. You’ll need a pan than can go in the oven/broiler (i.e. non-melting handle).
  2. Set the oven to broil and fully heat the frying pan/skillet.
  3. Measure out the flour and water in a 1:1 ratio and whisk together with your chosen spices to taste.
  4. Spoon some batter into the preheated pan/skillet and tilt to evenly coat the entire surface.  Aim for a thickness of a few millimeters, but feel free to experiment (e.g. thicker for pizza dough, or thinner for crepes).
  5. Broil with the oven door open – you know, to keep an eye on things.  Remove carefully with a spatula just as the edges begin to blacken.
Broiling socca

Broiling socca

Yummy, toasty goodness in a pan

Yummy, toasty goodness in a pan

From here, you can pretty much add whatever you like.  Me, I like to fry up a few mushrooms, onions, diced sweet potato and bell peppers but, really, you can put anything you like in there.

Oh yeah...

Oh yeah…

As a bonus, add whatever leftover proteins that might still be still lying around inside your fridge from last night’s dinner (which is often at my place).  In this case, I had some surplus chicken breast and ham.

Dahrool, dah-rool!

Dahrool, dah-rool!

Then I scramble up one egg and add some light cheese and salsa (lately, I’ve been digging a delicious Corn & Chili salsa from Trader Joe’s), maybe a little salad if you like and, voila!  Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!

Just one of these babies and an hour later, I have all the energy I need for a lengthy run or swim, or whatever.  Likewise, I can also use it as that perfect post-workout meal that I can easily make within that 30 minute optimal refueling window.  That’s a double ‘win’ right there.

…well, the glutinous kind anyway.

Yes, it’s true…the next phase of the ‘We Can Rebuild Him’ plan has been initiated; I’ve gone gluten free.  ‘So long, sammiches!  Hello, leafy greens and cornmeal flatbreads!

While I’m only two weeks in, I’ve already been noticing lots of positive differences which will lend themselves well to regaining my running form. I’m down 4 lbs. from my original 205.5 lbs.; my left foot has made some miraculous improvement in reduced swelling, stiffness and soreness; the ever present runner’s rash on my ass has all but disappeared; my allergies have dissipated; my ravenous appetite is under control and, best of all, I feel amazing.  Like, seriously amazing.  It’s almost too good to be true.  But most importantly, my confidence with this overall plan is on the rise.  So its wins all around and everything seems to be coming up Terry!  All from cutting out one thing…wheat!  Well, that and Dr. Burr of course but, still, who would have thunk it?

So why gluten then?  After all, there are plenty of other diet trends on the market like the Paleo diet, the Atkins diet, the Mediterranean Diet, Jenny Craig, the Master Cleanse, etcetera and so forth (hell, there’s even the ridiculous Subway diet if you really want to stretch) and, hey, whole grains are supposed to be healthy aren’t they?  Well, as it turns out, not so much.

I know!  Say what?

GlutenForget all the popular buzz words circulating in the press lately serving to scare you off your morning croissant like GMO, Monsanto, Round-Up, et al.  The theory regarding gluten particularly is that what we are now passing off as ‘wheat’, however cleverly disguised as an innocent bran muffin or slice of whole grain toast is actually the transformed product of years’ worth of intensive genetic research conducted during latter half of the twentieth century.  So the long and short of it is that this bastardized form of ‘wheat’ as we now recognize and consume regularly with, like, everything, is not really compatible for proper digestion and use by our bodies at all.  Our bodies are now having to deal with this completely alien food stuff that serves no more purpose to our health and well-being than, say, the Kardashian’s contribute to Astrophysics.

So the real problem now is that this Frankenwheat is now responsible for a whole host of bodily health issues like weight gain, inflammation and pH effects that erode cartilage and bone, digestive issues, migraines and headaches, chronic fatigue…the list goes on and on.  Shit, throw ‘anal leakage’ in there and it begins to read like the last few nanoseconds of a really bad Infomercial.

In fact, there are over 250 recognized symptoms with wheat intolerance.  So with that many possible issues coupled with the amount of gluten I consumed daily (multiplied over the 41 years I’ve spent on this earth), well, that’s a buttload of possible issues, right?  Shit, the chances are good then that I’ve just simply learned to live with these issues as a part of my everyday life despite the detriment they’re having on my training, performance and everyday life.  And, furthermore, if any of this is actually true, then my body has seen more harsh realities than a Detroit trauma ward.

But let’s back up a little bit for a moment.  What the hell is gluten?  Gluten is the generic name for certain types of proteins contained in the common cereal grains wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives.  Simply put, gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and maintain its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.  Gluten may also be found in some cosmetics, hair products, and other dermatological preparations.  Since the recent trend started not so long ago to reduce our fat and cholesterol intake and increase carbohydrate calories – deemed as healthier – a unique situation was predicated where products containing wheat have come to dominate the marketplace.  In short, it’s in absolutely everything.

Look at your average Supermarket, just about every aisle is absolutely dominated with pre-packaged products that contain gluten.  From the bread aisle to the frozen food section, it’s a literal Glutenfest.  How about most neighborhood restaurants, cafes, and breakfast nooks?  Fuggedaboutit!  So, if this protein actually turns out to be as bad as I have suggested, well, that’s just a big ‘ol pile of fucked up if ever I saw one.

bread

Anyway, I can’t for certain say that gluten is good or bad for you or bad.  The simple truth is that I’m undecided.  To speak to some people you’d think they consider gluten to be the Devil incarnate, to others it’s simply the next fad in dieting.  So while I accept that there is a strong case to be made for the anti-gluten platform, there is also the strong argument that sammiches are fucking awesome and I do LOVE my sammiches.  But if my beloved sammiches are keeping from achieving my best performance-wise, then I will suck it up and ditch those gluten laden fuckers quicker than you can say ‘pass the ibuprofen’.   Nothing is going to come between me and my goals.

All I really know for sure at this point is that without giving the gluten-free lifestyle a chance and experiencing the difference for myself firsthand then I might be missing out on a huge opportunity for potential improvement.  If my running is ultimately going to improve, then my body will have to HTFU.  That’s a fact!  So losing some of the added fat I’ve managed to accumulate this past year while further reducing the amount of inflammation in my joints and muscles (particularly when I start ramping up the distances) can only be advantageous.  It’s a simple equation:

Fat ass – sammiches = success. 

Well, something like that anyway.

Now that Kelly and I have launched ourselves headlong into this little kitchen laboratory project I have already seen some impressive results that I mentioned earlier.   The sore toe on my left foot which has been causing me grief has made some significant improvements and I even completed my first pain free run only three days into the diet so, hey, there has to be something to this gluten free thing.  I’d be an idiot to not recognize it and as a triathlete, I literally had a complete and utter ‘Nerdgasm’ over the whole revelation.

But that doesn’t mean that switching over and avoiding gluten is going to be easy.  Hells no!  In fact, it’s going to a monumental change in our lifestyle, especially given that we still have an eight-year-old running around who loves her Twinkies, cookies and breakfast waffles.  Who would blame her?  The other challenge is that gluten free products aren’t exactly cheap.  Likewise, for whatever reason, the absence of gluten doesn’t automatically mean they’re ‘healthy’ either.  In fact, many gluten free products are high in sodium.  So we need to figure how to be cost effective and practical when it comes to our weekly grocery shopping trips which is harder than it sounds.

We have already practiced making gluten free bread and tortilla wraps (click HERE  for our latest effort) but, mostly, we’re attempting to eat simply by including more natural fruits, nuts, and vegetables.  And, yeah, no more sammiches…of course.   We don’t want to over-think it any more than we want to over spend, dig?  So providing we’re successful in this new Phase Two endeavor, I hope to see the weight continue to drop off, my body regain its strength and natural form, and my overall fitness skyrocket prior to my next competition season.  Oh, and Kelly has some personal goals in mind she wants to accomplish with this as well but she doesn’t post those to public websites like me so you’ll just have to live in suspense.

Cross your breadsticks, folks!