How I accidentally ate healthier for 2 weeks
News Tribune reporter Laura Butterbrodt shares her experience going gluten- and dairy-free for two weeks.
In the quest to relieve some uncomfortable digestive issues I’ve been experiencing, my practitioner suggested I eliminate dairy and gluten from my diet to look for sensitivities.
Even though I tested negative for celiac disease, I still could have an intolerance to gluten. Dairy was already a known trigger for me, but my love for cheese, ice cream and other dairy products usually outweighed my logic telling me to avoid it. I decided that I was tough enough to stick through a two-week trial without the ingredients to see how I’d feel.
I learned a lot during the 14 days I spent without gluten and dairy. While my biggest takeaway was that the ingredients were not causing my digestive distress, I realized I still had a lot to say about the topic that was surprising and interesting to me.
The first thing I noticed as I was scouring my pantry and refrigerator for something I could eat was that wheat and milk are sneaky ingredients in nearly every food I like. Besides the obvious selections, like pasta, bread and cookies, I realized gluten is also found in the breakfast biscuits I like to eat every morning and the canned soup that’s part of my regular lunch rotation (duh, chicken NOODLE). The candy bar I hoped to have after dinner? Nope, there’s milk in the chocolate.
I realized that most of the foods I was restricted from were highly processed. Until this experience, I didn’t realize just how many processed foods made up my daily intake. During these past two weeks, I ate so many more whole foods and did a lot more cooking (as opposed to heating up a prepackaged food).
Lucky for me, the end of the summer growing season gave me tons of delicious, fresh ingredients to use in my cuisine. I also was able to eat a lot more, because most of my meal was vegetables instead of heavy carbs. I discovered I was a lot hungrier when I wasn’t full of bread. Pro tip: A deconstructed BLT salad takes a lot more bacon, lettuce and tomato to fill up a person than a BLT sandwich does.
I came to a genius realization that many Asian cuisines, like sushi, pho or cashew chicken, would be fine for me to eat because the carb in the dish was rice or rice-based instead of a wheat-based food. However, as I was preparing my chicken, I was shocked to learn that soy sauce typically contains wheat, and therefore I had to buy a specific gluten-free bottle of soy sauce. It wasn’t too much of an inconvenience, but I expected the soy-based product to be in the clear for my dietary restrictions. I also learned gluten is common in many processed meats, including hot dogs, cold cuts and pepperoni.
While I was surprised by some things that did contain gluten, I was even more surprised by the things that didn’t. Many of my favorite meals were totally fine for me to eat, like Mexican dishes, minus flour tortillas. Plus, many delicious snack foods, like tortilla and potato chips and Kind bars, are naturally dairy- and gluten-free, as are fruits and vegetables, obviously.
Basically, my food intake became a lot healthier without even realizing I was choosing more nutritious foods. Some of the products I found that were made specifically for people avoiding these ingredients are absolutely delicious, and I will keep incorporating them into my diet in the future.
I also cooked at home more because I was nervous about going to a restaurant. Of course, many places are very mindful of gluten allergies and have gluten-free options, but it was harder for me to know about dairy content in some dishes. So many things are cooked with butter (even though that wouldn’t expose me to a lot of lactose) and it’s hard to know if sauces might contain dairy for flavoring or gluten for thickening. I also didn’t want to have to inconvenience restaurant workers to prepare anything specially for me, since this was just a trial and not a serious condition.
Worst of all, it was hard for me to see options of foods I was restricted from. As with many diets, telling myself I couldn’t have something just made me want it more. I was dreaming of pizza and cake, and tortured by the idea of ice cream — simply because I was trying to stay away from it. By staying home, I was only tempted by the foods I got from the grocery store that I was allowed to eat. But that didn’t make my cravings for those other foods any quieter!
Even though I didn’t discover any gluten sensitivity during my trial, I still learned a lot about my dietary habits and ways I can make myself feel better. I feel much more inclined to look at ingredient lists, and I discovered several recipes that were easy and tasty that I can make instead of my routine of processed foods. I won’t claim, in any capacity, to be an expert on this topic, but I do feel much more food-conscious now. I almost said it was an easy change, but I’ll be honest and say I really struggled with missing my favorite foods that I was restricted from, even though it was only for two weeks.
I also learned that eliminating dairy and gluten can help reduce inflammation, and can help some people lose weight and increase their energy. There are many resources online about starting a gluten- and dairy-free diet, including recipes and advice for regulating the changes in your body.
If you feel like you might benefit from cutting out gluten and/or dairy, it’s worth a shot to try it and see how you feel. I started my trial after advice from my health care provider, but it’s a lifestyle change that anyone can start on their own.