This post is from KS contributing writer Mary Voogt of Just Take A Bite.
Some people think eating gluten free is a fad. Some say you only need to avoid gluten if you have an allergy.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the people that think all grains should be avoided by everyone for good health and for autoimmune conditions. The word “wheat” makes them cringe.
Then there are those in the middle that are eating gluten free due to celiac disease, hypothyroidism, allergies, digestive impairment and a host of other health ailments. Or simply to try to feel better.
Me? I fall in the middle.
How it all started.
I started eating gluten free when I was struggling with infertility and hypothyroidism.
All of my kids have allergies. So I cut out gluten as part of our effort to heal their bodies. We have all been eating gluten free for quite a few years now.
This decision has had a big impact on my children’s behavior and ability to focus. Once or twice a year I give them a small amount of gluten to see how their bodies are doing. So far they still react very strongly. My son literally goes crazy. My daughter seems like she is in another world.
I truly love gluten free living and enjoy cooking and baking gluten free foods.
What went wrong.
Then along came baby number three last year.
When she was about a month old I cut out all dairy due to her reactions. No problem. Many babies are sensitive to dairy. My son was allergic to dairy for a while. We’ve done that before. There are plenty of substitutes.
When my daughter was about five months old things started to change.
She was refusing to nurse. She would scream in pain. Her body was all of a sudden in a hyper-reactive state. Something as simple as my husband kissing her cheek after eating peanut butter caused huge red spots on her skin. It seemed like everything bothered her.
“Coincidentally” this started just after she received her first HIB vaccine.
I knew she had tongue and lip ties, so we got them clipped. I thought that would solve our nursing problems.
Unfortunately things continued to get worse.
I finally figured out that the coconut I was consuming to replace dairy (coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut yogurt) was causing a strong reaction in her body when she nursed. My milk was causing her pain.
It took quite a while to figure this out and get all of the problem foods out. I had her tested for allergies at nine months old. Sure enough, a strong coconut allergy. Actually, an allergy to anything from a palm tree (palm, coconut and even dates!).
So we had that settled. She was starting to nurse better most days.
But we also still had a lot of bad days. Sometimes really bad.
At her nine-month check up she hadn’t gained any weight. Her tongue still felt restricted. Things just didn’t seem quite right.
She also had another vaccine at this check up. And within a week or two we had another laundry list of food reactions.
Let’s try again.
We had her tongue and lip ties clipped a second time. But we still didn’t see much improvement.
Finally through my own trial and error I figured out there were a LOT of foods causing her problems. Some foods caused reflux, others caused eczema, digestive upset and even tongue swelling!
One by one we cut out foods. Slowly but surely we noticed improvements in her nursing and overall health. The screaming stopped. The nursing strikes stopped. She started gaining weight.
Can you guess some of the foods on the bad list?
All of the gluten free foods I was eating while her body was in such a state of stress are now the foods that cause problems.
Can you guess something not on the bad list?
I am not a fan of eating low carb in general (I did that on GAPS and paid for it big time), but especially while nursing. A nursing (sleep-deprived) mom needs a lot of carbs and starch in her diet.
I had to take out all roots, all gluten free grains, all nuts, seeds, oats, coconut and beans.
So I was basically left with one option for getting starch in my diet.
That did not give me a free pass to eat junk food. Instead that meant it was time to get back to traditionally prepared whole grains.
I mostly eat sourdough bread. I use rye for the starter and spelt or wheat for the bread. Once in a while I eat corn as well. Lately I have been experimenting with einkorn, an ancient form of wheat.
The silver lining.
Why does all of this matter?
There are some really important lessons I’ve learned from years of dealing with allergies and particularly from our journey back to gluten.
I see so many friends these days struggling as their children develop allergies and as they feel lost trying to figure out what food(s) is causing the problem and how to handle it. So here are five tips for preventing further problems and dealing with food allergies.
Do what works for you/your child.
Just because your best friend says a gluten free diet is working wonders for her kids that doesn’t mean it is best for yours. Stick with the foods your kids tolerate and don’t stress about eating what is “right” or “wrong.” What works now may not work later. Focus on what works right now.
Rotate your food.
This is the mistake I see so many people make. They find food their child likes and then feed it to them day after day. I’ve been there, done that…and gave my kids more allergies. Ideally you should be on a four day rotation with foods. But at the very least make sure there is variety and that you don’t serve the same foods two days in a row. This includes all food groups – fats, grains, vegetables, fruits, proteins.
Be careful about what you/your child is eating when in a reactive state.
This can be tricky. Often the reactive state starts before you realize it. Which is why eating rotationally is so important from the start/when introducing solids. This is especially important if your family has a history of allergies. When food reactions start your child’s body is having a big autoimmune response. Any foods consumed frequently during that time have a potential to become problem foods.
Make most of your food nutrient dense.
Nobody has a perfect diet. But do your best to make the majority of your diet nutrient dense. Things like egg yolks (if tolerated), sardines, liver, anchovies, broth (use a variety), healthy fats (lard, tallow, butter, coconut oil, olive oil), leafy greens, other vegetables and unrefined sea salt should be in your diet weekly. This will give you a lot of vitamins and minerals to help with repair work.
Find a good balance between energy and nutrients.
Nutrients are key. But you also need balance. If you just ate the above foods you’d probably feel sick. You also need plenty of starch/carbs for energy. Rice cooked in broth with spinach, liver and butter is a good example of balance. Though the rice itself does not really have any nutrients it does give energy. And it creates a good ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat.
This last point is what put an end to my gluten free days for now. In order to get the balance and energy my body needs I have to have starch (especially while nursing a one year old day and night!). And the only “safe” starches right now are corn and gluten-containing grains. So that is what my little one and I eat.
We are still working on healing with broth, probiotics, and nutrient dense foods. We still rotate foods to avoid further allergies. But I don’t stress about eating traditionally prepared sourdough and whole wheat.
My other kids still eat gluten free because that is what works for their bodies. Sure, it makes cooking in my house a challenge (actually that is an understatement when you add in all of the other allergies we deal with. I only mentioned the grains here). But we do our best.
Gluten free is not for everyone.
Keep in mind that not everyone needs to eat gluten free. It can be helpful for many. But there are also plenty of healthy individuals that eat a nourishing diet that includes properly prepared wheat. It actually contains quite a few vitamins and minerals.
Not to mention it is fun to bake with wheat!
In case you’re curious, my daughter is doing quite well right now. She is fourteen months old and still breastfeeds full time. Slowly but surely we’re figuring things out and helping her body heal and grow.
In this season of gratitude I look back on our journey over the last year and am so thankful for how far we’ve come. I’m also thankful that we still have enough food options. We may not be able to eat the “ideal” diet; but we are nourished and well fed. That is reason for giving thanks.
Take the time to figure out what your needs are and go with it. Get variety, nutrients and balance in your diet.
If you are looking for more information on healing allergies check out this post on why simply avoiding problem foods is not the solution and this post on ways to heal the gut.