On May 13, 2011, my life may have changed forever.
Why maybe? Because this is only an experiment. For now. And as any good journalist will tell you, you’ve got to do your research—interview a few sources, gather all of the facts—before you can make your final analysis. So I’m researching and interviewing and gathering the facts. Full analysis will need to wait a few more weeks.
What’s all of this research about you ask?
Yes, gluten. It seems I have developed antibodies to gluten that may have caused an intolerance to consuming my wheat-based favorites. This is both devastating and heartbreaking, while promising and hopeful. To say I will miss bread, cakes and everything in between is like asking me if I’ll miss breathing. Duh. Imagine yourself having to eliminate a food from you diet. Vegetarians, vegans and everyone with allergies knows how this road is traveled. You read food labels, you check menus, you ask the wait staff questions. It becomes routine.
The tricky thing with gluten is how pervasive its use is. Unlike meat, which tends to be noted pretty clearly, gluten seems to show up in all sorts of unusual places. Besides breads, buns, cakes, cookies, crackers and more, gluten-free means avoiding soy sauce, some ice creams, pastas, and a whole lot more.
Thankfully, despite this list of commonly featured food items, a number of restaurants are very accommodating. (Living in a big city such as Chicago definitely has its perks.) I’ve dined at a number of places and had a great amount of luck. For burgers, both Lockdown Bar & Grill (1024 N Western Ave) and The Counter (666 W Diversey Pkwy) have burgers so tasty, I didn’t even miss the bun. At Longman & Eagle (2657 N Kedzie Ave), I discovered that if cooked well I really do love pork. The pork shoulder dish really is out of this world, both in flavor complexity, texture and overall presentation. Hub 51 (51 W Hubbard St) actually has a gluten-free menu available, so you can order with confidence.
So far, breakfast seems to be my biggest meal challenge. I just haven’t figured out an alternative to my all-time favorite Honey Nut Cheerios. The Grind (4613 N Lincoln Ave) has a couple of gluten-free baked goods on hand, as well as gluten-free bread for sandwiches. Tweet (5020 N Sheridan Rd) has a tofu scrambler bowl I love. One morning, when I was very uninspired and hungry, I stopped at Letizia’s Fiore (2456 N California Ave) where the helpful employee constructed me an omelette that was to die for. Although I’m still learning the ins and outs of gluten-free restaurant dining, I’m happy with the luck I’ve had and the general awareness most restaurants seem to have.
Grocery stores also feature a gluten-free section—Whole Foods has the broadest selection if you’re looking for substitutions. Obviously if you stick to fruits and vegetables, you’re fine. But I feel this is pretty limiting. And it’s on days where I’m really lazy, uninspired or bored that I struggle coming up with something outside of my default meals: sandwiches and pasta.
I’ve found what works best is having enough snack items I can eat. Fruit and nut mixes, chips, nut-based crackers. I’m still finding alternatives I like and will eventually need to figure out a more economical way to subsidize my grocery bill.
Overall this experiment has gone better than I expected. And to my somewhat disappointment, I am feeling better in so many ways. I’m still not 100% sure that a gluten-free lifestyle is in my future. I’m going to give it a couple of more weeks before I finally decide. It’ll be interesting if this is what helps me feel better after six long years of not feeling great at all. But it also will be an adjustment. An adjustment I will welcome with mixed feelings and an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Until then, having gluten-free eating.