I’ve been wondering why wheat is getting such a bad rap lately. We’ve known for some time that refined flour contributes to metabolic problems, like cavities, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. What’s new is the growing number of people having severe and immediate reactions to wheat or the gluten in the wheat. Celiac disease is on the rise, but many other people have digestive, autoimmune or neurological issues, such as IBS, Hashimotos, depression, autism and ADHD, the symptoms of which appear to be vastly diminished when wheat/gluten is eliminated from the diet. But how could wheat really be the culprit, since it is a traditional food that’s been consumed by humans for thousands of years?
Then I read Wheat Belly, the New York Times Bestseller, written by the cardiologist William Davis, MD. Before he gets to his main conclusion that wheat is more to blame for Americans’ big bellies than beer, he provides an eye-opening account of the creation of modern wheat. That’s where I learned the shocking fact that what we call “wheat” has almost no resemblance to the wheat referenced in our history books, more precisely described as einkorn wheat. Davis’ conclusion is that, ”Modern wheat, despite all the genetic alterations to modify hundreds, if not thousands, of its genetically determined characteristics, made its way to the worldwide food supply with nary a question surrounding its suitability for human consumption.” He also goes on to suggest that wheat is as addictive as crack cocaine. Yikes!
Why the Wheat Strike?
My two-week wheat hiatus wasn’t exactly planned. On the first day after starting the book, I was still in shock over what I read, so my fear of wheat outweighed my craving. On the second day, the fear subsided a bit, but so did the craving. Then on the third day, I realized that I didn’t miss wheat and went ahead and made a wheat-free meal plan for the rest of the week, and then for a second week.
The Trick to Making My Diet Work
I think there are 3 keys to making a diet work for me. The first is PLANNING. I can’t emphasize this enough. My husband has learned that when I get into one of my stressed out, “I’m doing all the work around the house and when was the last time you cooked a meal??” tirades, he just has to calmly take out a pen and paper and start helping me put together a meal-plan for the week. Then he sticks it to the fridge and suddenly the meals for the week go smoothly. I know when I need to soak beans or defrost a piece of meat the night before.
The second trick is making sure I’m constantly surrounded by lots of satisfying snacks that meet my diet criteria. Yes, this means that when I’m on a business trip, I walk into the office with a big bag or two of food. Those foods live in my hotel fridge (the breakfast items), on my borrowed office desk and in the office fridge. Again, it just takes a bit of advanced planning before the trip, but it actually saves me time in the end because I don’t have to figure out where to go for meals or breakfast, lunch or snacks when I’m traveling.
The third trick is to ease into it. I’m not a big fan of starting a diet, say, on New Year’s Day. In my particular case, I’ve been reducing my consumption of wheat gradually over the past couple years. This was important not only to get our family’s bodies used to it, but also to build up my repertoire of wheat-free recipes.
How the Diet Went
I felt really good after the two wheat-free weeks. Really good. I was surprised that no one in the house seemed to miss the wheat, or even notice that it was missing. I also lost a bit of weight, although I don’t really know if that’s related to the diet because I am still slowly losing my pregnancy weight. I think the most shocking thing of all is that, during these two weeks, I actually spent a little less time in the kitchen. Maybe it’s due to the planning. Or cooking in larger quantities. Or choosing easily re-heatable dishes. I don’t know, but I sure liked it!
So here’s some of what I ate for those two weeks:
- Homemade yogurt mixed with raw honey, grated apple and topped with nuts and flax seeds. This has been my standard breakfast for years, so nothing new here.
- Ham & gruyere cheese omelette. This was my choice when I went out to a restaurant for breakfast one day.
- Baby arugula salad with toasted pine nuts & shaved parmesan. This was actually what I ate while on a multi-day business-trip. I arrived at the office with a box of pre-washed lettuce, a jar of homemade vinaigrette and a ziplock filled with pre-shaved parmesan and pre-toasted pine nuts.
- Salad with lettuce, pears, goat cheese and toasted pecans topped with homemade honey mustard vinaigrette
- Dinner leftovers (see below)
Snacks Throughout the Day
- Cheese (Appenzeller, traditional Muenster Gerome and Saint André). I’m a huge fan of real cheese. No, not the industrially processed variety that is made from factory farm milk. I mean the sort of real, artisanal cheese that are so delicious that they don’t require bread or crackers.
- Nuts, especially naturally grown pecans that are offered through the farm-share I participate in, but also raw cashews.
- Dried apricots and prunes, eaten together with the nuts. Or maybe with the above cheeses.
- Organic (non-GMO) popcorn, popped the old fashioned way - in a pot with my own clarified butter and then tossed sea salt and my own real butter
- Palacios chorizo picante - OMG, I am addicted to this stuff! It’s the closest thing I’ve found in the U.S. to real Spanish chorizo and made without any added nitrates or nitrites. For those in the Washington, DC metro area, you can buy this chorizo at Arrowine, The Italian Store or Cheesetique.
- Fresh fruit, which for me these past couple weeks were kiwi, grapefruit and clementines.
- Hard-boiled farm eggs
- Indian-Style Curry & Coconut Fish Soup, inspired by James Peterson’s recipe in Splendid Soups - one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. My version is to sautee finely sliced ginger, garlic, and onion. Then add a bunch of Garam Masala and tomatoes. Mix until tomatoes are thick, then add fish stock (or water) and diced potatoes. When potatoes are tender, add any fish filet and frozen coconut milk, which you can get in Asian markets (the canned stuff, even in Whole Foods, has awful preservatives, so try to avoid it). As soon as fish is cooked through, season with salt, pepper and maybe some minced hot chiles.
- Sauerkraut with Fish in Cream Sauce
- Moroccan Chicken with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Almonds, served with Rice
- Oxtail soup served with Rutabaga Gratin (Made like this potato gratin, only with turnips and/or rutabagas instead, since that’s what came in my farm share)
- Turnip, Bacon and Pea Risotto, like this recipe, but with the addition of frozen peas and grated parmigiano Reggiano at the end
- Pan-Fried Trout with Green Onions (minus the flour) in my own clarified butter, served with basmati rice
- Steamed Mussels – while on a business trip, I ordered this at the restaurant. I skipped the accompanying pommes frites because I know that nearly all restaurants use hydrogenated oils. I wish they used beef, duck or even pork fat, but that’s no longer en vogue in America
- Chile con carne, similar to this recipe, but with organic ground beef, soaked, dried and cooked black-eyed peas, fresh tomatoes, and smoked Spanish pimenton in place of half the chili powder and a touch of cinnamon
- Turkish Moussaka: Made by layering fried eggplant slices, then sauteed ground lamb and onions seasoned with basil, salt, pepper and a lot of cinnamon, then topped with another layer of fried eggplant slices, and finally topped with a bechamel sauce, all baked together, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
- Thai red curry with coconut milk, shrimp and vegetables, made totally from scratch – no jarred paste required (recipe to be posted shortly)
- German “Potato-Pan” made by stir-frying sliced, boiled potatoes in duck fat with garlic, black and green olives, zucchini, cauliflower florets, thyme, oregano, sage and cherry tomatoes.
Have you also cut wheat out of your diet? Why? And how is it going for you?