Saturday, January 26, 2013

haha, no chocolate cake

I’ve challenged myself with many different types of diet in the past. For months and years, I lasted on diets that were low-fat/calorie, low-carb, focused on macro foods or completely avoided junk food. I went vegetarian/vegan for a few months before I had health implications. And I ate raw food for half a week – this was a short one as I wanted to purge after drinking 3L of raw spinach soup… probably didn’t utilise the possibilities of raw food recipes. I went on these diets/lifestyle changes mostly to challenge and push myself – a case of getting bored one day and being like ‘I don’t want to eat junk food for X amount of time’. Other times it was an attempt to be healthier, explore foods outside my comfort zone or even to lose weight.

In hindsight, my recent no wheat/dairy/soy/nuts diet was among the hardest, if not the hardest, diet I’ve been on. Before I started it, I thought I’d continue to eat as I normally do but substitute minor things. For example, I’d swap my normal cereal and bread with GF alternatives. Since I snack on nuts daily, I’d swap this with more fruit, hummus/carrots and GF muesli bars. Easy.

It got difficult when I realised how these ingredients are hidden in many unsuspecting foods, like Asian stir fries, sushi, salads, anything that has been marinated, all takeaway food etc.

No wheat/gluten
This was the most difficult item to cut out of my diet – I now have massive respect for celiacs and those who are intolerant or sensitive to gluten/wheat. Obviously, gluten is in bread, pasta, flour, cereal and other carby and processed foods. I knew there were GF alternatives so I didn’t worry. I didn’t go too much out of my way to get ingredients for cooking at home mainstream supermarkets stock many GF alternatives, like pasta and cereal. The Freedom Foods brand saved me as they had delicious cereals. Carmans has a good gluten free cereal option as well (with nuts). I bought gluten-free flour and used it in banana bread/cake and it wasn’t much different (see here).

When eating out, some restaurant menus indicate which items are GF – this saved me stress from interrogating waiting staff on how a dish is cooked. Zefferelli’s had a GF menu with pizza and pasta. In Canberra, Deeks Bakery in Pearce and Dickson sells gluten-free baked goods. This sounded like heaven but after analysis of their website, I realised that the majority of their products contained soy, so I would probably only be able to eat one product – yeast, soy & dairy free bread.

Gluten is used as a thickener in many sauces used in salads, stir fries, marinades etc. This made me extremely conscious of everything I ate. When I was on my diet, I often ate from big franchises, such as Sumo Salad that has a website listing allergen information for its salads. Smaller salad bars rarely had info on what items were GF or knowledgeable staff on GF items. I was annoyed that I had to go to franchises over small salad bars, because I prefer to give my buck to small business owners over large franchises – smaller salad bars aren’t into fancy advertising, don’t often ship ingredients across the country just to ensure ‘consistency of quality’ and have more unique salads. I guess beggars can’t be choosers.

My alternative to salads for lunch would be sushi rolls. Obviously I couldn’t eat soft shell crab rolls as flour is used in the deep frying batter. I thought I’d be fine with chicken teriyaki and beef sushi, but the meat is marinated in sauce that has gluten. So I opted for the vegetarian options… oh except tofu (wheat and soy), but I learnt to love avocado rolls.

Having no gluten in my diet mean that I couldn’t eat normal stir fries – my favourite sauces for cooking at home (oyster, soy, hoisin) all had gluten. If I was a celiac, I’d invest in GF substitutes, which apparently exist… somewhere. It was frustrating to go to any Asian restaurant or have stir fries at people’s houses. Most people have no idea gluten is in many stir fry sauces so would look at me in a dumbfounded way when I asked what was GF. I ended up interrogating them about what sauces were used in the dish and asked if they could replace soy sauce etc with fish sauce… oh and sometimes even fish sauce has gluten.

Basically my colleague who’s a celiac said something like ‘basically all you can eat is air… but ignorance is bliss… if you don’t end up with weird side effects or in hospital, it’s okay’.

No dairy/lactose
It wasn’t too difficult to cut out lactose because I already avoid dairy in my normal diet. For example, I avoid cheese (creates congestion problems) and buttery goods. When I strictly cut out dairy, I didn’t eat cheese at work lunches, pizza (OMG), pastries, café sweets, creamy sauces and being wary of butter or cheese in sandwiches etc. Dairy is everywhere.

In my normal diet, I drink soy milk. I know many people who shiver at the thought of drinking soy. I admit – I hated it when I was young, but that’s because my only experience of soy milk was the type from Asian supermarkets that has a strong beany taste. Outside my diet, I usually drunk Soy Good or Soy Milky with cereal and could barely tell the difference from normal milk.

I was always aware there are many alternatives to ‘normal milk’ such as lactose free milk (contains the enzyme lactase that aids people’s digestion of the lactose in milk). There’s also almond milk, oat milk and rice milk (last one is gross in my opinion). The range of options makes me wonder whether milk can be made from other things – potatoes, corn? My avoidance of nuts, soy or dairy meant that there were only two types of milk I could drink – lactose free and rice milk… I think rice milk has a festy perfume-like taste that not even sugary cereal can cover. Lactose free milk it was (see here).

I love chocolate… but in the last year I over indulged in it so it was a good thing that I avoided it. I certainly craved it at times, but would use my imagination just to experience what it’d be like to eat it – taste, smell, texture etc. In an earlier blog entry, I made a lactose-free hot chocolate, with dairy free chocolate, honey and lactose free milk. It cured my cravings!

There are also vegan cheese alternatives, including mascarpone (yay for tiramisu) and tasty cheese.

During my diet, I realised that lactose is a popular ‘filler’ in many many medications. In these scenarios, I couldn’t avoid it.

No soy
In hindsight, why on earth did I avoid soy?!?! I normally don’t eat much meat so I get my protein from meat alternatives such as tofu, vege sausages, patties and vegetarian meat, which unfortunately all contain soy (or wheat). As I was also avoiding nuts, a huge source of protein was missing from my diet.

During my diet, I often felt lethargic – I would try to create some ‘balance’ in my diet by eating some protein. Ironically I ate chicken, chicken and chicken – eventually I grossed myself out.

No nuts
Annoyingly, a lot of gluten-free cereals and snack bars contain nuts. I remember spending at least half an hour in Woolies staring at the health food section, looking at each snack bar one by one and assessing each one according to the stupid ‘criteria’ I had – no nuts, gluten, etc. It was mentally exhausting. Out of about 100 options, I could eat around 5.

Nuts are also included in many vegetarian salads. It’s probably used to give the salad protein and a nice crunchiness. I guess it provides protein that meat normally would.

Combination of the four
Overall it was extremely difficult. I’d often see a snack bar or salad that sounded delicious. I’d get excited and think ‘Omg, I can actually incorporate some flavour into my diet. Potential life saver.’ However the item would exclude only three of the four ingredients and include something like nuts … my dreams and hopes would be crushed again and again.

Indian food was a gem as their sauces don’t often have gluten and it was obvious if there was dairy  (like yogurt or cream). However, most Indian places use ghee, which is clarified butter (dairy)… but sometimes ignorance is bliss.

When I cooked for myself, I mostly ate salads and cooked veges – these were flavoured with home-made citrus dressings, sesame oil or herbs/olive oil.

Ok, I feel like I was just popping my own party balloons. It’s also like I was saying to myself ‘here’s chocolate cake, but haha, you can’t eat it.’ The diet was difficult to maintain as I couldn’t find enough alternatives or substitutes to maintain enough nutrition (and a healthy weight). I was excluded from even the smallest social events and people weren’t always accommodating or supportive. People were itching for me to go back to ‘normal’ for their own convenience and familiarity. But my eczema was itching 100x worse.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad experience. I’m glad I did it because it taught me to eat cleaner and exposed me to foods that I wouldn’t normally eat.

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