During week four of his elimination diet (He has worked up to dairy-free, vegan, sugar-free living) Doug added to his list of don'ts what appears to be his biggest challenge – gluten.
February 13, 2007 – By Douglas Brown, Denver Post Staff Writer – – Gluten. I don't even know what it looks like. But boy do I miss it. It turns out gluten is in a lot of things: breads, crackers, most processed foods. Even soy sauce.
By last week, the third of this five-week-long fast, I'd removed sugar, dairy, meat, fish and eggs from my diet. But I still could whip up a mean faux beef stew. I dipped fine French bread in olive oil, veggie burgers always loomed, and whenever I yearned for pancakes, I enjoyed the option of replacing the milk with soy, excising the butter and eventually pouring pure maple syrup over a plate of hot flapjacks.
But now I can't do any of that, because I'm gluten-free. And anything with wheat and a few other grains, like barley, contains gluten.
"This can't be happening," I thought, dizzy, as I sat at my desk on the first day of the gluten excommunication. "No beer?"
Beer and I hadn't been separate for a week or more since I was in high school. Now, I'm 41.
Some desperate querying and Googling led me to gluten-free beers – there are only a few. A phone call to a local liquor store determined they were for sale in Denver.
I bought a six-pack of New Grist Beer, made from sorghum and rice extract in a Milwaukee brewery, at Grape Expectation liquor store in Park Hill.
It sat awfully pale in my mug, but the head was tall and stiff. Unfortunately, it barely registered on my tongue; I like beers so loaded with hops they present an almost saffron bitterness.
So it wasn't for me. Which meant no beer, for this week and the next one too. And if ever I needed some suds, it was now. So many other other gustatory pleasures had left my life. I could have sought comfort in a cold one.
Wine you say? I like drinking wine with dinner. Not so much with gruel.
This experiment in renunciation had excited me at first: I'm stronger than some little chocolate-chip cookie! A slab of cheddar on a cracker? I defy you!
As the weeks dragged on, though, and the food bans piled up, eating grew dull.
But almost as soon as the gluten week began, boredom spiraled into extreme frustration.
I bought two loaves of gluten-free bread made out of rice flour, but after a few pieces of toast I angrily tossed both loaves in the trash can. Never had I tasted more miserable toast.
I snatched a box of instant falafel from our cupboard, thinking I'd feast on something crispy and fried, but it was not to be: the mix contained wheat.
Chinese vegetable-fried- rice take-out? Sorry. The restaurant will season the dish with soy sauce, which usually is glutted with gluten.
What did I eat? Oatmeal. Lots of smoothies. Vegetables and fruit. Rice. Corn tortillas.
An estimated one in 133 Americans is gluten-intolerant and diagnosed with celiac disease. Others just decide, for various health reasons, to banish gluten. More still are allergic to wheat.
Bidding goodbye to it all – gluten, wheat, whatever – sounded easy enough when I hatched the idea for this project.
Gluten? I thought. Gluten schmuten. Who needs it? Who even knows what it is?
But by the end of the first day, I felt different.
I love gluten, I thought, a phrase I never imagined flitting through my brain.
Now I understand gluten. And I'm a glutevangelist.
For those people who cannot swallow gluten, I've had a glimpse of your world, and I feel for you.
Among other things, evicting gluten from a diet is tricky. Dining out? Good luck.
Take the first lunch of my gluten-free venture. My wife and I went to a Japanese restaurant known for its soups and noodle dishes. Before heading out, I read that Japanese soba noodles are sometimes made out of 100 percent buckwheat – which is gluten-free – but udon noodles are made with wheat.
"I can't eat wheat," I told the woman who worked there. "Are your soba noodles all buckwheat?"
"Oh, you need udon noodles," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," she answered, nodding. "Soba are from wheat, but not udon."
All of the bowls of noodles had seafood or meat, and I told her I needed a vegetarian version.
"No problem," she said. "Just have vegetable soba noodles."
The bowl arrived, an intensely aromatic and pleasing broth swimming with tempura-fried vegetables. Tempura batter, I suspected, contained gluten. And the fat udon noodles seemed awfully wheaty.
I ate it anyway. And when I returned to the office, I learned that even if the udon noodles were wheat-free (doubtful), gluten most definitely contaminated the tempura vegetables.
I'd broken my fast just hours after its commencement.
And I had a long way to go.
Seven days later, I still don't know what gluten looks like, but I do know where to find it. Everywhere.
Staff writer Douglas Brown can be reached at 303-954-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.