Food blogger (and true food lover) goes gluten-free
If you follow her blog, you know that Kristin Porter, creator of Iowa Girl Eats, loves to cook, run, stay fit and travel. Having lived in the Midwest and Iowa most of her life, Porter believes it is a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
She sums it up simply. “Fresh food is abundant here, which helps us to eat well. The cost of living is low, which allows us to travel far,” she says.
While Kristin lives in Iowa, her blog has mass appeal, reaching far beyond the Midwest. Iowa Girl Eats receives more than two million page views per month, primarily because Porter knows what people like.
“The two C’s come to mind: chicken and cheese,” she laughs.
Iowa Girl Eats ventures far beyond the two C’s, though, focusing primarily on fresh, seasonal food, complete with step-by-step instructions and stunning photography. Most of her recipes can be made in 30 minutes or less. While the food plays a starring role, Porter also highlights her family life, including her “sweet husband” Ben and bundle of joy Lincoln, who joined the clan in 2013.
Soon after Lincoln’s birth, however, Porter’s health began to decline. For six months, she dealt with complete exhaustion, sinking weight, stabbing pains in the stomach, splitting headaches, brain fog and gastrointestinal issues.
For a while, she chalked up the side effects to being a new mom. Then things became more serious. Visits with doctors and specialists, in addition to several rounds of tests confirmed what Porter had already suspected: She had celiac disease, a condition that affects the digestive system.
It’s estimated that 1 in 133 Americans, or about one percent of the population, has celiac disease. There is no cure, and a 100 percent gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment.
“So, it was pretty clear,” says Porter. “I had to start eating gluten-free. The doctor told me so. In fact, that’s pretty much all I knew.”
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. The damage is caused by gluten. Gluten is a mixture of two proteins that hold food together or help it maintain a certain shape. It is found primarily in cereal grains, especially wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats. It can also be found in all kinds of other products.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the disease can lead to a number of other disorders, including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers and other autoimmune diseases. Porter learned that celiac disease can lay dormant in a person’s body only to be triggered by a traumatic event. In her case, she had just gone through a traumatic labor and delivery, which triggered the disease. There was no doubt about Porter’s test results. Normal levels of gluten antibodies in a person’s body should be between 1 and 19. Her results were 174.
Transitioning to “g-free” living
“In the beginning, I was totally resistant to the change,” says Porter. “I cried. I ate goodbye donuts — chocolate munchkins — and a lot of them! I bitterly laughed at the irony of a food blogger, and true food lover, being diagnosed with a disease that would force me to cut out what felt like an entire food group for the rest of my life. So long donuts, deep dish pizza, craft beer and French toast.”
Porter even considered quitting her blog.
Porter did her best to eat gluten-free after the diagnosis, but having to inspect every single element on a can, box or carton of food felt like an impossible feat. She says she was getting “glutened” all the time, meaning she would accidentally ingest gluten, and felt like with every step forward, she took ten steps back.
But slowly, things got better. “I learned the many names gluten can go by, how to eat at restaurants, which products were safe (and which were not) and how to avoid cross contamination,” says Porter. “I learned that cooking healthy, gluten-free meals at home is NOT hard, nor does it require trips to specialty grocery stores for weird and expensive ingredients.”
Two years later
“If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, do not feel silly or embarrassed for needing or wanting to go gluten-free. The gluten-free community is the target of a lot of ridicule. I don’t take myself too seriously, so yes, I’ve laughed at the jokes, but doing what’s best for YOU should never make you a target.”
It’s been two years since Porter’s diagnosis and life feels “normal” again. “Normal” because, according to Porter, “Unless you live in a bubble, accidental ingestion of gluten is bound to happen, plus my diagnosis seems to have come with a side of chronic fatigue. But, I have zero stomach pains, am at a healthy weight again and most importantly, I am not afraid to eat.”
The blog Iowa Girls Eats has only seen more growth since Porter went gluten-free. “It’s hard to say if it’s because of the fact that I only post gluten-free recipes now, or if it’s just organic growth,” says Porter. “I’m still providing recipes longtime readers will love and can feel good about creating in the kitchen.”
Today, Porter reminds herself daily that she has a condition that can be managed without drugs, therapy or hospital stays — just food. “I’m so lucky in that my friends and family have bent over backwards to not only learn about celiac disease, but to accommodate my needs. For example, I hate being a burden to friends throwing a dinner party. I always bring something I know I can eat. They aren’t hurt if I politely turn down items on the menu. They understand that my health is on the line.”
Celiac disease vs. gluten sensitivity
While a relatively small percentage of Americans are diagnosed with celiac disease, more than ten times as many people have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Gluten sensitivity can lead to similar celiac symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea and bloating. But people with gluten sensitivity do not have damage to the small intestines, and they do not develop antibodies found in celiac disease.
“I think it’s important to understand that most people do not need to avoid gluten,” says Julie Enga, R.D., health management consultant for Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Gluten is perfectly healthy for people who do not have celiac disease and people who are not gluten sensitive.”
Enga stresses that going gluten-free is not a way to lose weight. It’s more than cutting out bread or pasta. Gluten is in so many products, from sauces, seasonings, condiments, meats and even cosmetics and medicines.
“Some people think gluten-free means healthy, says Enga. “But gluten-free cookies are not a substitute for healthy, whole-grain foods. When you are gluten-free, you need to find ways to get important nutrients otherwise found in whole-grain foods, for example, iron, B vitamins and fiber.”
Some people may feel better when they go gluten-free, says Enga, simply because they are eating less processed foods. Her advice is to skip the processed gluten-free treats and focus on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and gluten-free grains like quinoa.
Gluten-free for beginners
Transitioning to a gluten-free way of life was not easy for Porter, who struggled for many months before really getting a handle on how to eat gluten-free.
Eager and inspired to help others in a similar position, Porter shares everything she’s learned in the past two years in an e-book, Gluten-Free for Beginners: 30 Day Meal Plan and Guide for Gluten-Free Success.
Released in September 2015, Porter says the e-book is “for those who are newly diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, or want to know more, and learn exactly how to go gluten-free while avoiding the stumbles and missteps I experienced.”
If you are interested in receiving a copy of the e-book, visit IowaGirlEats.com External Site.
Places gluten can hide
From Kristin Porter’s e-book, Gluten-Free for Beginners: 30 Day Meal Plan and Guide for Gluten-Free Success
Gluten is like a curious toddler — always getting into places and products where it shouldn’t be. If a food or product is canned or packaged, you must always check the label:
- Medicines, vitamins and cosmetics. If the label doesn’t specify, ask your pharmacist, check company websites, and/or call customer support numbers.
- Hairspray. Although your skin cannot absorb gluten, you can inhale, and therefore ingest, hairspray after it has been sprayed. For example, some hairsprays contain hydrolyzed wheat protein.
- Ice cream. Ice cream is inherently gluten-free since the base is just cream and sugar, but look out for toppings and mix-ins.
- Candy. Many candy bars have a cookie base and/or contain wheat flour or malted milk.
- Teriyaki sauce. It is full of soy sauce, which is not gluten-free.
- Condiments. Soy sauce, wheat flour and malt vinegar regularly hide in condiments.
- Baking powder and baking soda. Be sure the brands you’re using are gluten-free.
- Chicken and beef broth. Unless the package explicitly states gluten-free, do not buy it.
- Store-bought gourmet burgers or sausages from the deli case. These are often full of breadcrumbs.
- Hot dogs, sausages and cured meats. These are full of gluten unless otherwise noted.
- Deli meats. Most deli meats are sliced on a shared slicer. Shared with who knows what! Stick to packaged, certified gluten-free sliced deli meat instead.
- Spice blends, sauces and gravy packets. These can contain wheat flour and binders for thickening.
- “Wheat-free” doesn’t necessarily mean gluten-free. Check labels for possible gluten-containing ingredients.
- Envelopes. The debate over whether or not envelope glue contains gluten is hot, and I for one am not going to find out if it’s true. Stick to self-sticking envelopes instead.
- Many children’s art supplies contain gluten. Be sure to carefully check labels before purchasing. If a product label says gluten-free but also includes a “made in a facility that also processes wheat” disclaimer, it is NOT gluten-free!
- Other items listed on product packaging that may contain gluten:
- Artificial coloring
- Natural flavors
- Caramel coloring
- Food starch
- Modified food starch
- Spices (with no further explanation)