Pre-emptive answers to your questions about my apparent wheat allergy

Guest post by Drew Mackie

This post originally appeared on one of my best friends’ blogs which you should be following. I begged him to let us feature it here, as I’m sure a lot of Homies have the same experience.

“Wheat ear” by: jonebabanaCC BY 2.0

A fun fact about me: For the last few years, I haven’t been consuming wheat.

Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles, I developed a stubborn rash. Several months and several doctors later, the only method we found to make the rash go away was to not eat wheat — no bread, no pasta, no beer. This hasn’t been so difficult, since hippy-dippy Los Angeles is probably one of the easiest cities in the nation to find gluten-free food. However, my flagrantly anti-wheat lifestyle seems to be a matter of curiosity for everyone else.

Here, then, I’d like to pre-emptively answer any of the questions you might have about it…

Isn’t it very L.A. of you to go gluten-free right after you move there?

I suppose. This city does have a lot of people who avoid gluten for other reasons — they think it’s inherently unhealthy, or that it will make them lose weigh to cut wheat out of their diet. I’m not doing it for those reasons. I’m doing it because of that rash I mentioned.

I’ve read about celiac disease. It affects a much smaller portion of the population than people think, and what you’re describing doesn’t sound like celiac disease. Why are you being such a stupid faker?

First off, you’re a terrible person. Second, I don’t have celiac disease, at least according to the way I have understood that disorder. I suppose you could say that I have a gluten sensitivity. But I think it’s more accurate and much clearer to simply explain that if I eat wheat products, I get a rash, and I’d rather not eat bread than be Scabbly the Rash Man. It’s that simple.

Could it be something else in those products that’s causing the rash?

Yes, totally. The process of going to doctor after doctor was an ordeal, and since not eating these products solves the problem, I’m just going to stick with it, regardless of whether it’s the wheat or something else that’s actually causing the rash.

What happens if you eat this piece of bread?

Jesus, get it out of my face. As near as I can tell, I will get a rash that’s more or less in proportion to how much wheatiness I eat.

What about gluten-free bread?

What about it?

Well, couldn’t you get by on gluten-free products?

Here’s the thing: In my opinion, gluten-free versions of typically gluten-full products suck, much in the same way that soy-based fake meats suck. These things aren’t meant to be sourdough or chorizo or whatever we’re trying to gussy them up as. You can kind of make it work, but the end product will always be an inferior substitute for the real thing. Essentially, I just don’t eat bread anymore. It’s not that hard.

Did you lose weight as a result of giving up all those wheat products?

Yes, but not for the reason you’re thinking. Essentially, I cut bread and pasta and pastries and beer out of my life. Because I just stopped consuming them altogether, and didn’t replace them with gluten-free versions of them, I did lose weight. But people who simply switch to gluten-free foods probably would not. Gluten-free food is not inherently healthier, just more expensive. Also, in general, paying more attention to the composition of everything I eat has helped me make healthier food choices.

No beer, huh? Wait, didn’t you go to UC Santa Barbara?

Yes, and I did consume a superhuman amount of beer there without any negative skin conditions resulting.

What about gluten-free beer?

As someone far pithier than I once put it, gluten-free beer tastes like someone came in a mud puddle.

Oh.

Yes. I drink wine now.

Do you miss beer though?

Yes. A room-temperature glass of red wine doesn’t really quench your thirst after a long day of yard work the way a cold beer would. But whatever.

Do you miss bread?

Not really. Instead of carbo-bombing before dinner out, I just eat nothing.

Do you miss pizza?

I wouldn’t waste my own family for a real, high-quality pizza that I could eat all on my own without any negative consequences, but I would waste someone else’s family for one, if that explains it at all.

Wait, can you eat rice?

Yes. Rice is not wheat.

Wait, can you eat couscous?

No. Couscous is just pasta.

Wait, can you eat soba noodles?

Yes. Soba is made from buckwheat, which actually isn’t wheat at all, though you still have to check the package to make sure that wheat was not added in.

Wait, can you eat polenta?

Yes. Polenta is made from corn.

Wait, can you eat whole-wheat bread?

Are you fucking kidding me? Stop.

Wait, what about bread pudding?

Wait, can you eat pineapples?

I don’t think you know anything about food.

Can you eat fiberglass?

No.

Can I eat fiberglass?

You know what? Only one way to find out.

Wait, if I cook this in a pan that I used to make Amish friendship bread in, will you die?

[gets up to leave]

Aren’t you just doing this for attention?

No. It’s a real pain in the ass — or wherever else the rash wants to be. And I fucking dread having to ask questions about wheat content at restaurants, because I know the server is thinking, “Oh, this guy probably isn’t actually allergic. He’s probably just a jerkhole.” I have to be picky about restaurants I eat at now, to the point that I don’t think I could ever date a vegetarian, just because our eatery options would be too few. But in the end, this is easier than, say, having to give up a food product I love more, such as fruits or vegetables, and it’s a little more elegant than walking around with the rash.

Hey, some of us were thinking about getting pizza and some beers after work.

Cool, I’ll just have one of those iceberg lettuce salads that pizzerias are so famous for. And a Fanta.

Here, I got you a muffin made out of almonds and tapioca and mashed up flax seeds.

You really shouldn’t have.

If you’d like to read more about wheat, for some reason, I have literally one other post that would be of interest, and it’s about a Greek grain goddess named Spermo. No, really.

So let’s hear it, Homies with food allergies: what other questions — good or ridiculous — are you CONSTANTLY answering?

Comments on Pre-emptive answers to your questions about my apparent wheat allergy

  1. I have insulin resistance and I tend to be prone to fungal skin infections as my decreased effectiveness at processing carbs means I often have slightly high blood sugar which they love to feed on. I watch my carbs by which I mean I keep things wholegrain and try and vary the carb sources in my diet. I also take metformin after meals to deal with excess sugar. However I still occasionally get the fungal infections and I take it as a warning that my diet is off balance, as persistent fungal infections can be a symptom of early stage of diabetes and I have three close relatives with it.

    The one thing most likely to set me off and get the fungal infection raging (and mercifully it’s mostly back, neck and arms rash not genital or oral thrush) is bread. Specifically, standard supermarket or other branded sliced bread, even whole meal. Basically I don’t cope well on wheat bread made in factories by the mass production methods used by supermarkets and big branded bakeries, which massively overstimulate the gluten in them and packs them full of enzymes and other stuff to improve the texture and make them keep longer which is a particular problem for a pre sliced loaf. It all adds up to make a bread which just explodes into too much sugar that I can’t deal with, even the wholemeal types.

    What does work much better for me but still needs to play a minimal place in my diet, is handmade, long proved, bloody expensive, artisanal sourdoughs, wheat and otherwise, preferably a mix of grains. When you realise how bread is made in mass production you realise why so many people have problems processing it in their bodies and I mean people without actual gluten or wheat allergies or insulin resistance.

    For anyone who would like more info on this, there is a great article here from the UK newspaper The Guardian, it links to a study which shows significantly lower glucose and insulin response to subjects fed sourdough breads. The article doesn’t mention mass production of pizza dough for supermarket frozen pizzas, fast food pizzas where pre made bases are bought in etc but I suspect the same thing could apply….

    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/aug/12/rise-sourdough-bread-slow-fermented-health-benefits

    For those of you getting rashes after consuming wheat, it’s worth getting them checked to see if they are in fact fungal and thinking about the form that wheat was consumed in. I absolutely believe that what is happening to you is real, but just wanted to point out that if the only problem is a rash then the cause may not be allergy to wheat (or gluten) per se, but intolerance of wheat in certain processed in certain forms, which let’s face it is a lot easier to deal with as life style change than total elimination of wheat.

    • Gods, yes! re: the crazy things we do to bread today, and why bread today isn’t the same sort of bread that people ate (easily and healthily) for thousands of years! I learned a ton from the book “The Vintage Remedies’ Guide to Bread,” (by Jessie Hawkins) which starts out with a defense of (old-school bread), a heck of a history lesson on the differences in wheat types, processing, and baking methods across the years, and then talks about creating your own sourdough starter and how to make pretty much any bread you want with said sourdough starter. There was so much I didn’t know – and holy crap, homemade sourdough with a wild-caught starter is AMAZING.

      tl;dr: homemade sourdough in the long-type method might help. If not, it’s cool to learn the history of bread-making and how today’s stuff isn’t “bread” in the traditional sense.

    • It also probably depends from the fact that bread is made with yeast, which is a fungus friend – no wonder you can manage a bit of sordough instead. Making good bread does require time and effort, which can be cut down only compromising on quality. Which means using more yeast, adding gluten and fats and stuff.
      I’m sorry to hear that most bread available to you guys is filled with nasty stuff – that partially explains to me why I keep reading “I cut bread from my diet to be healthier” when adverse reactons are not involved, which to me sounds very weird since nice simple bread is a basic healthy staple.
      I don’t have allergies, but I had a horrible yeast infection that would resist all medication and the only way to get rid of it was to cut all yeast, carbs and sugars for a couple months. That, and eating a lot of garlic and taking tea tree essential oil for a short while. Both are very effective fungus fighters.

  2. I have to say, while the questions aren’t the same (duh) most people with an unusual allergy get the same line of questioning. I get a line up of similar, yet still annoying questions when I have to explain I have a latex allergy.

    • LOL yep. I’m allergic to avocados and bananas. Most people never knew that an allergy to these exists, whereas about 1% of the human population has a latex allergy.
      But still, my husband likes to joke that he’s going to “test” my allergic response by putting guacamole on me. What!? I get hives, silly husband. Not funny.

      • I have a sensitivity to both avocados and bananas if either under or overripe. Of course I love them both so I know to be extra careful when using them. Otherwise my mouth itches like like crazy.

    • I was going to say the same about keeping kosher. Especially because I keep a LOT more kosher at home than I do in public or at restaurants. But I’m still not going to eat my breakfast muffin off the same tray that holds the bacon buns.

  3. I think something people don’t realize is that food allergies and intolerances can develop over time. People (like the original poster) may be tolerate grain no problem for years and then start having problems. One of my co-workers actually gradually developed an egg allergy and did not find out until she had a flu shot last year and had a pretty severe reaction (she had never had any trouble with vaccines before). Egg-based preservatives were used to make the vaccine and that is what she apparently reacted to (full blown asthma attack that landed her in the ER). It honestly pisses me off that people don’t take food allergies and sensitivities seriously.

  4. I totally agree with developing sensitivities over time! Besides developing an allergy to juniper after living in the Southwest for almost a decade (it is unavoidable and makes me cower indoors twice a year, when the weather is really nice to boot), I’ve acquired sensitivities to walnuts and walnut oil, which is a bummer with salad dressings and banana bread. Drat. I haven’t eaten many acidic foods either, so now I can’t stomach things like raw onions or tomatoes, or most citrus, although lemonade is usually dilute enough that I can appreciate it’s deliciousness. I’m so glad everyone on this thread has been speaking up about their preferences! I’ve run into difficulties a few times, but it’s usually been related to my issues with recovering from eating disorders, which is an entirely different bundle of awkward. You definitely should be a polite but firm advocate for what you can stomach a and enjoy a good meal! With other people, even. Good times.

  5. As a person who has no experience with gluten allergies, I feel like I would be and have been the person who asks questions that may seem obnoxious. For instance, I’m having Canadian Thanksgiving and I e-mailed my friend with a gluten allergy to ask them if I stuffed the turkey with a cornbread stuffing, would they be able to eat the turkey? (the answer, btw, was that no, they could not eat the turkey) I didn’t do this to be annoying, I did it because I honestly didn’t know and if they couldn’t eat the turkey that way. Now that I know, I’m going to make a gluten free cornbread for the stuffing instead because I want them to be able to enjoy as much as possible.

    I’ve also asked a vegetarian if I could stir regular chili and veggie chili with the same spoon because I forgot to bring two camping (answer was also no, she would not eat it).

    I was allergic to tomatoes and chocolate until I was 14, so I do understand having food restrictions and that explaining to someone that they can’t just scrape the ketchup off of a bun for it to be ok, that any amount of tomato would give me hives, can get irritating. That said, I think that the tone of the article to me is less funny and more abrasive. It would make me terrified to ask this person to dinner at my house and that any question I asked them about their allergy would be taken as me being derogatory of their ailment instead of a genuine desire to know the answer.

    • Asking specific questions when you’re actually going to feed someone is totally valuable and to be encouraged. Keep doing that; better to ask a question that’s been asked a million times than to err out of ignorance and make someone sick.

      I imagine most of these questions are only irritating when asked out of nosiness. (Except when the waitress insists that I shouldn’t be able to eat eggs because they’re dairy. One: no, they’re not; two: don’t you think I know my dietary restrictions better than you do?)

      • OMG! I thought I was the only person ever to have someone tell me that eggs were dairy! In college I was stressing myself sick and having a ton of health issues, so I tried an elimination diet (fast for a day or two, add lettuce, stick with it for a week, slowly move up to potential allergens). At the end of the first week, a roommate was bugging me about why I wasn’t eating much, and I told him about the elimination diet. He said, “Oh, that’s why you haven’t been eating the eggs… AKA DAIRY.”

        He had such a dramatic look on his face as he said it, that I wasn’t sure what I laughed at harder – the “eggs are dairy” or his mannerisms.

  6. I do find it hilarious when people think gluten-free is going to help loose weight. I own a gluten-free pastry company and the amount of people I speak to who say ‘i’ve just gone gluten-free to lose some weight’ yet then are buying some pastry which may not have gluten but most definately contains butter which lets be honest is fat.

    • You should check out the ketogenic diet and the latest research into saturated fat.
      You can definitely lose weight by switching out carbs for a high fat diet. Gluten free bread probably isn’t going to help though unless it’s low carb and grain free also!

  7. I also break out in a weird rash that doctors cannot figure out (lucky me!) and I’ve just learned to live with it since they tell me it’s just caused by stress. Just curious what your “wheat rash” looked like. Maybe that’s what is wrong with me. I already planned on going to the doctor to get tested for Celiac disease, did you get tested?

    Sorry for the personal questions, but this may end a 10 year battle I’ve had with a stupid itchy rash.

    • It could be any sort of food allergy and everyone’s rash or symptoms will be different but if they can’t figure it out don’t just get a celias test, ask them to do an allergy test for the (however many there currently) standard things to be allergic to, chances are one or more of those might be it.

      I have lists for friends who come visit an ask “Has your list of “Things that make you die” changed?”

      I’ve also split the dips up at parties and told the people who are allergic to potatoes to guard their dip, so they know no crisps/potatoes went near it.

      I can’t always cater for an allergy, but do try, but I’m happy if friends bring their own food if they have problems.

      I’m wheat intolerant, yes I can have it, but if I ate it for every meal or every day I would be belching – and I don’t mean burping, bloating and not sleeping.

      I’m lucky in that I can eat oats and buckwheat and spelt bread seems to be ok, because of how it’s made. There are more and nicer gluten-free products around now. I actually prefer the Dr oetker free from pizza’s to the ‘normal’ ones now, and the genius fruit loaf is amazing toasted.

  8. Oh man, why do people get so uptight about gluten free eaters?
    I’m on a ketogenic diet for both health and weight loss reasons.

    I can’t eat any high carb foods. I don’t have a wheat allergy (although I gotta say I’m much less bloated and blehhh without it) but even a small about will throw me out of ketosis.

    People think I’m just being difficult and try to sneak in foods with flour… I can tell folks, I pee on a stick every night and lasts nights “it’s fine for your diet, I checked” meal most certainly had flour and carbs.
    I’m not doing this to be a “gluten free” snob like everyone seems to think, I’m changing my life and diet according to the latest scientific research which I’ve investigated heavily, and you know what? It’s my body, my choice, so how about you shut up about it.

    Anyway that’s my little rant over!
    In the mean time, for the OP may I present the best pizza base substitute ever. I don’t even like cauliflower but I promise this is still awesome.

    http://www.theluckypennyblog.com/2013/02/the-best-cauliflower-crust-pizza.html?showComment=1411212565310#c6820920274655117721&m=1

    • I am a supertaster, aka picky eater if you ask my friends and family, and I regularly get people sneaking things into my food under the guise of “oh I thought you didn’t like this because you hadn’t tried it” like I’m 5 years old or something.

  9. I also recently developed rashes on my elbows and the back of my head, I cut out wheat and they went away. I just went on vacation and ate all the breads and drank all of the beers just to test my reaction and yup, sure enough, the rash was back.

  10. I had someone ask me if I actually was allergic to onions or I just didn’t like them. I was shocked because I absolutely love onions!

    I also found that many times people assume a food allergy means bathroom desecration and stomach issues. Mine is much more respiratory if I smell/ingest raw ones. I’ve never met anyone else who has an onion allergy like mine, so it’s hard to explain, much less assume others understand.

    • A friend of mine has a banana allergy that is so severe even smelling a banana nearby will cause her throat to swell.

      It was amazing to me how many people ignore her very severe allergy because “it’s not possible to be allergic to bananas! It’s a banana!”

    • I worked at a pizza restaurant and a customer had an onion allergy. The cook was a jerk and didn’t understand that the lady couldn’t just pick them off. We finally had to yell at him, no they will kill her! Before he agreed to make a new pizza. He was convinced she was just being difficult.

  11. I don’t so much mind the questions – it’s when people call me a liar or a faker.. it’s like yeah I so enjoy being in pain and having my insides shredded, that’s why I make myself do that every time I eat wholewheat bread, because that’s normal :\

  12. I had to laugh at the line about not dating a vegetarian because we’re vegetarians and my husband avoids gluten due to its effect on his digestive system and my son has been gluten free for almost 4 years now because like the author it caused a nasty rash (although his was on his private parts so even worse probably).

    I agree with the author that most gluten free products are terrible but there are some definite exceptions. We carry Snyders gluten free pretzel sticks everywhere and almost everyone who has tried them is shocked at how good they are. My cousin even told us the other day that he now purchases them instead of regular pretzels because he likes that they’re crunchier. The other big thing we do is use quinoa flour when making baked goods. I don’t think it would work for yeast breads but for quick breads, muffins, cookies, and pancakes it’s a completely innocuous substitution and its healthier since quinoa is a complete protein. There are also completely fine pastas that are quinoa and/or rice based. The only problem with the rice pastas is that they harden as they cool (just like rice in your fridge) so they’re a little trickier to reheat than regular pasta.

  13. Can’t tell you how frustrating it is to explain that with an oat allergy, that no, gluten free oats are not okay.

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