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The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide Kindle Edition
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The cutesy title reminded me of an article I wrote on my blog Sure Foods Living in which I pointed out that maybe the reason people couldn't embrace the gluten-free diet is that the word "gluten" just isn't cool enough for people and that we need to start calling the gluten-free diet something else. (I jokingly offered "the no g-carb diet" as a solution.) Turns out I might have been right and a celebrity has given it a new name! Elisabeth uses the term "the G-Free Diet" so many times in the book that by the end I actually find myself getting used to it. Another phrase she uses: "G-Full" -- referring to foods that are full of gluten. Not bad.
So back to the preconceived notion... the cutesy title and cutesy cover made me think that the book was going to be cutesy too. It wasn't!
What I thought...
I found this book to be practical and personal. It is practical, with understandable medical and diet information, and personal, with stories meant to illustrate points and make us feel like she is just like us with the same worries and anxiety about the diet that we have (except that she hangs out with Whoopi Goldberg and Prince Charles!). She also maintains a positive but realistic attitude throughout, which is the tone that I also try to convey on my website.
Perhaps I liked this book too because I related to her story. My celiac story is very similar to hers in terms of symptoms and the journey to diagnosis. In fact we were both diagnosed in 2002, after returning from a time away from the United States -- she 39 days in Australia for Survivor: Outback, me 25 days in India for my honeymoon. We both were on a gluten-free diet without even realizing it, our bodies repaired themselves, and when we returned to our wheat-laden American culture, our bodies struck back with a vengeance. Another similarity -- we both figured it out before doctors did. Our recoveries were similar too. She mentions jokingly that she can't believe her now-husband continued dating her despite all her health problems -- I have also joked that I can't believe my husband married me! (I was diagnosed 3 months after our wedding!)
I really liked...
The chapter called "What's Mine is Yours (Well, Sort Of!)" Elisabeth is the only one in her family that eats gluten-free, and she provides helpful information for what she calls the "modified G-free kitchen" where both gluten-free and gluten-containing foods are prepared. If you are new to the diet and haven't converted your entire family to your way of thinking yet, the information provided in the book will make the shared kitchen seem do-able. Luckily I don't have to take all of these extra precautions, as my kitchen is completely gluten-free. (My husband eventually adopted my diet because he was feeling so much better when he was gluten-free and I have decided to raise my children gluten-free.) I feel that if you can get your kitchen to be as gluten-free as possible, it makes things so much easier and makes you feel more relaxed -- at least you can feel at ease in your own home!
The chapter "Out on the Town" about dining out. There are some very good restaurant tips and the section called "Deciphering the Menu: The G-Free Detective" defines menu terms that are helpful for everyone to read. Don't expect to find recipes or many menu ideas in this book. There are a couple Italian recipes from her mother, but this is not a recipe book.
The chapter called "Throw Me a Bagel!" about living with someone who is gluten-free. Rarely have I seen tips for the person who lives with a gluten-free person ("GFG" she calls it, for Gluten-Free Gal or Guy). There is some great advice addressing such things as compassion, adaptability, preparedness, cleanliness and selflessness.
The section "Translating Ingredients" for understanding how to read cosmetics and personal care product labels. This is something that often gets overlooked by people on a gluten-free diet.
I really didn't like...
The fact that there is a chapter named "G-Free and Slim As Can Be!" which sounds like the whole chapter is promoting the use of the gluten-free diet for weight loss. The chapter is actually not about that at all and points out that once people are on a gluten-free diet and are forced to read labels, they become aware of what they are putting into their bodies and generally become healthier eaters overall. The chapter is more about nutrition and awareness of food. There are only a few sentences that refer to the fact that people might try the diet to lose weight -- it's unfortunate that the title doesn't reflect the real content of the chapter.
I'm glad she included...
The foreword by Dr. Peter Green. Also, I'm glad that in the foreword, Dr. Green talks about non-celiac gluten sensitivity and states, "Those with gluten sensitivity in the absence of celiac disease have a great difficulty getting satisfaction from the medical community. Without an abnormal biopsy, there is difficulty among many physicians accepting such a diagnosis. I, however, regard the diagnosis as valid, providing that celiac disease is excluded." This is a different take than he had in the past when he referred to the gluten-free diet as unnecessary torture without a diagnosis of celiac disease. If you are a regular reader of my blog Sure Foods Living, you know by now that I think outside the celiac box, so I was glad to see that gluten intolerance has been acknowledged in the book by both Dr. Green and Elisabeth.
And in her last chapter, Elisabeth tackles the connection between Autism and the Gluten-Free Casein-Free (GFCF) Diet. I believe that she did it well, citing studies and quoting doctors to support the idea that a diet change could be beneficial for some autistic kids. She made the connection understandable and at the end of the chapter, points out (and I wholeheartedly agree) "If eliminating gluten and casein from your child's diet can even slightly reduce the severity of his ASD, why not talk to a physician who could help you make this change?"
Some picky notes (I couldn't just let these go!)...
Elisabeth recommends staying away from blue cheese, but there are many brands that are gluten-free. See the article "Is blue cheese gluten-free?" on Sure Foods Living for a list.
Although it can be made from wheat, studies have shown that it is gluten-free. See the article "Is glucose syrup gluten-free?" on Sure Foods Living for more information.
The book says that the sticky rice in sushi might contain added gluten. I know a lot of you enjoy sushi, so don't freak out! The sticky rice (also called glutinous rice) does not contain gluten itself, despite its misleading name, and I have never heard of gluten being added to it. Things that are added to sticky rice are sugar, salt, rice wine and rice vinegar, all of which are gluten-free. There are other foods to watch out for when eating sushi (soy sauce, imitation crab, sauces, roe, miso, tempura, tea), but the sticky rice is not one of them!
I wasn't impressed with the online stores resource list in this book. I understand that websites and stores change a lot, but there were some basic "oopsies" that I found. In the middle of the book (p.74) she recommended a particular online store -- well, it's just someone's Amazon store! Also, in the resources list at the end of the book, she recommends another market whose domain name is for sale. Given that few resources were even listed, it seems like they should have been checked before going to print.
I think this is a really good guide for someone who has just been diagnosed with celiac disease or is just starting a gluten-free diet, or even for those that have been on a gluten-free diet for a while but haven't completely mastered it yet. I am surprised I liked it so much. I may even start saying I am "G-Free!" Or maybe not.
I had no idea how many ways gluten could sneak into my food. This book really breaks down exactly how to determine what's safe to eat, what may be safe to eat, and what's definitely NOT safe to eat. Had I tried to go "gluten-free" without a guide like this, I would have failed (I thought Rice Krispies were gluten free.... 'cause they're rice, right? RIGHT? But no - they're rice + malt, and malt = gluten). And since I would have continued to experience digestive difficulties, I would have written off gluten as the trigger for my issues and been continually plagued by extreme digestive issues for who knows how many years.
I'm disappointed by the many negative reviews of this book that are critical of small details. I wish reviewers wouldn't rate a book 1 star for having a few errors or differing opinions. I wish they'd balance their opinions out - there are far, far, far more ACCURATE details in this book than INACCURATE ones. And this book is important as it brings a relatively unknown health condition to a wider audience than ever before, and a lot of people (myself included) can benefit SO MUCH from this. Should I base all my health decisions on this one book? Of course not!!! Shame on me if I didn't continue to learn from other sources. But it appears the author would concur as she includes quite a lengthy list of extremely helpful OTHER references and advises her readers to continually do their own homework on their gluten-free journey.
Say what you will about the author and her politics, but this book is a very good thing for a lot of people.
I almost want to apologize for giving her such a negative review the first time around: it's really difficult to include all the information that should be in a book for celiacs. That said, there is a lot of inaccurate information in this book--that part of my review stands.
However, even if you've been gluten-free a long time, you may not be really aware of how prevalent cross-contamination of food can make something that should be gluten-free into something really gluten-containing. If you can get this from a library, read the discussion on cross-contamination. It is one of the best I have seen.
Second Edit and Third Edits: Pack food if you're not able to buy it where you're going. She's right about that--you shouldn't risk being glutened if you can't buy your own food for some reason. (Keep a Kind Bar in your purse, briefcase or backpack.)
I am beginning to agree that you should probably use personal care items like shampoo and hand lotion that are gluten-free; it's not worth it to get glutened by shampoo or hand lotion. The megacorporation, Lever, is very careful about gluten; they own Suave, so their products are clearly labeled if they contain gluten ingredients. Also, cosmetics companies change their formulas frequently if their products are not sold as gluten-free, so it's probably safer to start out with things that are sold as gluten-free. (Walk into Trader Joe's or Whole Foods and ask for the gluten-free cosmetics.) Unfortunately, the new regulations have scared off some of the cheaper makeup lines; they won't admit that their products are gluten-free because they don't test for gluten.
Finally, Cheetos are gluten-free again, and say so on the package!
Having said that, here is my original review:
If you're newly diagnosed with celiac, you need some kind of web accessible-anywhere-device (like an i-phone) that will allow you to access gluten-free food lists online from anywhere. That is the easiest way to deal with it. (I've been gluten-free for ten years, and I'm sitting on a finished gluten-free cookbook while I rewrite.)
As to the book at hand--more than anything, what comes out in this book is extraordinary anxiety about food: any kind of food. The martians aren't reading the signals on your pointy head and then putting gluten in your food, o.k?
A lot of the book is devoted to rules about food that aren't needed. Any new celiac will become incredibly anxious if they read this book. Hasselback acts like having celiac is an incredibly big deal, and that everyone around you is watching what you are eating.
For example, Hasselbeck suggests that you swap your plate for someone else's to pretend you are eating something. In most instances, if you can actually see what you are eating--salad without croutons, vegetables, meat, it's safe to eat. True, there is always the possibility of cross-contamination where something wheat-based was fried on the same grill. However, it's unlikely most of the time. (I am very, very sensitive to gluten. Most other places where folks have fed me, I just avoid the white sauces, bread, and meat if I'm not sure about it, and fill up on vegetables, rice and wine. I never get sick, and I look ten years younger than I am.)
Hasselbeck also insists that you have to, "pack your food." Um, no. Got a vending machine? Peanut M&M's, Lays Potato Chips, Snickers bars, packages of peanuts and almonds, diet Coke, and you're good to go.
Someone trying to get you to eat something you can't? Say, "I'd love to, but I'd hate to puke on your pretty parquet floors." They laugh.
Beyond Hasselbeck's anxiety about food, a lot of the information in this book is wrong:
She says it's safe to eat oats. 25% of celiacs can't eat them, and unless the oats were grown in a gluten-free field, you can't be sure they are safe.
She says it's safe to eat cornmeal: only two major manufacturers in the United States make safe corn flour--Maseca and Publix. The rest is too contaminated for celiacs. (Bob's Red Mill is not gf, so much so that Whole Foods doesn't sell their flours as gf anymore.)
She says it's safe to eat tapioca flour: unless you can buy Ener-G or Now flours from a health food store, you're either going to pay $4.50 a lb plus shipping (Authentic Flours and their re-brands), buy online (Shiloh Farms), or it's not gluten-free.
She says to read manufacturer websites:
Manufacturers lie. (Whole Foods, which has a clue, has signs on their gluten-free products which say, "Gluten-free: manufacturer claim.")
General Mills, Bob's Red Mill, Arrowhead Mills, and others sell ostensibly gluten-free products, that aren't. If you are feeding a child small enough that they can't tell if food is making them sick, you're going to keep your kid sick by following this advice.
Read celiac websites instead. They can tell you if something is gluten-free.
She says it's safe to keep your pots and pans.
Steel and glass are fine. Cast iron, some tupperware, and pottery are porous. Oiled woks also keep particles of gluten. All of these keep particles of wheat products and will keep a celiac sick.
She also makes other comments like, "You can sweat out the gluten."
That's where I started laughing. If you are looking for alternative therapies that help celiacs, acupuncture is good for severe cases where there is liver and kidney failure.
There is a section on gluten-free beauty products. Unless you are unfortunate enough to have the skin version of celiac, and even then, there may be no reason to avoid gluten in topical beauty products like hand lotion. I've never heard that there was any absorption in the intestine from anything put on the skin. (Lipstick, though, should be gluten-free. You eat it, after all. Burt's Bees, Wet & Wild, NYX...and they're cheap.)
Finally, there is no mention of other food intolerances. 50% of celiacs are also lactose intolerant, and that has to be addressed in order to truly get better.
Get an i-phone and a membership to celiac websites and/or the Clan Thompson lists.
If you have the funds, Whole Foods can make your life a whole lot easier. If not, rice congee (Chinese rice porridge), skillet cornbread from masa harina, and various kinds of beans and vegetables can feed a celiac for very small amounts of money. Celiac is not that hard to deal with, and there is no reason to worry about it as much as Hasselbeck does.
Edit: One more thing? Going gluten free never made anyone skinny. No.
It wasn't until she was forced to live on little to no food while enduring through the grueling Survivor experience that she noticed something remarkable happen to her -- all the health ailments that usually plagued her day in and day out had vanished. As a result, Hasselbeck was able to identify that the culprit in her symptoms was dietary and more specifically found in the grains she was consuming as part of her regular menus. That's right, she had Celiac disease, an intolerance to just about anything containing gluten (barley, oats, wheat, and rye) and didn't even know it!
That's when she started learning about the gluten-free lifestyle to discover the weight loss and health benefits that come from eating that way for people like her with this condition. Like any effective lifestyle change, first you find out why it is important to make the changes, then you seek the best ways to integrate those into your life, and finally you keep doing them. That's what you get from Hasselbeck in this book as she shares the fruits of her research, lists of foods to avoid and embrace, recipes, shopping lists, eating at a restaurant, and living this way for the rest of your life. If you have Celiac disease, then this isn't an option if you want to get healthy and stay healthy!
It's not always been an easy road for Hasselbeck as she shares her moments of "self-sabotage" here and there. But you can tell the concept of going "G-Free" is certainly something that has worked for her and she's more than willing to share her knowledge with others to help them defeat their gluten bug, too! I can appreciate someone with the star quality of Elisabeth Hasselbeck bringing national attention to the dangers of consuming gluten and she makes a very compelling argument for avoiding foods with gluten in them for health, weight loss, and even to ward off autism in children. Fascinating!
My favorite part of this book is something very practical that is a brilliant way to help educate servers and cooks at restaurants to be sensitive to the needs of people with Celiac disease. While many national restaurant chains have a special gluten-free list of menu items for people to choose from upon request, Hasselbeck includes a tear-out "G-Free Dining Card" in the back of the book that explains why making sure the food served is gluten-free and it is done in a non-threatening yet educational manner that will hopefully encourage the people preparing food for you at a restaurant to be sensitive to your dietary needs. What a concept and I hope it catches on!
Kudos to Elisabeth Hasselbeck for using her celebrity to advocate on behalf of something so vitally important for the future of health in America and around the world. Whether people realize it or not, a whole lot more of us have some level of gluten-intolerance than we'd like to believe. And the sooner we start eating "G-Free" the better.
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