They Went Gluten-Free
The grain-based protein gluten has been tied to a gamut of ailments
that go far beyond the digestive system. Meet five people whose lives
improved tremendously after they gave gluten the boot.
By Linda Melone
Lind Allred, 56
Costa Mesa, California
Residential property consultant
For several years doctors told Lind Allred her stomach pain was likely due to irritable bowel syndrome or stress. “I’d never even heard the term ‘celiac disease,’” Allred says. When she ended up in the emergency room in extreme pain four years ago, doctors found her lipase count was “off the charts.” (High lipase counts can occur due to damage to the pancreas, kidney failure, peptic ulcers and more.) The doctors removed Allred’s gallbladder, believing it was the cause of the sky-high count, but her lipase count remained high. She spent a week in the hospital.
It wasn’t until six months later, after Allred’s health continued to deteriorate, that a doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles finally discovered the cause: Celiac disease, a condition caused by a reaction to consuming gluten, which damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients.
For Allred, starting a gluten-free diet cold turkey was a challenge. “I was a bread person, so the diagnosis was initially overwhelming,” says Allred. She then went into “research mode,” learning everything she could about living gluten-free. A salesperson, also on a gluten-free diet, at her local health food store guided Allred through her food options. She felt better after only 48 hours after cutting all sources of gluten out of her meals.
“I feel fabulous now,” Allred says. The availability of gluten-free foods made it easy to adjust; she even found a rice pasta tasty enough to fool her adult children into thinking it was regular wheat pasta. She also likes gluten-free bagel chips and pretzel chips, as well as biscuit and cake mixes made without the problematic protein. At restaurants she asks for a gluten-free menu or an allergy
list, which are available at most large restaurant chains.
“Even a couple of croutons will make me sick,” says Allred. “I know within an hour if I’ve eaten something wrong. Feeling better is my motivation to stick with a gluten-free diet.”
Karen Sammer, 55
Ringoes, New Jersey
Director of tax
audits and part-time certified holistic health coach
Three years ago, Karen Sammer was 150 pounds overweight when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. The diagnosis motivated her to take charge of her life. “I decided to get control by completely changing my lifestyle,” says Sammer. While undergoing chemotherapy, she stopped drinking all alcohol, cut her food intake (partly due to the effect of the chemo drugs) and lost 28 pounds. “Most people undergoing breast cancer treatment gain weight,” she says.
After finishing treatment, Sammer further revamped her diet by eliminating refined sugars and white bread, pasta and white potatoes, along with processed foods. Lastly she cut out meat, dairy and gluten.
Reading about the negative impact of gluten on the body and the increasing number of people with some level of gluten sensitivity motivated Sammer to eliminate it. She initially gave up gluten for Lent to see what the impact would be, she says. “I then decided to continue being gluten-free because I felt better not eating it.” As a result of all the changes, she lost 135 pounds. To keep her diet as clean as possible, Sammer avoids all sources of gluten and does not use gluten-free substitutes for foods that typically contain it.
Naturally gluten-free fruits and vegetables top her list of favorite foods, including a green smoothie she makes every morning made mostly of kale. “I feel amazing now,” she says. “If someone had told me three years ago that I would get excited over roasted vegetables I would have thought they were crazy.” With aches and pains gone and increased energy, Sammer says she’s never felt better. “I can think more clearly and my skin is much healthier.”
The experience inspired Sammer to become a certified holistic health coach. “I believe that no one needs to consume gluten,” Sammer says. “Our bodies don’t need it and in fact, I’m not sure we can even digest it properly. I am walking proof that anyone can improve their health through good nutrition.”
Hilary Kennedy, 33
TV host for a Dallas channel, D Living
Allergies, brain fog and fatigue sent Hilary Kennedy to several doctors to find out what was going on. All tests for celiac disease turned up negative. But nevertheless, Kennedy had a hunch that while she might not have celiac she might still be sensitive to gluten. (Gluten sensitivity refers to non-digestive symptoms triggered by gluten that, unlike celiac disease, do not damage the small intestine.)
“When I continued to eat gluten I kept feeling worse,” says Kennedy. “But as soon as I eliminated gluten I instantly felt 100%. Until I eliminated it, I had no idea how much damage gluten had been doing to my body and mind.”
Kennedy quit gluten cold turkey. “I figured I’d try it for six weeks,” she said. She employed a clean sweep of her kitchen, eliminated all gluten-containing foods and replaced all mixes with gluten-free versions. The latter was a tall order for her as she admits to eating wheat flour and sugar at every meal. “It’s particularly hard in group settings such as family gatherings and during company parties where nothing is gluten-free,” Kennedy says. “If I know ahead of time, I try to eat before I go or bring a gluten-free snack with me.”
Accidentally eating something with gluten—such as salad dressing or soy sauce—makes her face swell. “I instantly feel a difference and I have a hard time thinking clearly,” Kennedy says. Plus, as a TV show host, a puffy face isn’t easy to hide, she adds.
Kennedy has found several gluten-free favorite foods and enjoys rice bread for toast in the mornings and for sandwiches. Meat, fish, veggies and fruit and a gluten-free scone mix also rank among her favorite foods.
Overall, Kennedy says she feels 100% better since eliminating gluten. “I’m no longer foggy-headed, super-fatigued, bloated or sluggish. Wheat flour was making my life a wreck and exacerbating my seasonal allergies. Now I can live life feeling like I’m supposed to, instead of in a fog,” she says.
Joseph Dinolfo, 30
Long Island City, New York
Joseph Dinolfo battled his weight for much of his life, reaching 300 pounds by the time he was a high school senior. “I am one of those people who has tried every diet possible,” Dinolfo says. After a few years of fluctuating between 185 and 200 pounds, he tried several different approaches and made an effort to learn about the basic science behind the way various foods affect
the body, with the main emphasis on insulin, growth and fat storage.
The real eye-opener came when Dinolfo picked up a copy of Wheat Belly (Rodale) by William Davis, MD. The author’s description of some of the ailments associated with eating wheat, and the causes behind them, made Dinolfo realize he had similar issues, namely digestion problems, skin disorders and cravings. “So I decided to go wheat-free,” he says. “After about a week all of my health issues cleared up. I have since tripped up and consumed wheat products from time to time and whenever I do, the issues re-appear.”
As the primary cook and shopper in his household, Dinolfo describes his transition to gluten-free eating as relatively easy, although he had some difficulty with the psychological part. “Most people try to substitute gluten-free bread for wheat bread but I made the decision not to do that” and eliminated bread altogether, he says. He also found it challenging to see a dinner plate without grains as a “balanced meal,” after years of associating a balanced meal with a protein, vegetable and grain. “I eat rice and quinoa from time to time but that’s it in terms of grains,” Dinolfo says. “Now I fill my plate with meats and vegetables.” He lists his favorite foods as broiled rib-eye steak in coconut oil, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and shallots, avocado, broccoli, peanut butter, macadamia nuts and dark chocolate.
“Overall, I feel 100% better,” he says. “I no longer crave bread or anything like that. As a matter of fact, eating real food has made me prefer to eat real food, none of which is made from wheat products.”
Michael Wald, MD, 47
Mount Kisco, New York
When Michael Wald, MD, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 18, his father, a physician and nutritionist, immediately placed him on a gluten-free diet. Wald credits the diet for keeping him symptom-free since then and has never taken medication for MS. “Two neurologists confirmed the MS diagnosis,” he tells people who question the original finding. (MS occurs when the sheaths covering nerve cells become damaged, leading to symptoms such as balance problems and tremors.)
Wald’s father based the dietary changes on studies linking gluten to the inflammation of the central nervous system that characterizes MS, says Wald, whose sensitivity to gluten-related ailments enables him to spot them in his patients. He currently diagnoses an average of one person a month with celiac disease in his own holistic medicine practice. “Gluten is known to cause shrinkage of the brain and gait problems as well, and it’s known to trigger literally hundreds of diseases,” Wald says.
Wald does not recall having difficulty switching to a gluten-free diet all those years ago. “At the time I never even thought about diet. I was an athletic, scholarly kid. I missed pizza and a few other things but after a while didn’t matter. Today it’s second nature, just like exercising.”
Gluten-free restaurant dining presented more of a challenge in the past than it does now. “There’s always gluten-free grains,” Wald says. “There’s also fish and vegetables.” His favorite foods include fruit and vegetable smoothies (typically beets, carrots, celery and kale) in the morning, which he takes with organic supplements. Cheese, yogurt, eggs, tofu, rice pudding, corn tortillas, fish, some chicken (but no red meat), rice, buckwheat, sunflower seeds and gluten-free waffles also top his list of favorites.
As a result of cutting out gluten, Wald says he feels terrific. “I can outrun and outwork most anyone around me, I run marathons, do karate and can do anything I want to do.”