My day job is a food industry professional. Yeah, I work for one of those companies who pumps their products full of wholesome stuff life 'trimethyl amine', 'dodecalactone' and 'autolyzed yeast extract'. (You can judge, I won't mind.) Given my work-life, I tend to have a warped view of food - we put more stuff in our products so competitors can't figure out what our secrets are and reverse-engineer them for their own uses but I'm less and less comfortable with buying lots of processed foods. So when my niece started exhibiting some gluten-intolerance a few months ago; I was intrigued from an industry perspective and given that we are having a huge family reunion this year with other members who are gluten-intolerant, I decided last week to experiment with a gluten-free diet to 1) see what my family was dealing with and 2) what impact it would have on daily life. I didn't share what I was doing with anyone, maybe Dylan noticed it but maybe not and although a week isn't really long enough to draw any strong conclusions, I do have some observations to share.
Time. Planning gluten-free meals takes time. A lot of it. Because my plan was not to switch gluten-free products with regular ones but to see what other adjustments I would have to make. It required a lot of prep work to get fruits and vegetables cleaned and chopped, ready to add to salads or popped into a bag for a snack. It meant coming up with alternate breakfasts and lunches that wouldn't be complicated to prepare and as I've lived practically 40 years on a steady diet of cereal and PB&J sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, this flummoxed me. Pouring cereal in a bowl? Easy and thinking-free at 6 am. Slapping some peanut butter and jelly on a couple of slices of whole wheat bread? Piece of cake. But this experiment? It meant figuring out a new form of breakfast - obviously bagels were out as were pancakes and French toast. Eggs would be good but require too much time in the morning when I still had to make my lunch. So I ended up going with Greek yogurt and fruit. Three days I had a salad with strawberries, blueberries, Craisins, feta cheese, pecans, and grilled chicken which was delicious and incredibly filling. But still - so much prep work. (One day I didn't get to eat lunch (see: Revenge of the Giant Space Chicken) and the other was leftovers from the previous night's dinner.) I also ended up snacking on fruits and veggies with hummus and it was good but again, cutting up more each night when all I wanted to do was collapse on the couch and binge-watch Doctor Who.
Ease. For the most part, preparing dinner was easy as I kept it at a protein, a starch, and a vegetable. We ate a lot of potatoes and rice last week but it wasn't terribly far out of the ordinary. But it did remove two of the staples for the absolutely brain-dead days: pasta and pancakes. I could have scrambled myself some eggs to go with the bacon I suppose but that kind of defeats the purpose of not making multiple meals. They were simple but filling and I actually liked not having a lot of processed crap on my plate. Was it a placebo effect or smugness? I'm unsure but I liked the way it felt.
Cost. For a week, the costs of non-purchased gluten-free products and fresh fruits and vegetables seemed to pretty much cancel each other out so I don't think that I was spending anymore than usual but that was only for me - triple that for the kids and it may start to escalate out of comfortable reach. But I had to buy more chicken to grill for my salads then I usually would (only used the equivalent of half a breast on each one) and get the family sized packages of rice to ensure enough for leftovers. Same with any frozen veggies I steamed for dinner - cook more to have more leftovers leaving less for future meals. And when you are on a fairly tight budget, there are more pressing things that need attention.
The Intangibles. I alluded to this before but it's worth restating: I felt better eating 'cleaner' last week. Whether it was smugness from moving away from hyper-processed foods or the boost from getting more fruits and veggies in my body I don't know. All I know is that I did like it and as long as you have a budget and a plan, you can do it with very little difficulty. I didn't miss my morning cereal as much as I thought I would and the first sandwich I had on Saturday actually made me feel a bit bloated and crampy. Psychosomatic? Perhaps, but I also know that I wasn't as gassy (sorry but it's true: everybody farts). Of course this having been a holiday weekend that was all about the hamburgers and hot dogs means I'm feeling rather 'blargh' today but as soon as pay day rolls around again, I think I'm going to do this again.
After all, robust experiments require lots of trials. Because SCIENCE.