Going gluten free is something many of us have tried as part of the healing journey. For some, it’s a literal lifesaver and going gluten free turns out to be the most important thing they can do to treat autoimmunity. For others, going gluten free minimizes some Hashimoto’s symptoms. And for a few, going gluten free has very little impact. Everybody’s Hashimoto’s journey is different, but you will frequently hear us suggesting going gluten free as a first step toward wellness. Is it easy? Nope! And that’s where our next webinar host, Jennifer Fugo, founder of Gluten Free School, comes in! She’s created a host of resources – like this guide to making your kitchen 100% gluten free – to help anyone who wants to try the gf life succeed!
We’re very excited to feature Jennifer as our September webinar host. RSVP here! Until then, we hope you enjoy this Q&A with Jennifer – she talks about her own journey, where gluten is hiding, and what people get wrong about going gluten free.
1. How did Gluten Free School come to be?
My journey began as an Italian pasta and bread lovin’ 20-something. But I just didn’t feel right and, at times, I really felt utterly awful in ways I couldn’t quite describe.
I had chronic fatigue even though I slept 11 hrs the night before, circular red itchy rashes on my arms and legs, chronic diarrhea, really stinky gas, puffiness throughout my body and face, constantly getting sick, serious brain fog, and had gained nearly 20 lbs. And yet my doctors were puzzled. My labs looked completely normal. Since they couldn’t figure out what was wrong, some thought that it was all in my head.
Eventually, I found someone who believed that there was a problem and my life changed. That’s when I was diagnosed with moderate and severe food sensitivities to gluten, casein, and eggs along with the entire cashew family (pistachios, mangos, and cashews) and the cruciferous family. So my list of foods to avoid was pretty large.
At the time in early 2008, my nutritionist gave me 3 websites and said, “good luck, I’ll see you in 8 weeks.” I was rather panicked because I didn’t really cook. So my journey began from having to basically figure this all out for myself.
Things have changed a lot in the past 10 years but, to be honest, it’s still a real landmine field. A lot of information you can easily find on the web isn’t accurate or current. And in many ways, the diet and the approach to cooking is too complicated. Being social is a serious challenge because people become afraid to eat out, invitations stop being extended, and you begin to feel incredibly alienated.
I wanted to turn my personal journey into something truly positive. That’s why I started Gluten Free School in 2011 after getting feedback from numerous clients and local doctors that I had “a gift” at making the transition to gluten-free clear and easy. I realized by focusing what I offered entirely online, it gave women (and some wonderful men) the opportunity no matter where they lived in the world to get their hands on this content.
And then I became a clinical nutritionist to continue my deep commitment to helping women solve the bigger health puzzles that keep them from thriving and getting back to a much more “normal” life.
2. What kinds of products contain hidden gluten and why is it important to know about them?
Packaged foods, condiments, tea, decaf coffee, foods stored in bulk bins, beans, all sorts of grains, make up including lipsticks, pet food & treats, cat litter, supplements, medication, body care products (like lotions, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, sunscreen), beer, pastas, breads, couscous, play dough…
And this is just a general list.
The reason you need to know where gluten hides is because your exposure to it is cumulative. A single exposure can trigger a reaction that lasts for days if not months. So you can’t be careless here since gluten has the “superpower” of increasing the permeability in your gut so that partially undigested food proteins, toxins, and bacteria/parasites/fungus can continue to trigger and stimulate the immune system.
That’s why the removal of gluten is a crucial first step in the functional approach to triumphing over Hashimoto’s!
3. Why is gluten so pervasive in our lives these days? Was it always?
To be honest, there are things about it that make it an extremely desirable ingredient for the food, supplement, medication, and body care industry. Wheat, barley, and rye all have certain nutritional properties to them and I don’t believe that any are inherently bad or evil. There’s a danger in demonizing any food because doing so can lead to dysfunctional relationships with your diet.
Gluten has certain properties itself that makes it valuable. It’s a gooey protein that gives bread its squishiness. It helps hold things together as a binder, and in some respects, the spots it can show up are in places where food companies may try to cut corners. One spot is in grain-based vinegars which are cheaper than rice vinegar (that’s traditionally used in Japanese food).
I think the bigger issues here is that you’ve got to be careful about the products you choose and how you obtain information about them so that you know they are safe. Don’t forget that gluten can become airborne which is a concern in food production facilities. Or that machinery used to make your lipstick isn’t cleaned well between runs leaving it and all subsequent products run on those lines contaminated.
4. What are some misconceptions people have about going gluten free? How do you answer them?
“I can’t go out anymore and have dinner with my friends.”
Not true. There are plenty of restaurants out there that cater to people with different food allergies and food sensitivities. What really matters is learning how to research the restaurant, what questions to ask, how to take to the waitstaff, and how to spot red flags. It’s really more a matter of relearning “how to ride a bike.” Yes, it will feel awkward for some time, but with practice, you’ll be able to go out again.
“I can’t travel anywhere. It will be too hard.”
False. I just got back from Italy in April which is the pasta and bread capital of the world. They do gluten-free WAY better than us in the US. Ireland is also very gluten-free friendly. I had great lunch in Toronto last year as well. I also completed a book tour at many US cities back in 2015 and never had a problem. Sure, there are going to be some places that are more difficult than others, but that shouldn’t deter you from traveling.
“I’ll have to cook two different meals.”
Nope, that’s not true either. The reality of it is that you’ll have better luck cooking foods that happen to be gluten-free rather than trying to serve gluten-free products as an alternative. They don’t generally taste identical (though some have come pretty close to wheat-based products). But you’ve got to talk with your family (and at times lay down the law as the cook) about what changes will happen. Get their feedback on meals they’d like to have during the week so they aren’t seeing food that’s all totally new or different.
5. If someone wants to go gluten free but is having trouble giving up their favorite things, what would you tell them?
It’s pretty much a given that anything can be made gluten-free at this point. Either there is a product you can buy or a way to make it yourself. So this is not a legit excuse anymore. If you really can’t live without this ONE thing, then let’s look for a suitable gluten-free alternative.