My gluten-free journey started over 20 years ago. It was not a journey I ever expected to make and I could never have anticipated just where this journey would take me.
Like a lot of people, I spent years trying to solve certain medical issues with no result. I suffered from migraine headaches – at the time of my gluten sensitivity diagnosis I was having one migraine a week, each one lasting three days.
I had seen doctors, chiropractors, nutritionists, and dieticians to try to find the cause of the headaches. With each new practitioner, my hopes would be lifted only to be dashed once again when nothing resulted in positive change.
A little over 20 years ago, I went to see a chiropractor who was new in town and was getting rave reviews from friends and associates of mine. I actually didn’t go to him for my headaches, as I had since given up on trying to find a solution for them. Rather, I went because my shoulder hurt. I had to fill out the standard medical history forms and when he read about my migraines, he said he thought he could help me. I was reluctant to hear what he had to say, as I didn’t want to be disappointed one more time. But he was genuine and sincere and for some reason I trusted him. So I agreed to give it a shot – I told him I would do everything he recommended and would “wait and see.”
After some testing, he told me I had to cut wheat out of my diet – you didn’t hear much about gluten back in those days. I was skeptical – how could something as seemingly innocuous as wheat be the cause of such pain and misery? But I followed his advice to go wheat-free and the results were shocking. After only two weeks, I had my first migraine-free week in years. After six weeks of a wheat-free diet I felt great, had more energy, and had a whole new lease on life. I wish that was the happy ending of the story, but unfortunately my journey was not free of stumbles.
Growing up, we had lived in Asia for a few years and I was particularly fond of Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese food. I started to notice that every time I ate food from an Asian restaurant I would get a headache. I thought maybe MSG was the reason. I started to make the Asian delicacies at home, without any MSG, but I still got headaches. This was both puzzling and disappointing. I had already given up bread and pasta, did I really have to give up all Asian food, too?
You need to remember, this was in the days before we were all on the internet and, unfortunately, information was not so easy to come by. Also, there was not a lot of attention on gluten-free back then. Somehow, I stumbled across some information of hidden sources of gluten. Imagine my shock when I saw soy sauce listed! It never occurred to me that wheat would be an ingredient in soy sauce. This was a real eye-opener. It was at this point I realized that education was my friend and I needed to learn as much as I could about where gluten could “hide.” I started to read the labels on all my condiments as well as any canned or processed food. I found out that even whole turkeys could be injected with gluten!
Back then, the quality of gluten-free products such as breads and pastas was not very good, so I learned to substitute naturally gluten-free ingredients for those that were typically gluten-filled. I could still eat my yummy Bolognese sauce, but instead of putting it on pasta I would eat it with brown rice. I used thinly sliced eggplant or zucchini in place of lasagna noodles. Lettuce leaves stood in for sandwich bread and buns. In sticking to a naturally gluten-free diet, I was eating much healthier than the average American. But I still missed a lot of my Asian-inspired dishes.
Somewhere along the line I discovered San-J Tamari. Not only is the Tamari gluten-free, but I also preferred the taste to regular soy sauce; it is not as sharp, and is much richer and smoother. And as it turns out, Tamari (made without wheat like “regular” soy sauce) was actually the original. It wasn’t until soy sauce started to be commercially manufactured that the introduction of wheat came about.
I have always loved good food and dining out, and a gluten-free diagnosis is no reason why I should ever have to give up these things. Of course, education and preparation are key to staying healthy. A well-stocked pantry makes cooking at home easy and quick; I always have gluten-free cooking sauces on hand so I can whip up tasty meals in no time.
As a sushi lover, I keep a box of the San-J Tamari travel packs in the glove box of my car for when I am out and about and get hit with a sushi craving. My favorite local sushi spot even keeps a bottle of San-J Tamari in the kitchen for me, as does the only Chinese restaurant in my town that I frequent.
Committing to a gluten-free diet has changed my life for the better in so many ways. Today I have more energy than I did 20 years ago. I no longer suffer from weekly migraines, my joints don’t hurt, and I can live my life fully.
When people ask me if I miss gluten, the answer is a resounding “NO!” After all, who misses migraines?
The following is a recipe that illustrates the way I love to eat these days.
Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork with Pickled Vegetables in Lettuce Cups
For the Pork:
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (also called Boston butt)
1 cup water
½ cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons San-J Tamari
2 tablespoons chili garlic paste
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
Juice of 2 limes
4-6 tablespoons San-J Asian BBQ Sauce
For the Pickled Vegetables:
1 seedless cucumber
½ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
Boston lettuce leaves
Spray the insert of a slow cooker with gluten-free nonstick cooking spray. Place the pork inside the slow cooker.
Whisk together the water, brown sugar, tamari, chili garlic paste, ginger, pepper, salt, and lime juice. Pour over the pork and cook on low for 12-14 hours (or on high for 8-9 hours) or until the pork falls apart easily. Take the pork out of the cooking liquid, place in a large mixing bowl, and shred with two forks. Pour 4 tablespoons of the Asian BBQ sauce over the meat and toss to coat. Add more BBQ sauce, if needed.
Using a vegetable peeler, slice the carrots and cucumber into thin strips. In a small mixing bowl, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add the vegetables and let it sit at room temperature for up to 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
Serve the pork in lettuce cups, topped with the pickled vegetables, sesame seeds, and cilantro leaves, if desired.