Food for ThoughtJune/July 2010 Issue

Unexpected Grace: A Gluten-Free Story

Unexpected Grace: Being Healthy

A few short months ago, I was in the living-without groove. My cabinets were full, my kitchen equipped. Family and friends craved my Tinkyada Bolognese and rosemary Chebe sticks. That restaurant in Napa where the waiter, a celiac, had just read The Gluten-Free Bible was the icing on the cake. Life was good.

Then they cracked open my husband like a lobster.

Overnight, Chez Lowell became ground zero for no salt, no fat, no cholesterol, no sugar (mother of all restrictions!)—the post-bypass diet. The days of muffins as big as taxicabs are gone, as is the stash of cigarettes in the flowerpot. In the blink of an eye, my husband and I learned to hunt down every scintilla of sodium (think anything frozen or in a can) and memorize high fructose corn syrup’s many aliases.

Banished are fats—trans and saturated. Egg-white omelets rule, as does Mrs. Dash and downsized portions of grilled fish and chicken. Hummus stands in for mayonnaise on sandwiches. Tofu “egg salad,” not hamburger, packs a protein wallop. Beans, soaked overnight or rinsed of any salt, and brown rice combine for a cholesterol-free alternative to red meat. Organic greens, the darker the better, bursting with potassium and lightly steamed, are now part of each meal. And it’s all gluten free, so I don’t have to cook twice.

My antidote to bland? Slather everything in mustard, balsamic vinegar, lots of fresh herbs and a bit of olive oil to get that HDL back up.

In the bright light of this emergency, I think about how we sometimes forget that unhealthy fat is unhealthy fat and that white flour and sugar are just as empty even if they are gluten- or lactose- or nut-free.

I consider the miracle of a beating heart, breath and movement. Meals that nourish body and spirit, that sustain and give life. I see the proof in my husband’s steady recovery, his newly lean body (down 25 pounds and counting)—and I weigh my own choices. It won’t be easy to swim against the current of food as recreation or navigate the social eating we once enjoyed with friends. New pleasures will replace the old.

As my husband and I give thanks for the surgery that gave his heart new circulation and allowed us to go on being two, we know nothing is free. Even new arteries can narrow. We learn the difference between living to eat and eating to live.

There is a new intention in our kitchen, conscious and calming. What breaks the heart opens it wider.

Jax Lowell, author of The Gluten-Free Bible and No More Cupcakes and Tummy Aches, has had celiac disease for over 20 years. Her memoir, An Early Winter, is forthcoming. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband.

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