Gluten-free is still an alien concept to many people including myself. Aside from the obvious -there’s no gluten in the food, I found the whole thing baffling. What’s wrong with gluten in the first place? Without research, it would be convenient to assume that gluten-free is a diet trend for the health-conscious folks, like Atkins (no carbs) or Paleo (nothing processed). Then I later learned that some people do develop allergic reactions from gluten. The formal term is celiac disease -and from what I heard the reactions could be pretty nasty. Yet I meet people who do not have celiac disease and still follow a gluten-free diet. So what’s the deal?
Before I knew it, every grocery aisle I spot here in the Bay Area offers gluten-free products. Even traditionally gluten-free products tout that they do not have gluten (in case you forget!). Bloggers and cookbook authors proudly label and tag some of their recipes as “gluten-free” too (I gave in and found myself guilty as charged with my Pancit Palabok!). As icing on the cake, err, gluten-free cake, when I inquire at a restaurant about their vegan option, they answer “Yes, it’s vegan and gluten-free”, lumping both terms together as if all vegans avoid gluten like an animal product. With that last strand, I finally reached out to people who not only follow but also educate folks about the gluten-free lifestyle. One of these people is Jaq Abergas at Jertie’s Kitchen.
I met Jaq online (surprise, surprise), from the Facebook group, “Manila Vegans”. Yes, Manila. As in Manila, Philippines. As in she’s a gluten-free vegan Filipina in Manila who runs a gluten-free vegan business also in Manila -Philippines. A rare breed but she does exist! In fact, she’s not only existing, she’s thriving with her gluten-free lifestyle and business.
Jaq and her sister’s business, Jertie’s Kitchen, has been gluten-free for more than two years now. Jaq’s sister, Jertie, is gluten-intolerant. They decided to rebrand the business to cater to Jertie and to Jaq (vegan). It wasn’t until this year when Jaq finally accepted the fact that she’s also gluten-intolerant. She said when she finally adopted a gluten-free lifestyle, the bloating she had for months went away. The migraines went away. Most importantly, the gerd and acid attacks she has been constantly having went away. There were times when she wanted to not care and just eat all the bread, the pasta, and the turon and fried lumpia she wanted to eat. But then she would experience all those symptoms again plus more for days and it just wasn’t worth it. She realized going gluten-free has definitely helped her to be more productive and focused.
Not so long ago, she visited San Francisco and we both agreed to meet. My boyfriend and I took her to different vegan places in the Bay Area and throughout our trip, I learned so much from her. By the end of the day, we bid each other farewell and promised each other to keep in touch especially because I still want to learn more about her gluten-free lifestyle. Few days later, I emailed her interview questions and she happily answered them all despite her busy schedule. Below are her answers and her 5 tips on going gluten-free.
5 Things You Need to Know about Going Gluten-Free
by Jaq Abergas at Jertie’s Kitchen
1. Find out and confirm if indeed you develop reactions from gluten. If you don’t, going gluten-free is optional.
There are a lot of people now who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity. For them, they have no choice but to follow a 100% gluten-free diet since there really is no cure for these conditions. There are medicines that will help alleviate or delay the symptoms, but it won’t make the condition go away. If you don’t have these conditions, going gluten-free is always optional. I never recommend going gluten-free if you don’t need to. It’s easy to do it at home but a challenge when eating out or in social situations. Gluten is still good for a person’s system anyway, if they can digest it. So unless you need to follow it, don’t do it.
2. It’s best to stick to whole foods when planning gluten-free meals.
There’s really no magic trick to gluten-free meal planning. You just need to be aware of what you can and can’t have. It’s always best to stick to whole foods because that will always be gluten-free, like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. The items you’ll need to keep in mind are the sauces, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, vegan oyster sauce, barbecue sauce, and gravy, among others. There are gluten-free versions of this available in stores or you can actually make some of them for your own use, like gravy, barbecue sauce, and vegan oyster sauce. Other items to keep in mind are bread, and noodles but there are lots of gluten-free versions of this anyway, available at groceries, and health stores.
3. Do your homework before eating out.
Not everyone has to do this, but it does make my life easier: I bring my own bottle of liquid aminos in my bag, wherever I go. It helps a lot, especially when you just want to add more flavor to your food. You really need to know your food before you go out to eat. Which ones have gluten added? Which ones are naturally gluten-free? Which ones aren’t? Once you know that, eating out will be a breeze. For example, when eating at Thai restaurant, they use soy sauce heavily so you need to ask which dishes can be stir-fried with no soy sauce. When eating at a Mexican restaurant, are there rice bowls or can you order burritos naked?
You need to have a basic idea of which food items may or may have gluten. Do not assume a dish doesn’t have gluten. You always need to ask. It might be annoying to the server or your companions, but they’re not the ones who will suffer if you do ingest gluten. You will. So don’t be afraid to ask questions. In the US, most restaurants are aware of a gluten-free diet and will do their best to accommodate you. In the Philippines, most people still don’t know and you’ll have to be more patient explaining the lifestyle to them.
4. Basic whole foods won’t break your budget.
Go for the basics, which are whole foods. Steam your vegetables. Stir-fry in water and mix with spices or gluten-free sauces. Boil beans and serve it with whole grain rice. Most people think gluten-free is expensive because of the gluten-free food products available in stores. But those are processed foods. Gluten-free or not, they will always be more expensive than whole foods. So stick to the basics and you won’t break your budget.
5. Gluten-free baking is another kind of science.
Gluten-free baking is not just a matter of substituting the usual gluten-filled ingredients with gluten-free ones. There is still a lot of experiment involved with gluten-free baking. Baking is a science and gluten-free baking is quite frankly another kind of science. It’s quite fun though and such an amazing challenge to create delicious gluten-free versions of regular baked products. And once that challenge has been achieved, you won’t be able to get enough of it.
ABOUT JAQ ABERGAS:
Jaq Abergas is a committed and dedicated vegan who started adopting the lifestyle for health reasons and later on for animal rights and for the environment. She believes a vegan diet can help manage or reverse chronic diseases and medical condition, just like what happened with hers.
She is also ½ of the team behind Jertie’s Kitchen, a gluten-free/vegan food business she operates in Manila with her sister, Jertie. Together, they create gluten-free/vegan desserts, sauces, and meals, and they also teach gluten-free/vegan cooking workshops to show people this lifestyle can be easy and affordable to practice. They help other people cope with their different medical conditions with a gluten-free/vegan diet.
She is also the founder of Vegans of Manila, a community that started on Instagram and now on Facebook, which features vegan and non-vegan restaurants in Manila and how to order vegan dishes.
She is also part of Manila Vegans, a Facebook group that creates a supportive community of Manila-based and Manila-bound vegans and transitioning vegans. We share information about veganism and we help make it easy for people to live a compassionate lifestyle.
Vegans of Manila
Mamaring salamat, thank you very much Jaq, for dropping knowledge and explaining the concept of the gluten-free lifestyle. I have deeper understanding and respect for those who abide by it. I now understand that it’s not just a diet trend and not everyone should go gluten-free. Yet it’s best to check if one has symptoms of gluten intolerance. After all, health is wealth, and self-care is important. Kudos to you for staying strong and gluten-free in the Philippines. And kudos to all those who live a healthy lifestyle!