Gluten Free without Fuss: A Go-To Guide
Sarah Reid, RHNC
Have you ever toyed with the notion of going free? It seems like it’s become the new “fad diet” out there, and even given the restrictions that lifestyle entails, the shopping is easier than ever these days. What used to be relegated to the back corner of the health food store, and looked down on by the gastronomes of common society due to their poor taste and texture, gluten free products are now a dime a dozen (well, maybe $10 a dozen) in the local grocery. Breads, pastas, cookies and pizzas without a speck of this ingredient are now enjoyed by celiac sufferers and healthy people alike.
Most people are unaware of exactly gluten is and what it does, but all the same they want or need to eliminate it from their meal plans. Gluten forms the main protein component of many common grains: wheat, rye, barley, durum, semolina, and spelt; as well as many other, lesser-known grains like einkorn, graham, bulgur wheat, farro, Kamut, and triticale. This protein makes flours milled from them elastic and “sticky” – allowing for the texture and rise in common baked goods, the “springiness” of pasta dough and also forming the basis for many vegetarian meat analogues in the form of seitan or “wheat meat”.
The problem is that gluten is just that – a sticky protein. As a protein, it’s a high-allergy risk factor (people are more predisposed to developing antagonistic responses to proteins than sugars or other compounds), and it latches onto any surface it touches. Flours, malted grains (like beer, rye, Scotch and some vodkas), and malt vinegar all carry the substance. Even items with no obvious grain base like soy sauce, soup and stock, many artificial flavours (especially vanilla), tortilla chips, pre-formed and seasoned meats (like sausages, hot dogs and burgers), some seasoning blends and even vegan tofu and tempeh products can all be laced with gluten. While oats – as a pure and whole food – are actually gluten free, the milling and refining processes by most commercial suppliers usually contaminates the processing lines (and your quick-cooking oats) with this sticky protein.
So with all this fuss and bother, why is cutting out gluten suddenly all the rage? Well, part of the answer lies in the fact that there are more cases of gluten intolerance (which is not the same as a wheat allergy) and celiac disease being diagnosed in modern society. Thanks in part to a Western culinary history with a steady diet of bread, pasta, cookies and cakes, the modern (European-based) gut has become sensitized to the protein and the intestinal walls are changing shape, losing many of the absorbent villi and enzymes along the way. Without these “sponges” undigested proteins hit the bloodstream and are attacked by nature’s antibodies, and every time afterwards the target is on that protein’s back.
The other, less serious, reason “gluten-free” has become the latest “buzz” is because the common gluten-containing foods are refined carbohydrates that, coupled with a gastric system lacking sufficient “good” bacteria to digest the sugars, ferments in the intestines. The result? Bloating, gas, pain and a high risk of Candida infestation – which can cause or aggravate other allergic reactions such as skin rashes, swelling of the face and limbs, weight gain, hypertension and pain. The sensitivity to other possible allergens caused by a Candida imbalance heightens the risk of reacting to common proteins in the rest of the diet (including dairy, nuts, seeds, beef, chicken, soy and yes – wheat). Eliminating the Candida properly and completely will almost always exercise the associated symptoms as well, but it is a lengthy process and most busy individuals would rather pay to treat the immediate symptoms with a low-allergy food choice than embarking on a month-long detoxification program (especially now that options are so readily available).
|Brown Rice - A cheap, healthy GF staple|
Finally, be patient when it comes to incorporating the gluten free world into your life. While you may have to go “cold turkey” (as in the case of celiac disease), it can take up to two weeks for your tongue and body to readjust. The flavours, textures and nutritional profiles are all different, and it may be harder than you ever imagined at first – but the tough times will pass and within a month you’ll wonder why you were missing what made you feel so awful in the first place.
Food Lists (Allowed/ Questionable/Banned): http://www.mamashealth.com/diets/glufree.asp
Bob’s Red Mill: http://www.bobsredmill.com/
Bulk Barn: http://www.bulkbarn.ca/en-ca/index.html
Flying Apron's Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking Book: http://www.amazon.com/Flying-Aprons-Gluten-Free-Vegan-Baking/dp/1570616299
Gluten-Free on a Shoestring: 125 Easy Recipes for Eating Well on the Cheap: http://www.amazon.com/Gluten-Free-Shoestring-Recipes-Eating-Cheap/dp/073821423X
Gluten-Free Quick & Easy: From Prep to Plate Without the Fuss: http://www.amazon.com/Gluten-Free-Quick-Easy-Without-Sensitivities/dp/1583332782
Gluten-Free Goddess (Karina Allrich): http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/
Diet, Dessert and Dogs (Ricki Heller): http://www.dietdessertndogs.com/
Gluten-Free Girl (Shauna James Ahern): http://glutenfreegirl.com/
Canadian Celiac Association: http://www.celiac.ca/
Celiac Disease and Gluten-free Diet Information: http://www.celiac.com/