My Journey to Eating Gluten-Free

 

I’m a foodie, plain and simple: someone who strongly believes that eating is one of life’s great pleasures. But I’m also committed to eating food that is nutritious. I expect my diet to keep me healthy and provide me with the energy and enthusiasm I need to enjoy my life and accomplish my daily objectives. That’s why I avoid processed foods. They are high in calories, low in nutrients and are likely to contain ingredients that have been shown to have negative effects on your health.

I like to know where my food comes from, where and how it is grown, harvested and produced.  That’s one reason why  I like to eat a lot of whole grains.  Another is that they are very, very good for you. Eating whole grains has been associated with many health benefits. In fact, I’m such a fan of whole grains that in 2008 I published a book on the subject (The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook: 150 Recipes for Healthy Living).

I used to eat a fair bit of whole grain wheat, in various forms like farro and spelt.  I won’t bore you with the details, but over a period of time, I began to suspect that I had a problem digesting gluten.  I often felt lethargic and bloated and my stomach was easily upset. My favorite pair of jeans was banished to the back of my closet because I knew wearing them would make me uncomfortable. Through a process of trial, error and self-education, I came to the conclusion that I (like a surprising number of people I know) had a problem digesting wheat. I won’t say it was easy to wean myself from this ubiquitous grain but within four months of eliminating wheat from my diet, I had lost five pounds and felt more energetic. My heart, which was prone to bouts of irregular beats, settled right down. My stomach wasn’t as easily upset and, once again, my beloved jeans became part of my life. It was hard to believe, but eliminating wheat from my diet transformed my life.

What is Gluten and Why Does it Matter?

Gluten is a kind of protein found in wheat and its many relatives, including barley and rye. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye and obviously contains gluten, as do “ancient” forms of wheat such as Kamut, emmer (also known as farro), spelt and products made from wheat, such as bulgur and couscous. Some people with wheat sensitivity are unable to digest “conventional” wheat, but can comfortably consume other grains that contain gluten, including older forms of wheat, like emmer and spelt. Others, such as those with celiac disease, which is a  serious health problem, cannot tolerate gluten at all.

Whether you are celiac or merely sensitive to gluten, in today’s world, avoiding gluten is a major challenge. Hidden gluten appears in a startling number of food products, from breakfast cereals to deli meats to sauces. Manufacturers often add ingredients that contain gluten (such as dextrimaltose,which is made from barley malt, and brewer’s yeast, a fungus typically grown on barley) to prepared foods. It is very difficult to avoid hidden gluten at fast food chains, although some now advertise gluten-free options. Dining at restaurants can be challenging but over time it has become easier as more and more people are eating gluten-free.

Be Cautious of  Gluten-Free Options

 In the process of exploring the ins-and-outs of eating gluten-free, I made another interesting discovery: many foods and recipes that addresst he needs of people who have problems digesting gluten did not meet generally accepted standards of healthy eating.  In the process of avoiding gluten many people were making very poor food choices. A steady diet of white rice and refined starches, such as cornstarch, which often substitute for wheat flour, is not nutritious. Gluten-free products are often made with refined grains, which are low in nutrients. Consider, for instance, that compared to whole grain brown rice, white rice provides about half the amount of iron and potassium, about 25 percent less zinc and almost 75 percent less magnesium. Studies have shown that gluten-free diets that are not well planned can be deficient in a number of valuable nutrients, including fiber, iron and certain B vitamins..   

Gluten-Free: Delicious and Nutritious

In the past, baked goods suitable for people with gluten intolerance or sensitivity were usually made with significant amounts of highly refined ingredients such as white rice flour, tapioca flour and cornstarch.  Fortunately this is gradually changing because such ingredients are energy dense (high in calories) but low in nutrients. Flours made from whole grains like sorghum, brown rice and buckwheat are far more nutritious because they contain all parts of the grain. I speak from experience when I say that baked goods made with whole-grain flours can be as delicious as those made from wheat.

There is absolutely no reason why eating gluten-free means consuming fewer nutrients. Quite the contrary, in fact.  Gluten is found in some grains and specific products derived from those grains which are used in processed foods.  By eliminating processed foods from your diet you’ve taken a big step forward in terms of eating healthier. And, it doesn’t mean that you need to eliminate healthy whole grains from your diet. There are many delicious gluten-free whole grains. Some are more common — quinoa and wild rice, for example — while others such as amaranth and teff are less familiar. All contain a wide range of health-promoting nutrients and are delicious.

 

     Gluten-free grains

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Oats (see xx)
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Teff
  • Wild Rice

If you’ve become accustomed to the bland (in my opinion cardboardy) flavor of refined grains, you may find that the robust tasteof whole grains takes a bit of  getting used to. Their flavors vary from earthy and slightly grassy to nutty and sweet.  Try experimenting to find a few you like — quinoa and millet are particularly mild with a very pleasing, almost sprightly texture — and build upon expanding your repertoire over time. Whole grain sare appetizing on their own, marry well with a wide variety of seasonings and add taste and texture to any dish.

There are many recipes using gluten-free whole grains on my site and I hope you will give them a try. Once you begin to enjoy eating gluten-free whole grains on a regular basis, I’m convinced you will become a convert to this nutritious way of eating.

            — Adapted from The Complete Gluten-Free Whole Grains Cookbook by Judith Finlayson

Posted in Gluten-Free.

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