Is gluten free eating healthy for everyone?

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There’s gluten free this and gluten free that in the grocery store….cookies, breads, muffins, pasta, cereals, cakes….is it any better for you?

That’s a valid question that a lot of people wonder about.  Generally hot nutrition topics are met with a variety of emotions in the public ranging from fanatical advocates to those aggressively opposed…everywhere you look on the internet will tell you something different!

What do dietitians think?  We base our opinions on facts.  So let’s look at some!

1. First of all, some people legitimately NEED to avoid gluten because they have

a) celiac disease

b) wheat allergy

c) an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten

Gluten itself isn’t a bad thing for the rest of the population.

2.  What is exactly is gluten and how do they make something “gluten free”?

Gluten itself is a protein that is found in different grains including wheat, rye, triticale, barley and their derivatives (like barley malt flavouring, soy sauce, etc). When they make a gluten free product such as bread, they are substituting different gluten free grains for the typical wheat ingredients. Usually things like rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, etc.  More processed versions of these flours need to be used to make a palatable and less dense imitation baked product…making it less nutritious.

Also problematic is that conventional wheat flour is fortified with vitamins and minerals as a population health approach to prevent disease.  While some gluten free flours can be purchased fortified, mostly they are not.  Therefore I always encourage those eating gluten free to see foods like GF bread, pasta, cereal as a SUBSTITUTE not a STAPLE. They are a fantastic convenience to have around but should not make up a large part of the diet.

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3. There are a lot of naturally gluten free foods!  Everyone eats them and they are highly nutritious! These include vegetables, fruits, potatoes, beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat, milk and milk alternatives, quinoa and gluten free grains like whole grain rice, wild rice, millet and corn.

4. As dietitians we teach people to be intuitive eaters. Eat a greasy meal or a bunch of sugar and how do you feel? Probably pretty crappy. Some people eat gluten containing foods and feel crappy too. Why is this? Research is linking the types of carbohydrates in gluten containing foods (as well as certain fruits, vegetables, beans and milk products) with irritable bowel symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation and stomach pain.  Other body symptoms include a “foggy mind”, headache, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, leg or arm numbness, dermatitis (eczema or skin rash), depression, and anemia.  The reason for those symptoms is still a topic of debate but may have an inflammatory cause in some people.

I used to be a skeptical dietitian about how gluten could make you feel “bad” until my husband was diagnosed with celiac disease last year and we needed to cut gluten out of our household. I began to notice how much better my stomach was feeling, how much clearer my mind was and other symptoms that I didn’t even know I had started to improve!  It was such a dramatic change that I went to get screened for celiac disease (negatively)…and my symptoms have resolved since removing gluten from my diet again.  Therefore I fit the criteria for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. 

Meaning – if you have symptoms while eating gluten that resolve when you remove it from your diet AND you screen negative for celiac disease, it’s called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).    The symptoms are very similar however there is no intestinal damage or malabsorption in NCGS as seen with celiac.

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5. If you cut out gluten and start to feel better, get tested. I really can’t over emphasize the importance of getting screened for celiac disease if you notice an improvement in your symptoms on a gluten free diet.  The catch with the testing is that you have to be EATING GLUTEN (a significant amount, equivalent of ~4 slices of bread everyday, for 4-6 weeks) in order to have a positive test result if you have celiac disease.

Being properly screen for and/or diagnosed with celiac disease is important because…

a) It ensures your symptoms are not another medical condition (like inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, allergy or another autoimmune disorder)

b) You get the appropriate follow-up from a gastroenterologist (ensures your nutritional markers, liver enzymes, other blood levels and bone density is normal)

c) Makes you take gluten free eating very seriously.  It makes the difference between avoiding gluten MOST of the time and being as careful as you need to be with cross contamination at home and eating out.  There is no treatment (at this time) for celiac disease other than strictly avoiding gluten for the rest of your life.

d) Minimizes risk of celiac disease complications such as osteoporosis, small bowel cancer and other autoimmune diseases if you are strictly following the diet

e) To make sure you family members get screened!  There is up to a 20% chance a first degree relative also has celiac disease!

f) You get a tax break! (In Canada)

 

Bottom line? Gluten free processed foods, like bread and cake, aren’t any healthier for you than conventional ones unless you need to eliminate gluten from your diet.  If you think you have a gluten issue….talk to your doctor about getting tested! 

 

Amy

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Katy Perry Pizza

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Amy:

I’m a big Katy Perry fan.  One of the highlights of my summer was being able to see her in concert!  During her show she did a skit about her garden that she has in California and how it can grow all year round.  In her garden she likes to grow kale, sugar snap peas, chives and some other things.  Katy also told us that she is gluten intolerant and proceeded to give away a pizza that magically appeared on stage to a lucky member of the audience (a 12 year old boy)!  So my husband came up with the idea that I should make a Katy Perry pizza with her garden ingredients and a gluten free crust.  I’m not sure if she is lactose intolerant so I left off the cheese 🙂 but that’s optional.

Ingredients:

– One ingredient pizza crust (recipe here)

– Pre-steamed kale

– 1/2 cup sugar snap peas, chopped in large pieces

– A few sprigs of fresh chives or green onions, minced

– Cherry tomatoes, halved

– Basil leaves, chopped

– Minced garlic or a sprinkle of garlic powder

– Pizza sauce

– Cheese if desired or a dairy free alternative.  I used my vegan parmesan cheese!

Directions:

1. Prepare crust as per instructions.

2. While it’s baking prep ingredients.  Cut up the pre-steamed kale, peas, chives and tomatoes, shred cheese if using.

3. Pull out pizza crust when done.  Spread on sauce.  Distribute the vegetables overtop and bake in the oven until crisp, hot and browned!

One ingredient pizza crust! (Gluten, egg and grain-free)

 

20140922_175204Amy:

I hate baking now that we’re eating gluten free.  There. I admit it. I used to like it when it was easy to do with wheat flour….versatile, forgiving and you always had the ingredients in the pantry and could easily get them on sale at any grocery store.

Now?  I struggle to find a reputable and safe supplier of non-contaminated flours, pay a premium for them, am annoyed by the amount of measuring of random flours I have to use to replace wheat flour, am un-satisfied the majority of the time with the end product (tastes off, burns in the pan, has a weird texture) and I know that it’s nutritionally inferior thanks to the need to add isolated “starches” like corn, tapioca or potato starch to make it lighter.  That’s my gluten free baking vent…..

Instead I try to find alternatives that use foods naturally gluten free.  You’ve probably noticed my trend towards raw baking using things like nuts, seeds, dried fruits, coconut oil to make delightful and natural desserts that aren’t “imitations” or “substitutes” of the real thing.  I know the ingredients are mostly unprocessed and feel better putting those whole foods into our bodies.

I’ve been on the look-out for a looooong time for a normal tasting pizza crust recipe that doesn’t involve 57 different types of gluten free flours.  This one has literally ONE INGREDIENT!  Unless you count water….then it’s two.  Even for the people eating gluten, it’s a super simple, fuss free recipe that tastes surprisingly good.  The trick?  Quinoa!  Quinoa (actually classified as a seed) is definitely a superfood that invaded the food markets over the past 5-10 years.  What’s cool about it is that it’s a complete and good protein source!  Normal grains have an incomplete profile of amino acids (building blocks of proteins) and are low in protein.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups of quinoa, soaked overnight in water

3/4 cup water (or a little more if needed)

Oil for the pan

Directions:

1. Soak the quinoa overnight in a covered container.  Rinse when you are ready to make the pizza.

2. Add drained quinoa and 3/4 cups of fresh water to the blender.

3. Blend for about 3-4 minutes or until the mixture is well blended.  It should look like thick pancake batter.

4. Heat oven to 425F.  Cut out parchment paper to fit into the bottom of the pan or pans you will be using for the pizza crust.  The original recipe called for 2 X 9 inch round cake pans.  I used a large ~40cm diameter pizza pan. Brush the paper with oil to coat it well.

5. Pour quinoa batter onto the parchment paper lined pan and smooth out evenly.

6. Bake in the oven for ~20-25 minutes or until browned on the bottom for optimal flavour and crispness.  Remove from the oven and flip over.  Add desired toppings now and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or as needed until browned and baked.

Slice and enjoy! 🙂

Easy Baked Carrot Cake Oatmeal! (GF and vegan)

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Amy:

Well I’m full steam ahead into autumn mode.  That means as I type this there is a lovely pumpkin baking in my oven and I have several recipes I’m going to try to make with that pumpkin….can’t wait!  This morning called for something hearty and autumn-y….this fit the bill!  I got it off of one of my favourite blogs Oh She Glows. I didn’t change anything to the recipe except use different milk and I used sunflower seeds instead of walnuts (both are good I’m sure!).

http://ohsheglows.com/2014/03/19/heavenly-carrot-cake-baked-oatmeal/

Feeds 6 people

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups rolled oats, certified gluten-free if necessary
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups lightly packed shredded carrots
  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened milk of your choice (I used 1 can of full fat stuff from the can and then topped it up with the refrigerator/beverage kind of coconut milk but you can use whatever you like!)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (or try ½ tsp ground ginger)
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (or walnuts)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and lightly grease a 10-cup casserole dish. I used an 8″ x 11″ rectangular casserole dish.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the rolled oats, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: shredded carrot, coconut milk, maple syrup, vanilla, and fresh ginger.
  4. Add the wet mixture to dry mixture and stir until combined.  *If you are using regular rolled oats instead of the quick cooking variety….I would recommend that you let it soak for 30-60 minutes or overnight.  That way it’s nice and soft!
  5. Pour mixture into prepared dish and smooth out with a spoon. Press down on the oatmeal with a spoon (or your hands) so the oats sink into the milk. Sprinkle on the seeds or walnuts and raisins and press down lightly again.
  6. Bake, uncovered, for 32-37 minutes (I baked for 35 mins.) until lightly golden along edge. The oatmeal will still look a bit soft or wet in some spots when it comes out of the oven, but it will firm up as it cools.
  7. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with a drizzle of maple syrup, or some dairy or non-dairy yogurt. When the baked oatmeal is fully cool, it will firm up enough to be sliced into squares.
  8. Enjoy it warm, at room temp, or chilled straight from the fridge.

Autumn Zucchini Parmesan

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Pardon the picture I was too busy eating it to take a good one…..

My friend Julie introduced me to this delightfully simple recipe that is full of natural vegetable flavours.  Apparently this was a staple in her household growing up and I can see why – it’s nice use of garden veggies!  Julie and I made this while traveling to the beautiful Queen Charlotte Islands (off the West Coast of BC) and got all of the ingredients from the farmers market!  Lovely!

This is a nice recipe for autumn because you can often find people begging you to take their leftover garden tomatoes and zucchini! This recipe can be made on the BBQ on a hot day or in the oven on a cold day.

Ingredients: (This makes 4 hearty servings, it can easily be doubled to serve a crowd)

– 3 large very ripe tomatoes or 1 large can of crushed tomatoes

– 1 large onion or 2 medium sized ones, chopped

– 1 tbsp olive oil

– 3 medium sized zucchini, sliced length-wise to about 1 cm

– 1 head of garlic (yup the whole head or at least 5-6 cloves), minced

– About 2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

– Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, heat oil and then add the onions, garlic and tomatoes.  Simmer for about 5-8 minutes or until hot.

2. While those are cooking, slice zucchini into “lasagna” style noodles (length-wise).  Shred cheese.

3. In a large lasagna pan (i.e. – 9X13 pan or larger) or a tinfoil roasting pan for the BBQ, place 1/3 of the tomato/onion mixture and spread around.  Add half of the sliced zucchini to cover the tomatoes.

4. Add another 1/3 of the tomatoes, spread around.  Add the remaining zucchini.  Add the remaining tomatoes.  Sprinkle the cheese over top.

5. Preheat oven or BBQ to 375F.  Bake covered with tinfoil for about 60-75 minutes or until the zucchini is tender (the thicker the slices, the longer it will take).

Serve with thick slices of gf grainy bread, pasta or rice.  I’ve tried it all three ways and it’s delicious 🙂  Sprinkle a little S&P over top if desired.

Dairy Free Parmesan “Cheese”

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Oh…it’s exists alright!  And you can zip it up in about 1 minute in your food processor!

Ever heard of nutritional yeast?  Yah I know.  I thought the same thing when I first heard the name…sounds odd.  It’s one of those foods that you kind of have to “sneak up on”.  It’s actually quite a popular food product among those eating a vegan diet because it’s a good source of B-vitamins as well as fortified with vitamin B12 (which is only found naturally in animal products).  B12 is important for keeping your blood healthy and strong!  It ensures you have synthesized enough red blood cells to give your body oxygen for it to do it’s thang!

Science lesson aside….what do you DO with it?  First of all, look for it at a health food store or bulk store.  It’s often used as a cheese substitute, often as an ingredient in a recipe to give it a rich and “cheesy” flavour.  It can also be sprinkled over popcorn, melted on top of a savoury dish like pasta, or be used to make some dairy free parmesan cheese!  Great for those with a milk allergy or intolerance.

Ingredients:

– 1 cup raw cashews

– 1/4 cup nutritional yeast

– 1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Blend ingredients together in a food processor until powdery like parmesan cheese.

2. Sprinkle as you would use parmesan!

Note this will not “melt” like it normal parmesan would but still gives a nice flavour 🙂  Enjoy!

Green Tomato Relish

Tabitha: right now we are harvesting our greenhouse plot at the Inuvik Greenhouse and sadly the season wasn’t long or hot enough to produce ripe red tomatoes. Fortunately I stumbled across this recipe for green tomato relish. It’s naturally sweet and has a nice kick from the jalapeños. If you want it less spicy, use less of the peppers. I like how this recipe uses no sugar!

The instructions in the blog post where I got this recipe describes how to make this beautifully. See her descriptions here: http://farmgirlfarerecipes.blogspot.ca/2011/09/farmgirl-susans-no-sugar-green-tomato.html

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Rice Paper “Perogies”

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One of the gaps in gluten-free eating is perogies….especially when both of us come from Ukrainian/Eastern European backgrounds!  Fortunately there are a lot of creative people on the internet and I came across this recipe idea.  It’s simple and easy….and doesn’t involve rolling out dough?!  I’m game!  They turned out pretty good, a substitute for perogies (although not the dough-y goodness) is better than none at all.  Make sure the filling is very flavourful as the rice papers have no taste.  Serve with sour cream or try my vegan sour cream 🙂

I found this idea on one of the blogs that I follow http://officiallyglutenfree.com/2014/04/30/sausage-and-sauerkraut-spring-rolls/

Ingredients

Rice Paper, hydrated and blotted dry

Filling options:

Mashed potatoes mixed with butter and seasonings/cheese or other flavourings you like!

Sauteed sauerkraut and onion (even adding some italian sausage would be delicious I’m sure)

1 – 2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Directions

1. Prepare your desired fillings.  In a large pan, fry the sauerkraut and onion until dry and browned.  Boil and mash potatoes, add flavourings. Allow to cool a little.

2. Pre Heat oven to 425 F.

3. Fill a bowl or baking sheet with water. Let the rice paper soak, a few at a time. Once the rice paper is soft enough, place onto the counter. Put 3 Tbsp (for large rice paper rolls) or 1 Tbsp (for small), of filling onto the center of the rolls. Fold in the sides first, then tightly roll up from the bottom, making a cylinder shape.

4. Place onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush each one generously with oil. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, turning a few times throughout.