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Friday, May 27, 2011

Living Gluten-Free

I seem to be getting a lot of questions lately about following a gluten-free diet. It seems to be something that is becoming more and more common, and I think that this is due to the fact that many of us have a sensitivity or allergy to wheat that goes undetected for many years. There has been some attention drawn to this fact lately and so it seems that people are getting more in tune with their bodies and beginning to become aware of these types of sensitivities. This can cause people to avoid gluten, the protein found in wheat (and therefore rye and barley as well) in their daily diet, or avoid it for a period of time to determine if there is in fact an allergy or sensitivity.

There are varying degrees of sensitivity, ranging from mild to full on allergy, to Celiacs disease. Sensitivities can cause symptoms such as headaches, bloating or stomach issues, yeast infections, weight gain or skin rashes. Celiac disease, however is a disease in which the body is incapable of breaking down gluten, causing an auto immune response in the body. A doctor can run blood tests to determine Celiac disease, but sensitivities to wheat can be more difficult to determine. If you suspect that wheat may be the cause of what ails you, the best way to do so is to avoid wheat and gluten for a short period of time, usually 7 days will suffice. Within this time period symptoms will subside and will return when wheat is reintroduced on the eighth day, if there is a sensitivity.

Avoiding gluten may seem like a daunting task. It can be overwhelming when you start to think about all of the foods that involve wheat. But once you know what to look for, I assure you that its not as confusing as it may seem. Gluten is found only in grains made from wheat, therefore all vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans) and meats in their natural state are gluten-free. The tricky part is determining what grains and flours to avoid and what foods contain these flours in some way or another. The following is a list of grains and flours that do and do not contain gluten:

Grains/flours that contain gluten:
Wheat (this includes the berry and the germ of the plant)

Grains/flours that do not contain gluten:
Rice (all varieties, excluding those made with pastas such as pilaf)
Almond flour
Arrowroot starch
Buckwheat or kasha
Cassava or manioc flour
Chickpea flour
Corn and cornmeal
Potato starches and flours
Soy flour
Tapioca flours and starches

You may notice that oats were left off this list. Oats, oat bran, oat groats and oat flours do not technically contain gluten, but are derived from the wheat plant and therefore may cause sensitivity. Other foods to note: couscous is made from wheat flour and seitan, a protein popular among vegetarians, is made from wheat gluten.

Some common foods that contain glutenous flours are breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, crackers, and cereals. But it is easy to find gluten-free versions of these items. Look for pastas made from rice or quinoa or even black beans and lentils. There are many different types of breads and baked goods out there that are made with gluten-free flours. Most of these can be found well marked in health food stores, but can be found in main stream food chains as well. My favorite gluten free bread is Food for Life’s Millet bread. I also LOVE their brown rice tortillas, which are great for making wraps. Mary’s Gone Crackers crackers and twigs are also amongst my favorite gluten-free snacks. Tortilla and potato chips are generally gluten-free, but sometimes will contain wheat flours.

Usually health food stores and large supermarkets will shelve the majority of their gluten-free products together so that they are easy to find an identify, and are often accompanied by a gluten-free symbol (such as blades of wheat with a slash through it). Although some gluten-free breads and wraps can be found in this area, most are kept in the freezer case to prolong their shelf life.

There are a variety of options out there, but it is important to read labels carefully. A unsuspecting item, such as ice cream can contain gluten! Eventually you will become familiar with these foods and it will become second nature, I promise.

Keep it Fresh!