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it’s been a while since i’ve posted, due to many reasons which i wont bore you with here, but in any case, i’m back and ready to start 2010 off on a healthy foot.
it seems like everywhere i look these days, people are talking about detoxes, elimination diets, and cleanses. one of the major trends taking over the grocery aisles seems to be the movement towards gluten-free…well, everything.
although everyone is using the term “gluten-free,” it seems as though most people don’t really know what it means, what the benefits are, and why people are removing gluten from their diets.
gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. many people get confused about which foods actually contain gluten and which do not. there are many new breads that have come out, including sprouted grain, which people mistake for being gluten-free. spelt and kamut, two grains that are alternatives to wheat, DO actually contain gluten. oats, however, have been a subject of some controversy. they themselves have not been found to contain gluten, but they are often processed in plants which allow for their contamination with gluten-based foods. this is a case where you’d want to check the label and make sure they are from a gluten-free plant.
gluten also comes in other forms, especially as an additive to thicken and/or sweeten many processed foods, where it is disguised as modified food starch, malt flavoring, or glucose syrup, to name a few. it is very important to be a food detective and always scour labels.
there are a few reasons why people avoid gluten, the most obvious being a diagnosis of celiac disease. celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder of the small intestine. there are a wide variety of symptoms that occur from this chronic syndrome, and none of them are fun. they can range from stomach issues, to fatigue, to skin problems, migraines…the list goes on. like many other diseases, celiac disease is chronic and often misdiagnosed because the symptoms are not always alarming but extremely disruptive. the disease is caused by a reaction to a protein in gluten called gliadin. the immune system has an inflammatory response to gliadin in the small intestine, which blunts the villi in the intestine. because the villi are responsible for the absorption of nutrients, you can guess what happens next…the body cannot properly absorb the nutrients it needs and this results in a myriad of symptoms which greatly affects a person’s quality of life.
celiac disease is no fun, and there is only one remedy for it: cut out gluten from one’s diet. as more people have realized that gluten is the cause of their discomfort, gluten-free products have begun to make it onto more and more mainstream shelves. what others are starting to notice, however, is that celiacs are not the only people who can benefit from a gluten-free diet. it makes sense, really, as eating gluten-free requires that one eats less processed food and more simple fruits, vegetables, and meat products. additionally, one can have a sensitivity to gluten and not have celiac disease. i would recommend to anyone that suffers from any ailment to eliminate gluten (i’d throw dairy in the mix too) for three weeks and see how they feel. you start to notice that the body naturally rejects gluten once you add it back into your diet, which is a red flag that it was not meant to digest it in the first place. after all, inflammation is the root of all disease and ailments (in my humble opinion, and a subject we can come back to) and gluten is known to irritate the intestine in a manner that causes inflammation.
here is a list of starchy foods that are acceptable for a gluten-free diet:
rice, corn, potatoes, amaranth, arrowroot, quinoa, millet, sweet potato…to name a few. buckwheat is actually gluten-free itself, but one must be careful to make sure they don’t purchase buckwheat flour mixed with wheat flour. flours made from almonds, soybeans, and other nuts are also acceptable as well. many of these grains are also used to create pastas, breads, and other foods that mimic the products we’ve all grown up on that include gluten. these days it’s easy to find these products in any grocery store, and many of these simple grains include protein, which is a great bonus.
if you are eating in a healthy restaurant that includes alternative meat products, one thing you should know is that seitan includes gluten. seitan is a processed wheat product that is made to taste like chicken. tofu and tempeh both derive from soy, and are gluten-free. however i prefer tempeh to tofu, as its nutritional value trumps tofu due to the fermentation process and the fact that the whole bean stays in tact after processing.
one of my favorite gluten-free cooking blogs is http://www.elanaspantry.com, which was recommended to me by a friend. i have found that it is so easy to cut gluten out of everything, including dessert!
although i do think it is ultimately a positive thing to remove gluten from the diet, i also want to remind you that replacing a wheat product with a majorly processed sweet treat that is gluten-free is not necessarily the point. the benefits of eating gluten-free really come from a move towards eating more pure foods and less processed foods. once in a while a babycakes cupcake is not a bad thing at all, and better than one filled with artificial coloring, corn syrup, and dairy. BUT, if the goal is to feel good and be healthy, i’d say stick to the obvious: more veggies, more simple, whole grains, fewer animal products, and less sugar. at then end of the day, a pure and simple diet yields the biggest and best results.
below is a gluten-free recipe i made during cold ny winter mornings. it is packed with protein and so easy to make. much better than a microwave instant quaker breakfast, and better for your energy and health!
hot quinoa breakfast cereal
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 cup apples, thinly sliced
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 tsp cinnamon
almond or rice milk
in a medium-sized bowl, soak the quinoa in cold water for 5 minutes.
drain and rinse under cold running water.
in a medium saucepan, combine the soaked quinoa and water and bring to a boil.
reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.
add apples, raisins and cinnamon.
simmer until water is absorbed.
serve with almond or rice milk and sweeten to taste with agave syrup.