Author: Jessica P. Cooper HHC, AADP

With over three million Americans suffering from celiac disease and another 20 million estimated to be gluten intolerant, gluten free is all the rage. Gluten can cause digestive distress and malnourishment to someone who is sensitive. To explain the process on a micro-level, there are villi in the small intestine responsible for grabbing nutrients out of food and transporting them to the capillaries for the bodies’ utilization. When gluten goes into the system of someone who is gluten-sensitive, it damages villi and essential nutrients cannot be absorbed.

So what is Gluten? Gluten is an insoluble protein found in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats since it is often cross contaminated with wheat products, as it grows alongside wheat in fields & is processed in the same factories.

Many other conditions are sensitive to gluten such as IBS, Crohn’s Disease, and other digestive disorders where the system is stripped of good bacteria through things such as overuse of antibiotics, overconsumption of refined foods & sugars. When shopping, look for the “GF” symbol to ensure the product is Gluten-Free.

If you are gluten-sensitive, it is important to read labels carefully as it can be found in whole grains, derivatives, industrial uses such as emulsifiers, binders, thickeners like stamps, casings in medicine, fillers in preservatives, anti-caking agents in table salt, beauty products etc. Unfortunately, it can be found in most packaged products so play detective, ask questions and read the detailed ingredient lists. Try to avoid any packaged food that is not marked clearly gluten free or where the ingredient lists reads, “contains wheat” or “is processed in a facility that also processes wheat.”

How do I know if I’m allergic to Gluten? You can take an IgA, IgG test after eating gluten. 1 in 300 people have celiac disease. Or, try eliminating gluten from your diet and regulate your body for 1 month to see if gluten is a trigger. Unfortunately there is no cure, only avoidance.

Non-gluten grains include millet, rice, soba, quinoa, and kasha. For baking, non-gluten flours are rice flours (white), oat flour and rolled oats, and nut flours (almond, coconut). Other than wheat-free grains, the gluten free diet should include lots of unprocessed, fresh foods such as a variety of vegetables, fruits, and proteins.

Best Foods to buy for a Gluten-Free Diet:

Quinoa – highest nutritional profile and cooks the fastest of all grains. Although quinoa is technically a seed, it is often considered a grain since it cooks like a grain and is eaten in place of grains. Quinoa is an extremely high-energy seed and has been consumed for about 8,000 years on the high-plains of the Andes Mountains in South America. The Incas were able to run long long distances at high altitudes because of this powerful seed. Besides for being gluten-free and easy to digest, it contains all eight amino acids making it a complete protein, has the protein content equivalent to milk, high in vitamins B, and minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, calcium and vitamin E. When quinoa is cooked, the outer germ surrounding the seed breaks open to form a crunchy coil while the inner grain becomes soft and translucent. This double texture makes it delicious, versatile and fun to eat. Quinoa can be reheated with a splash of soy or nut milk for breakfast porridge; you can add dried fruit, nuts or cinnamon for a sweet treat. Add finely chopped raw vegetables and dressing for a cooling salad or add chopped cooked root vegetables for a warming side dish. To cook quinoa, you must rinse it first to remove the bitter coating, called saponin. Then combine quinoa with water in a saucepan, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook covered for about 15 minutes until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes covered, then fluff with a fork. Season as you like.

Kasha (Roasted Buckwheat) – it is not actually part of the wheat family; it is part of the Rhubarb family. Of all the grains, buckwheat has the longest transit time in the digestive tract and is the most filling. Not only is it gluten-free, but also it stabilizes blood sugar, builds blood and neutralizes acidic waste, benefits circulation, strengthens the kidneys and has 100% more calcium than other grains. Kasha has a strong, robust earthy flavor and makes for a hearty meal. It can be eaten as a hot breakfast, a side dish or a grain entrée with mixed vegetables. The only way to cook kasha is to add boiling water (use a 2:1 ration of water to kasha and a pinch of sea salt).

Millet – a very small, round grain with a history that traces back thousands of years. It was the chief grain in China before rice became popular and continues to sustain people in China, Africa, Russia and India among other places. Millet is extremely nutritious. Some other benefits of millet besides being gluten free is that it is high in protein, fiber, iron, magnesium and potassium. It also contains silica, which helps keep bones flexible in the aging process. It is soothing, especially for indigestion or morning sickness and warming, especially on a cool or rainy day. Millet can be used in porridges, cereal, soups and dense breads. It is a delicious wheat-free substitute for couscous as it has a similar consistency. To cook millet, rinse it with a strainer, place in a pot with a tight fitting lid, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes (2:1 ration of water to millet).

Packaged Gluten-Free Products & Brands:

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Old Fashioned Rolled Oats – For years, a gluten free diet meant no wheat, rye, barley or oats. Now, oats are back on the menu, provided they’re certified gluten free to assure they haven’t been contaminated with gluten from other grains. These oats are hearty, unprocessed and taste great.

Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta – When you cannot say goodbye to pasta, these nutritious noodles are made from a nutty organic corn and quinoa blend and have a great taste and texture. They also make cereal like Quinoa Flakes, which is delicious with some berries and maple syrup.

Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta – This brand makes several brown rice spaghettis without corn. They also make lasagna noodles and spaghetti.

Mary’s Gone Crackers – a delicious, crispy cracker that comes in several flavors like Black Pepper, Herb, Caraway, Onion and Originaly Seed. The cracker’s key ingredients are quinoa, brown rice, flax and sesame – all nutritional superstars. This company is dedicated to making organic, gluten free, kosher, and vegan products as the company’s owner Mary herself has Celiac Disease.

Food For Life Gluten-Free Bread – For those of us that cannot do without bread, Food For Life makes some great gluten free bread products out of brown rice. They also make cereal, English muffins, buns, pasta, pocket breads and tortillas.