Going gluten-free has become somewhat of a fad these days. While some people are falsely under the impression that a gluten-free diet is the secret to weight loss, many people who follow a gluten-free diet for this reason have little knowledge about going on a gluten free diet or why, or about gluten in general.
Wheat is a wonderful food for the many people I have seen in my clinical practice as a naturopath. It is cheap and readily available, nutritious (the wholemeal kind), extremely versatile, keeps well and tastes very good too. Wheat has an amazing quality as a flour in that when it is mixed with a liquid it makes a very elastic dough that can be shaped and baked. Flour can also thicken a dish, make smooth and bind very well with many other ingredients. Most people eat wheat in the form of bread and other baked goods. But did you know that wheat flour is also used widely in a large variety of products ranging from those “instant” packaged desserts right through to toothpaste?
An incredible amount of people I speak to say that they feel better for being gluten free, little do they know that they are most probably still consuming wheat though in trace amounts, and they are most probably consuming a small amount of gluten to some degree. It is almost impossible NOT to consume gluten these days, because it is included in such a wide variety of foods. It is possible however to avoid bread, pasta and the obvious gluten containing foods, and many who just cut out 90%+ of gluten from their diet will notice a big improvement in digestive health in particular.
You may have Leaky Gut Syndrome ?
I have my own theories on the gluten issue of today, and one of the main reasons why people improve when they decide to avoid gluten, is that they stop consuming all the other foods which could also be potentially making them feel unwell – such as spreads like margarine, peanut butter, jam, hazelnut chocolate spread and more. Cheap commercial bread contains a virtual treasure trove of additives, emulsifiers, preservatives and colours of various sorts. Of course you are going to feel better if you stop eating all wheat products – but is it really the gluten issue or not? Your guess is as good as mine. In the end, it doesn’t really matter – if your health improves then stick with it, I’m glad you have the awareness to at least change your diet to find out! And, you may be like me, initially avoiding all wheat and dairy to improve your digestive health, especially if you have a case of Leaky Gut Syndrome, one of the main reasons why I almost certainly believe that many people avoid gluten in the first place. Once the leaky gut is not so leaky, you will almost certainly be able to once again enjoy that piece of toast in the morning without feeling stink later in the day. Please don’t avoid all wheat and dairy “for life”, thinking you will be intolerant or allergic forever, this is pure and utter nonsense.
The other problem arises is this, and you probably haven’t thought about this one I’ll bet. The longer you stay away from wheat and gluten (especially if you are very scrupulous and avoid gluten 100%) the more sensitive you may become when you initially try to challenge yourself with it. This could lead initially to very uncomfortable symptoms (stomach or digestive pain, constipation or diarrhoea) that you then go on to avoid gluten especially for life.
Do you have an allergy towards gluten, or are you intolerant to wheat? You may want to read the article I wrote entitled Food Allergies and Intolerances. Many people get these terms completely mixed up, and in my article you will learn that an allergy is NOT an intolerance.
Here is a list of food items which are listed as ingredients in a manufactured food, and be careful if you really want to avoid wheat or gluten as these ingredients may well contain gluten or wheat and should be avoided.
First of all – are you wheat intolerant or do you have a gluten allergy? Some people are intolerant of wheat, yet can eat gluten, and vice-versa. As previously mentioned, it is my belief that many people who claim are “gluten intolerant” just have leaky-gut syndrome. That is, their small intestine has become more permeable to various small proteins in the diet, like gluten (wheat), beta casein (milk) and albumin (egg). Allergies are predominantly formed to proteins, but intolerances can be towards many different chemicals such as MSG and other substances.
Traditionally, the factories which store and package rye, barley, oats and rice also mill wheat. When you think about it, it is almost impossible not to have some form of contamination, because flour is everywhere – all over the ledges and surfaces as well as machinery. I used to work in a flour mill in Brisbane in my younger days and can vouch that flour is everywhere, including in the air and all over you as an employee. I used to love putting my hand under the sifting device which
It is important to bear in mind that flours such as rye, oats and barley are not quite as versatile as wheat flour, and are sometimes combined with wheat flour for obtaining the best results. So for those who want to think that flours like barley and rye are 100% wheat free – think again. An as pure form of oats as can be is whole oats or rolled oats, which is not in a flour form. You can see that it is easy for barley are rye flour to be contaminated with traces of wheat flour, more easily so than with oats. If you have major allergies to wheat (not gluten) then I would advise you avoid oats, barley and rye as well due to the possible risk of contamination. And while it is possible to buy rice that is “guaranteed” to be wheat-free, this is almost impossible with rice flour – I advise extreme caution. If your allergy towards wheat is not that bad, then you may well be able to tolerate oats, barley and rye.
One of the big problems of trying to make wheat-free food items at home, such as baking, is that it is very easy to contaminate wheat-free foods and ingredients if care is not taken to avoid this problem. The biggest problem you will have is that wheat flour has a natural tendency to easily become airborne, or stick to hands and clothes. Wheat flour can also be transferred easily on tins and baking utensils which can easily lead to contamination. Most people who follow a strict gluten-free diet will not keep any plain wheat flour or any products containing gluten in their house.
You will need to be very careful if you want to be wheat or gluten free, yet cook for others in your household who are not. Watch out for the flour under your fingernails for example, and what about that electric toaster? Sharing gluten free and bread containing gluten is not a good idea! The crumbs from both kinds of bread can accumulate causing grief, unknowingly.
Wheat is a healthy food, in spite of so many people avoiding their daily bread these days. It provides good levels of carbohydrates, protein and vitamins, especially the B vitamins. In addition, wheat also contains minerals such as iron and cereal fibre. Amazingly, in the average diet, bread provides one sixth of the daily amount of protein required.
The following foods and food products must be avoided if you want to remain wheat and gluten free, unless you are absolutely sure that they do not contain any wheat. I can highly recommend that you call the company who make these foods if you are unsure.
|Baked beans in sauce (canned)Baking powderBatter mixes
Blancmange powder mixes
Biscuits and all biscuit mixes
All Breakfast cereals
Cakes and cake mixes
Chocolate ( cheaper brands)
Crumbling topping mix
Custard (powder or ready made)
|Gravy powder or mixesIce creamMacaroni
Pies and fillings
Soups (tinned or packets)
Do you want to eat gluten free? It doesn’t have to mean spending many hours or preparing complicated or bland tasting foods. Many patients that have seen me who want to go gluten free think they are heading for a pleasure free zone. All you needs is plenty of good information, a little imagination, and if you can do this along with a bit of time invested you will be able to eat and cook with pleasure again without the fear of consuming gluten.This page will take you to many gluten free recipes, which will ensure that you don’t have to lack the knowledge or inspiration to eat gluten free again.
You don’t have to be gluten intolerant or a celiac to benefit from avoiding gluten, I know many patients I have seen over the years who avoid gluten by choice, and I have noticed that these people are amongst the healthiest I have seen in my clinic. But why? Because avoiding gluten and wheat products in general appears to have a most beneficial effect on one’s digestive system. Personally I am not gluten intolerant myself, but I do avoid wheat products as much as possible and shun all forms bread, biscuits, crackers and baked (flour) goods. My digestive system has always been good, but now it is in even better shape and I firmly believe that avoiding wheat and gluten containing products (whilst not being extreme about it) has been the main reason.
To better understand how gluten can trigger such serious health problems, it is important to understand that gluten issues can negatively impact on your body in an immune sense or as a food intolerance. You may like to read What Is Gluten And Gluten Intolerance? To understand the difference, I recommend that you read my page on Food Allergies and Food Intolerances. Food allergies can be outgrown at any point over the course of your lifetime, but that is not always the case with gluten-related disorders, especially if you are born a celiac, then you will need to avoid gluten for life.
Gluten is complex protein made up of a number of smaller components, including the simple protein, gliadin. Gliadin is often considered the toxic component of gluten because research suggests that it is one big cause of intestinal damage in the Western world where so much gluten and wheat products are consumed. If you are gluten intolerant and your body does not process gliadin normally and you consume a food or drink containing gluten, your immune system will view gliadin as if it were an invading foreign body. In response, your immune system will mount an aggressive attack by creating specific antibodies to fight against it. These antibodies then wage a war of sorts with the gliadin present in your body by producing chemical messengers themselves, and one of the symptoms created for example can be inflammation, resulting in abdominal pain. The end result of this internal attack over an extended period of time is potentially a lot of damage to your intestinal tract and affecting even other parts of your body such as your brain or neurological system.
Simply put, if you have celiac disease, your body treats gluten as harmful, which leads to inflammation and irritation. The lining of the small intestine may becomes damaged and, as many nutrients are absorbed in this way, this can lead to deficiencies in minerals and other nutrients. Celiac disease means gluten free and it affects children and adults, and often runs in families.
If you are a true celiac (diagnosed by way of a small intestine biopsy, not just a blood antibody test), consuming items that contain even traces gluten can cause a multitude of serious and lasting health problems. The most common ailments associated with these conditions center around the digestive system and may include intestinal ulcers and lesions, bloating, gas, diarrhoea or constipation and abdominal pain. Other well-documented physical problems associated with gluten consumption include significant weight loss, chronic fatigue, iron-deficiency anaemia, osteoporosis (thinning or brittle bones), migraine headaches and mood disorders such as depression and irritability.
Gluten sensitivity or celiac’s disease can only be managed by avoiding gluten in all forms. This can be difficult. For many, the only real option is to avoid gluten on a lifelong basis. Family meals need to be adapted, and eating with friends and in restaurants can be hard, so sticking to a totally gluten-free diet needs perseverance and encouragement. For example, a dietitian can help you to adapt without missing out on necessary nutrients.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, and similar proteins are found in barley, rye and oats, so the obvious sources of gluten are baked goods, containing wheat flour. This includes bread, cakes, pastries, biscuits, puddings and pies made with pastry. Rye is sometimes used in bread, and barley is often used in brewing which means that beer is off limits. The jury is out on the subject of oats, but individual reactions differ and there is also the risk that cross-contamination of oats with flour may have occurred during the processing.
Baking goods are the most obvious source of gluten, but it is also often used in processed foods where flour is used as a binder, filler or processing aid. Wheat starch is processed to remove the protein, but it still contains some traces of gluten as it is not possible to remove all protein. Specially manufactured wheat starch, produced to a different specification, is used in gluten-free processed foods. When flour is used as a processing aid, or as part of another compound, it does not have to be declared on the label. If in doubt check with the manufacturer, or with the Food List of the Celiac Society
Chocolate Stock cubes Potato chips Creamed coconut
Mincemeat Breadcrumbs Baking powder Soy sauce
Spices Sausages Mustard
People who wish to eat gluten free are often concerned that there are not many foods they can eat that are completely gluten free. But there are, there are many choices. These are some of the foods that are naturally gluten free: meats, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, fruit and vegetables. What you do need to be careful of is cross-contamination of these foods which may occur during processing, so you will need to be particularly careful of these foods in their processed forms like meatballs or crumbed fish for example. Wheat products are often used as fillers, binders or coatings on processed foods so my advice is to carefully read the labels, ask the shopkeeper and if in doubt call the manufacturer.
The chemical structure of gluten is what gives baked goods in particular their distinct flavor and agreeable texture. Can you remember the last time you were kneading dough, and it had that spongy, stringy texture? The bread became a lot more elastic after a certain period of time, this is due to the strands of gluten (a protein found in wheat) becoming more stretched and drawn out. During the baking process, the elasticity of the gluten becomes soft and springy. This is the big problem with gluten-free baking, you simply can’t recreate this agreeable texture, but you don’t have to – there are many agreeable alternatives to wheat flour and the gluten it contains. And after awhile, you don’t really miss this texture, you become accustomed to gluten free options because you know how good you feel for making this choice.
Did you know that there are many wheat/gluten free flour options available to you? Here is an all-purpose gluten free flour which you can simply use to substitute ordinary wheat flour in just about any recipe you are following. You will need to vary the amounts of the different flours to taste, for example, the potato flour will give a more “earthy” flavour which is great for savoury dishes, so increase potato flour if you want this taste. Rice flour will make a lighter flour, so experiment with different blends until you find the right proportions of each to suit your taste.
There are different options open to you if you want to create gluten-free thickeners. For example when thickening stir-fry sauces, basic white sauces and soups, I can recommend that you try to use tapioca starch or arrowroot starch (mix it with a little cool water or rice milk first before adding it to sauces). Arrowroot starch works well for gravies served right away. Cornstarch can also be used, but like potato starch, it can have a tendency to turn a bit sticky, messy or gluey. I have made a nice roux (that nice thick white sauce) using rice flour, but you can try any basic rice flour or even a gluten free pancake or cake mix. You may want to avoid bean or soy flour, they have too strong a taste.
Here is a breadcrumb recipe for all kinds of recipes, it is somewhat unconventional, but very tasty nevertheless. I use my Vita Mix and process about six toasted gluten-free sandwiches into crumbs. Add some dried herbs or your favourite seasoning and drizzle with olive oil or melted butter and pulse for just a few seconds at a time. Very yummy, crunchy and golden when baked.
Processing pieces of your favourite toasted gluten-free bread also works. For crunchy toppings try crumbled corn tortilla chips, rice chips, or potato chips. Failed gluten-free breads can be processed into crumbs and frozen for later use. Note that adding dried herbs and seasonings give gluten-free bread crumbs a big flavor boost. Some folks advocate processing cornflakes or gluten-free cereal into crumbs but I find it gives the recipe an unpleasant breakfast cereal taste.
All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour Recipe
With many recipes you will not find it that easy just to replace wheat flour with a substitute. Which substitute you are looking for really depends on what you desire the flour to do, for example, are you looking for a thickening agent, a bulking agent or maybe a flour to add texture? Only trial and error will lead you to the right choice, this is my experience. I can describe in detail my experiences but it is ultimately you who decides on what is right according to your unique taste. You will find that every flour will have its own unique and very distinct taste and texture, and I personally have found that a combination of different flours like I have described above work better both in terms of taste and texture. By blending flours you control how you want it to be, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Buckwheat flour will produce an earthy yet slightly sour taste. This flour has a rather strong flavour and its texture is too gluey for baking I have found. Buckwheat flour is great in pancakes however, please do try our Buckwheat Pancake recipe. This recipe does have bananas and blueberries in it as well, but is tastes absolutely delicious! The other thing you can do successfully with the unique taste and texture of buckwheat flour is to make pasta from it. Try shop bought buckwheat pasta and see what I mean, it tastes great.
Chickpea flour is also known as Besan flour or gram flour. The primary use of this flour is to use it to make batters or for fritters. You can also mix it successfully with other flours in baking. Besan flour is used a lot in Indian cooking, and I have used it in the past as part of a batter to coat cauliflower and onion rings before deep frying. Very tasty.
Corn flour is a very bland flour, but I find that it mixes successfully with rice flour to give it more body. You may need to be careful of corn flour, as some people have allergies to corn protein.
This is a good flour to use in terms of flavor and texture. It is made from cooked, dried and then finely ground potatoes. It can be used successfully in bread making when it has been mixed with other flours such as rice flour. Potato flour can help to produce a moist and nicely flavoured bread. I use it for thickening soups or gravies mainly.
Rice flour also has a bland taste, but it is an all-purpose flour that can be used for many applications. You can get rice flour in either a white or brown variety. This is a nice flour with which to make muffins with, you can make bread with rice flour but you will find that the texture is more dense than using wheat flour. A good flour to mix with corn flour or buckwheat flour. Rice flour is also good when used as a thickener.
Soy flour is not for everybody, is has a very characteristic and a rather strong flavour. I like the taste of soy, but find that not many do. This flour can be quite overpowering so it is best mixed in with other flours, used sparingly and in small amounts. It adds a moistness to baked goods and is a good source of protein.