First off, I’m betting a lot of people you know have been climbing on the Gluten-Free bandwagon lately. It may even be you! But, what does it all even *mean*?
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in many grains that is responsible for helping bread products hold their shape as they expand. Think of gluten protein molecules as millions of tiny balloons within your baked products.
Bread products are pretty much a main staple in the Western diet; as such, gluten can be found everywhere in the food industry these days. Foods with the highest amounts of gluten are those that list wheat, rye, barley, oats (see exception to this below), and triticale (and their flours) in their ingredients. There is also gluten in a number of products that one wouldn’t necessarily expect, such as beer, candy, imitation seafood, processed lunch meats and hot dogs, salad dressings, soy sauce, soups, soup mixes and bouillon cubes, and vegetables in sauce.
Be on the lookout for these ingredients in your processed foods: wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, couscous, cracked wheat, durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, faro, fu (common in Asian foods), gliadin (an additive sometimes found in certain breads), graham flour, kamut, matzo, semolina, spelt.
Wheat-based flours also have different names based on how the wheat is milled or the flour is processed. All of the following flours have gluten (with thanks to the Mayo Clinic):
- Enriched flour with added vitamins and minerals
- Farina, milled wheat usually used in hot cereals
- Graham flour, a course whole-wheat flour
- Self-rising flour, also called phosphate flour
- Semolina, the part of milled wheat used in pasta and couscous
What is Gluten Intolerance/Sensitivity?
Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is a condition that causes a person to react after ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Symptoms vary widely and can include gastrointestinal problems, joint pain, fatigue and depression.
– Sourced from Glutenfreeliving.com
What is Celiac Disease?
Not to be confused with Gluten Intolerance, Celiac/Coeliac Disease (also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy), is where the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten. For the Celiac disease sufferer, it is a genetically linked autoimmune disorder that can affect both children and adults. Consuming products containing gluten triggers an immune response, causing stomach upset, and difficulty in digesting food. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients. This intestinal damage can cause weight loss, bloating and sometimes diarrhea.
What Are the Truly Gluten Free Grains?
Millet: Gluten free millet is tasty, economical, and provides a host of nutrients. Millet has a sweet nutty flavour, and is considered to be one of the most digestible and non-allergenic grains available. It is one of the few grains that is alkalizing to the body.
Quinoa: Although referred to as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed from a vegetable related to Swiss chard, spinach and beets. For those who like to know how to pronounce words correctly (AHEM husband…), Quinoa is pronounced keen-wa not kwin-o-a…
Brown Rice: Brown rice is the whole grain with just the first outer layer (husk or hull) removed through milling. It still retains its fiber and the germ which contains many of the most vital nutrients.
Cornmeal: Cornmeal is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin B-6.
Buckwheat: Buckwheat is rich in flavonoids like rutin and a good source of magnesium. Buckwheat is good for your cardiovascular system. It’s a valuable food for those with diabetes, as it can be helpful for regulating blood sugar.
Oats (specifically GF oats): pure, uncontaminated oats are naturally gluten free and safe for most people with gluten intolerance. However, the issue with oats is that they’re often contaminated with gluten as they could be processed in the same facilities that also process gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, and barley.
Oats are very nutritious, filling, rich in antioxidants and contain a very useful soluble fiber (beta-glucan). Oats can lower cholesterol levels and protect your LDL cholesterol from damage; they can also improve control over your blood sugar and can help you lose weight by making you feel full faster.
Sorghum (whole grain): Sorghum contains large amounts of fiber, protein and nutrients. In studies it has been shown to possibly inhibit cancer growth, protect against diabetes and help manage cholesterol. Sorghum is significantly more nutritionally dense than ordinary white flour. It is often eaten as a porridge but can also be ground into flour.
Teff: Teff leads all the grains in its calcium content, with a cup of cooked teff offering 123 mg, about the same amount of calcium as in a half-cup of cooked spinach. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient not commonly found in grains. It can be grown in areas that won’t support other crops. The seed is so small it cannot be refined so is always a whole grain.
Amaranth: Amaranth contains significant amounts of B vitamins, calcium, iron and Vitamin C. Amaranth may help lower cholesterol. At about 13-14 percent, it easily trumps the protein content of most other grains. Amaranth was a major food crop of the Aztecs, domesticated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. The Aztecs didn’t just grow and eat amaranth, they also used the grains as part of their religious practices.
Popcorn: Movie lovers will be happy about this one! Popcorn has an abundant source of fiber and it has B vitamins and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc and phosphorous. Popcorn’s crunchy hull is rich in polyphenols—antioxidants that provide several important health benefits such as protection from coronary artery disease, protection from cancers, healthy blood sugar levels and prevention from premature aging.
Indian Rice Grass: Indian rice grass was a staple of Native American diets. Pure Indian rice grass flour is super-high in protein and fiber with 17 grams of protein, 24 grams of dietary fiber, and 24 grams of insoluble fiber in just 2/3 of a cup. It has a strong wheat-like taste.
All the above grains are recommended by the Canadian Celiac Association.
Note: If you are considering going gluten free or wondering if you should:
- Read Diana’s article on the Dangers of Common Gluten Free Products .
- Read the post from the Mayo Clinic Gluten-free diet which gives a comprehensive definition of gluten sensitivity, the purpose of a gluten-free diet, and a list of 14 gluten-safe grains.
- Read the article: Do You Need to Eat a Gluten Free Diet with Dr. Oz’s self test.
- Consider investing in a Healthy Baking BootCamp. All of the recipes you receive for the BootCamp will be gluten free and particularly the upcoming Healthy Holiday Baking BootCamp which focuses on gluten free healthy baking for the Christmas season.
With thanks to the following sites: