Going Gluten-Free

Some of you may know what gluten is, but for those who do not: Gluten is a substance found in wheat, barley, rye, and (arguably) oats. It’s in bagels, muffins, toast, pizza, Pringles, Doritos, cake, and even in carbonated drinks and certain blends of tea. That means—for us gluten-free people—no standard pizza, bagels, or bread, and in a way, no life. It’s important to recognize that going gluten-free is not always a choice.

In his Medscape article “Going Gluten-free: Value Beyond Celiac Disease?”, Dr. David Johnson—professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia—suggests that the significant increase in celiac disease over several decades may be due in part to the hybridization of wheat and other associated products. Such results would mean that hybridized wheat and grain products might actually be causing more people to have celiac disease or other conditions of high gluten sensitivity. People with celiac disease, who have an abnormal immune response to gluten, have to avoid the substance because it causes inflammation in part of their digestive tracts. They may then fail to absorb nutrients, vitamins, and minerals adequately, which can cause serious symptoms. It sounds scary, I know. But being gluten-free doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite foods.  It just means you get to try different varieties of them with different tastes.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve been gluten-free since birth (not optional), so I’m pretty much brainwashed on the deliciousness of all things anti-gluten. There was that one time in seventh grade my allergist thought I could start eating gluten. For those brief months of experimentation, I got to taste bagels and corn muffins for the first time, and let me tell you, they are good. Still, gluten-free isn’t as bad as some might think. By no means are you required to bake for this diet. As explained by Dr. Johnson, “gluten-sensitive non-celiac disease is going to get considerably more attention. It has been estimated that the industry is shifting to meet this market with approximately $6 billion in gluten-free products.” So, there are plenty of food aisles with already baked or frozen gluten-free goods. Some food substitutes I’d suggest are rice breads from Food For Life and enchiladas, macaroni and cheese, and other entrees from Amy’s Kitchen. Two places I’d recommend, hubs of many yummy things gluten free, would be Fairway and Whole Foods. Shop there. Eat there.

If you’re interested in more of a home-cooked feel, skip the makeshift bread and go straight for other delicious gluten-free goodies you can create yourself. Try different types of rice, tapioca starch, potato starch, corn starch (yes, a lot of starches), and even quinoa flour.  One key ingredient if you choose to bake is xanthan gum.  Remember it well. It is an essential addition that helps the bread rise. Otherwise you end up with iPhone-flat brownies that crumble into tiny pieces.  Pamela’s Irresistible Chocolate Brownie Mix is one I often use, not only for the name. It bakes nicely and smells great. My sisters, who are not gluten-free, somehow always manage to stuff multiple brownies into their mouths before I can even curl my fingers safely around my first one.  If my sisters willfully wolf down my gluten-free brownies before I can, then these brownies (and other products) will definitely be tasty to people with normal diets. What’s really fun is that endless possibilities that come from mixing and matching when baking.

Here’s something to note: gluten free food can be more expensive, so shop around or find a store and certain products that work for you. There are definitely inexpensive alternatives available. Best of luck. And have fun!

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