How To Go Gluten Free
You may be visiting this page because you’re wondering if you could benefit from a gluten free lifestyle, you would like to cook for someone who is following this path, or you’ve been told that you need to pursue this diet for the rest of your life. Here you’ll learn what gluten is, how to avoid it, and begin to understand other grains and starches to use in its place.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley, and rye. The word gluten, comes from a latin word meaning glue. It is a beneficial ingredient in baking and cooking as it provides elasticity, acts as a binder and a thickener, and gives food products a delicious chewy texture.
Why gluten free?
According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, M.D., Medical Director for the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, in a 2011 interview on The Tender Foodie no one can properly digest gluten. We just don’t have the enzymes to break it down. The article goes on to state “our bodies haven’t yet evolved the ability to process this fairly modern grain”. Modern science has also “increased the protein content of wheat by 14% in recent years. In terms of human digestion, that’s a big deal.” See the rest of the article here.
Dr. Fasano shares that there are three forms of gluten-based reactions: celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and a gluten or wheat allergy.
Celiac disease is a severe autoimmune disease with a genetic component triggered by the gluten protein. It has a staggering prevalance of 1 in 133 people, many of whom don’t even know it. Hallmark symptoms are diarrhea, intestinal bloating, stomach cramps, heartburn, reflux, and weight loss. Joint pain, chronic fatigue and depression can also be noted. Undiagnosed celiacs often develop pancreatitis and gallbladder disease. Many go undiagnosed for years causing the immune system to respond by damaging or destroying the villi – the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestines – leading to malabsorption of nutrients and thus, malnutrition. Living a gluten free lifestyle is the only path to recovery for someone with a celiac diagnosis.
The second gluten based reaction, gluten sensitivity, affects 18 million people. The once nebulous term has now been classified as a distinct medical condition. People can have some of the same gastrointestinal symptoms as celiac disease, as well as many behavioral symptoms including brain fog, depression, and ADHD like symptoms. Other symptoms include anemia, osteoporosis, joint pain, and leg numbness. The difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is that gluten sensitivity does not involve the immune system attacking the intestinal wall of the patient. Researchers believe that gluten sensitive reactions do not cause the same long-term damage to the intestine that untreated celiac disease can cause. Currently the only treatment for gluten sensitivity is complete avoidance of gluten.
The third gluten based reaction is a gluten/wheat allergy. People that are allergic to gluten/wheat have an IgE-mediated response to the protein in gluten/wheat. Avoidance is the only way to prevent a reaction, which can include stomach upset, nausea and vomiting, hives, nasal congestion, allergic rhinitis, eczema, bronchospasm (asthma-like symptoms), and even anaphalaxis.
Additionally, there is much anecdotal evidence that a gluten free, casein free (casein is the protein found in milk) diet is beneficial to many individuals on the autism spectrum. Although more research needs to be conducted, many families with children on the spectrum report behavioral and emotional improvements when gluten and casein are removed from their diets.
What is gluten free?
A gluten free diet prohibits the consumption of wheat, barley, and rye and related components, including triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), durum, bulgur, graham, kamut, farina, semolina, spelt, malt, malt flavoring or malt vinegar. There is some debate as to weather oats should be eliminated from a gluten free diet, as well. Certainly any grain (even a naturally occurring gluten free grain like oats) can become cross contaminated with gluten by sharing the same farm, truck, mill, or packaging facility as wheat and other gluten-containing grains. There are, however, certified gluten free oats on the market, but you must determine your sensitivity level to oats with the advice of a health care provider. Some suggest individuals with a celiac disease diagnosis should avoid them altogether.
What to avoid?
Unless otherwise marked as “gluten free”, you should avoid the following products as they likely contain gluten.
Beer, ale, lager
Bread, breadcrumbs, breaded foods, croutons, bagels, tortillas, croissants, matzo
Cakes, pies, muffins, pastries, etc.
Cookies & brownies
French fries (Many fast food fries are a “no no” – they contain dairy and gluten derivitives! Check frozen varieties for gluten and dairy, as well.)
Gluten free fried foods (cross contamination can occur at restaurants if you order something fried, like natural cut french fries, and it is fried in the same fryer with, say, breaded fried chicken or the like. It is wise to ask if dedicated fryers are used for gluten free items)
Imitation meat and/or seafood
Pasta, including couscous
Processed lunch meats, sausages, & hot dogs
Sauces, including soy sauce and teriyaki sauce
Soups and soup bases
Seasoned rice mixes
Spice blends (if a spice has only one ingredient on the label, then it is gluten free)
Seasoned snack foods, crackers, & pretzels (many chips contain gluten)
Seitan (a vegetarian food made from wheat gluten)
Self basting meats/poultry
Vegetables in sauce
Herbal teas (some contain barley, malt or seasonings derived from gluten grains)
Some ice cream and frozen desserts
Be aware that many other products that you eat or come in contact with may contain gluten. Some examples are:
*Food additives, such as:
-Malt extract/flavoring/syrup – generally made from barley and is unsafe
-Modified food starch – Generally gluten free unless it is made from wheat. If it is made from wheat, “wheat” will appear on the label
-Natural flavorings – Rarely made from wheat, but if they are, “wheat” will be noted on the label
-Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) or hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP) – the source of the protein must always be listed on the label. Hydrolyzed wheat protein would not be safe. Hydrolyzed soy protein would be safe, for example.
*Yeast – All brand name packaged yeast sold in the U.S. is gluten free. However, brewer’s yeast (sometimes used as a nutritional supplement) can be a byproduct of beer, which is not safe.
*Caramel color is often thought to be unsafe, however corn is used to make caramel color in the U.S., thus if the product is produced in the U.S. it should be gluten free.
*Medications and vitamins that use gluten as a binder
*Cosmetics which you could ingest (i.e. lipstick or lip balm with gluten)
If in doubt, contact the manufacturer.
What to eat?
Although your initial reaction after receiving your “gluten free marching orders” may be to go to the local health food store and stock up on every “Gluten Free” item you can find, you are better served by first learning what is naturally gluten free. Learn to enjoy what you can eat before you go searching for substitutes to those foods you are so fearful of missing. This will only set you up for disappointment.
Naturally gluten free foods
Beans, seeds, and nuts in their natural state
Fresh meats, fish, seafood, poultry (nothing breaded, battered, or marinated)
Starches (potatoes and sweet potatoes)
Gluten free grains like brown and white rice & quinoa
Grains, starches, flours, and “binding agents” that are safe
The following is a list of ingredients that you will become familiar with as you use the recipes I’ve created and share on this site. They are grains, starches, flours, and ingredients I call binding agents that are used to mimic the sticky, binding characteristics of gluten. One of the challenges of gluten free baking is that wheat flour cannot be replaced with another single ingredient with any success. It is necessary to create a blend of these flours and starches to begin to imitate the taste, texture, and color of wheat flour.
Kasha (buckwheat groats)
Certified gluten free oats
Certified gluten free oat flour
Cornmeal, grits, polenta, corn flour
Rice: white, jasmine, brown, risotto, basmati, sticky
Rice flour made from white, brown, or sweet (glutinous) rice
Tapioca flour (also called tapioca starch)
Bean flours: garbanzo, chick pea, fava bean, garfava, black bean, etc.
Potato starch (often used in GF flour blends, though not the same as potato flour)
Potato flour (not the same as potato starch)
Nuts: made into flour or meal (almond, chestnut, hazelnut, pecan, walnut, cashew)
Once you’ve begun to enjoy all the delicious naturally gluten free foods, you’re ready to learn to create an all-purpose gluten free flour blend to keep in your pantry or fridge. These are the recipes for The Culinary Artist’s flour blends that I created that work in nearly every recipe as a 1:1 replacement for wheat flour. This one includes xanthan gum for binding, so it’s more of an all purpose flour, while this one contains no gums so that you have control over what, if any, binder you use.
Never fear, a tasteful gluten free life is awaiting you!
The material provided on theculinaryartist.com is intended as general information and not as a substitute for medical advice on personal health matters. We encourage you to obtain that directly from a physician. Our goal is to provide accurate information to those who are interested in a gluten and dairy free lifestyle.