Food Freedom Friday Edition 41

Be Gluten Free

Avoiding wheat, gluten and many grains is a popular choice for many. The media, social networks and food manufacturers (along with many consumers) believe the solution to avoiding wheat/gluten is simple – it is just a simple case of making or buying a gluten free version of the same foods you know and love.

Many gluten free foods are still nutritionally devoid, often pro-inflammatory ‘junk food.’ Many contain additives and preservatives, colours, flavours, thickening agents, emulsifiers, refined and hydrogenated vegetables oils and other dubious ingredients that are definitely not conducive for optimal health. The replacements for the gluten containing flours are often highly pro-inflammatory, raise blood sugar as much, if not more, than white flour and contain many of the same nutrient robbing properties present in wheat. There are many gluten free versions of bread, muffins, crackers, pies, cakes, pancakes, pasta and waffles making it an easy trap to fall into.

When a package advertises a gluten free label, it does not necessarily imply that the food is 100% gluten free the same way ‘fat-free’ does not indicate that the product is 100% fat free. Government food labelling laws are intricate and food manufacturers use clever lawyers and loop holes in produce ‘gluten free’ products that still contain 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten.

20ppm may seem like a negligible amount, but for the truly sensitive or those suffering from celiac disease even such a small exposure can be harmful at least and deadly at worst. Furthermore, if you were to consume large amounts of gluten free products regularly, maybe even daily – think gluten free cereal and toast for breakfast, a muffin or some crackers for a snack, a sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner and a slice of gluten free cake or a gluten free cookie for dessert - you could be ingesting enough gluten to seriously impair their progress of your gluten free diet. Even a very small amount of gluten can have a large impact on the body, contributing to blood sugar fluctuations, brain fog, digestive distress, hormonal and mood imbalances and systemic inflammation.

This small amount is allowed as gluten is often used in the manufacturing process, for example as a stabilising agent which you might find in ice-cream or a sauce. It is not required to be mentioned in the ingredients list when used in this way.

Gluten is also present in the most unexpected of places.  According to this random sampling, nearly 25% of vitamins and supplements contain or are contaminated with gluten. Personal care products and beauty products can also contain or be contaminated with gluten. Gluten is present in ingredients such as wheat germ oil, oats, hydrolysed oat protein and textured plant protein. Searching these out may not come as naturally may not seem as obvious to you if dealing with food restrictions is new to you, but they are a common source of accidental gluten. Be aware of all food labels and educate yourself.

I realise that for many people, completely avoiding ALL grains is neither desirable nor practical and it certainly may not be necessary for everyone, but if you are serious about improving your health and making some positive changes then I always highly recommend avoiding all processed modern gluten containing grains. They have all been highly refined and are heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. These grains include rye, barley, spelt, kamut, faro, bulger, durum, triticale, oats and semolina.

If you choose to consume gluten free grains, opt for properly prepared organic white rice, wild rice, millet, amaranth, buckwheat or quinoa. Soak your choice of grains in filtered water with a dash of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of Himalayan salt overnight. This will help to make the nutrients in the grains more available to the human body and reduce the phytates  and other anti-nutrients that can bind to minerals in the body.

If you do purchase a packaged product, read the ingredients list and choose the product with the shortest list of ingredients and the most real foods.

I like to tell people to be gluten free as opposed to going gluten free. This means eating in new and inventive ways and not placing too much emphasis on replacing previously enjoyed foods with a less than optimal gluten free option.

Whenever possible, use vegetables in place of grains. Vegetables are packed with nutrients and minerals that are easily absorbed and assimilated by your body.

Instead of using a gluten free tortilla, make a wrap out of either nori or rice paper sheets, large spinach, collard green leaves or cabbage leaves. The individual leaves can be blanched to take on a softer texture so they are more manageable. There are also many recipes available online to make your own vegetable based wraps.

Rather than choosing pastas that are made from gluten free grains. Opt for some properly prepared whole grains, try seaweed or kelp ‘noodles’ or better yet,  simply make your own out of vegetables such as spaghetti squash or carrot,  or sweet potato or zucchini prepared using a spiralizer.

Cauliflower, blended with some high quality cheese (if dairy is a part of your diet) and eggs makes a great base for a nutrient dense ‘pizza’. Cauliflower also can be finely chopped into ‘rice’ that you can easily saute for a few minutes to make the perfect rice substitute.

If you have a desire for baked goods, treat them as the occasional indulgence and special occasion decadence they are meant to be. Get creative in the kitchen and use grain free, fiber packed alternatives such as coconut flour and almond, hazelnut or sunflower seed meals. You can also source banana, plantain or cassava flour. Instead of choosing store-bought, refined crackers make them yourself using nuts, seeds, water and eggs. There are many gluten free, grain free, whole foods based recipes online, but again, be aware of your ingredients and do not use these as substitutes for eating whole, real, unprocessed foods.                    

Snacks and small meals can be made up of any combination of  seeds, nuts, dates, dried coconut, inca inchi seeds, paleo jerky, canned sardines in olive oil, pickles, olives, homemade jelly, chia pudding, coconut milk panna cotta, homemade chocolate, home made gummies, a smoothie, a piece of fruit or a chunk of cheese (if tolerated) .

I cannot stress enough that part of being gluten free is enjoying food in its whole, minimally processed state.  Eat more fresh produce! Fruit, vegetables, salad greens, eggs, seafood and fresh quality meats are all naturally gluten free. Explore, experiment and discover. Try a new food or two every week until you find your favourites.

When done right, being gluten free is not rigid, overly restrictive, or isolating. It can be easy and delicious. Seek out foods that are naturally gluten free, continue to test substitute recipes and ingredients until you find the perfect balance for you. Food is a personal choice and only you know what tastes good and feels right for your unique biological make-up and individual body.

Michal Ofer