Going gluten-free? Here’s the scoop on why you might want to!
Over the years we’ve fallen in and out of love with assorted popular diets. Now prominent on the diet radar screen is the Gluten-Free Diet accompanied by a swelling of gluten-free products online, on supermarket shelves, and on restaurant menus. What is a gluten-free diet and why do some people have to give gluten the shaft to stay healthy?
Before the Neolithic Period humans chowed down on a diet of meat, wild game, seeds, nuts, berries and veggies. Anthropologists proposed theories that wheat and other grains containing gluten (cultivated around 9500 B.C., relative newbies on the evolutionary food chain) were foreign to the human gut, and consequently, the intestines did not have time to adapt to digesting this new food group. As a result, some people have difficulty breaking down wheat into individual amino acids, reeking havoc on weaker intestines.
Gluten is the protein found in certain grains and their hybrids including wheat, rye and barley. Like its namesake, gluten is the “glue-like” substance that gives bread and pasta their wonderful chewy texture, and also provides a load of nutritional value.
But for those suffering from Celiac Disease (tallied at 1 in 133 or 3 million in this country) gluten is the enemy. In addition, a new slogan has been coined, “non-Celiac gluten sensitivity” for those who do not test positive for Celiac Disease, but experience intolerance or symptoms like diarrhea or bloating after eating gluten, said Maryrose Hopke, co-coordinator of the Celiac Disease Foundation in southern California (Studio City).
There is no real health risk for these people, unlike the Celiacs who suffer an autoimmune reaction from eating gluten. The small intestine is under attack, which compromises the villi, and prevents proper absorption of minerals and other nutrients that can lead to serious health issues including malnutrition, anemia, skin rashes and osteoporosis.
According Hopke, “a gluten-free diet has a fad component to it when celebrities cut out gluten to make them feel better and lose weight, but many folks need to faithfully and strictly follow a gluten-free diet to stay well.” By eliminating gluten, the villi can regenerate itself so it can do its job of nutrient absorption.
The key to following a gluten-free diet is to “read labels carefully,” said Hopeke. Wheat and gluten are disguised under other vernacular like durum, semolina, spelt and triticale (a wheat hybrid). Gluten also hides in sauces like soy and Worcestershire, baked goods, processed meats and other foods and drinks, including beer.
And while corn and rice contain a gluten derivative, it is not toxic to Celiacs who can also safely eat potatoes, buckwheat, quinoa and soy. Oats, in and of themselves are gluten-free, but might be grown or harvested with other grains containing gluten, causing cross-contamination. So standing advice: Read labels and choose the brands that specifically state “gluten-free” on the packages.
Many mainstream food companies have hopped on the gluten-free bandwagon, including General Mills with assorted cereals and Betty Crocker with a smorgasbord of baking mixes. I recently scoped out gluten-free pastas from DeBoles made with rice and corn flours, as well as potato, soy and other ancient gluten-free grains, and a delightful and decadent dairy-free, soy-free and gluten-free chocolate beverage made with hemp protein and other all-natural and organic ingredients by Mayesa, a new, locally-based company.
Dining out is also becoming more accommodating for those on a gluten-free diet, whether Celiacs or those with gluten sensitivities or intolerances. Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza (with locations in Carmel Valley and La Jolla) has an expanded menu that incorporates more than three dozen gluten-free items from soups, salads and tapas to wraps, signature wood-fired pizzas and even a gluten-free beer.
Sammy’s Executive Chef Jeff Moogk shared his recipe for a gluten-free chilled roast vegetable salad.
Sammy’s Gluten-Free Chilled Roast Vegetable Salad
(Serves 4 to 6)
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella pearls (no liquid)
6 ounces of shelled, blanched edamame
6 ounces of sliced, roasted or canned artichoke hearts or bottoms
2 ounces of sliced red onion
4 ounces of roasted, seeded yellow tomato wedges
4 ounces of roasted, peeled red bell pepper strips
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
2 ounces of olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper
Directions: In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Toss well, and serve on a platter lined with fresh spinach leaves.
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