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.

***For more gluten-free recipes, e-mail me at kitchenshrink@san.rr.com or visit FreeRangeClub.com

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Posted by Staff on Feb 1, 2011. Filed under Columns, Food, Kitchen Shrink, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

5 Comments for “Going gluten-free? Here’s the scoop on why you might want to!”

  1. If anyone is on the fence about going gluten-free they should read the book, "The Gluten Effect" by Doctors Richard and Vikki Petersen. It explains all of the conditions that are caused by eating gluten. The list is so long you would not believe it! Get the facts. Stay informed.

    Well done! Great article!

  2. Besides General Mills and Betty Crocker a few lesser known brands that a good for the newly gluten free are Kinnikinnick Foods – they make amazing GF glazed donuts, and Helen's Kitchen which makes healthy frozen entrees including burrito bowls and tofu steaks (all their meals are also vegetarian). Good Luck!!

  3. Thanks so much for this informative and very well-written article on who needs to follow a gluten-free diet and why. Indeed the most important exercise is to read labels – and watch out for rye and barley since they are the tough ones to detect! In addition, food manufacturers frequently change recipes, so just because a certain item is gluten-free at one point in time does not mean it will stay that way forever.

    Best advice I have: only shop the perimeter of the grocery store where you find all your essentials – and avoid the aisles with the heavily processed foods. That's where wheat and its derivatives are often used as cheap fillers!

  4. Thanks so much for this informative and very well-written article on who needs to follow a gluten-free diet and why. Indeed the most important exercise is to read labels – and watch out for rye and barley since they are the tough ones to detect! In addition, food manufacturers frequently change recipes, so just because a certain item is gluten-free at one point in time does not mean it will stay that way forever.

    The best advice that I have for anyone on a gluten-free diet is to avoid the aisles and ship only the perimeter of the store. You will find all the essentials and avoid the heavily processed stuff that often contains wheat, rye or barley.

  5. Kevin

    Thursday Feb. 10th at Warwicks Books on Girard will be having a book signing for "Gluten Free Cake Mix" by Anne Byrn at 7 p.m.
    As well as an excellent Gluten-Free pizza or salad at Extreme Pizza on Kline Street is offered daily for delivery, pick up, or dine in.

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