We have become used to the labels fat free, sodium free, cholesterol free, nut free; now gluten freeseems to be the latest trend. On the one hand we realize that the food industry is a business; so selling the idea that you need or suffer from something is inevitable. On the other hand we must consider the fact that incorrect labeling or secret ingredients for some people can become a matter of life and death.
At a recent cocktail party two people said they were allergic to shrimp, one to oysters, two to nuts, one is lactose intolerant, one to the polymers of surgical gloves and four out of the ten were on gluten free diets. One may have celiac disease and the others were advised to try avoiding gluten the sticky protein found in wheat, barley, spelt, kamut, triticale, malt and rye.
They reported that they felt so much better in many ways, regained a waistline, thought more clearly and eliminated joint pain. Other gluten related conditions such as gluten ataxia can affect the brain and create neurological problems. A gluten free diet has been found to be useful in the treatment of autistic children. Even products such as shampoo and body wash can contain wheat germ, barley or rye and since the skin is the largest organ of the body it could be adversely affected. Surprisingly cigarettes may also contain gluten either from plant contamination or from the wheat processing of the papers.
Gluten was discovered by Buddhist monks seeking supplemental protein for their vegetarian diets. It is very useful in baking, providing elasticity and stability. It is used as a thickener in many processed foods including imitation meats and self basting poultry. Anyone handling food should understand the dangers, pain and discomfort that can be inflicted when a known allergen is ingested by the unsuspecting recipient. Cross contamination can occur on restaurant or home kitchen work surfaces and care must be taken not to mistakenly add an unwanted ingredient.
If you suspect you may be gluten intolerant try eliminating all gluten for three weeks and see if it makes a difference. If you have been diagnosed it does not mean you must avoid all grains and starches.
Here are some that are GLUTEN FREE for true.…
Amaranth was the sacred food of the Aztecs. Its small seeds must be cooked – not eaten raw. There are many plants in this family, callaloo being one and pigweed in the USA another. It is a hardy crop that is easy to harvest andhas multiple uses. It contains more protein than many grains, vital nutrients and is easily digestible. This plant is gaining a lot of notoriety as an answer to world hunger. I like to cook a variety of grains together for a nutritious mix.
Arrowroot is a starch made from the tubers of tropical plant Maranta Arundinacea. It has been widely cultivated everywhere the Caribs settled and it was brought back from the colonies where we Brits developed a fondness for its mild taste in little biscuits along with afternoon tea. Makes a sort of bland cookie often given to infants and invalids but since it is all carbohydrate it does not offer much nutritionally. It is a good thickening agent for sauces and pies.
Buckwheat. Russia and China are the leaders in the buckwheat field. It is a fast growing cooler climate plant related to sorrel, not wheat as its name implies. As a flour it is used for noodles and pancakes and as a grain prepared like rice. It is possible to be allergic to buckwheat.
Cassava is a good source of carbohydrates in the tropics and throughout the world butlacking in protein and other nutrients. It must be prepared properly as it contains cyanide.
Chia (Salvia Hispanica) is from Southern Mexico and Central America part of the mint family. Excellent brain food which can be eaten whole, milled or sprouted. I am sure you remember the chia pet.
Chick peas or garbanzos are rich in protein and can be made into flour called gram used for baking or battering.
Corn or maize appears to have developed from the wild Mexican grass Teosinte. Cornmeal is a healthful and popular ingredient for gluten free cooking.
Flax seeds can be added for micronutrients, omega 3 essential fats and fiber.
Hemp seeds provide good fats to the diet, are rich in vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, have a pleasing nutty taste and appear to be allergen free.
Millet has a very tasty nutty flavour and quick and easy to prepare. I used to give this only to my budgerigar George until the discovery that it was not just for the birds.
Oats. Although gluten free in their pure form oats are often grown on the same land as wheat and can have cross contamination there or in the processing facility.
Potatoes. There are many varieties and potato flour is a great alternative to wheat.
Quinoa comes from the Incas in the Andes; this plant has edible seeds but is not a grass and therefore not a grain. Thought to have magical power, chenopodium was banned from growing by the conquistadors. This is currently a very popular product.
Ramon,breadnut or Maya nut comes from the stately yaxox tree and is a very versatile food for humans and jungle creatures. It can be sun roasted, boiled, mashed, baked, used as flour for tortillas etc. or consumed as a beverage. It is a great vitamin rich survival food widely used in the Peten. It is part of the Maya rainforest garden and therefore not exposed to pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Rice -brown, white, long grain, short grain, basmati, jasmine, wild rice, red rice – all are considered gluten free. (The term glutinous rice just means it is sticky when cooked therefore good for sushi. It does not contain gluten.)
Sesame seeds can be added for additional value and taste.
Sorghum. I bought some of this the other day in a feed store for my chickens. Grain sorghum is also called milobut not to be confused with the drink MILO which is actually processed from barley and wheat and therefore contains gluten. Sorghum is consumed by humans in many countries and principally fed to livestock in USA. It grows very well in hot climates. As a grain it takes longer to cook but it is nutritious and delicious. Sorghum is the main ingredient in gluten free beer.
Tapioca is a starch derived from manioc or cassava roots. Tapioca pearls may look like grain but are created by pushing the starch through a sieve under pressure. I would avoid the processed pearls and stick to real taro root.
Teff. Ethiopia is known for its long distance runners and they attribute their health and ability to teff, also known as lovegrass. This really is true and because of its versatility and proven track record is gaining popularity in USA. So it is out with the pasta; bring on the teff.
We do not know if allergies have risen because of change in seed and chemicals but the USAstatistics say 1% of the population has celiac disease and gluten intolerance affects 10% of the population and if undiagnosed the problem can lead to gastrointestinal and other malignancies. So it is no wonder there is a trend to seek alternatives. Farmers are recognizing this and moving to gluten free crops to deal with the growing demand. Most of these products can be found in larger grocery and health food stores. I have found most of them in a health store in Belmopan.
Check the label first; if it says emulsifier, starch stabilizer, artificial flavouring or colouring it possibly contains gluten. Even if you are not on a restricted diet it is good to try new foods, give your body a break and it helps to be better informed if a loved one develops an allergy. For gluten free foods you generally cannot go wrong with beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, dairy, meats, fish, poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Here are foods that can contain gluten and for some should be avoided: on the menu -anything that says crumbed, breaded or battered; sauces as they are often thickened with flour; pasta; salad dressings; canned soups; baked beans; hot dogs and sausages; imitation meats and fish; hamburger patties, which often contain bread crumbs; roasted coated nuts; frozen french fries; sweets and candy bars; malt; some brands of baking powder but you can make your own gluten free with a combination of baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch; seasoned rice in packs; ice cream (but check ingredients; skip the chocolate chip cookie or cheesecake; go for lemon or vanilla); couscous which is wheat; orzo pasta which is barley; semolina which is wheat; soy sauce, which is made 50/50 soy and wheat (so look for Tamari sauce instead and check label for gluten free); Hoisan sauce; Worcestershire sauce; beer……..BUT one can find gluten free beers. (Alcohol is fortified with brandy or caramel colouring which contains gluten.)
Eggs are gluten free but if the chickens are fed a diet of wheat, it is possible that a very small trace of gluten could be present. We have seen eggs saying soy free so perhaps gluten free will be next. If eating eggs in a restaurant consider also that they may be cooked on same griddle as the pancakes.
The word free has many connotations and is grossly over used in marketing, often making us skeptical of its validity. Would you believe that the word free has its roots in a word meaning “to love” ? Hopefully by understanding our friends’ needs we will do just that.
Maya Beach, Placencia,
Stann Creek, Belize.