What’s to Eat?
“What is left for me to eat?” is a question in the mind of anyone recently diagnosed with celiac disease or food allergies. Let’s face it, grains are staples of our diets. When the grains we usually eat must be eliminated, a gaping hole results. Although a diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, and fish is nutritionally adequate, without some type of starchy food to round out a meal or snack, we may feel unsatisfied.
As a result we usually turn to rice – the most common gluten-free grain – to replace wheat in our diets. Today heath food stores are stocked with rice-based cookies, crackers, cereals, snacks, and breads for the gluten intolerant, so the substitution problem seems solved. However, although whole-grain rice is a good nutritious food, a diet based on rice, rice, rice, and more rice can become boring. From a nutritional standpoint, the more variety there is in one’s diet, the better. In addition, overeating any one food can lead to the development of a new allergy to that food for those with food allergy predisposition.
There is no universally “safe” food. A person with allergic tendencies can become allergic to anything. The development of food allergy depends on the individual and on the quantity and frequency of exposure to a food. In China, where rice is the most commonly eaten grain, more people are allergic to rice than to wheat. Individual factors which influence the likelihood of food allergy include heredity, increased intestinal permeability (which allows more food to enter the bloodstream incompletely digested), and other factors. (To read about all of these factors in detail, see The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide). Celiac disease compromises intestinal integrity. Thus if a celiac has any genetic predisposition toward allergy or food intolerance, sensitivities to foods other than gluten can develop.
To add real variety to your gluten-free diet or to eat a gluten-free diet without rice, you must become familiar with the other gluten-free grains and grain alternatives which can be used in place of or in addition to rice. These grains include millet, teff, sorghum (also called milo or jowar), buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, bean flours, and starches such as arrowroot, tapioca, water chestnut starch, and bean starch. Recently, some doctors have allowed their patients with celiac disease to eat oats, although oats are not universally accepted as “safe” at the time of this writing. I saw one “gluten-free” cookbook based almost entirely on oats, which is as bad an idea as a diet based solely on rice. Variety in the diet is the key to both good nutrition and to the prevention of the development of new sensitivities.
You also need a new attitude towards your food. All gluten-free flours, including rice, behave differently than wheat in baking. This is because gluten is what holds wheat breads together and makes it light by forming sheets that trap the gas that causes bread, cakes, and cookies to rise. Learning about new ingredients and new cooking techniques will help you make baked goods with gluten-free flours which hold together and rise, but it is still difficult to make them extremely light. (See the second and third chapters of Gluten-Free Without Rice for more about cooking with gluten-free flours).
Also, most of the gluten-free grain flours have a slightly gritty texture and some of them, especially millet and sorghum, produce dry baked goods no matter how much oil and pureed fruit you add to the recipe. They are at their moistest fresh from the oven, so eat them quickly!
Because of these differences in gluten-free foods, a little “attitude adjustment” is important. Keep the larger picture of good health at the forefront of your mind. Recovering your health is a good and realistic goal. It is unrealistic to expect gluten-free baked goods to be as tender, light and moist as wheat. They are delicious and filling, however, and you will come to enjoy their tasty new flavors and the variety they add to your diet as you enjoy better health.
Recommended by Experts:
This book is a must for cooks at any level to develop both the art and the chemistry of healthy food preparation. A healthy lifestyle requires a nourishing diet containing a wide range of foods. The variety of wonderfully organized recipes displayed in the book counters the monotony of the average gluten-free diet.
Dr. Nicholas Nonas
Allergy and Environmental Medicine
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