We're big fans of Gabby Ouimet over at The Veggie Nook, a blog dedicated to healthy eating.
That's why we partnered with her to create five wonderful recipes this year; Carrot Coconut Curry Soup, Curry Tomato Spaghetti Squash, Raw Pumpkin Cheesecake, Red Velvet Smoothies and Spinach Avocado Pesto (yum!). Besides being amazingly delicious and good for you, these dishes all have something else in common too: they're gluten-free! And we promise you won't miss the gluten. It seems like the word gluten is popping up everywhere nowadays. With so many different sources of gluten, reactions to it, and health claims about it, it can be a confusing world to navigate. We asked Gabby to give us a little primer on gluten - check out our Q&A below!
There is a lot of hype about gluten these days - what is it exactly?
G: Gluten is simply a protein found primarily in wheat and other grains like spelt, kamut, rye and barley. Any protein has the potential to cause allergies and immune reactions and gluten is a particularly problematic one.
What are some common sources of gluten, and some of the more surprising ones?
G: It is a component of wheat and to a lesser extent spelt, kamut, rye and barley and all food products made from them. However, because of food processing it sneaks in to so many other places like soy sauce, salad dressings, luncheon meats, herbal coffee replacements, tea, instant broths, spice mixes, and breading and coatings on things like French fries.
Some people say they are gluten 'sensitive' (intolerant or allergic) while others have celiac disease - what's the difference?
G: Allergies, intolerances and celiac are all different and it all has to do with how your immune system reacts to them. An allergy is a classic immune reaction that we are all familiar with similar to allergies to peanuts, shellfish, etc. In an allergy, your body produces antibodies to fight a foreign substance, which creates inflammation and other reactions we typically associate with an allergy.
Celiac disease is different: this is an autoimmune condition like type I diabetes is. In celiac disease, the ingestion of gluten causes an inflammatory reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine. The body beings to attack itself on the ingestion of gluten.
An intolerance encompasses any other negative reaction to the gluten protein. This isn’t a classic allergy, but still involves an immune reaction. It is harder to determine since negative reactions can take varied forms and can be very subtle.
Why do you think gluten sensitivity is so common nowadays?
G: With modern food processing, gluten is ending up in so many foods you eat. As I said above, any protein has the ability to cause an immune reaction and eating it frequently increases that chance. Gluten is everywhere and people are eating it multiple times a day, often without even realizing. Not only that, but the breeding of wheat in North American has increased the gluten naturally in the grain. That means we are getting more gluten per serving of wheat than our ancestors!
What are some of the symptoms of a gluten sensitivity?
G: The signs could be almost anything. Digestive upset, skin problems, brain fog, joint pain, headaches and fatigue are some of the most common. The best way to tell is to try cutting out gluten for just 2 weeks, then reintroduce it and watch for any bad feelings for up to 3 days later. Often it’s hard to notice gluten’s effects until you cut it out for a time. We’ve all gotten used to feeling bad!
If someone isn't gluten sensitive or celiac, would you still recommend removing gluten from their diet?
G: Gluten is very difficult to digest, even if you don’t have a sensitivity. Gluten is the protein that gives bread its elasticity, so it is gummy in nature. This makes it hard to break down and gives it a high allergen potential. And as I said above, some people are eating it multiple times a day! I think most people should aim to reduce their consumption. This also opens up space in the diet for consuming more grains like quinoa, millet and amaranth. Variety keeps things interesting and covers our nutritional bases!
Can you recommend some easy cooking substitutes to help cut out gluten for us everyday folk?
G: While cooking and baking gluten free can be daunting at first, it’s actually quite easy! Here are some of my favourite tips:
- Gluten-free breads are getting better and better these days, just look for ones made with whole grains. Sprouted grain breads, while not gluten-free have a texture really similar to regular wheat bread and are easier to digest. Look in the freezer section!
- Even better, try whole grains instead of bread - quinoa, millet, amaranth, rice and oats are all gluten-free!
- A note about oats: while naturally gluten-free, they are often processed on machinery that also processed wheat, thus a gluten contaminated. Look for certified gluten-free brands that process their oats in separate facilities.
- Starches like corn, tapioca and arrowroot can be used to thicken sauces instead of regular flour.
- You can make your own breadcrumbs by running a slice of gluten-free bread through your food processor or blender, or can use almond or cornmeal.
- Use a gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce
- In baking, oat flour is an incredibly easy flour to sub! Just use some starch (arrowroot, tapioca) with it as well. I find ratios of 2:1 or 3:1 oat flour to starch work great to replace wheat flour in recipes.
What's your go-to gluten-free recipe for a quick weeknight dinner?
G: I can be a really boring cook. Often my go-to meals are quinoa with some steamed or roasted veggies with a protein (beans, tofu or meat/eggs if that’s your jam). Throw it in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Yum!
Any tips/advice for someone who is considering 'going gluten-free'?
G: Unless you have a serious medical condition that requires you to cut it out immediately, ease into it. Start by replacing your breads (the easiest) and revamp your pantry at your own pace. Keep your foods simple. And don’t worry too much about eating out - it can be easy! So many restaurants are accommodating gluten-free diets these days, you won’t be stuck sitting at home, I promise!
Gabby is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, MPH candidate blogger and veggie addict. She believes healthy eating and living should be simple, fun and delicious, so her goal is to get you eating your veggies and enjoying them too! Check out her blog The Veggie Nook and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.