Gluten Free Foods
About Gluten Free Foods
There are many individuals whose lives revolve around gluten free foods, such as those people living with celiac disease, and adhering to this type of diet can be very challenging. Gluten occurs naturally in so many foods, and many gluten free foods are contaminated during processing, packaging or mixing, which means that if you are trying to avoid all the gluten in your diet you must be very careful and very aware of what choices you make while grocery shopping or ordering food in restaurants.
A good starting point for identifying gluten free foods is to truly understood what gluten is. A simple definition of gluten is that it is an insoluable, elastic protein known as prolamines that is composed of two primary groups of proteins: gliadins and glutenins. Gluten is contained in wheat, barley, rye, durum, semolina, spelt, oats, and some related grains like triticale, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and kamut.
Hidden Sources of Gluten
This means that wheat, barley and rye are big no-nos on the gluten-free diet. So does that mean everything else is gluten-free and therefore safe? If only it were that easy! Once you begin to understand gluten, you will notice that it is present in many foods and products, such as additives, soups, and sauces. Some hidden sources of gluten include:
- modified food starch
- packaged rice mix
- thickening agents
- creamed vegetables
- caramel coloring
- non-dairy creamers
- malted milk
- sandwich meats
- flavored coffees
- salad dressing
- ice cream
- gravy mixes
- processed cheese
- tomato sauces
- some herbal teas
What to Buy
Many things are fairly obviously safe and can be included on your gluten free food list. You can purchase all the fruits and vegetables you want, meat is fine and you don't have to give up regular coffee or tea. Of course the minute you are considering buying packaged or processed versions of these items you have to start reading labels pretty carefully, and often you'll need to go a step further and contact the company that packaged the food to determine if there has been any contact with gluten-containing items. Anything with a coating (like chicken nuggets or fish sticks for example) probably has wheat or some variation in it. Gravy is thickened with wheat flour. The list unfortunately goes on and on. We'll look further at foods to avoid below, but for now here are some gluten-free food items that can be safely added to your grocery list:
- fresh fuit
Gluten Free Food Alternatives
Rice and rice-based products are a safe choice for the gluten intolerant person. This means that rice cakes and crackers may be your new snack choices and rice flour can be added to your arsenal of baking necessities. It also means that ready to eat rice cereals are an easy breakfast choice.
Corn meal and corn flour can provide a base for many tasty dishes. Corn tortillas (one-hundred percent corn) will allow you to enjoy delicious enchiladas or quesadillas and corn bread is the perfect accompaniment to hearty stews and casseroles. Cornmeal also makes a great choice for breading your chicken or crusting your fish.
If you love to bake, you have several gluten free food choices. If you want to experiment with making gluten-free breads or desserts, consider a mix of gluten-free flours. A mixture of two-thirds rice flour plus a one-third part that is mostly tapioca flour with some potato starch flour added, is a good starting point. You may wish to experiment with this combination to find the one that works best in your environment and suits your taste buds the most. Depending on your recipe you may want to substitute in some nut flour, some soy flour or some arrowroot.
If you need to thicken a stew or make gravy to go with your Sunday roast, consider using either tapioca, guar gum or arrowroot. These are great thickening agents and should allow you to create a silky concoction for the dinner table.
Nut flours can be a wonderful addition to many recipes, for example they are great used as part of the mix in dessert recipes. Nut flours do spoil though as a result of their high oil content, so it is best to purchase them in smaller quantities as needed. You can also grind your own nut flour as needed if you have a food processor.
Unfortunately regular beer is not acceptable on a gluten-free diet. There are gluten-free beers on the market, but a celiac diagnosis might be the time to cultivate an interest in wine. Wine, as long as it a fortified version, is gluten-free and all variations including port, sherry, brandy and cognac can be enjoyed to your heart's content. Sake, the Japanese rice wine, is also a gluten-free option to explore.
For your reference, here's a quick list of gluten-free flours or wheat substitutes:
Nut flours, such as almond flour
Maybe or Maybe Not!
There are several debatable options for consideration in the world of gluten free foods. For example, oats are generally recommended against, but in their pure form they do not contain gluten. The problem with an item like oats is that they are so frequently contaminated that physicians and nutritionists will err on the side of caution and urge you to avoid them. It is best to wait until your celiac symptoms are under control before experimenting with oats, and even then you should only buy whole, steel-cut oats and try them in very small quantities to see if you tolerate them.
Other items on the maybe list include millet, quinoa, amaranth, manioc, teff, and cassava. These options are gluten-free naturally but frequently come into contact with gluten-containing items during packaging or processing.
Foods to Avoid
The basic list of items to avoid includes wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, malt, durum, semolina, and any unidentified starches. Gluten is a frequently used stabilizer or thickener, so many commercially produced items like salad dressings, pie filling, sauces, flavored syrups, sour cream and more may have hidden gluten within. Also, as malt sweeteners are not gluten free, many candies like jelly beans and licorice must be avoided.
Several more foods to avoid include: bouillon cubes, malto dextrin, bread crumbs, malt, graham flour, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, couscous, ramen noodles, wheat germ, and flour tortillas.
Packaged Gluten Free Foods
If you are overwhelmed by the idea of giving up many of your favorite foods like pizza, cake or cookies, and you don't have any desire to take up baking as a hobby, realize that there are actually a fair number of gluten-free manufacturers who are working to supply the ever-increasing number of diagnosed celiac sufferers with easy options for gluten-free eating.
Amy's Kitchen has a wonderful line of gluten free food products sure to please sufferers of celiac disease. Among the available options are rice-crust cheese pizza and shepherd's pie. Another popular company with individuals on a gluten free diet is Kinnikinnick Foods, with their wide assortment of gluten-free products, including chocolate cake mix, homestyle waffles, pizza crusts, and chocolate chip cookies!
Gluten Free Pantry is another retailer that offers a variety of gluten-free dessert mixes, including cakes, cookies and icing. Gluten Free Pantry also offers quickbread, muffin, and bread mixes. Be sure to check out their Chocolate Truffle Brownie mix if you want to make a crowd-pleasing dessert!
Companies like “Foods By George,” Pastariso, and Glutano carry gluten free food versions of your favorite pasta – from spaghetti to lasagna noodles. For simple snack options look to companies like Glutino for their pretzels or flax crackers, or the corn snacks from A-Maizing. Health food stores or online merchants are your best bets for these snack foods.click here to learn more about gluten free foods and recipes
It is a basic truth that adhering to a gluten free foods diet will never be easy, but it will be incredibly rewarding because if you are sensitive to gluten, you can feel good, truly good, when your body is not suffering from exposure to gluten. It will take time to find new favorites, but whether you love to whip up homemade bread or you prefer to experiment with gluten-free offerings from your local grocery store or bakery, you are sure to discover an array of options that will taste wonderful and allow you to be healthy. Just remember, if in doubt about whether a product is gluten-free, choose something else until you can verify what the ingredients are and if there is any hidden gluten waiting to trip you up.