May is National Celiac Awareness Month. Celiac disease is a disease in which the ingestion of gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine. This leads to damage to the small intestine which can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and malnutrition. There is no cure for celiac disease, but for the most part it can be managed by adopting a gluten-free diet. Over time, following a gluten-free diet will allow the gut to heal.
You’ve probably heard of gluten, but what is it? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and wheat varieties such as semolina, triticale, spelled, farro and spelt. Wheat, and therefore gluten, is commonly found in many staple foods such as breads, crackers, pastas, cereals, baked goods, and soups and can be found in less obvious sources like sauces. , ice cream, beer, soy sauce, nutritional supplements, etc. Some foods like oats are naturally gluten-free but are often processed near gluten-containing ingredients and may contain traces of gluten unless labeled gluten-free.
In baking, gluten protein adds structure that contributes to the texture and mouthfeel of the product. Raising agents like yeast release air which is trapped by gluten strands which harden during baking, producing light and fluffy bread. Without gluten, these bubbles would deflate and leave a flat, dense bread. Gluten-free baked goods must rely on additives like xanthan gum, guar gum, and psyllium husk to trap those air bubbles. To see for yourself what gluten is capable of, search for “gluten ball experience” online. It’s a fun activity to try for kids or adults.
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There are many naturally gluten-free foods, including plain meats, poultry and fish, fruits, vegetables, rice, potatoes, corn, quinoa, some dairy products such as milk and cheese, etc Over the past decade, the number of gluten-free products available in stores has exploded, making it easier to transition to a gluten-free diet. However, just because something says “gluten-free” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Many gluten-free products are just as processed as the products they replace such as cookies, chips, donuts, baking mixes, etc.
Eating gluten-free has been hyped to help with weight loss, skin issues, general health, and more, though research hasn’t confirmed this. Following a gluten-free diet can lead to healthier eating if it means choosing more unprocessed foods and eliminating excessive servings of simple carbohydrates from breads, pastas, crackers, cakes, etc. However, this is not always the case and eating a gluten-free diet can make it difficult to get essential nutrients from our diets such as fibre, iron and B vitamins. Some people without celiac disease have less bloating and gastrointestinal symptoms when on a gluten-free diet, although research points to a type of carbohydrate in wheat called fructans as the culprit rather than the gluten protein.
If you are concerned that you have celiac disease, it is important to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet. If you remove gluten from your diet before being tested for celiac disease, you won’t have the gluten antibodies and you will have a false negative test.
If you’re considering trying gluten-free baking, note that it usually takes a combination of different gluten-free flours to create a texture similar to regular baked goods. The first recipe is an example. The second recipe only needs gluten-free oats to make the jump between regular baking and gluten-free baking.
Gluten Free Whole Grain Banana Bread
- ½ cup brown rice flour
- ½ cup amaranth flour
- ½ cup tapioca flour
- ½ cup millet flour
- ½ cup quinoa flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ⅛ teaspoon of salt
- 3/4 cup egg substitute (or use egg whites)
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- ½ cup raw sugar
- 2 cups mashed banana
Directions: Heat oven to 350 F. Prepare a 5×9-inch loaf pan by spraying it lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle with a little of one of the flours. Put aside.
In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients except the sugar together. In another bowl, combine the egg, oil, sugar and mashed banana. Mix well. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into a loaf pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes.
Check for doneness with a toothpick – when the toothpick is removed there should be no pastry stuck to it. Remove the bread from the oven, let cool, slice and serve.
Per serving (1/14 loaf): Calories 165, Fat 3g, Saturated Fat 0.5g, Sodium 145mg, Carbohydrate 30g, Fiber 2g, Protein 4g
Gluten Free Juicy Peach Crumble
- 6 peaches, sliced
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
- ¼ cup oatmeal*
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons butter, softened
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In a bowl, combine the peaches, orange juice and vanilla. Put the fruit mixture in the baking dish. In another bowl, combine rolled oats, oat flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut the butter into the mixture until well blended. Sprinkle oat mixture over fruit mixture. Bake for 45 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly.
*To make your own oatmeal, use your gluten-free oats and process them in a food processor, blender or coffee grinder until they have the texture of flour.
Per serving (1/8th pan): Calories 175, Fat 7g, Saturated Fat 3g, Sodium 35mg, Carbohydrate 30mg, Fiber 3g, Protein 3g
Romi Londre is a Registered Dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System.