A Guide to Gluten Free Cooking
Nowadays people are becoming increasingly aware of how the foods we eat affect our bodies. If you’re having problems digesting food and absorbing nutrients due to mal absorption issues or auto immune conditions then adopting a gluten free diet is highly recommended by many industry professionals.
Gluten is the protein part of grains such as wheat, rye, barley and others and for some people, when gluten comes in contact with the small intestine their bodies cannot tolerate it therefore causing them digestive upset, pain, weakness, rashes, muscle aches and weight loss or weight gain.
Going gluten free is a great way to allow your body a break from foods that are harmful and difficult to digest and the best way to give your body the chance to recover from illness at cellular level. The simplest and healthiest way to live gluten-free is to focus on fresh, organic whole foods and give processed foods the flick for good.
Eating gluten free does not limit itself to just avoiding grains it also includes avoiding many other products like soy sauce, meat substitutes, pasta, crackers and cereals containing malt to name a few, these products can contain gluten and sneaky gluten derivatives.
It’s frustrating when you first decide to eat gluten free as there are so many mixed messages when it comes to food shopping. It’s important to read food labels carefully if you do decide to eat packaged food.
Foods such as soups, seasoned rice mixes, gravies, sauces and some nuts also contain gluten in varying amounts. And labellers don’t always tell the truth when it comes to what’s in their products. If a food contains less than 5% of a certain ingredient they legally don’t have to report that ingredient.
Knowing what types of grains and products contain gluten is a good way to ensure you’re not going to be misled by advertising and labeling laws. The best grains to avoid if you’re on a gluten free diet are wheat, rye, barley, oats, kamut, semolina, wheat germ, couscous, durum, spelt, bulgar, farina, einkorn and farro.
Just because you’re eating gluten free doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a great variety of nutrient rich foods. You can have your gluten free cake pasta and bread and eat it too!
If you’re intending on baking gluten-free then it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with gluten friendly flour alternatives. When using alternate flours its beneficial to bear in mind that gluten free flours do not display the same characteristics and provide the same results as gluten flours.
Breads will have a crumblier texture in some cases and will not rise as high as “traditional” breads, that’s why it’s good to use a loaf pan when cooking, in order for breads to retain their shape. You can experiment with using arrowroot and tapioca flour to improve the texture of your baked goods too.
Some people like to add guar gum or xantham gum in small amounts to create the sticky effect which is generated when using gluten flours. These gums are traditionally used as a thickening, stabilizing, suspending and binding agent. You’ll find these ingredients in many commercially made gluten-free flour mixes.
I tend to avoid using guar gum in my cooking as research undertaken by the FDA advises that bulking agents such as guar gum can be harmful and can can cause obstructions in the intestines, stomach, or esophagus when it swells by coming into contact with water. Guar gum has also been reported as preventing nutrient absorption in the body.
I find using gluten free baking powder and bi carb of soda works very well in delicious cakes, breads and muffins. If you’re using eggs in baked goods this also helps to add some of the protein that is lost when not using gluten. Some interesting and delicious gluten free flours to use when baking are buckwheat, almond meal, arrowroot, tapioca, coconut, chestnut, chickpea, quinoa and brown rice flour. They are all gluten free substitutes to wheat flour and can be mixed and matched to get your desired result.
Gluten-free baking powder can also be used in baking, it’s widely available in the baking sections of supermarkets and bicarbonate of soda is naturally gluten free too.
If you’re looking for pre-packaged gluten free baking flours, although a fast, convenient way to ascertain first-hand, how working with gluten-free flours is different than working with gluten flours, its important to check labels as some products contain cheap white rice flour and additives that are only going to defeat the purpose of eating naturally and building up your immune system. Just because it’s gluten free doesn’t mean that it’s particularly healthy!
It just takes a bit of time to get used to working with gluten free flours and I have found that it’s beneficial to use gluten free baking flours in combination with each other, that’s when the best results will emerge. It’s a bit like a high school science experiment when you first begin but why not start by finding some of your favourite recipes and then creating your very own gluten free version?
Be adventurous and you will be surprised with the results, your palette will change and you’ll find eating gluten filled, sugar laden processed cakes and pastries will no longer taste as good as their healthy alternatives. Plus you will feel so much better, more invigorated and revitalized with energy to spare.
For main meals if you’re looking at using gluten free flours as a coating then any number of gluten free flours would work well. I like to use brown rice flour as it gives great results when creating dishes which are sautéed in olive oil.
Pasta and noodles can be substituted with buckwheat soba noodles or brown rice pasta. You can also invest in a vegetable spiraliser and create your own angel hair pasta with zucchini, daikon or squash. It’s delicious teamed with a fresh tomato based basil sauce.
Quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat can be used in place of couscous, bulgur wheat and semolina in recipes. You can create delicious salads, hearty casseroles and side dishes which are all gluten friendly.
There’s absolutely no need to feel like you are missing out when eating gluten-free. A world of scrumptious, wholesome, fresh and nutrient-rich meals awaits you and in return you will be rewarded with abundant health.
Happy Cooking Lee x