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A gluten-free diet doesn’t have to cut down on flavour—or convenience

My first language is French, which means that, when I write, my English is sometimes less than spot on. (Thankfully I have good editors!) I’ve often made the mistake of writing “gluten for punishment” rather than “glutton for punishment”—causing a few chuckles. But the sad fact is that gluten is punishing for many people.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale and barley. Since we last explored gluten-free eating in the March/April 2011 issue of Saltscapes, more and more people have become aware of their issues with gluten. One in 133 people is thought to be affected by celiac disease, which, according to the Canadian Celiac Association, is an inherited auto-immune disease in which “the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. This results in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.” The only treatment for celiac is a strict, gluten-free diet.

Interestingly, though, not everyone who is sensitive to gluten has celiac. The term “gluten sensitive” describes someone who experiences certain symptoms when he or she eats gluten, and who feels better on a gluten-free diet. The symptoms of gluten sensitivity include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue and headaches. In the past, these symptoms may have been attributed to irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal upset or a case of the good old flu.

It’s even become “trendy” to eschew gluten. Books like Wheat Belly, by William Davis, suggest that eliminating wheat from our diets is a key to weight loss, and can offer relief from many health and digestive problems.

Just a few years ago, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity had to rely on what they produced in their own kitchens; now there are several shelves at the grocery store devoted to pre-made (and clearly identified) gluten-free goods.

Delicious gluten-free pizza employs a corn tostada, or fried tortilla, in place of a wheat-based crust.

Caution is advised, though. Many of the ingredients substituted for wheat in those goods—ingredients like rice flour or potato starch—are just as rich in carbohydrates as wheat flour.

For those starting out, a gluten-free diet can pose challenges. Wheat (and/or gluten in its other forms) is commonly used as a thickening agent, which means it is frequently present in condiments such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, soy sauce and plum sauce. It’s essential to become a savvy label reader.

Gluten does not occur naturally in meats, vegetables and fruits, but processed or canned versions of those foods can be problematic. Reliance on packaged foods can be reduced by learning how to add flavour with spices, herbs, oils and citrus.

We show you here how to create a delicious gluten-free barbecue sauce and marinade—and throw in a convenient meal idea, too.

Recipes

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