Gluten-Free Cooking

It would be the rare individual who wants to learn about gluten-free cooking just because. Most likely, you're curious about the subject because your doctor has diagnosed you with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Although gluten-free cooking requires more research, thought and even labor, you don't have to sacrifice flavor or texture to satisfy your palate.

Why Eat Gluten-Free?
Gluten is a protein naturally found in many grains and most processed food products sold in America contain gluten in one form or another, making the removal of gluten from the American diet a challenge. The primary reason people make the switch to a gluten-free diet is to cope with celiac disease, a condition characterized by the inability to tolerate gluten and the resulting irritation of the small intestine.

Symptoms of celiac disease can include gas, cramping, abdominal pain, abnormal weight loss and risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies resulting from inadequate absorption from a regular diet. People who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have also reported an improvement in their condition after changing to a gluten-free diet. Many nutritionists believe that eliminating gluten from the diet may begin to shed light on how diet-based therapies can help individuals with autism, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders, and ADD.

How to Identify Gluten-Free Products
In the most reductive terms, gluten-free cooking and eating comes to avoiding any food or food product that contains:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley

It is generally safe to eat foods that are made from or contain:

  • Corn
  • Potato
  • Rice
  • Soybeans
  • Tapioca
  • Arrowroot
  • Carob
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa

But Wait. It's Not that Simple.
Don't consume wheat, rye or barley, and go ahead and eat anything made from these other grains. Sounds simple, right? It's not.

The majority of processed foods contain wheat, rye or barley, but aren't necessarily labeled as such. To make an effective switch to a gluten-free diet, you'll need to commit to reading food labels. Below are some common terms that all mean the product contains gluten:

  • Stabilizer
  • Malt
  • Modified food starch
  • Flavoring
  • Emulsifier
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein

If you can't find products at your local health food store and supermarket that are clearly labeled gluten-free, you're going to need to learn to spot these hidden sources. Gluten shows up in dairy products, deli meats, candy, sauces and lots of other processed foods.

It's easy to get discouraged once you start to get a sense of just how widespread the use of gluten is, but focus on the benefits to your health instead: the learning curve you go through now will be worth it later. Besides, the more research into health and nutrition you do, the more you already know that limiting processed foods and increasing the amount of whole foods you consume is something like a good nutrition commandment.

What About Oats?
Some kinds of oats are gluten-free, although some oat products have been cross-contaminated, meaning they were grown in areas where other gluten products were also grown, and therefore the oats pick up gluten from the other crops whether it be during the harvesting, processing or packaging of the products. Look for oat products advertised as gluten-free and try them carefully, and only after you've been gluten-free for some time and have established a baseline diet.

Gluten-Free Diet Staples

  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Canned vegetables that are not in a sauce
  • Canned fruit that is not in heavy syrup
  • Fresh, unseasoned beef
  • Fresh, unseasoned chicken
  • Fresh, unseasoned fish
  • Coffee and tea products

Get Cooking
Once you're comfortable identifying gluten-free foods and have begun transitioning to a gluten-free diet, your best friends will become the gluten-free cookbooks and gluten-free recipes you accumulate. The trick is to give your palate and your body time to adjust to your new lifestyle before you go looking for gluten-free replacements for all of your favorite dishes. The more skilled you become cooking gluten-free, the more options you'll have when it comes mealtime.

Gluten-free cooking is delicious, nutritious and satisfying, but you'll need to come at these recipes with the mindset that you'll be learning to make (and love) something new-not create something that tastes as good as or better than the original. Expect to play with making your own seasoning blends and experiment with gluten-free flours to make gluten-free desserts and baked goods.

Gluten-Free Baking
If you're mourning because you fear you'll never get to eat bread again, feat not: with several flour alternatives available today, it's not only possible to make gluten-free bread you'll love, but making it at home will save you a good amount of money over time (store-bought gluten-free bread is expensive-around $5 a loaf).

Recipe for Gluten-Free Bread
This recipe is easy for beginners and uses a bread machine to get the best results.

Ingredients You Will Need:
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup corn starch
2/3 cup soy flour
1/3 cup masa harina
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1?2 cups warm water
2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1?2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Add the warm water to the yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix, then let it sit for ten minutes.

While the warm water, yeast and sugar is resting, combine the flours, xanthan gum and salt in a separate bowl and mix.

Combine the yeast, sugar and water mixture with the eggs, oil and vinegar and whisk until the eggs are well incorporated. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well.

Bake this bread in your bread machine on the 80-minute setting.

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