by Zemas Madhouse Foods
Jun 2013

ARE YOU ON THE CLEAN PATH?

When is choosing a gf diet a good idea, outside of having Celiac Disease or a Wheat/gluten allergy?

Gluten-free foods are simply foods without wheat, rye, and barley. Thus, when asked if anyone can go on a gluten-free diet, the answer is always, yes! Technically speaking, gluten is not necessary for a nutrient-dense, healthful diet. With that said, it is important to always choose the right foods, just as you should on a gluten-containing diet, or else you could create a nutritional nightmare.

In general, too many consumers are eating a large quantity of refined carbohydrates, and most often, these products are made with white flour, rice, or corn. Everything from crackers, to cookies, to cereal bars, most of these products are made from wheat, and contain enriched white flour as the first ingredient.  These foods, when consumed in excess are the source of weight gain for many. Thus, it is crucial to choose foods that contain nutritionally dense grains/seeds such as quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, flax and chia. And further, it is always important to choose a balanced diet, including a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and calcium-rich dairy or dairy alternatives.

When first going gluten free, what should one look for on product labels? Just the gf certification logo, manufacturing statements, ingredients, all or just one?

Gluten-free labeling is one of the most confusing topics for consumers. The FDA was mandated to draft and implement a proposed definition for “gluten-free” and how it is used on food labels in the US by 2008.  However, at this time, a final ruling has not been established. Once the final definition is in effect, the term “gluten-free” will be voluntary for use in the labeling of foods. Thus, it will be up to manufacturers discretion whether or not they wish to label their product “gluten-free”.

Currently, there are no universal labeling standards for all food products in terms of the food product’s gluten-free status. Thus, there is no legal definition for gluten-free.

Thanks to the Gluten Intolerance Group, the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) was established to review products and manufacturing facilities for gluten and provide assurance to consumers of the safety of the foods. Until the FDA rule is passed, consumers can rely on the GFCO seal to determine if a product is safe (<10ppm gluten).

The GFCO performs a rigorous ingredient review, on-site inspection, and ongoing testing to ensure a product is safe. Aside from the GFCO “stamp,” there is no other universally recognized, reliable testing method of gluten-free products. Consumers should look for the GFCO stamp on products to ensure their product is free of gluten.

In addition to the GFCO stamp, consumers should read the ingredient listing to determine if a product is gluten-free. The ingredients (on the actual package of food versus the product website, which may be outdated) are the single best way to understand what is contained in the particular food product.

It is also voluntary for food manufacturers to provide information about cross contact or exposure with gluten-containing products. By definition, ingredients on a package must only reflect what is contained in the package, rather than what the food product may come in contact with during manufacturing. Thus, a manufacturer need not disclose if a particular food is made on shared equipment with gluten-containing ingredients.

What’s a basic “Toolbox” of pantry items to keep on hand for clean, healthy gf cooking and baking?

The following items are must-haves for every gluten-free pantry.

Gluten-free oats – A fantastic source of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, and oats have proven effective in lowering cholesterol. Historically, oats were restricted on a gluten-free diet, however research shows they are safe to include on a gluten-free diet, as long as they are pure, and uncontaminated.

Flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed) – Not only a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but flaxseed also is rich in lignans, which may provide some protection from cancer (specifically breast cancer). Further, flaxseed meal is an excellent source of protein and fiber. Mix 1 TBSP flaxseed meal with 3 TBSP water, let sit for 10 minutes, and you have a nutrient-packed egg substitute that can be used in baking.

Assorted nuts/nut flours (almonds/almond flour, walnuts, pecans, pistachios) – Many gluten or grain-free recipes utilize nuts and nut flours to provide texture in baked goods. Nuts are an incredible source of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin E, selenium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

Chia seeds – As similar to flax, chia seeds contain Omega-3s, and antioxidants, however chia has about twice the dietary fiber. A rich source of calcium and phosphorus, chia is primarily used in recipes as a thickener. A wonderful additive to everything from pancakes to salad dressings.

Amaranth – Amaranth grain has been cultivated for over 8000 years. Once used as a staple food of the Aztecs, it was used as an integral part in Aztec ceremonies. Now known as gluten-free staple, Amaranth is actually a pseudograin, because it is a seed, used like a grain. Sold as a popular snack in parts of Mexico, Amaranth is sometimes popped like popcorn and mixed with chocolate or puffed rice. Amaranth contains a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. It only takes 1/4 cup Amaranth to supply about 65% of the RDA of iron. One cup dry Amaranth will be tender when cooked for 20-30 minutes in 2 cups water or other liquid such as chicken broth. Amaranth is sold as flour or whole grain and is used as an excellent thickener to soups, gravies and casseroles. Its nutty flavor makes it a great addition to bread mixes when combined with almond, coconut and sorghum flour.

Quinoa – Amaranth was to Aztecs as Quinoa was to Incas, and also a pseudograin, Quinoa has been harvested for over 6,000 years. In its natural state, Quinoa has a coating of saponins, which makes it very bitter tasting and unpalatable. However, most quinoa sold commercially has been processed to remove this coating. When cooked, quinoa has a light, fluffy texture making it a great alternative to rice or couscous. One cup dry quinoa will be tender when cooked for 15-30 minutes in 1 ¾-2 cups water or other liquid. Fully cooked quinoa is finished when the germ, which looks like a tiny curl, separates from the seed. Quinoa is rich in protein, dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron.  Unlike rice, quinoa contains balanced amino acids making it a complete protein, thus a healthy choice for vegetarians. Substitute quinoa in cold salad recipes and combine with ingredients such as parsley, garlic, onion, tomato and even feta or goat cheese.

Buckwheat – Completely unrelated to WHEAT, the name buckwheat or “beech wheat” comes from the triangular seeds, which resemble seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree.  Similar to wheat, buckwheat flour is used in traditional soba noodles and in pancake and waffle mixes. Buckwheat is rich in dietary fiber, iron, zinc and selenium. When 1 cup buckwheat is mixed with 2-2½ cups of water, it will be tender in 15-20 minutes. Another form is buckwheat groats, which are also called kasha and mixed with pasta or used as a filling.

Is there a rule of thumb of what not to buy that’s gf when shopping? If so, what should one look to stay clear of?

Considering the heightened awareness of the gluten-free diet, new products are popping up daily. Many of these are rich in refined gluten-free flours such as tapioca starch, potato flour, and rice. All of these refined grains break down quickly in our body, causing a blood glucose spike, and typically result in overconsumption. In general, stick to food products that contain rich sources of whole grains, including quinoa, sorghum, chia, hemp or oats. As in any grocery trip, limit quantity of “filler foods” such as chips, cookies, and crackers. Fill your cart with fresh produce, lean meats, dairy and dairy alternatives, and whole grains.

Questions about the gluten-free diet? Curious how your grocery cart measures up? Contact Lara at 847-651-4729 or lara@feedkids.com.

References:FDA – Questions and Answers on the Gluten-Free Labeling Proposed Rule, January 2007