Friday, January 15, 2010

What is Gluten?

With all the gluten-free products in the health food store, I just became curious about gluten lately... what is it... should I avoid it... why do some people avoid it... etc.  So here's what I found.  Gluten is the elastic protein in wheat, rye, and barley.  Gluten (or, to be accurate, the gluten that damages the small intestines of people with celiac disease, and makes life uncomfortable for people with gluten sensitivity) is also part of the genetic structure of spelt, durum, semolina, kamut, couscous, and triticale.  It's like the glue that holds bread together and gives it that great elastic structure.

Some people avoid gluten because they are sensitive to it, allergic to it, or have Celiac Disease.  There is a difference between wheat allergy and Celiac Disease.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue, such as intestinal tissue, in response to eating gluten. Because of this, people with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food in the GI tract, causing nutritional deficiencies. This can lead to conditions such as iron deficiency anemia and osteoporosis. Since a person with wheat allergy or gluten-intolerance usually does not have severe intestinal damage, he or she is not at risk for these nutritional deficiencies.

If you feel fatigue, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. after eating anything with gluten, you should see your doctor (blood test can be done for celiac disease).

The good news for people with gluten problems is that there is a cornucopia of beautiful foods that can be enjoyed which contain no gluten.  You'll find a lot of inspiration at and other sites.  

Although I am able to eat foods with gluten just fine, I realized years ago that I was getting very little nutrition while gaining lots of weight and feeling fatigued after eating too many foods with white flour... the main ingredient in most processed foods.   So, I cut white flour out of my diet and I eat whole grains instead.  God made food whole and I love to eat it that way!  Eating the whole grain means eating the entire edible part of the grain: the germ, bran, and endosperm.  The best digestive benefits happen when the grain or flour is soaked overnight in a batter or dough.  Some people with so-called gluten sensitivities find that their problems go away when they soak the grains first.  Besides being healthier, eating the whole grain (in bread, for example) is much heartier, requiring more chewing, and so I naturally eat less of them because I get the sensation of being full much sooner than I did with the refined white flour foods.

Rice does not contain gluten, so I included this great recipe for pancakes below (from Sue Gregg)  Oat are another story (see end).

I just made these pancakes for the first time on Saturday... and my kids and I love them!   I usually top 2 pancakes with 1 TBSP. of real maple syrup.  Since maple syrup runs is thin and usually comes in a jug with a wide mouth that pours way too fast, I simply pour some syrup into a tea cup first and then scoop it out with a tablespoon as needed.  This way, I don't waste the liquid gold and my pancakes don't get accidentally drenched.  Just a dab will do ya!  And then I pour the unused maple syrup back into the jug and refrigerate.

Blender Waffles and pancakes (5 minute prep)

Servings for (2 in parentheses) and 4 (not in parentheses)

  1. Blend in a Vitamix, with lid or stopper, on high, till ground:

(1/3)       1 cup raw brown rice

(1/3)       1 cup uncooked rolled oats

  1. Add and blend till well mixed:

(1/2)       1 cup plain yogurt

(1/4)       ½ cup filtered water ...or use cultured buttermilk in place of these 2 liquids.

(1 & 1/2)  3 T. EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) or coconut oil

(1/2)        1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

  1. Cover blender and let sit overnight (best) or use right away.
  2. Preheat waffle iron on highest or pancake griddle on med-high.
  3. Just before baking, add and blend for 1 minute:

(1)            2 eggs

  1. Blend in VERY BRIEFLY (a few seconds)…use spatula to stir in dry bits:

(1)            2 tsp. Baking powder

(1/4)   1/2 tsp. Good salt

(1/4)  ½ tsp. Baking soda

(If too thin, add rolled oats, if too thick add milk, yogurt, water or buttermilk.)

  1. Pour batter into griddle/iron sprayed with olive oil
  2. Waffles: Bake for 4 minutes, or till light goes off (don’t peak).

Pancakes: Bake first side till bubbles begin to break. Turn once.

  1.  Serve Hot.
Interesting details from
She can't eat gluten, and she wrote:
"If there is any controversy in the gluten-free world, it’s oats. After much careful study, scientists have shown that oats do not contain gluten. They think. The proteins in oatmeal are structured differently than those in wheat, rye, barley, et al. So why can’t I eat them? The dreaded C word: cross contamination. 

Apparently, if oats are planted in one field, and wheat in the neighboring one, wheat spores can waft over to the oats, glom onto them, and contaminate them with gluten. Worse yet, most oats, or oats products, are produced in plants that also produce wheat products. If the oats roll over machines that have recently touched wheat, I get sick. It’s just that insidious."  

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