Gluten Free : Saying Goodbye to Gluten

Lindsey Adkison, The Brunswick News, Ga.

Food and fads go together much like peanut butter and jelly. But the gluten-free diet seems to be packing a little more substance than the standard trends.

It might seem as though the idea of cutting out gluten in one's diet is new. After all, celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Zoey Deschanel have recently made headlines by eliminating from their diets the grain protein that gives elasticity to dough. For some people, avoiding gluten is a medical necessity for the skin irritations or internal distress it can cause.

To understand the trend -- whether part of a growing medical need or a celebrity fad -- it is necessary to have an idea of what gluten is and why it is scary for some people.

Isles nutritionist Mimi McGee says that gluten is a protein in wheat-related foods.

"Also in relatives of wheat, such as barley and rye. Gluten is responsible for many functions, such as making dough elastic, helping to give shape to loaves, adding desirable texture, making bread absorbent and for producing some of the leavening properties in bread products," she said.

"Gluten is often extracted from wheat and added to other many non-gluten-containing grain foods to assist in giving these same properties. These days, gluten is often in products ranging from ketchup to ice cream. But, due to (federal Food and Drug Administration) labeling laws, you might not see gluten listed on food labels."

The trouble comes when consumers have an allergy to the protein. This is known as celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that generates a reaction when gluten is ingested.

McGee says that the result can be troubling. For persons with allergies, consuming gluten can produce something as benign as a skin rash or something as severe as damage to an organ. It depends on the level of the allergy.

The biggest danger, McGee says, is that many people are unaware they are allergic to gluten, as 97 percent of cases of gluten allergies are undiagnosed.

"Symptoms can present themselves as skin rashes or, scarier still, you may not even have symptoms, but damage still occurs in your small intestine," she said. "It can generate a toxic reaction which damages the small intestine when gluten-containing foods are ingested. This can lead to a host of other problems, including malabsorption of nutrients.

"According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the chances (of a person being gluten intolerant) are one in 133 with increased risk if another family member has already been diagnosed, or if you have another type of auto-immune disease. Avoiding wheat and gluten is beneficial for some other conditions, too."

Even for persons without gluten allergies, the diet also has perks. Removing the products containing the protein means eliminating many processed foods from a diet. That's never a bad thing and can often help dieters slim down.

McGee often encourages clients to stick to whole foods, including lean proteins fruits and vegetables.

That's also something Erin Quarterman, co-owner of Gold Coast Nutrition in downtown Brunswick, encourages customers to do.

"Gluten is in a lot of processed foods, so the best thing to do is to stick with whole foods," she said.

For people who enjoy grains, there are substitutions. Gluten-free grains and flours include steel-cut oats, polenta, quinoa and amaranth, garbanzo beans, sorghum, millet and brown rice.

"There are different websites that you can go to that will tell you what ingredients have gluten in them and what ingredients actually come from gluten, and you can look at," Quarterman said.

Cooking without gluten can start with these recipes:

Avocado Kale Salad

(Recipe by Mimi McGee adapted from Jackie Mills)


1 head curly green kale, shredded

1 cup tomato, chopped, or cherry tomatoes

1/2 avocado, diced

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Optional toppings: raisins, pine nuts, hemp seed nuts, sesame seeds


In mixing bowl, toss all ingredients together.

Mush everything together (with hands) to create marinated/wilted effect on kale. This makes it much tastier and easier to digest.

Tips for preparing kale

Rinse kale leaves under cold running water.

Chop leaf portion into half-inch slices and the stems into quarter-inch lengths for quick and even cooking.

To get the most health benefits from kale, let sit for a minimum of 5 minutes before cooking. Sprinkling with lemon juice before letting it sit can further enhance its beneficial phytonutrient concentration.

Serving ideas

Braise chopped kale and apples. Before serving, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and chopped walnuts. Combine steamed, chopped kale and toasted pine nuts with gluten-free whole grain pasta drizzled with olive oil.

Garbanzo Burgers

Makes 6 patties (6 servings)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1/4 cup potato flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander or cardamom

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1 tablespoon gluten-free tamari sauce

1/2 cup cooked brown rice

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans

1 garlic clove, minced or pressed

1 celery stalk, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 small carrot, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

Vegetable oil spray


Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet until they begin to pop and become fragrant. Grind in a food processor or blender then transfer to a mixing bowl.

Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic.

Chop beans in a food processor, using an on/off pulsing action, or by hand using a potato masher.

Leave some chunks. Add to vegetable mixture, along with brown rice, tamari sauce, curry powder, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt. Mix thoroughly.

Stir in enough potato flour to form a stiff dough.

Knead for 30 seconds, then form into 6 patties.

Lightly spray a non-stick skillet with vegetable oil spray. Cook patties over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until the first side is lightly browned, and then flip and cook the second side for another 2 minutes, until it is lightly browned.

Enjoy these burgers hot from the skillet.

Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator; leftover Garbanzo Burgers will keep for up to three days.

(c)2012 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)

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