It may seem as though everyone is going gluten free these days based on products marketed in grocery stores, bookstores or on health blogs. Gluten-free sales exceeded $2.6 billion at the end of 2010 and they are expected to surpass $5 billion by 2015, according to Packaged Facts, a leading publisher of market research in the consumer packaged goods sector.
Clearly, more gluten-free products are available today than ever before. But are these products right for you?
First, a gluten-free diet is not a weight-loss diet. More than 90 percent of the population does not need to worry about gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye that gives bread its elasticity. Studies show just 1 percent of the population has celiac disease, an autoimmune disease where the body responds to gluten by damaging the lining of the small intestine.
This can put a person at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Another 6 percent of people may have some level of gluten sensitivity.
Naturally gluten-free foods include fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, legumes, fish, poultry, eggs, most dairy products and even some grains. Gluten-free grains include flaxseeds, nut flours, bean flours, potato starch, quinoa, rice bran, teff, rice, corn, tapioca, buckwheat, arrowroot, millet, amaranth, chia seeds, sorghum and oats if they are certified gluten free.
If you or your dinner guests have been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you will need to learn how to modify recipes to be gluten free.
To get started choose a basic recipe from a cookbook magazine, website, or newspaper so you will have the basic cooking techniques. Secondly, scan the recipe for any gluten-containing ingredients and swap them out for gluten-free substitutions.
The last important step in cooking or baking for a gluten free diet is to make sure you do not cross contaminate utensils, baking dishes, or cookware with gluten.
In addition to exchanging gluten foods for gluten-free foods there are a couple of other cooking/baking tricks you may want to try to get the most flavor from your food.
• Use yogurt, applesauce, or pureed fruit to increase moisture in gluten-free baked goods as they tend to be drier when baked with alternative flours.
• Increase moisture and flavor by swapping out white sugar for brown sugar. Gluten-free flours are denser than wheat flour so you may want to add more liquid to a baked goods recipe. You can start with an extra couple of tablespoons of liquid.
• Increase the amount of vanilla extract in a recipe to smooth out the flavor of unfamiliar tasting gluten-free flours.
• When baking, use a combination of alternative (gluten free) flours to replace all-purpose flour.
Take note of the substitutions you use as the recipe may not turn out correctly the first time around.
Although celiac disease has no pharmaceutical cure, it can be managed with a gluten-free diet that can still be delicious and nutritious.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.