The Gluten Free Foodie
What is it and how to have a great, tasty gluten free diet.
By Dr. Denise Kelly
We have a great Gluten Free feature in our Summer issue, but we got so much great info from the people we talked to, we thought we’d share some extra bits online to complement everything in the magazine. The Gluten-Free Foodie is the alter ego of Dr. Denise Kelly. Denise was the first graduate of the B.A. in Culinary Arts Honours Degree programme with the Dublin Institute of Technology to be awarded with a Ph.D. for her research in the area of food anxiety. Dr. Kelly will be speaking at the upcoming Allergy & Free From Expo this September. Pick up a free copy of the summer issue of Positive Life in one of our stockists, or subscribe to have it delivered.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is simply the umbrella term for a couple of proteins, gliadin and glutenin, found in wheat, barley, rye and related grains such as spelt. When mixed with water, gluten is a strong, sticky, stretchy protein that gives structure to baked products. Without gluten, a baked product has no ‘scaffolding’, no structure to hold it up after it has risen.
With coeliac disease, the body recognises gluten as a foreign invader similar to an infection or virus and it mounts an immune response. This immune response leads to inflammation in the lining of the small intestine which prevents nutrients from being absorbed properly and consequently any of a broad range of symptoms may develop.
My favourite flour alternatives
Wholegrain rice flour is the flour I use in the majority of my baking. I find that a lot of the gluten-free blended flours produce what I identify on first bite as the gluten-free ‘taste’ and ‘smell’. You shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a wheat-containing product and its gluten-free alternative. Wholegrain rice flour has quite a neutral flavour and performs very similarly to wheatflour with the addition of xanthan gum.
With savoury pastries, I’ll often add some gram flour. It has higher protein content than most other gluten-free flours and lends a lovely savoury flavour to the product.
With products that stale naturally quite quickly, such as scones, I’ll use some potato starch to hold the moisture in the product.
Another flour that I’ve discovered relatively recently is sorghum flour which makes a lovely flatbread with the only added ingredients being warm water and a flavouring such as kalonji seeds.
I don’t particularly like tapioca flour in baked goods but I find it makes a lovely pizza base and again with very few additional ingredients.
And then last but not least, I use corn starch to make roux-based sauces such as Bechamel sauce and to make coated meat and poultry dishes such as ‘Crispy Chilli Beef Five-Spice’ or ‘Salt and Chilli Chicken Wings’.
So they’re the flours that I use consistently – wholegrain rice flour, gram flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, and corn starch – obviously all certified gluten-free as cross-contamination with gluten-containing flours in production and packaging is often an issue.
The best thing about a gluten-free diet
I suppose the best thing about a gluten-free diet to me is the difference it has made to my health. Before I was diagnosed I had gastrointestinal issues, I was always tired, I struggled to concentrate and seemed to have a permanent brain fog. But that all changed within a few months of going gluten-free.
Really I suppose that’s a question you ask someone who eats gluten-free as a personal choice. For someone like me who has no choice but to eat gluten-free, there are not many advantages over a ‘normal’ diet. Initially after diagnosis, I had absolutely nothing good to say about being on a gluten-free diet. You’re bombarded with information about the food stuffs that you can never have again. There is no emphasis on what you can eat. It’s overwhelming. You’re in mourning. But as with most changes in life, you become accustomed to it. Eight years on for me, I don’t really give it a second thought. I’m lucky in that I’m a good cook myself and understand food ingredients. I don’t think that there’s anything I can’t make gluten-free. But for those who have limited culinary skill, eating gluten-free is both daunting and frustrating. You always have to plan ahead and have your wits about you. You always have to have a gluten-free snack with you because when you’re hungry you make bad food choice decisions. You need to read labels because a product that was gluten-free last month may not be gluten-free this month. Eating gluten-free is more expensive and eating out socially is often disappointing.
So I’m struggling to think of anything else ‘good’ about the gluten-free diet. The only thing I can think of is that when I bring cheesecakes or cupcakes or other baked products to family gatherings and my siblings descend on them like vultures, they’re always conscious of leaving some for me because the goodies are gluten-free. Otherwise they wouldn’t give me a thought!
Tips for phasing it out of your diet
If you’re diagnosed coeliac, I’d recommend going back to basics until you become familiar with what you can and can’t have. Prepare food yourself from scratch and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Start sourcing the basics like gluten-free stock cubes, gravy mix, corn starch and pasta. Start reading labels and become familiar with gluten-containing ingredients and sources of hidden gluten such as soy sauce and barley extract.
If somebody else regularly cooks for you or you stay in their home eg. your parents, siblings, friends – pop some of the store cupboard essentials mentioned above into their larder, a couple scones into their freezer, so that there’s less stress for you and them when you visit.
Exciting things in the gluten-free world…
There’s a lot happening in the gluten-free world at the moment. The availability and quality of the gluten-free offerings available are improving day by day. My concern is that a lot of production companies and food service operators are jumping on the ‘gluten-free bandwagon’ because of the increasing potential for sales. But many don’t really understand food allergen control. This is especially the case in the food-service industry. Restaurants and hotels quite often have gluten-free offerings on their menus, but I know for a fact that back of house don’t always understand issues with cross-contamination, nor do they fully understand the ingredients they use. I’m interested in having more emphasis placed on food allergen control at a grass roots level in the catering colleges. It’d make such a difference to us coeliacs.