What IS gluten anyway?
By Elva Carri
With the Allergy and Free-From Expo coming to Dublin and Cork this autumn, we thought we’d take a look at some of the most commonly avoided foods, exciting alternatives and a few tips from the top from expo speakers on how you and your family can really enjoy living freely with your food.
What is gluten anyway?
With lots of people avoiding gluten, it was fun to see Jimmy Kimmel do a short video piece recently where he asked a number of gluten-free enthusiasts what gluten actually is. While all were aware of what foods to avoid, none could answer the question! Gluten is a composite protein made up of gliadin and glutenin and found in grass-related grains. Dr. Tom O’Bryan explains that when it comes to digestion, protein is a little bit like a brick wall. Our digestive system’s role is to take the mortar off the bricks and use the individual bricks for things like building muscle. With a gluten intolerance, your system can’t take the mortar off the bricks. Your brain doesn’t recognise what the brick and mortar combination is and instructs your immune system to produce antibodies to fight it, resulting in the symptoms you’ll be familiar with. The gluten content of wheat has actually gone up by 50% in the last fifty years. More gluten means lighter, fluffier bread, but it’s not making our digestive system as happy as we’d like to keep it.
Where to get the best gluten-free stuff
Ten years ago, sticking to a gluten-free diet might have felt like a chore. Today, it often sets people off on quite the food adventure. Not only are there a lot more products on the market, but there’s also a lot more advice available on what to eat, rather than what to avoid. And Ireland is ahead of the game in some ways. The first entirely free-from gluten kitchen in Europe was The Gluten Free Kitchen Company in Tralee, it’s still the only one of it’s kind in Ireland. It’s all home baked and the perfect spot for food lovers and health conscious alike. The American Muffin Company are a specialist baker based in the UK with a scrumptious wheat free, gluten free classic muffin. In Ireland, the Gluten Free Foodie is a great artisan bakery specialising in wheat free and gluten free handmade breads, cakes and tarts. If you like baking at home, Sowan’s Organic make a great chocolate brownie mix. And if you’re more a fan of savoury treats, Keogh’s make the only Irish produced gluten-free crisps. And you can check them all out in one day at the Expo as they’ll all be exhibiting. (Scroll to the end for a links.)
Get to know your body
If you’ve been living a healthy lifestyle and still find nagging, little problems that you can’t quite figure out how to shake, it might be time for an allergy test. People are often surprised at the simplicity of a small diet change and the positive impact it can have on their whole life. There are a growing number of places you can have an allergy test done, with some even offering a test by post. Some reliable testers with many happy clients testifying to the benefits include Nutricentric and YorkTest. There’ll be information on them and plenty more at the Expo. Along with these guys and some of the exhibitors mentioned above, you’ll also find some great speakers and cookery demonstrations to get you inspired. We spoke to a few of the expo experts for some pre-show tips.
Herbal Helpfulness, Dr. Dilis Clare
Dr. Dilis Clare recommends a tea with nettle, camomile and ribwort to sooth the inflammation of allergies. If you already have a camomile tea, simply snip some nettles and ribwort from the garden and brew it together. Interestingly, the herbs that help hayfever come out at the same time of year as our symptoms. Secondly she advises that because allergies are often an ‘overheating’ of the system, just like a car – check your oil and water! Get some essential fatty acids into your diet and hydrate.
Green Spaghetti, Eddie Eriksson
Working as a vegan chef, Eddie is well used to avoiding dairy and eggs. He says rice flour is his favourite substitute for regular flour, and works on a one to one ratio when subbing it in. And as a great, green alternative to spaghetti, try using a jullienne peeler on a courgette with your spaghetti bolognese. Use it warmed but raw. Much prettier than beige pasta.
Paul Kelly, The Great Irish Bake Off
Paul is a great believer in the importance of food as part of looking after our wellbeing and our state of mind. He recommends trying out new recipes at home for the sheer joy of it. Paul also noted that if you’re changing your diet, be patient with yourself because it’s not easy in the beginning. His advice – do your research, don’t worry about getting things right the first time and experiment until you’ve created dishes you love!
Dr. Denise Kelly, The Gluten-Free Foodie
Dr. Denise Kelly who runs a gluten free bakery and will be speaking at the expo gave us her best tips for alternatives in baking and pizza bases! Wholegrain rice flour has quite a neutral flavour and performs very similarly to wheat flour 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. And tapioca flour makes a lovely pizza base with very few additional ingredients.
- Dr. Dilis Clare, GP and Medical Herbalist. Fresh insights from her years of experience.
- Dr. Joe FitzGibbon, doctor and author with specialist interests in allergy, fatigue and nutrition.
- Dr. Denise Kelly, Phd in Food Anxiety, will talk about parental stress concerning children eating out.
- Eddie Eriksson of Cornucopia, will look at a ‘flexitarian’ approach to family cooking.
- Lorraine Fitzmaurice of Blazing Salads, pick up some tips for nutritional home cooking.
- Tara Canning: Nutritionist, dietitian and Masterchef.
Gluten Free Greats
- Purebred: Tasty alternatives like raisin toast and chia seed loaf. pure-bred.com
- Sowans: ‘Make at home’ mixes, Ginger Cake, Chocolate Brownies and more. sowansorganic.ie
- The Gluten Free Kitchen Company: A entirely gluten free kitchen, café and delicatessen in Tralee. on.fb.me/1gg19Pf
- Keogh’s Crisps: Gluten-free treats for active kids, busy teens and you. keoghs.ie
- The American Muffin Company: Classic American Muffins with no wheat or gluten. americanmuffin.com
- Gluten Free Foodie: Irish artisan bakery serving the best handmade gluten and wheat free breads, cakes and tarts. theglutenfreefoodie.com
theallergyexpo.ie | 11 – 12 October, RDS, Dublin | 8 – 9 November, City Hall, Cork