If you’ve read our story “Pass (On!) the Wheat!” you might be tempted to pass on a wheat-based dish or two . . . or pretty much all of them! (Then again, if you’ve got celiac disease or a marked sensitivity to gluten, you might not have a choice!)
But passing on the wheat—and other gluten-containing grains—is easier said than done. Perhaps more than any other ingredient, wheat is woven throughout the fabric of our dietary lives. It’s found in everything from bread, pasta, pancakes, croissants and bagels to cookies, pastries, pizza, cereals and soups. Even meatloaf and gravies (as well as soy sauce and salad dressings) can harbor the culprit.
And while there are many grains that can be substituted for wheat, some (i.e., rye and barley) contain gluten themselves, while others clock high on the glycemic index scale—setting off a cascade of surging blood sugar and inflammation. Not good!
Still, people all over the world are undaunted in their decision to bid farewell—or at least limit their exposure—to this pesky ingredient, as well as other gluten-containing (and high-glycemic) grains.
And while this article doesn’t address every crevice in which wheat and gluten can hide, it does provide alternatives that can help give the boot to much of the wheat and gluten in our daily lives.
For the Love of Pasta
Life without pasta . . . an unbearable thought for many! But must banishing wheat and gluten mean banishing a cuisine filled with mouth-watering dishes like fettuccini Alfredo, spaghetti and meat balls and capellini pomodoro?
Could life be so cruel? Fortunately, the answer is, No! Such dishes needn’t be shelved due to guilt by association! There are ways to enjoy them without the wheat and gluten—and the high-glycemic grains, as well.
One of the healthiest—and most fun—ways to get around the wheat/gluten issue when it comes to pasta is to invest in a spiral slicer, also known as a spiralizer. One of the most popular ones is a tri-blade made by Paderno World Cuisine. It’s inspired thousands of customer reviews on Amazon, earning a 4 ½ star rating; and has proven so successful that a follow-up, four-blade version was recently introduced—although many still prefer the original.
It basically makes noodles (as well as ribbons) out of produce—the most common choice for “pasta” being zucchini.
Few things are easier to use: You simply secure the unit on a flat surface using the four suction cups on its base, take a zucchini with both ends cut off (to create two flat surfaces), push one end of the zucchini onto a small, hollow metal nodule and the other onto a pronged, rotating handle (so it’s suspended mid-air), then start turning the handle with just enough pressure to push the zucchini forward, into the blade. In sheer seconds, out comes oodles and oodles of, well . . . noodles!
For those looking for a simpler, more portable option, the Veggetti is a handheld spiral slicer that operates much like a pencil sharpener, literally “sharpening” a zucchini into a bowl of noodles!
Whatever the method, once the noodles are created, they can be enjoyed in multiple ways: Some people eat them raw with a favorite sauce, while others—dare we say, most?—prefer them cooked.
Preparation is easy: Simply sauté a few cloves of garlic in olive oil, toss in the noodles and continue sautéing. Some people add a little water for a light steaming—either after sautéing the noodles in olive oil and garlic or as its own method; while others simply boil their noodles—like traditional pasta.
However it’s prepared, one thing’s certain: Zucchini pasta is a tasty and healthy alternative to traditional pasta—low in calories, low in carbs (a medium-size zucchini has about 33 calories and six grams of carbs) and void of all wheat and gluten.
But it’s not the only kid on the block. Another healthy alternative—one that comes prepackaged with a shelf life (much!) longer than a zucchini—is shirataki noodles. Made from konjac—a plant also known as konjak, konjaku, konnyaku potato, devil’s tongue, voodoo lily, snake palm and elephant yam and revered for centuries by Asian cultures—these convenient noodles are valued for their “low-to-no” carbs and calories, as well as their high-fiber content.
One of the most popular brands of shirataki noodles are Miracle Noodles, which come in a variety of traditional pasta shapes like fettuccini, linguini, spaghetti, angel hair, penne and ziti; and feature a six-to-12-month shelf life.
Although Miracle Noodles recently introduced a dry version of its “pasta”, shirataki noodles are traditionally packed in water. Their preparation usually requires a quick rinsing to remove the natural aroma indigenous to the plant, followed by a few minutes of boiling and a quick drying by either patting down the noodles using a paper towel or dry roasting them in a stovetop skillet.
People all over the world use Miracle Noodles, as well as other brands, such as “NoOodle”, to control their blood sugar, satisfy their hunger, increase their fiber, lose weight . . . and enjoy their beloved pasta.
A Flour By Any Other Name
When it comes to flour—that ingredient that goes into the making of breads, crackers, cakes, cookies, pastries and the like—wheat has traditionally reigned supreme. So entrenched is its place in modern culture, that many find the thought of adjusting recipes to accommodate healthier alternatives more than a little daunting.
Thankfully, there are a number of nuts, seeds, grains and even beans that can be ground into amazingly versatile flours and meals. The trick is to choose those void of gluten—in other words, no wheat, rye or barley—and low in carbohydrates; and to determine which flour—or combination thereof—is best for individual dishes.
Although opinions may vary, there are some top contenders. They include flours and meals made from almonds, pecans, walnuts, golden flaxseeds, coconuts, garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds.
Others—like those made from amaranth, teff, millet, chestnut, quinoa and buckwheat, rice, sorghum and oats—are considered acceptable, but only in moderation. (Oats, it should be noted, court a bit of controversy. Although they lack gluten, they do contain a gluten-like protein called avenin that can cause some gluten-like reactions. In addition, they’re often processed in facilities that handle gluten-containing grains, which could lead to cross-contamination.)
In Wheat Belly Cookbook, William Davis, M.D., assures readers that “nearly all recipes based on wheat flour can be converted to healthy and delicious non-wheat equivalents,” but cautions that there’s no “hard and fast rules” for making the conversion and “experimentation may be required.”
He does, however, offer some suggestions when it comes to choosing the right flour—or combination thereof—for the task at hand.
Almond flour, according to Davis, is well-suited for “light, cakelike dishes,” while pecan and walnut meals, which “tend to be coarse and heavy,” are well-suited for “pie and cheesecake crusts”; and coconut flour is “wonderful as a thickener” for gravies and soups.
As for combinations, he shares what he calls a “favorite workhorse”—a mixture of 12 parts almond meal, four parts ground golden flaxseed, and one part coconut flour. He admits, however, that “others have succeeded with less almond meal, more coconut flour and more eggs.”
Experimentation, it seems, is key, indeed.
For those who prefer to buy their bread at a store, one gluten-free option is Millet-Chia Bread made by Udi’s Healthy Foods, a Boulder, Colo., company that bills itself as the “#1 gluten-free brand in America.”
The bread is as tasty as any on the market—wheat or otherwise—and offers the store-bought convenience that so many crave. A two-slice serving, however, contains (somewhat hefty) 24 grams of carbohydrates—something to keep in mind.
Another option—although Amazon reviews seem mixed—is the wheat-free and gluten-free Paleo Bread by Julian Bakery of Oceanside, Calif. The bread comes in four varieties (Almond, Coconut, Cinnamon Raisin and Honey), is low in carbohydrates (with the possible exception of the Honey variety) and is billed as “soft & fluffy.”
Keeping the Happy in Happy Hour
When it comes to avoiding wheat and gluten, it’s easy to forget that the ingredient hides in a number of alcoholic beverages. Some—such as beers, ales, lagers and malt liquors—are notorious for their wheat-based ingredients; while others, like wines, are considered wheat- and gluten-free safe havens.
Here’s a quick rundown of where various alcoholic beverages stand, along with recommendations, courtesy of Davis in Wheat Belly Cookbook:
Brandies and Cognacs: Distilled from wines, brandies and cognacs are naturally wheat and gluten free, although occasionally a product—such as Martell—contains a caramel coloring that can cause problems. Acceptable choices are Grand Marnier, Courvoisier and Remy Martin.
Liqueurs: Most liqueurs—including Kahlua, fruit liqueurs such as Triple Sec and Cherry Kijafa, Amaretto di Saronno, and Bailey’s Irish Cream—are safe choices. Those blended with whiskey, however, may contain wheat and gluten.
Rums: Most rums are acceptable, although those that are flavored or spiced run the risk of a gluten-contaminated ingredient.
Vodkas: Vodkas brewed with wheat—such as Absolut, Grey Goose, Ketel One, SKYY, Stolichnaya, and Van Gogh—should be avoided; as should those—like Belvedere and Finlandia—brewed with other gluten-containing ingredients. Acceptable choices are Chopin, Ciroc and Smirnoff, brewed from potatoes, grapes and corn, respectively.
Whiskeys: Traditionally distilled from the mash of rye, barley, wheat and corn, most whiskeys should be avoided, although there are boutique distillers—such as Koval Distillery, Old Sugar Distillery, Roughstock Distillery and Boulder Distillery—that offer whiskeys from non-gluten-containing ingredients like millet, sorghum, corn and potatoes, respectively.
A Note on Beers and Wines: Although few beers can be deemed acceptable for those looking to avoid wheat and gluten, there are some fairly well-known brands—such as Bard’s Gluten-Free Beer and Redbridge—that Davis lists as wheat- and gluten-free options. In addition, there are a number of microbreweries producing beers from ingredients like sorghum and chicory.
As for wine, although it’s considered gluten-free, it’s worth noting that some producers have used gluten as a clarifying agent—although in amounts not likely to provoke an obvious reaction in most gluten-sensitive people.
The Whole Truth
When it come to eating, a good rule of thumb is to stick with “whole” foods. Some people call them “real” foods . . . for good reason. These are the foods that nourish the body. They’re usually found in the meat, seafood, produce and dairy departments. Many doctors recommend a diet that is low in carbohydrates (think green leafy vegetables), since too many carbohydrates can cause blood-sugar surges, which lead to inflammation (watch those sugary fruits!); and one that is high in healthy fats (think “grass-fed” beef, eggs and butter, wild-caught seafood, avocados, coconut oil and nuts). A body properly nourished tends to find a healthy, satisfied balance.
The Rest of the Story
When all is said and done, the road to avoiding wheat is one best-navigated with a little—or perhaps a lot—of education. Fortunately, there are many excellent books on the subject, including Davis’ Wheat Belly Cookbook and David Perlmutter M.D.’s The Grain Brain Cookbook. Both are stocked with information, tips, excellent recipes and illustrations.
For those with the most aggressive manifestations of wheat sensitivity and gluten intolerance, there are many helpful organizations, including The Celiac Disease Foundation, the Celiac Support Association, the Gluten Intolerence Group, and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
And remember . . . there is life after wheat!
Copyright 2013-2016 Jonna Crispens. All rights reserved.