Friday, January 28, 2011

"What Gives?"

I distinctly remember the kind fellow in an obscure South Carolina casting office asking me over my  Christmas vacay.

We were discussing our interests outside the field of entertainment. When I mentioned nutrition, he jumped at the chance to ask a question that'd obviously been plaguing him for awhile...

"What's the deal with all these people that don't eat gluten? I mean, is wheat really that big a deal in the health world?"

I too was intrigued by his question, seeing as I am by no means a gluten-free follower myself.

No traditional bread, oats, rye or barley [aka beer]? No thank you.

Since the cleanse I'm currently embarking on suggests trying the gluten free route to "test the waters," I thought now would be a perfect time to address the question.

During my research, I found one article (written by a gluten allergy sufferer) that deemed the gluten free "lifestyle... tortuous." And after learning of the "do's and don't's" required, I must admit: I feel her pain.

To all of you who live with gluten intolerance or allergies: I'm truly sorry for your loss and humbly commend you for being a far stronger person than I!

For the sake of simplicity, let's break gluten issues into 2 basic forms: (click here to see the full article)

1. Celiac disease/ gluten intolerance*- a chronic autoimmune disease that takes months and years to develop. Your body essentially overreacts to the presence of gluten in your GI tract. Over time, ingesting it puts too much wear and tear on the ever important villi of the small intestine, in some cases destroying them altogether if the problem is not nipped in the bud.

Some forms of celiac can be "silent," meaning the person suffering on the inside is completely unaware due to the lack of externally manifested symptoms.

*You can technically be gluten intolerant and still test negative for celiac disease, though the bodily reactions are more or less the same.

2. Gluten Allergy- this problem is marked by more acute symptoms like rashes or hives on the skin, gastrointestinal issues or shortness of breath directly after eating gluten or wheat products. While Celiac disease gets a worse rap and an actual name, severe allergies are nothing to be taken lightly.

If you're curious as to whether your body's got a problem digesting gluten, try cutting it out of your diet for a month and see if you notice a difference. A co-worker of mine did that very thing and he now lives completely gluten free.

Which brings us to question: What exactly does this gluten free lifestyle entail?

I got the following info here.

For starters, all products containing barley, bulgur, couscous, spelt, durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, fu, glaidin, gluten, glutenin, graham flour, kamut, matzo, mir, rye, seitan, semolina, triticale, and pretty much anything with wheat in the name are out.

(Looks like those spelt tortillas I bought the other day are goin' in the freezer 'til February 15)

OATS are also a questionable product on a gluten free diet- seems you have to thoroughly check the label or call the manufacturer to find out if they fit the bill. That fact made my heart hurt a little.

Ingredients that get the gold star?

Amaranth, millet, quinoa, surghum, taro, teff, flours made from beans, nuts, potatoes, rice, tapioca and corn among others.

Phew, I almost collapsed from "rule overload."

When I think of all the people who come into the restaurant asking for gluten free options and my response is, "Um... this one [mediocre] item, but you'd have to do it without the x..." Ah man, my respeck just grows and grows.

With all this newly discovered info in mind and a desire to see just how difficult it would be, I hit up the celebrity-laden Whole Foods for some wheat-free snacks.

Even while scouring the shelves of the largest health food chain in the country, I was shocked to discover the limited amount of wheat free options. (Though I suppose they're far better than they were a decade ago and assume it gets easier the longer you live it and the more you understand.)

Luckily, with a little time, patience and keen eyesight, I was able to scrounge up some of the good stuff.

As I dive into these packages, I'll be sure to let you know how they measure up on the flavor scale ;)

After the shopping trip, it was time for a cleanse-worthy, gluten-free dinner on the fly.

Well, I hope it was gluten-free.

You see, miso, like oats, is one of those things on the "questionable list." But after checking the ingredients and seeing rice and soybeans listed, rather than anything from the ix nay list above, I decided it was safe...

I needed this dinner to be hearty enough for Alex and flavorful enough for me... Not to mention packed with nutrients and protein.

I was feeling a pilaf sort of deal and decided to create my own using lentils as the base.

It came together quite nicely, to my utter surprise...

First, I got 1 cup of lentils and 2 cups of water + 1 Tbs of Earth Balance going in the rice cooker.

Gathered my veggies of choice

Added the chopped green and red onions to 1 cup of veggie broth + .5 cup of water, covered and brought to a boil

Once it was nice and bubbly, I added the miso packet (which was just enough flavor to leave out any additional salt)

In went the carrots...

And another new ingredient to me:

Arrowroot is essentially the healthier, more digestible form of cornstarch- both are thickening agents for sauces, gravies and the like. I really wanted my broth on the ticker side and thought merely sprinkling this into the mix would do the trick. Apparently not.

While the broth didn't thicken as much as I would've liked (more arrowroot trial and error will be done in the future- I keep seeing conflicting guidelines on the subject), the dinner turned out pretty perfectly if I say so myself.

Protein from the lentils, nutrients from the veggies and miso, flavor from the broth.

Quite a treat.

And speaking of treats: several of you mentioned wanting the recipe for the chocomole I made the other day. You can find Gena's original recipe here, but I've outlined how I made it in my own kitchen below...

I used:

-1 ripe avocado
-4 large pitted medjool dates (depends on how sweet you like it)
-3 Tbs organic cocoa powder
-splash of vanilla extract
-1/2 cup chocolate almond milk (watered down a bit)

All you have to do is put the ingredients in the food processor (the little bowl will work for one serving), turn the puppy on and leave it until everything's blended into one glorious mush of healthy chocolate.

I put mine in the freezer for about an hour to give it more of a frozen mousse/ ice cream sort of vibe, but room temperature works as well!

Also gluten free ;)

Alright, I'm off to get this day goin'!

Alex and I are venturing out to a raw vegan restaurant in Santa Monica tonight- stay tuned for a full recap tomorrow.

Question: Are any of you unable to eat gluten? Was it hard to adopt the lifestyle at first? I'm curious to hear about the experience firsthand if you'd like to share... And any tips are greatly appreciated!

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