Gluten-Free Tips To Still Eat the Foods You Love

A lot of people I know cringe at the idea of living a gluten-free diet, but as I continue along the path of becoming a vegan and living a gluten-free lifestyle I give a little snicker each time someone asks, "So what exactly do you eat?' Of course I explain to each person I eat food just like the next person, but am mindful of what is exactly on my plate, no matter where I dine out.

When you look at the term 'gluten-free' it's all about understanding what exactly living this lifestyle means. Gluten-free is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. The gluten protein is found in foods such as barley, rye, wheat, spelt, food starch, semolina, the list goes on. Basically it is a diet with no grains. Of course this may be a tough feat, but over time, switching to a gluten-free diet is as simple as becoming a vegan.

Before we get started on our path of gluten-free dieting I want to make one thing known; gluten-free doesn't always necessarily mean healthier. I know a lot of products out there add extra sugar to make their products taste better, so I hope this list will provide you with an easy how to guide on living a gluten-free diet, that of course, is kind to your waistline.

With that in mind, here are some alternatives to spanning into the realm of gluten-free living without missing the foods you love to eat the most:

Beer: With gluten being a main factor in the production of beer a lot of Celiac's were at one time unable to have a cold beer on a hot summer day. Over time, many breweries recognized this fact and have developed beers that are gluten-free (made from rice, millet, sorghum or buckwheat). So say 'so long' to drinking water as you're sitting by the pool this summer and say hello to Lakefront New Grist beer from Milwaukee or Bard's Beer; the world's first craft-brewed gluten-free beer.

Cupcakes: The world of cupcakes are certainly expanding, and expanding in the likes of dietary requirements around the world. If you are leaning towards a gluten-free diet, than you must try BabyCakes bakery in NYC. This spot is loaded with cupcakes and treats that are refined-sugar free, gluten-free, wheat-free, egg-free, the list really goes on. The beauty of this spot is that they have uniquely developed recipes that use the sweet tastes of agave nectar to sweeten their desserts instead of loading up on sugar. If you're looking to create your very own cupcakes they even have a recipe book that's loaded with hundreds of treats.

Pasta: Pasta is one of my favorite things, and over the past couple of years I have been indulging in rice pasta. Rice pasta is now a frequent, recent addition to menus throughout NYC and beyond. If you're looking for a good brand of gluten-free pasta, try Tinkyada. One of the best ways to enjoy rice pasta is to saute fresh tomatoes with some olive oil, garlic and onion and cook the rice pasta al dente, to get that perfect consistency you love.

Tacos: Tacos are messy, fun and best served with a pitcher of sangria. If you're planning on living a gluten-free diet you'll have to venture off to Brooklyn's Cochinita, where they are serving up gluten-free Mexican fare at a reasonable price. Looking to break free from the restaurant scene, than try making your own taco shells with just a few simple ingredients.

With a slew of gluten-free options out there, in no time at all you'll be creating unique dishes that expand your palette. Happy gluten-free eating!

What sort of gluten-free dishes have you created?

Clues for Gluten Sensitivities: A New Guide Indicates Who Shouldn't Eat Gluten

By: Michele Wolfson

Do you dream about eating luscious treats like cupcakes and cookies, or even main staples like pasta and bread without doubling over from abdominal pains? Its often very frustrating dealing with food allergies related to gluten-intolerances, especially for young children.

Trying to figure out what exactly makes you uncomfortable can be a real challenge. "One way to determine if gluten (or any other food) is causing problems is to do an elimination diet for at least 2 weeks whereby you eliminate all gluten from your diet, which means not even a breadcrumb. After two weeks, reintroduce gluten, and see how you feel," says Mona Solar, creator of Solar Wellness, an organization that is dedicated to helping improve the lives of those following a gluten-free diet as well as other food sensitivities.

If you are feeling constantly bloated, or experience fatigue and foggy thinking and feel worse after eating wheat and other products that contain gluten, experts say that you should be avoiding them.

In a previous article, I discussed whether or not a gluten-free diet is a truth or a trend because this is a question that is often asked and leaves room for speculation about its legitimacy. "The gluten-free diet appears to be moving away from trend because as time goes we are seeing increases in Celiac diagnoses and people who are trying a GF diet noticing positive changes in their health," says Solar. In an effort to clarify the situation, a group of 15 experts from seven countries is proposing a new classification system for the gluten-related disorders plaguing a growing number of people around the world for unknown reasons, according to The Wall Street Journal.

I've heard individuals complain that when they are tested for Celiac Disease and their results come back negative, doctors will brush aside indicators of a gluten-allergy and will make them feel like they are crazy and creating false symptoms. While some people may be on a gluten-free diet for unnecessary reasons, "It's only now that studies are coming out showing that there's something real about gluten sensitivity" says Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University and a co-author of the proposal. In fact, he notes that patients with gluten sensitivity often have even more severe symptoms than those with celiac disease, which is frequently "silent" or asymptomatic, even though antibodies to gluten are slowly damaging their intestinal tracts. That's partly why celiac disease is under-diagnosed, he says.

These experts are hoping to find a biomarker that can officially diagnose gluten sensitivity. But until then, they have come up with a chart for both the patient and the physician to classify gluten-related disorder symptoms. Below is the guide:

Classifying the Symptoms

Wheat Allergy: Can affect skin, gastrointestinal tract or respiratory tract

Symptoms: Hives, nasal and chest congestion, nausea, vomiting, anaphylaxis

Prevalence: Less than 1% of children, most outgrow it

Diagnosis: Blood and skin prick reveal IgE antibodies; food challenge

Treatment: Avoid wheat products

Celiac Disease: Antibodies to gluten damage intestinal villi needed to absorb food

Symptoms: Abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, osteoporosis, cancer; can also be asymptomatic

Prevalence: 1% of adults of European descent, up fourfold in 50 years

Diagnosis: Gene tests show HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 variations; blood tests reveal tTGA or EMA antibodies; biopsy shows villi damage

Treatment: Strict gluten-free diet can reverse symptoms

Gluten Ataxia: Antibodies to gluten attack cerebellum

Symptoms: Loss of balance and coordination; few GI symptoms

Prevalence: Gluten may be the cause of ataxia in a fifth of all sufferers of the ailment

Diagnosis: Blood tests show tTG6 and AGA antibodies; brain images are abnormal

Treatment: Gluten-free diet may stabilize ataxia but some damage may be irreversible

Gluten Sensitivity: Gluten may trigger a primitive immune defense

Symptoms: Similar to celiac disease without villi damage; foggy thinking, mood swings

Prevalence: Unknown

Diagnosis: Rule out celiac disease and wheat allergies; possible AGA antibodies in blood; symptoms ease when avoiding gluten

Treatment: Avoiding gluten, though small amounts on occasion may not cause problems (Sources: BMC Medicine, WSJ reporting)

"Undiagnosed and untreated Celiac can lead to higher incidences of other autoimmune diseases," says Solar. Making educated choices and reading labels is very important, not only for those with food allergies, but also for anybody willing to follow a healthier way of eating. Solar also states that "There is a healthy way to eat Gluten-free, which includes whole foods that are naturally gluten-free and gluten-free grains, versus an unhealthy way that revolves around a lot of processed gluten-free products that contain more sugar, calories and carbs than their gluten-containing counterparts." Solar Wellness is an excellent and reliable company to check out if you or a loved one is experiencing any issues with gluten-related intolerances.

It is also imperative that physicians suspect gluten sensitivity when patients complain of abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, anemia and other celiac symptoms, even if they don't have wheat allergies or the antibodies seen with Celiac disease.

Michele Wolfson is a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute and is passionate about all areas of food, from writing about it, to photographing, growing, cooking, and consuming it. A vegetarian since she was seven years old, Michele knows the ins and outs of enjoying a healthy vegetarian lifestyle in Manhattan, which she writes about for as its Manhattan Vegetarian Examiner.

Photos: Meredith_Farmer

For more health tips, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Gluten-Free Diet: Truth or Trend?

By: Michele Wolfson

Anyone who peruses products down the grocery aisle will vouch that items are labeled as "gluten-free" now more than ever before. Celiac disease and gluten allergies are more commonly discussed presently than even a few years ago. We have come a long way in bringing awareness to Celiac, which is an autoimmune disease that affects 1 out of 133 Americans. There are good reasons for a gluten-free diet, but is the bandwagon appropriate for everyone?

The craze for cutting wheat out of the American diet truly began in 2002 when the Atkins Diet deemed bread as evil and carbophobia was rampant in a nation where grain was considered to be a main stable at the dinner table for centuries. Suddenly, it was encouraged to consume copious amounts of red meat and bread and pasta became villains in the fight against maintaining a trim waistline.

Within months, supermarket shelves were restocked and restaurant menus were rewritten to reflect the new nutritional wisdom. Now that the Atkins mania is on the decline and beef consumption is trending downwards, restaurant menus are currently promoting their gluten-free items. Food packages proclaim their gluten-free contents. Weight loss programs flaunt the supposed benefits of avoiding gluten. Many individuals are now cutting wheat out of their diet to promote weight loss, but there are also a list of conditions apart from Celiac disease that supposedly are helped by eliminating gluten from the diet.

This diet makes sense to many Americans, but there are some who are skeptical that avoiding gluten has become a trend and are worried that marketing tactics could lead a person to believe that the gluten-free diet is the greatest discovery since sliced bread.

Are we pinning too much culpability on gluten? Like I mentioned earlier, bread and pasta are two beloved staples in the American diet that are hard to avoid. The reason many advocates of the diet believe we as a nation need to stay away from gluten is because the wheat that we consume in this day and age has a lot more gluten than older wheat. The fact that wheat is in almost everything is probably the cause of increased intolerance or sensitivity.

In addition, the vast majority of wheat and grain products available today are not properly prepared. Grains are inherently hard to digest so traditionally people have soaked, fermented, and sprouted them to make them more digestible and to neutralize the anti-nutrients. That practice is not done anymore, so as a result, many health issues have risen.

As a graduate from The Natural Gourmet Institute, a large portion of my culinary curriculum revolved around creating gluten-free dishes and I learned that there are big differences between most pre-packaged gluten-free items versus homemade ones. Many critics attacking the gluten-free diet make the assumption that those who adhere to a gluten-free way of life are automatically eating pre-packaged products that are commonly loaded in sugar and fat-- hence the backlash and claims about the "diet" being unhealthy or low in fiber.

Maintaining a gluten-free diet isn't a cakewalk, but it's recommended that you stick with it for 21 days to see if it really works. If you are looking to lose weight, you might be successful because the diet eliminated cookies, cakes, and other baked goods that are made with wheat flour. However, you have to be smart when choosing replacement options because the gluten-free versions often have the same number of calories. Instead of using wheat flour, potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flour must be substituted.

A gluten-free diet may often be suggested for managing conditions like Autism, irritable bowel syndrome, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Many individuals who are advocates for the diet are frustrated because they believe that some doctors refuse to admit that cutting gluten really does reduce a host of health issues.

Before jumping into a diet head first, thoroughly research the pros and cons and always have a sense of awareness when it comes to what your body is telling you is good and bad. Your body is your temple and we often take it for granted.

Photo: roboppy 

For more food news, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Novak Djokovic's New Gluten-Free Diet

Novak Djokovic, the tennis super-star, discovered last year he was allergic to gluten, and thus changed his diet immediately. Novak's new gluten-free diet not only has improved his health, but most astonishingly his tennis game as well.

Which got us thinking, how much does a diet actually play into improving an athlete's performance? For Djokovic, eliminating gluten from his diet was necessary for his health due to his diagnosis of Celiac Disease. To break it down, gluten is a protein composite composed of the elastic proteins gliadin and glutenin found in wheat, secalin in rye and hordein in barley. It creates that elastic texture in dough we all so love. As found in "Gluten Intolerance Symptons," there are over 250 documented symptoms for those who experience gluten sensitivity. The most common are abdominal pain or cramping, anemia, fatigue or nausea. These systems occur because the "proteins in gluten trigger your immune system to overreact with strong and unusual antibodies. Over time the antibodies wear down villi (which are little hairs that line the wall of your intestine). The antibodies then absorb nutrients as food passes through your lower digestive tract. When these villi are destroyed your body reacts in that you are less able to process any nutrients from foods that have the gluten protein in them." Overall, if you have an allergy to gluten you are unable to eat foods such as bread, pasta, noodles, pizza, muesli and more. If something contains wheat you will want to stay clear from it.

So how has changing to a gluten-free diet helped Novak Djokovic? As noted in Chris Chase's "Is Novak Djokovic's new, gluten-free diet behind his win streak?" success is the tune Djokovic is 'swinging' to. With winning the Davis Cup and Australian Open, making the finals of the U.S. Open and currently ranked on a 39-match winning streak, which is the third longest of the Open era, this new gluten-free diet isn't just something that is benefiting his health. The answer isn't known if the gluten-free diet creates a better athlete but it surely has enabled Djokovic to "move much sharper and feel physically great." Now being the US Open 2011 winner, he certainly can attribute his new physique and gluten-free lifestyle to winning in the big leagues.

Photo: Mark Howard Photography

FDA To Introduce Official "Gluten-Free" Labeling

For quite some time, anyone with celiac disease or avoiding gluten had a difficult time eating. There were few foods that satisfied gluten-free requirements and tasted good. But recently, more and more manufacturers have been producing better tasting, gluten-free foods for a growing customer base. However, so far there has been no official regulation system to categorize what is or isn't gluten-free-manufacturers could theoretically apply that label to whatever they wanted.

Luckily though, the FDA is preparing itself to launch an official gluten-free requirement standard and labeling system. Previously, a company's "gluten-free" products could have as much gluten as 100 parts per million-enough to trigger a reaction for some people. But under the new regulations, an officially gluten-free food can't contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten, a level so small that it can't be detected by standard lab tests.

This is a great step forward for food safety and monitoring by the FDA. It's quite alarming to hear that supposedly "gluten-free" foods could have enough gluten to possibly harm someone and that there was no system for checking on this. But now that the FDA has finally stepped in, gluten-avoiders will be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the "gluten-free" label on the food they buy really means what it says.

The new label is expected to be on products next year.