How food, diet, and dieting affected my writing and my life. And maybe effects yours…
Okay, eating the world may be an exaggeration, but not by a lot. There are a ton of foods out there for the gluten sensitive individual to eat, and most of them you’ve probably never given a second glance. But they are waiting for you, bursting with flavor.
The easy stuff is this: Food in its unadulterated form (I.E. raw, no seasonings, no marinades, no sauces) is where you can start. You can grill meat for yourself – but you must make up the hamburger paddy yourself, and put the ground pepper and salt on it. And read those salt and ground pepper labels, because a lot of salt/spice mixes have gluten in them, in some form.
So – Okay food includes:
Real shellfish (fake shellfish may be processed with gluten)
Take the advice of Ray Audette, the author of Neanderthin – if you can pick it off a tree or bush, or stick a stake in it, it’s probably safe. (This assumes it’s already designated as food fit for human consumption – don’t start experimenting in the back yard, now!)
Ray believes all grains are evil for humans to eat. He may be right – he certainly seems to be right for me about grains containing gluten, and if I’d dumped all of them for a year, in sheer desperation, I might never have started eating macrobiotic cooking. Which would have halted the damage of the gluten, I believe, but not necessarily slowly rebuilt my body, as macrobiotics is doing for me.
Half the world is gluten-intolerant, and they eat other grains without apparent difficulty (I say apparent because I haven’t yet researched arthritis, etc. in those countries.) My goal is to help you transition off wheat. If eating teff porridge and millet or sorghum bread does that, for right now I’m happy. So – in case you can handle those grains just fine, here’s a selection of them, including a handy link to pictures of some of them. (There are also pictures of grains with gluten in this shot, like barley and spelt. It won’t hurt to recognize them so you can avoid them.)
Here are the most common grains that do not contain gluten, as well as roots, tubers, and plants that produce end product that is dried, ground to flour and baked, fried, etc. I store my GF flours in wide-mouthed 32 oz. canning jars on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator.
amaranth – A traditional food plant from Africa. This is a pseudograin, and several varieties are popular in the Americas and Asia. Amaranth grain is a complete protein, and has more protein than wheat, ounce for ounce. It can grow in marginal areas, and harvests easily. The spread of it worldwide is encouraged. It smells a bit like cornmeal when toasted, and adds that flavor to porridge mixes.
chia – Surprise! Cultivated and valued by the Aztecs, chia is still used in Mexico and Guatemala both ground and as whole seed. One ounce of seed provides 9% of the US Daily Value for protein. I haven’t come across this one yet on the shelf (except in Chia pets, of course.) But you can order it from the Bob’s Red Mill site, if you’re curious.
Corn – Corn is an excellent protein, but it is incomplete – it is missing two amino acids, lysine and tryptophan, and the B vitamin niacin is inaccessible unless freed by nixtamalization. Eating corn with beans, amaranth and quinoa gave indigenous Americans a good mix for proper protein synthesis. One problem for some folks — over 80% of maize/corn grown in the US or Canada is transgenic I.E. genetically modified. This was done to help protect it from herbicides used on the crops, as well as increase the vitamins in some varieties of corn. Sweet corn is the variant that has more sugar and less starch; it is eaten as a vegetable.
millet — This is a group of small-seeded plants grown both for cereal crops and fodder. It’s one of the oldest groups of grain, over 10,000 years old. It’s about the equal of wheat in protein, with lots of vitamins and minerals found in it. It makes dandy flatbread and alcohol, and is popular in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world where it flourishes. It you have thyroid trouble, don’t over-do here – millet is a mild thyroid peroxidase inhibitor. Millet, like amaranth, is a complete protein – and it’s cheap.
quinoa – (pronounced keen-wa) It is actually a pseudocereal, not a grain (it’s related to spinach and beets!) The Incans considered their quinoa crop sacred, and kept growing it in the hills after the Spaniards condemned it and told them to grow wheat. It is a complete protein, and very high in protein (12%-18% of Daily Values.) Most quinoa sold for food in North America has had its bitter outer coating removed. That coating protects the crop while it is growing – birds don’t make off with the entire crop! It is fluffy when cooked, and mild and slightly nutty in taste. You can find red, white and blue/black quinoa, and they cook at the same rate, so you can combine the red and white for the color contrast. Cook white quinoa and blue, and you’ll end up with various shades of lavender quinoa!
rice – The most cultivated grain used primarily for food, rice in many forms is a staple throughout Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and also the West Indies. Rice is a good protein, but not a complete one (low in lysine) – it should be eaten with other protein sources such as beans, fish, meat, nuts, and seeds. There are varieties of rice you’ve probably never tried – now is the time to try black “Forbidden” rice or red Bhutan rice!
sorghum (also called durra) – A warm climate plant used for fiber, fodder and grain. Sorghum is used in couscous (check the label because a lot of couscous in America is wheat!) molasses, sorghum flour (breads) and porridge. Sorghum is also used in many traditional forms of alcohol, including African beer. But African beer is often mixed with wheat, so look for gluten-free beer to avoid the wheat complication. Sorghum kernels can be popped like corn! Try your local Indian grocery for ready-popped sorghum, called jowar or jawar (I’m still looking for sorghum kernels locally – the flour is sold by Bob’s Red Mill, a great source for GF ancient grains. Amazon.com carries Barry Farm’s sweet white sorghum berries.)
teff – An annual grass native to Northwestern Africa, Teff is very popular in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and South Africa, and also eaten in India, Australia, and the USA. Teff is high in protein and minerals, and contains all eight amino acids needed for human health. It’s good in breads and porridge, and I’ve used teff flour in cookies – it gives a lovely, soft mouth-feel to GF shortbread.
arrowroot – Arrowroot is from the arrowroot or obedience plant. Dried, scaled and ground, it becomes a starch used in thickening and baking. It is almost pure carbohydrate, and contains no protein.
lotus — Made from the dried rhizome (root) of the lotus water lily (Nelumbo nucifera,) lotus root flour is a white, grainy starch used as a thickener in Chinese dishes as well as in Chinese medicine. I also have a recipe (Orange Beef) where the beef was dusted with lotus flour before deep frying it. Lotus root is not cheap, however. You can buy fresh lotus at the oriental market, and use it sliced and diced in stir-fry dishes and pickles.
potato – In this case, we’re talking about the edible tuber grown for its nutritious starch and skin. Potato starch is a common substitute in gluten-free baked goods. (The rare potato fruit is toxic, by the way!) It’s a nightshade, and there is some suggestion that nightshades can aggravate inflammation/arthritis in the human body, plus they are where the glycoalkaloid poison solanine comes from, so strict macrobiotic followers don’t eat potatoes. Others avoid nightshades as well.
tapioca – A root that can be ground into starch (finely powdered) or flour, tapioca is a common thickener in the Americas. It is also known as cassava, manioc, and yuca (not yucca). It’s great to thicken fruit pies, and found as giant “pearls” in bubble tea. Tapioca pudding is usually made with small or medium “pearls.” It contains almost no protein, so is often mixed with milk, or high-protein flours.
taro – Both a root (corm) vegetable and leaf vegetable crop, dried taro root can be ground to produce a starchy flour. Inedible raw, and toxic until processed correctly. Taro is used by dozens of nations in both leaf and corm form.
buckwheat – A totally separate plant unrelated to wheat, buckwheat is most known to Americans in buckwheat pancakes, buckwheat honey, and soba noodles. The seeds can be used whole or are ground into flour. (Remember to check and see if wheat has been added to a buckwheat product!) Used for gluten-free beer.
wild rice – The seed of an aquatic grass, wild rice is more vegetable than grain, a gloriously nutty dish in flavor. It is not cheap, being mostly harvested by hand, and it also is strong for some people. Those reasons are why you’ll find it pre-mixed as a tiny portion of a rice mix. Lundberg Family Farms® makes several bulk rice mixes that have no gluten and you can buy in as small or large a quality as you wish – CountryWild and Jubilee are two of them. The Wild Blend mix includes wild rice, long grain brown rice, sweet brown rice, Wehani® and Black Japonica™ rices. Check their web site for coupons, and co-ops and Whole Foods often have them in coupon rotation, too. (I often make up half Wild Blend, half sweet brown rice together as a hot breakfast grain – yum! And you can make several portions – I make enough for four days at a time, because I like hot grain for breakfast.) You can buy wild rice by itself — I like it in black bean soup, and chicken corn soup.
Now, what you’ve all been waiting for – the names of companies making breads, cookies etc., that are gluten-free. Food for Life, French Meadow, Udi’s, Glutino, Rudi’s and Kinnikinnick are all companies with national exposure. They often have coupons on their web sites you can take advantage of – and look for them other places than groceries and health food stores. My local compounding pharmacy sells Kinnikinnick muffins, bagels, doughnuts and desserts. These companies also make cookies, tortillas and hamburger buns – a few make gluten-free pasta.
Some companies sell pre-mixed kits instead of the finished products. Bob’s Red Mill is one (I love their 10 grain pancake mix, but watch out for buttermilk!) and Pamela’s is another. Pamela’s cookies (they also come already made!) taught me that I could eat ONE cookie and feel satisfied by it – that if I ate two, I felt stuffed. Is this the difference between grain I could process, and grain I could not? I don’t know – I only know I eat less of GF cookies than cookies with wheat in them, even when the GF cookies taste better than wheat cookies. (I have recipes, and I will share!)
Remember that gluten-free is not necessarily dairy free, or free of other things that trigger allergies! For example, Glutino’s Cinnamon & Raisin bread contains skim milk powder. Many of these breads use yeast. If you have other food intolerances, you’ll need to check for them.
I haven’t tried a lot of these breads and mixes, because many contain potato starch, and since inflammation has been an all-body problem, I’m still staying away from nightshades. But you can indulge, if you think you’ll miss grains too much. Just start slowly – remember healing your system! Don’t buy too much stuff; it’s low in preservatives, and you don’t want it to go bad – not at these prices!
Next time – foods where hidden gluten lurks.
Cat Kimbriel is a fantasy and science fiction writer with a practical streak, a passion for great characters, and a focus on justice and compassion. Her current ebooks can be found over here.