Happy Friday everyone. I was just thinking about how many of my patients have removed gluten from their diet or want more information on how to get rid of gluten. Some suffer a true intolerance to gluten (celiac disease for one) and others would like to try the health benefits of being gluten free. I have tried gluten free products that were terrible and some that were just as good as their gluten rich counterparts. There is a growing number of do it yourself types who enjoy making their own gluten free products. The main benefit to this is having absolute control over the ingredients you use. Cost can be another benefit. Today I am going to show you some gluten free alternatives to regular flour so that you can experiment on your own and find out what you like best.
First, what is gluten?
Gluten is a protein present in wheat flour, which is widely used in commercial and homemade baked goods. Gluten is also found in flour made from barley, rye, spelt, and triticale, a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps dough to rise and lends shape and a chewy texture to baked goods.
Why is gluten bad?
Gluten is a protein composite found in several types of grains, including wheat, spelt, rye and barley. Gluten consists of two proteins… gliadin and glutenin. It is the gliadin part that people react negatively to. When flour is mixed with water, gluten forms a sticky network of proteins, giving elastic properties to dough and allowing bread to rise when baked. Actually, the name gluten is derived from these glue-like properties. When gluten reaches the digestive tract and is exposed to the cells of the immune system, they mistakenly believe that it is coming from some sort of foreign invader, like a bacteria. In certain people who are sensitive to gluten, this causes the immune system to mount an attack against it. In celiac disease (the most severe form of gluten sensitivity), the immune system attacks the gluten proteins, but it also attacks an enzyme in the cells of the digestive tract called tissue transglutaminase. For this reason, celiac disease is classified as an autoimmune disease. The immune reaction can cause degeneration of the intestinal wall, which leads to nutrient deficiencies, various digestive issues, anemia, fatigue, failure to thrive as well as an increased risk of many serious diseases. Celiac disease is believed to afflict about 1% of people, but it may be more common (over 2%) in the elderly. There are also studies showing that the rate of celiac disease is increasing rapidly in the population. Keep in mind that a large percentage of celiacs don’t even have abdominal symptoms, making diagnosis on clinical grounds very difficult. The symptoms might manifest themselves in different ways, like fatigue, anemia… or something much worse, like a doubled risk of death in several studies. According to one study, over 80% of people with celiac disease don’t even know that they have it. You don’t need to have full-blown celiac disease to have adverse reactions to gluten.
There is another disorder called gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance), which is much more common. Although there is no clear definition of gluten sensitivity, it basically means having some sort of adverse reaction to gluten and an improvement in symptoms on a gluten-free diet. If you have adverse reactions to gluten, but celiac disease is ruled out, then it is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there is no attack on the body’s own tissues. However, many of the symptoms are similar to those in celiac disease, including bloating, stomach pain, fatigue, diarrhea, as well as pain in the bones and joints. Unfortunately… because there is no clear way of diagnosing gluten sensitivity, reliable numbers on how common it is are impossible to find. There are two sources showing that up to 6-8% people may have gluten sensitivity, based on anti-gliadin antibodies found in the blood. However, one gastroenterologist found that 11% of people had antibodies against gluten in their blood and 29% of people had antibodies against it in stool samples. Given that there is no clear definition of gluten sensitivity, or a good way to diagnose it, the only true way of knowing is by eliminating gluten temporarily from your diet, then reintroducing it to see if you have symptoms. Other possible links to gluten and health issues are: Gluten May Cause Adverse Effects, even in People Who Don’t Have Gluten Sensitivity. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a major suspect. Even though gluten primarily works its “magic” in the gut, it can also have severe effects on the brain. Many cases of neurological illness may be caused and/or exacerbated by gluten consumption. This is called gluten-sensitive idiopathic neuropathy. In a study of patients with neurological illness of an unknown cause, 30 of 53 patients (57%) had antibodies against gluten in the blood. The main neurological disorder believed to be at least partly caused by gluten is cerebellar ataxia, a serious disease of the brain that involves an inability to coordinate balance, movements, problems talking, etc. It is now known that many cases of ataxia are directly linked to gluten consumption. This is called gluten ataxia and involves irreversible damage to the cerebellum, a part of the brain that is important in motor control. Schizophrenia: A subset of schizophrenia patients sees massive improvements by removing gluten. Autism: Several studies suggest that people with autism see improvements in symptoms on a gluten-free diet. Epilepsy: There are several reports of patients with epilepsy improving significantly when removing gluten.
Bottom Line: Several disorders of the brain respond well to a gluten-free diet, including autism, schizophrenia and a rare form of epilepsy. Now armed with this information, you may just want to try going gluten free just to see if there is any improvement in you overall well being. Even if you don’t have any of the symptoms listed.
Baking without gluten can be challenging because gluten contributes important properties to baked products like cookies, cakes, pastries, and breads. That’s why, in addition to seeing gluten-free flours such as white rice flour listed in the ingredient list, you may also notice xanthan gum and guar gum. These gums work with other ingredients, such as yeast, baking soda, and baking powder, to help the dough or batter rise. I’ll start you off with one basic recipe and then list some other flour alternatives that you can find recipes for and experiment on your own.
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray.
- In a small bowl, mix egg yolks, cream cheese, and sugar until smooth.
- In a medium bowl, combine cream of tartar with egg whites; beat with an electric mixer on high speed until fluffy and stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg yolk mixture into egg white mixture until well combined. Spoon mixture into 10 even rounds on baking sheets.
- Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
When you are ready to experiment further, places like Facebook, Pinterest, and search engines on the Internet, you can spend a lifetime gathering and trying recipes. If you suspect you have an issue with gluten you should of course discuss it with your doctor. I work alongside Western Medicine to help people ease their symptoms using acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. To get your complimentary health analysis and personalized wellness plan, call my office at (561)272-7816. Have a happy and healthy weekend.
Cert. Ac., Dipl. Ac.