Is it a diet? A fad? A healthier way to eat? ‘Gluten-free’ options are everywhere these days – from restaurant menus to entire grocery store isles. Even professional athletes and celebrities claim that “gluten free is the way to be”. But, let’s face facts – how safe is it to trust Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian as our nutritional gurus?
What are the facts?
According to The New York Times, experts estimate that 18 million Americans suffer from some sort of gluten sensitivity. Gluten sensitivity, (or intolerance), is a broad spectrum of symptoms including bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, headaches, severe acne, bone and joint pain, and other discomforts. ‘Celiac Disease’ falls under the umbrella of ‘gluten sensitivity’ but is a more severe immune reaction to gluten, occurring in around 1% of Americans. This reaction damages the lining of the small intestine, preventing proper absorption of the nutrients in food, which, over time, can be dangerous, as patients may become malnourished. Celiac Disease can only be detected through blood testing and is a lifelong condition in which individuals must avoid gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley. Those whose blood tests come back negative for celiac’s but still suffer symptoms are considered ‘gluten sensitive’ or ‘intolerant’.
And, interestingly, this population of people is growing – which explains the increased presence of ‘gluten-free’ products. Some researchers blame the wheat – as some varieties contain more gluten than they once did, and our ways of processing and eating wheat, which has changed dramatically over the past fifty years. Others claim several possible environmental factors such as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ – suggesting that our ultra-sanitized way of living leaves our immune system looking for a target, turning on the body. Whatever the reason, gluten sensitivity is a very real physical hardship for many.
Is cutting gluten out of your diet considered ‘healthier’?
A survey conducted by Consumer Reports has revealed that over 60 percent of Americans think that by going gluten-free they can improve their physical and mental health. For those with Celiac’s Disease, avoiding gluten is crucial. But doctors agree – those not suffering from Celiac’s or a gluten sensitivity are doing their bodies no favors by cutting out gluten. Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, told WebMD. “Many people may just perceive that a gluten-free diet is healthier…[and] unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber.”
It’s not the gluten itself that boasts essential vitamins and minerals – it’s the whole grains containing the gluten. B vitamins, iron, fiber, trace minerals, etc. are found in whole grains – all elements of a healthy diet. Those going gluten-free should be sure to replace whole grains containing gluten with grains like amaranth, millet, and quinoa – gluten-free alternatives that offer the same essential nutrients. And, as with any diet, lean meats and fish, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products are recommended.
The bottom line
-Gluten-free is necessary for those with Celiac’s, and those with a gluten sensitivity.
-If you suspect that you have an issue with gluten, talk with your doctor, about getting tested.
-Either way, get creative with your grains – they’re good for you!
Try this delicious fall Quinoa-based dish! (taken from www.marinmamacooks.com)
ACORN SQUASH STUFFED WITH QUINOA AND ROASTED ALMONDS:
recipe adapted from Whole Living
serves 4-8 – depending on how many squashes you buy
- 2-4 small acorn squashes, halved and seeds removed – if you’re serving 2 people get 1 squash, 4 people then get 2 squashes, 8 people then get 4 squashes. The quinoa makes enough to fill 8 small squash halves. You could even use 1 large butternut squash here and fill that up with the quinoa.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing on the squash
- fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 cup dry, quinoa, rinsed
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
- 1/2 cup raw almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
- 2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
-Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Let’s begin by roasting up the acorn squash.
-Cut your squash in half as shown below. I’m going to warn you, cutting an acorn squash in half is HARD work. I felt like I was cutting through a log or something. I really had to dig in with my knife and rotate the squash around.
-After you cut your squash in half, scoop out all the seeds and membranes, using either a spoon or a melon baller.
-Next, brush each squash half with a bit of olive oil, and season with some salt and pepper.
-Roast the squash cut-side down on a baking sheet until tender when pierced with a fork, and caramelized, about 15-25 minutes.
-While the squash is cooking, bring the 1 cup well rinsed quinoa and 2 cups water to a boil in a small sauce pan. Once the quinoa has come to a boil, give it a stir, cover it and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook the quinoa until all the water is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes. The quinoa is done when its tender and you can see the little quinoa curlicues.
-While the quinoa and squash are cooking, was and chop your parsley and toast up the almonds. Coarsely chop the almonds.
-Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped almonds to the skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a paper towel lined plate to get the grease off. Sprinkle the almonds with some fine sea salt. Set them aside.
-In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/2 cup feta, almonds, 2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
-Fill up your squash halves with the quinoa and dig in!