As a nutritionist, I am often asked about gluten-free diets by those with difficulty digesting certain grain foods.
Gluten is a protein made up of many different proteins. Two main groups of these are gliadin and glutenin. Most medical tests for gluten allergy examine the patient’s response to a protein called gliadin rather than to gluten itself. Gliadin is found only in wheat, spelt, kamut, and rye grains and their products. This includes most white and whole grain breads, pastas, cookies, muffins, and other baked goods. Nevertheless, some people sensitive to these grains can tolerate them in sprouted products or naturally leavened (sourdough) breads, as these processes break down gliadin so that it causes less digestive distress.
Going Without Gluten
Barley and oats do not contain gliadin, glutenin, or gluten but may cause digestive troubles for those sensitive to gliadin, as their structure includes similar proteins (hordein and avenin) that cause problems for some. However, many people sensitive to wheat (but who do not show medical gliadin sensitivity) may successfully digest kamut, spelt, and rye in sprouted and sourdough breads.
Whole grains that do not contain gliadin or similar proteins are millet, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, teff, corn, and buckwheat. Unless other food sensitivities exist, most gluten-sensitive individuals can digest these natural foods when they are properly prepared. Except for corn, gluten-free grains are best prepared by soaking overnight in water at room temperature, draining, and cooking in a 1:1 ratio of water to grain until tender.
Porridge lovers may grind one-half cup of dry millet or brown rice in a coffee grinder or blender and cook it in two cups of water, stirring often, to produce a creamy breakfast. Top with butter or flax oil, nuts and seeds, honey or maple syrup, and berries. Alternately, cook corn grits the same way and enjoy them with organic eggs for a gluten-free breakfast.
Pasta aficionados may seek out noodles prepared from brown or wild rice. Corn and buckwheat pastas are also available, but check labels for wheat content. Those who enjoy wraps may purchase flat corn tortillas prepared with lime for maximum nutrient absorption.
Not All Gluten-Free Products are Created Equal
In recent years gluten-free products have filled the marketplace. Unfortunately, some of these products contain ingredients of dubious quality or have been overprocessed, compromising their nutritional value. Many corn, rice, and potato chips are made with refined oils. Even rice cakes, often promoted as health foods, may be difficult to digest due to their processing. The truly dedicated cook can seek out traditional recipes for idlis and dosas, the original gluten-free rice dumplings and pancakes used in South Indian cookery.
It’s not difficult to enjoy a range of healthy gluten-free foods that are both delicious and easy to digest.