So you’ve decided you and your family need to go gluten-free. Perhaps you face the specter of celiac disease or your child has tested positive for an allergy. Or possibly, like many of the close to 18 million people who experience symptoms of gluten sensitivity, you realize you can no longer eat pizza or bread without experiencing a drop in energy, the onset of brain fog, congestion, digestive distress, uncomfortable bloating, or a rash of skin issues. The question confronting you now? How to avoid the common nutritional pitfalls people make when they eliminate wheat, oats, rye, and barley from their diet. After all, the whole point of a gluten-free lifestyle is to feel better, so here’s how to get the most out of this currently trendy diet and remain in balance.
1. Skip sugar-spiking ingredients. Foods free of gluten lack the protein that gives the flour in baked goods its elasticity, so gluten-free bakers often use starchy rice, corn, potato, and tapioca flours to produce the desired texture and high levels of sugar and fat to mask the bland flavor. Avoid foods filled with simple-carbohydrate white flours and instead choose those with nutrient-dense grains that add fiber and flavor—and help keep your sugar levels stable, says Beth Hillson, author of Gluten-Free Makeovers and president of the American Celiac Disease Alliance. She recommends amaranth, millet, quinoa, chickpea, teff, sorghum, buckwheat, chia, flax, hemp, and gluten-free oats. Hillson also advises choosing all-natural, low-glycemic sweeteners like coconut, palm, and date sugar when baking or when scanning ingredient labels on store-bought items.
2. Avoid sneaky sources of gluten. You can stop eating wheat bread, crackers, and all the other obvious sources of gluten and still not be gluten-free. That’s because wheat and wheat by-products turn up in lots of different products, from beer and soy sauce to lipstick and prescription medicines. Vegetarians in particular should avoid some of the staples in their diet like seitan (pure wheat gluten), barley miso (soybean and brown rice miso are okay), tempeh (depends on the grains it contains), soba noodles (only pure buckwheat noodles are gluten-free), veggie burgers (gluten used as binder), and rice and soy milk (barley malt). Gluten-free vegetarians eager to replace the protein found in many of these foods should take heart: “Many gluten-free grains, including quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, teff, and sorghum contain higher levels of protein than wheat,” says nutritionist Amy E. Pagano, MS, RD, at the University of Virginia Health System. She also recommends adding flours made from almond, hazelnut, flax, and garbanzos and other legumes for a protein boost in baked goods and smoothies. And for a good source of iron, calcium, and B vitamins, choose flax meal, chickpea, quinoa, or teff.
3. Don’t focus on what you can’t have. Satisfy cravings for gluten-rich favorites with real food and skip the processed substitutes that have little nutritional value. Instead of settling for wheat-free tasteless pasta noodles, Chris Clarke, culinary educator and chef for doortodoororganics.com, recommends baking a spaghetti squash to top with marinara or slicing a zucchini thinly into “noodles,” which you can boil for a quick minute, and then mix with a little olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan.
4. Learn to bake with gluten-free flours. Because baking involves basic chemistry, substituting one-to-one for wheat flour simply won’t work. “An optimal blend includes one or more gluten-free flours, starches like arrowroot, and gums like xanthan gum, guar gum, and agar powder,” says Hillson. “It’s critical to understand the nuances in gluten-free flours and which ones give you the best outcome with a particular type of baked good.” To make stretchy pizza, bread, or piecrust, for instance, opt for high-protein flours such as amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, chickpea, or gluten-free oat flour, she says. For cookies or pastry, your best bet would be finer flours like rice, sorghum, or corn.
For more satisfying ways to go gluten-free, try these three recipes.
Quinoa and Corn-Stuffed Tomatoes
Makes 6 servings
- 6 large ripe tomatoes
- 2 cups corn kernels cut from the cob
- 1 onion, chopped small
- ¼ cup green chilies, drained
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup quinoa
- 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
- Preheat broiler to high.
- Carefully cut the tops off the tomatoes and reserve. Gently scoop out the center of the tomatoes and press the pulp through a sieve, reserving the juice. Season the tomatoes with salt and set, cut side down, on a rack for 30 minutes.
- Put the corn and onion into a broiler-proof pan and moisten with olive oil. Place under the broiler and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove and stir in the oregano, lime juice, and cumin; season with salt and pepper.
- Rinse the quinoa and place in a saucepan with the reserved tomato juice and enough water to make 1½ cups total liquid. Bring the quinoa to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork, and mix with the corn, onion, and chilies.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Stuff the tomatoes with the quinoa mixture. Top each one with cheese and place in an oil-greased roasting pan. Place the reserved tomato tops on the side. Roast for 15 minutes.
- Turn the broiler back to high and broil until the cheese has melted. Place the tomato tops on top of the stuffed tomatoes and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Door to Door Organics; doortodoororganics.com.
Makes two 12-inch pizzas
- 2½ cups high protein blend flour (recipe follows)
- ½ cup millet flour
- 1 tablespoon xanthan gum
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 teaspoons instant active dry yeast
- 11/3 cups warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Makes enough for one 12-inch pizza
- 1 to 2 teaspoons good-quality olive oil
- 2 tablespoons good-quality pizza sauce (such as Muir Glen)
- 4 medium tomatoes (red, yellow, and orange), thickly sliced
- A handful of small pitted cured black olives (such as Niçoise)
- ¼ cup cubed Manchego or other cheese (optional)
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Fresh rosemary for garnish
- Place the pizza stone on the lowest rack of a cold oven and turn the oven to 450 degrees. (Do this 30 to 60 minutes ahead so the stone is very hot.)
- In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the high protein blend flour, millet flour, xanthan gum, and salt. Blend well. Add the yeast and blend. Combine the water, oil, honey, and vinegar. Beat at medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes or until the dough thickens.
- Scoop half the dough onto a lightly oiled sheet of parchment paper. Cover with a sheet of lightly oiled plastic wrap.
- Using your fingertips and palm, lightly press the dough into a 12-inch circle. Drizzle olive oil on the surface, and top with a light coating of pizza sauce. Scatter tomato slices, olives, and cheese over the sauce. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan.
- Slide the dough onto a pizza paddle and transfer it to the preheated stone, sliding the parchment off the paddle and onto the stone. If you don’t have a stone, slide the parchment onto a baking sheet and set it in the lowest rack of the preheated oven.
- Bake 20 to 24 minutes, depending on the thickness. The bottom of the pizza should be brown.
- To remove, slide the pizza paddle under the parchment and slide the pizza out of the oven. Don’t worry if the paper tears a little. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and serve.
Note: Double the ingredients and repeat with the remaining dough or prepare the crust and parbake for 12 minutes (without the toppings). Store the crust in the freezer for a later use. Thaw before adding the toppings.
High Protein Blend Flour
- 1¼ cups white or brown rice flour
- 1¼ cups sweet white sorghum flour
- ½ cup amaranth flour
- ¾ cup cornstarch or tapioca starch
- Blend well and scoop out 2½ cups for the pizza recipe above. Reserve the rest for later use.
Recipes courtesy of Beth Hillson, author of Gluten-Free Makeovers (Da Capo Press, 2011), glutenfreemakeovers.com.
- ¾ cup all-purpose gluten-free flour blend *
- ½ cup sorghum flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
- ¾ cup + 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- 4 ripe but firm peaches, halved and each half cut into 4 slices
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon for topping
- Whipped cream
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan.
- Combine the flour blend, sorghum flour, baking powder, and xanthan gum in a bowl; set aside.
- Beat the ¾ cup of sugar with the butter in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the dry ingredients and orange zest, and beat until crumbly. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the orange juice and beat just to incorporate. Spread the batter evenly in the springform pan.
- Arrange the peach slices on top of the batter so they touch and form concentric circles that cover the batter. Press into the batter lightly. Don’t worry if the slices are not perfect. The cake will partially cover the fruit as it bakes. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle over the batter.
- Bake 55 to 60 minutes until golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Run a knife along the side of the pan to release and remove the side of the pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.
* If the blend you use does not contain salt and xanthan gum, add ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon additional xanthan gum to the dry ingredients.
Recipe courtesy of Beth Hillson, author of Gluten-Free Makeovers (Da Capo Press, 2011), glutenfreemakeovers.com.