Why Wheat and Gluten Free?
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For many people being wheat intolerant or having a gluten allergy has become a part of life. This can create a problem when purchasing food as much of our pre-made food contains wheat and gluten grains. Luckily food producers and many cafes are now catching on and offering wheat and gluten-free alternatives on their menus. Below is information on understanding the difference between an allergy and intolerance and a guide to alternative flours and grains.
Allergies and Food Intolerances
Allergies and food intolerances have become more common in recent years. True allergies are rare and are the result of the immune system overreacting to a harmless particle in food. This triggers an immune response which can result in a mild rash, wheezing, and diarrhea to more serious conditions such as eczema or asthma. An allergic reaction usually happens within 1-4 hours of an offending food being eaten. Foods that commonly produce an allergic reaction are;
* Cow's milk and dairy products
* Wheat and gluten
* Pork - bacon, ham
* Seafood - especially shellfish
* Nuts - especially peanuts
* Citrus - oranges, lemons
* Soy products
* Food additives - colourings, flavour enhances, nitrates, preservatives etc.
Food IntoleranceFood intolerance is different from an allergy because it does not involve the immune system. For some reason the body is incapable of digesting a certain food/s. Though temporary, it can be hard to pin point the food/s involved because it can have a delayed reaction, unlike allergies which present themselves soon after an allergenic food is eaten. Food intolerance can result when the body does not have the enzymes to digest a food for example cow's milk for some people or the enzymes for a food are exhausted from its over-consumption. E.g. wheat can easily be consumed in every meal every day; wheat cereal for breakfast, wheat sandwich for lunch, crackers and cheese for a snack and pasta for dinner. The symptoms of food intolerance are digestion related including bloating, gas, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, lack of energy, skin rashes and nutrient mal-absorption. Food intolerances can be avoided by eating a varied diet.
Wheat is found in bread, pasta, cereals, cookies, cakes, pastries, crackers, couscous, bulghur wheat and semolina.
Alternative flours to wheat* Rye flour is heavy and dense with a strong flavour and can be used for baking bread.
* Oat flour is dense and moist, and can be added to cakes and muffins for extra texture.
* Barley flour can be substituted for wheat flour but is heavier so is best for heavy fruit cakes and slices.
* Spelt flour can be used the same as wheat to make bread, cakes, cookies, pastries etc
Note: when using an alternative flour the texture and lightness of the end result may be different than when using wheat.
Spelt (also known as Dinkel) is an ancient grain from the same botanical family as wheat. It can often be tolerated by people with a wheat allergy or intolerance due to its lower gluten content. It also contains more protein and essential fats than wheat, hence giving it a nuttier flavour and moister texture. Spelt is available from health food stores and some supermarkets and can be used in the same way as wheat in cooking with similar result.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. It creates elasticity and lightness in bread and holds together cakes and biscuits. For some people gluten can aggravate celiac disease. In celiac disease the microvilli of the small intestine have been damaged. Microvilli are small finger like tendrils that absorb nutrients from food increasing the absorption area of the small intestine to the size of a rugby field. When they are damaged nutrient deficiencies can occur resulting in frequent illness. Other symptoms include weight loss, low energy, digestive problems, stomach cramps and foul smelling stools.
Gluten-free flours* Rice flour for sweet cookies and pie crusts. It tends to make a drier product so use 7/8 cup to every cup of wheat flour in a recipe.
* Buckwheat flour has a strong flavour. It is good for pancakes and crepes.
* Potato flour contributes moisture so mix with dry flours such as rice or cornmeal.
* Chickpea flour adds protein and texture and is quite crumbly. Use in savoury recipes and for thickening sauces.
* Cornmeal and polenta absorb a lot of water so will require extra liquid. Good for making corn bread and pizza bases.
* Ground nuts; almonds, hazelnuts, chestnuts etc. add moisture and increase the protein content but can be quite expensive.
Gluten-free Flour mix - 200g potato flour, 200g corn flour (corn starch), 100g rice flour, 100g chickpea flour - sift together 3 times to thoroughly combine. Store in an airtight container and use within one month.
Gluten-free baking powder - sift together 1 part cream of tartar, 1 part baking soda, 1 part corn flour or arrowroot
Rice - brown, white, jasmine, basmati, arborio (risotto rice)
Millet, buckwheat and quinoa - wash and cook the same as rice for 20 minutes.
Polenta - Bring 1 litre water to a gentle simmer and pour in 1 cup polenta. Simmer for 20 minutes stirring frequently to prevent sticking.
This article is by our friend and local food heroine - Nicola Galloway, Author of the beautful book:
Feeding Little Tummies by Nicola Galloway