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For Many of Us, It’s Not a Fad

I found this article to ring true for a lot of us with Celiac Disease or a true medical condition that prevents us from eating gluten.

Via Weekly Herald:

Gluten-free not fun for all

GOOD HEALTH | By Katie Murdoch, Herald writer
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Although going gluten-free has become the latest diet trend, it’s a way of life for people with Celiac disease.

Celiac disease has been documented in the medical literature for more than 100 years, but until 10 years ago most doctors knew very little about it, said Nick Rose, nutrition educator for PCC Natural Markets.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, damages the lining of the small intestines in people with Celiac disease, gluten intolerance or allergies. This can cause constipation, severe abdominal pain and nausea.

Experts recommend omitting gluten for three primary reasons: treating patients with Celiac disease; helping people with gluten intolerance and allergies; and as a way to rule out possible food intolerances.

Those with gluten intolerance will see reduced symptoms of bloating and headaches, but the diet won’t necessarily benefit everyone, Rose said.

Health concerns, specific symptoms and supporting a family member have led to the diet gaining more attention, he said.

That attention wasn’t always beneficial, said Amber Wester, co-owner of SmartEats, a Mill Creek specialty store stocked with gluten-free products.

Misdiagnoses led to over diagnoses, the media hyped it and then celebrities got involved, leading to gluten-free’s fad status, she said.

“It distracts from the people who have health issues,” Wester said.

At PCC, gluten-free products are included in an online data base of foods in the store and marks gluten-free products with eye-catching orange tags.

Rose recommends people on a gluten-free diet read food labels carefully, as there is no uniform standard used when labeling food as gluten-free. There is also concern about cross-contamination in the oven, toaster and cutting board.

“Celiacs pay dearly if they fall off the wagon,” he said.

Recipe books are hitting bookstores to help people find tasty alternatives and still consume nutrients.

Nutritionist Janine Whiteson was contributing editor to “The Cooking Light Gluten-Free Cookbook,” which hit shelves this month. The book was in response to letters from readers asking for help, Whiteson said.

The recipe book offers education about vitamins and nutrient sources and portion sizes and warns about hidden sources of gluten, including bleu cheese, cough syrups and salad dressings.

“We’re taking the fad out of it,” Whiteson said. “This is a healthy, safe way.”

Noodles

by T. Susan Chang

Via NPR:
No Wheat Doesn’t Mean No Noodles

To be completely honest, I would find it hard to do without noodles. If I had to go gluten-free, noodles would almost certainly be the deal breaker. Giving up bread would be hard, and beer, even harder. But going without noodles? That would really sink my battleship. So, out of fellow-feeling for my gluten-free friends, who endure what I sometimes think of as a permanent Lent, I have been giving some thought to a life without wheat that is still not a life without noodles.

If your experience of noodles has been limited to Aisle 7 of the supermarket, with its neatly marshaled brigades of blue boxes standing at attention near the canned tomatoes, you might think that wheat and noodles are inseparable. Those boxes of pasta might be made from durum wheat, or semolina wheat or even whole wheat (if the manufacturer’s feeling particularly puritanical). Nevertheless, from wheat they come and to wheat they invariably return.

But if you take a drive (a short one, I hope) to the nearest Asian grocery, there you will find enough wheat-free noodles to feed a gluten-intolerant army. There are mung bean noodles. There are rice noodles. There are sweet potato starch noodles. There are even strips of jellyfish that look like noodles and strips of frozen beef tripe that look like noodles, but we don’t have to go there if you don’t want to.

An assortment of packaged rice noodles

When it comes to wheat-free noodles, rice noodles are the crossover stars. They’re easy to cook. They come in a vast assortment of sizes and lengths. My local Asian grocery has a whole wall of them. I typically go cross-eyed trying to choose the right noodle, but really, it’s hard to go wrong. They all cook similarly — you soak them in warm water for 15 minutes and they’re ready for their close-up, in a stir-fry or whatever you like. It’s possible to boil them, but you have to be careful and quick about it, because they turn to mush if they’re in too long. That’s a crime, because properly cooked rice noodles have a silken surface and a chewy finish that laps up sauce rather than slip-sliding away from it. Have you had pad Thai? Chow fun? Pho, the noodle soup of Vietnam? Then you’ve had rice noodles — and probably loved them.

Mung bean noodles go by many names — cellophane noodles, si fun, vermicelli, bean thread, glass noodles. If you have kids, though, they have only one name: “see-through noodles.” You may not have thought about this, but most of the solids we eat are opaque (Jello, jelly and jellyfish being exceptions). So these fine, transparent, slightly amber-tinted noodles have a gee-whiz factor that makes them hard not to stare at, twirl around or suck down with a loud slurping sound. They soak up soy sauce like nobody’s business, too. Because of their fine consistency, you have to soak them in cool water; then it’s only 20 minutes or so until you’re in business.

Sweet potato noodles are mysterious. Their strange translucent elephant-gray coloring, their length (2 feet long) and their spaghetti-like diameter set them apart from bean threads, their nearest counterpart. You soak them in hot water or boil them briefly before frying them. In the pan they turn from gray to gold as you add seasonings, and they develop an elastic yet substantial texture. It’s also traditional to chop them into bite-size lengths, right there as they cook (although it feels distinctly strange to advance upon your wok with a pair of scissors and is probably 14 kinds of wrong in wok orthodoxy). I know of only one dish to make with sweet potato noodles — the Korean dish known as chap chae, an amalgam of spinach, sirloin, black mushrooms and sesame. But it is so good I could happily eat it for a week without tiring of it.

It’s not that there aren’t Asian noodles that contain wheat. Without wheat, there would be no udon or ramen. There would be no lo mein or Singapore noodles or even wonton, if you want to call that a noodle. But my point is that even from a gluten-free perspective, noodles give you countless squiggly, slurpy reasons to celebrate. And in a food climate where “free” so often is simply a euphemism for “doing without,” finding something to savor without restraint is the best kind of good news. That’s what I call freedom.

Gluten-Free Products and Awareness on the Rise

A great article by Neighborhood Notes’ Martha Wagner.


“Unless you grow all your own food and haven’t visited a supermarket or a food co-op for quite a while, you have doubtlessly noticed two short words now appearing on the packages of both new and familiar items as you stroll the aisles: gluten free. You’ll find them on packaged products in nearly every aisle of your neighborhood grocery store. Meanwhile, Portland pizza chains post signs for their new gluten-free pies and you can find gluten-free breads, cookies and cakes at local bakeries and farmers markets.

You may well wonder what the growing interest in gluten-free foods is all about. A mere decade ago, most people had no idea what gluten was. Today, the glue-like protein found in grains like wheat, rye, barley and oats (except specially packaged gluten-free oats) is becoming widely known for causing digestive and other health problems for some people—leading them to avoid foods with any gluten. Easier said than done, though, because gluten is not just in pasta and breads, but in an enormous range of products, from beer to chewing gum, processed meats to yogurt flavorings. And some people need to avoid its mere presence in the air at bakeries and restaurants. Other people, who have not been diagnosed with gluten intolerance, are choosing to eat a gluten-free diet because they believe it will improve their overall health.

It’s a complicated picture, as I learned when I set out to do some research, talk with a few health and nutrition experts, and compile a list of information resources.

Gluten Intolerance Not Easy to Diagnose

Ken Weizer, naturopath with Providence Integrative Medicine Clinics
Ken Weizer, naturopath with Providence Integrative Medicine Clinics

Ken Weizer, a naturopath with Providence Integrative Medicine Clinics, says that naturopaths tend to have more general awareness historically than MDs about how food affects people. Although most of his patients are undergoing cancer treatment and have enough concerns without making big dietary changes, the 53-year-old doctor puts some patients on gluten-free diets and follows such a regimen himself.

“Gluten intolerance is hard to diagnose,” he says. “It’s hereditary, but families may be unaware of it. When you educate people about digestive responses to certain foods, you might be able to connect the dots, but gluten-sensitive people can also be symptom free. And usually symptoms do not show up until people are in their 40s or 50s. There are several types of tests available, but none is perfect, so a confirmed diagnosis can take a long while, sometimes years.”

Symptoms associated with gluten intolerance, according to Weizer, may include gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, autoimmune diseases, infertility and malabsorption of key nutrients that can lead to problems such as osteoporosis. Adopting a gluten-free diet can begin to help in a week for some people, he says, but can be slower and more subtle for others. The typical symptoms people develop occur when the reaction to gluten in the diet begins to damage the villi in their intestines.

Estimates vary, but Weizer agrees with research suggesting that 30 percent of Americans may be gluten intolerant and that a smaller number of people, somewhere between one in 133 and one in 225, have a severe form of gluten intolerance known as celiac disease. His concern is that more and more people are self-diagnosing. “As a physician, I have a concern that other things might be missed. A gluten-free diet is not the answer for everyone. A condition such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is not the same thing, but it could also be gluten related. There is a place for an objective, thorough evaluation.

New Gluten-Free Products: Help or Hindrance?

Andrea Nakayama, nutrition educator and holistic health counselor
Andrea Nakayama, nutrition educator and holistic health counselor

Andrea Nakayama, 44, a Portland-based certified nutrition educator and holistic health counselor bases her business, Replenish PDX on the old adage that food is the best medicine. She teaches clients—some referred by doctors and naturopaths—how to eat and prepare food that will help them and their families with various health issues, including depression, diabetes, cancer, severe allergies, autism, ADD and ADHD, fatigue and more.

“I’m not a proponent of eating gluten,” she says. “I talk to people about how it affects their health and how to make the transition away from it. I’m a whole foods nutritionist so I encourage whole foods—not processed foods—not just taking foods out of the diet, but bringing foods in, such as seed grains (amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and millet). Even though wheat is a traditional grain [the problem is] it’s not being grown in this country the same way as before—the gluten content has been increased to make products more appealing.“

At the same time, gluten-free products are one of the biggest trends in the grocery industry. Nakayama is not excited about them. “A lot of gluten-free foods are overly processed and have a lot of sugar, especially the baking mixes. My major mantra is, we should eat meals with good fats, fiber and protein, not snack on something like gluten-free pretzels by themselves. The body is an ecosystem—where I start is healing the digestive system. When my clients try a whole foods diet they feel so much better that they don’t need to be convinced.”

One of Nakayama’s passions as a parent and educator is teaching other parents about optimal nutrition for their children, which is the focus of Your Vibrant Child a four-month teleseminar that includes a detailed look at problems with gluten.

Can You Trust Product Labels?

There is a growing number of gluten-free products available.
There is a growing number of gluten-free products available.

Gluten-free products previously occupied a small amount of grocery store shelf space. That’s all changed. At local New Seasons Market stores Christi Reed, one of three staff nutritionists, puts her personal experience with gluten intolerance to use in leading gluten-free store tours and developing gluten-free recipes and information. She’s been following a gluten-free diet for 10 years.

Reed says hundreds of new products are being added to New Seasons’ gluten-free shopping list, which currently has about 2,000 products. She doesn’t expect that gluten-free interest will decline soon and points out that for people with celiac disease eating gluten-free is a lifelong journey.

“Some companies are adding ‘gluten free’ to their labels, while others are removing the term from theirs, perhaps if they cannot keep close tabs on cross-contamination,” says Reed. “We are now seeing labels that say ‘no gluten ingredients’ or ‘naturally gluten free.’ There is no FDA regulation on gluten-free labeling, which makes it somewhat challenging for shoppers, but companies such as Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukie produce gluten-free products in a dedicated gluten-free environment and actually test their products for possible contamination. I always suggest these products to our customers as I feel confident they are truly gluten-free. Bulk department products, as I point out on store tours, don’t work for people with celiac disease because of cross-contamination.”

Bob's Red Mill produces gluten-free products in a dedicated facility to prevent contamination.
Bob’s Red Mill produces gluten-free products in a dedicated facility to prevent contamination.

Reed’s favorite products include Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking mixes and Sonoma Teff Wraps. For traveling, she likes to take with her a package or two of Ancient Harvest Quinoa because the increasingly popular grain is lightweight, versatile and cooks in just 15 minutes.”

RESOURCES

Recommended Reading

New Cascadia Traditional Bakery is a bakery dedicated to gluten-free products
New Cascadia Traditional Bakery is a bakery dedicated to gluten-free products.

Take a Class or a Tour

Bon Appetit!

  • New Cascadia Traditional
    A year-old bakery/café in Southeast Portland that has no gluten on its premises and turns out pizzas, breads, bagels, cupcakes (!!!) and more, some of them vegan.
  • Bob’s Red Mill
    See the full range of 60 gluten-free products at the Whole Grain Store and Visitor Center, have breakfast or lunch at the café (some wheat-free, but not gluten-free options); check the web site for information on cooking classes and tours of its nearby milling facility.