Until recently, I had very little reason to ever think about gluten—or the fact that there are many people who cannot eat it. But this all came to my attention when I asked a friend what sort of baked good she would like for her upcoming birthday, and her only request was that it be gluten-free.
She has Celiac disease, which is a disorder of the small intestine and is caused by a gluten protein. Because gluten is found in oats, wheat, rye, barley and malt flavorings, I was confused as to how I could bake anything without flour. Still, I wanted to accommodate my friend’s dietary restrictions, so I searched for some possible alternatives at my local New Leaf Community Market. There in the baking aisle, I found Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose baking flour, which is wheat, gluten and dairy-free. It is less than half the size of, but about the same price as, a regular bag of all-purpose flour from Safeway. I later made blondies from a foodnetwork.com recipe by simply substituting regular flour with this seemingly identical substance, and they tasted no different. Plus, they were quickly consumed by my gluten-challenged friend.
Curious about the effects of a gluten-free diet on someone who has no serious reason to not eat gluten, I decided to do some research. A website devoted to the gluten-free lifestyle, glutenfreehub.com, explains that those who strictly adhere to the diet are far more likely to eat healthier, because in order to not eat any gluten at all, they usually prepare their food from scratch. They also often avoid already processed products that are not marked gluten-free and this lowers their general intake of sugar and fast foods.
The website goes on to explain that this diet is very popular within Hollywood, because its severe restrictions can double as a diet. Yet, as I had already found during my baking adventure, there are still countless ways to eat recklessly and still be gluten-free.
I went back to New Leaf, where I spoke to cook Natascha Hendry, who explained the surprisingly wide amount of food available to those who are not able to, or simply choose not to, eat gluten. If baking gluten-free treats from scratch isn’t on your agenda, there is a tower of completely gluten-free, and already made, sweets by the sandwich counter in New Leaf, including a decadent looking chocolate bean brownie. I was also shown a variety of gluten-free entrees available, including basmati rice and corn salad and peanut tofu farfalle. It all looked delicious.
Now GT would like to know: what is your favorite gluten-free recipe or must-have gluten-free item? Tell us in the comments section below.