No Wheat? What to Eat?

May 4, 2015

By Anna Varriano

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May is Celiac Awareness Month so Celiac Disease would be an obvious topic choice to write about for my Tip of the Month. While I will mention it briefly, this article isn’t just for people with Celiac disease. If you or someone you know has skin problems, joint pain, digestive issues (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea), headaches, irritability, allergy-type symptoms, sinus problems, repetitive throat clearing, blood sugar issues, cardiovascular or cholesterol issues, water retention/edema, fatigue/lack of energy, and/or an inability to lose weight, then you may want to keep reading.

What is Celiac Disease?

The Canadian Celiac Association defines Celiac Disease as a medical condition in which the internal surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. This results in the inability of the small intestine to digest food and absorb nutrients. Celiac Disease was once considered to be quite rare; however, today a growing number of studies indicate that it affects 1 in every 133 North Americans – a much higher figure than ever estimated.

What is Gluten? What Foods Contain It?

Gluten is a general term for the proteins found in wheat and other grains, including barley, bulgar, kamut, oats (unless certified gluten-free), rye, and spelt (here is a full list of foods to avoid). This results in an inability of the small intestine (our main organ of digestion and absorption) to digest food and absorb nutrients.

Come On…Is Wheat Really All That Bad?

masks WEBWheat is often listed as one of the top 3 most common foods linked to food sensitivities (cow’s milk and soy are the other two) – and food sensitivities are one of the major sources of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is at the root of most health issues, and has been linked to serious diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Inflammation can also cause a whole host of daily aches, pains, and problems that many people sadly resign to accept as their ‘norm’, when it doesn’t have to be that way.

I have seen clients get relief from many of the health issues listed at the beginning of this article (and more!) when they eliminate or limit wheat and other grains from their meals and snacks. It’s not so much that all grains are evil and that none of us should ever eat them again; the crux of the matter is that most of us eat way too many of them, and usually in foods that come with other ingredients that aren’t good for us such as sugar, artificial sweeteners, colours, and/or flavours, preservatives, and unhealthy fats.

Furthermore, unless grains are traditionally prepared (that is, soaked/sprouted/fermented), they cause issues for most people because they are very difficult to digest. Grains also contain anti-nutrients that block the absorption of various minerals.

“No Wheat? What Will I Eat?”

whats your gut feeling compressedWheat wasn’t always such a prominent part of our food system. In the big picture of our time here on earth, it wasn’t that long ago that wheat and other cereal grains were a very small part of the human diet, if even a part of it at all, since the majority of grains came into popularity with modern agriculture. When you consider this, it isn’t hard to imagine that wheat is not a ‘necessary’ food.

Even in the absence of Celiac Disease, or a sensitivity to wheat, it is my experience that most us would benefit from avoiding wheat as well as cutting back on our grain servings. Many of my clients freak out a bit when I suggest they avoid wheat (and other grains)…until I share some tasty recipes and alternatives with them, such as:

– Zucchini spaghetti
– Pizza with a cauliflower crust
– Cauliflower rice
– Greens and feta quiche with an almond crust

I also love using various types of lettuces and veggies as wraps and ‘dippers’. Not only does this eliminate wheat and other  grains, it’s also a great way to eat more veggies, which most of us could stand to do. Take a look at these yummy wheat-and-grain-free meals and snacks:

Instead of corn chips, serve red, orange, or yellow bell peppers with guacamole.

IMG_3527 compressed

Instead of pita bread, serve Belgian endive leaves with hummus (or any other dip).

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Instead of bread, buns, or tortillas, use Boston bib or leaf lettuce leaves to wrap up tacos, fajitas, burgers, and sandwich fillings.

mexican dinner WEB

Gluten-Free: Buyer Beware!

Finally, I’d like to issue a ‘buyer beware’ alert when it comes to all those gluten-free packaged foods showing up on grocery store shelves everywhere. Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. The truth is that gluten-free versions of foods can be highly processed, full of sugar and artificial ingredients, and made from wheat flour alternatives such as potato and rice flour, which can raise blood glucose more than sugar does! Make sure you read the labels!

Take control of what you can!

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