News Column

Going Gluten-free Gets Easier

Oct. 17, 2012

Joe Bonwich

Rabia Rahman is as much a detective as a dietitian when she works with her patients to help them avoid gluten.

"I had one patient who got really sick from licking an envelope," says Rahman, who's both a nutritional counselor and an instructor in the department of nutrition and dietetics at St. Louis University.

Ironically, gluten is used in the binders or coatings of some medications that patients may be taking to feel better. And many of Rahman's female patients are surprised to find out that gluten is sometimes an ingredient in makeup and lipstick.

Helping patients eliminate gluten from their diets is easier than ferreting out some of these more obscure uses, but it still poses significant challenges.

"We'll always go over food habits and cover the broad items like wheat, barley and rye, which means they shouldn't eat regular cakes, breads and pastas," Rahman says. "But then I work with them to go over ingredient lists on labels closely and avoid specific items - hydrolized wheat starch, or anything that says malt, graham or spelt.

"There's often gluten where you really don't expect it. Soy sauce is a big one; broth soups, potato chips and even French fries, which are sometimes dipped in a starch to preserve them."

The medical reasons for going gluten-free, says Rahman, range from mild gluten intolerance to wheat allergies and celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which consumption of gluten damages the small intestine. Blood tests can diagnose allergies and celiac disease, and Rahman calls a small-intestine biopsy the "gold standard" for diagnosis of celiac.

But there aren't any specific tests for gluten sensitivity.

"That diagnosis often comes after a patient has gone from doctor to doctor to find out why they just don't feel well," Rahman says. "Sometimes it's (gastrointestinal) symptoms, but many times the symptoms are less obvious - tiredness, headache, or even sometimes depression."

Rahman has her patients keep a log of both their food consumption and their symptoms and eventually may recommend that they eliminate gluten from their diets. Or, in some cases, she may work the other way by having the patients go gluten free to see if it makes their symptoms go away.

In either case, she says, adopting a gluten-free diet gets easier every year.

"Even in the past five years, there's been a huge increase in cookbooks, in what's available in stores and restaurants and in online support," Rahman says.

However, she adds, part of the demand has been generated by a certain trendiness in gluten-free lifestyles that's been aided by their adoption by various celebrities.

"They're using it as a fashion statement, or in some cases they're saying it might help with weight loss," Rahman says. "But there's no medical reason to follow it unless you have to."

But that said, she advises her patients and anyone else who's been diagnosed as gluten-sensitive not to be shy about it.

"Eating out or at someone's house are things that many patients find very, very difficult," Rahman says. It's not just the food itself - there are issues of cross-contamination, as simple as crumbs left when regular bread is made in the same toaster."

"But you have to be willing to advocate for yourself," she adds. "It's also really important to involve family members and friends. You'll often get a lot of support that really helps you stay on top of it."



National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

A nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for celiac disease.

Celiac Disease Foundation

A nonprofit, public-benefit corporation providing services and support through awareness, education, advocacy and research.

Celiac Sprue Association

Another nonprofit organization with extensive online resources.

Gluten Intolerance Group

Tips for diet and finding medical professionals, as well as geographic lists of restaurants that offer gluten-free alternatives. (The restaurants listed in the St. Louis area are primarily nationwide chains.)



Yield: About 12 cups

5 cups (625 grams) brown rice flour

3 cups (350 grams) sorghum flour

2 2/3 cups (360 grams) cornstarch

1 cup (148 grams) potato starch

1/3 cup (57 grams) potato flour

4 teaspoons xanthan gum

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container in the fridge. The authors recommend measuring by weight rather than by volume for a more accurate and consistent result.

Notes: If you have a sensitivity to a specific ingredient, use the following substitutions. For corn, replace the cornstarch with 1 3/4 cups arrowroot flour. For potatoes, omit the potato starch and potato flour and replace with 1 1/3 cups tapioca starch. For sorghum, omit the sorghum flour and replace with an additional 3 cups of brown rice flour for a total of 8 cups of brown rice flour.

The ingredients can frequently be found in the specialty-flour or health-foods aisle of the supermarket or in health food stores.

Per cup: 468 calories; 2g fat; 0.5g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 6g protein; 105g carbohydrate; 1g sugar; 5g fiber; 11mg sodium; 11mg calcium.

Adapted from "Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking," by Kelli and Peter Bronski (second edition, The Experiment, 2012)



Yield: 4 servings

1 cup quinoa, rinsed if necessary

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil


Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored, seeded and diced small

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1. Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Refrigerate until cooled.

2. Combine the vinegar and olive oil in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix together the quinoa, bell pepper, green onions and olive oil and toss with the vinaigrette. Serve chilled.

Per serving: 290 calories; 17g fat; 2g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 6g protein; 29g carbohydrate; 1g sugar; 4g fiber; 5mg sodium; 29mg calcium.

Adapted from "Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking," by Kelli and Peter Bronski (second edition, The Experiment, 2012)



Yield: 6 servings

1 (12-ounce) package brown rice spaghetti or other gluten-free thin noodle

2/3 cup pineapple juice

1/3 cup gluten-free tamari or Bragg Liquid Aminos

1/3 cup brown rice vinegar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons gluten-free brown rice syrup

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup shredded carrots

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons sesame seeds (regular or black)

1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, but do not rinse. Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium glass bowl, whisk together pineapple juice, tamari, brown rice vinegar, sesame oil, brown rice syrup, garlic, ginger and peppers.

3. Pour pineapple-juice mixture over noodles and, using a pair of tongs, toss well to coat noodles evenly. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Add carrots, green onions, cilantro, parsley and sesame seeds and toss well to combine.

Per serving: 290 calories; 17g fat; 2g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 6g protein; 29g carbohydrate; 1g sugar; 4g fiber; 5mg sodium; 29mg calcium.

Adapted from "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Gluten-Free Vegan Cooking," by Julieanna Hever and Beverly Lynn Bennett (Alpha Books, 2011)

Source: (c)2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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