Read an Excerpt
Practical Help for the Home Cook
By Rita Greer
Souvenir PressCopyright © 2011 Rita Greer
All rights reserved.
Wheat and the Western Diet
Wheat is man's premier grain. It features in the daily diet of most people in the Western world – in bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, biscuits, cakes, crispbreads and many other foods. What makes it so important, and why do some people need to live without it?
Combine wheat grains with soil, water and sunlight, and the result is a harvest of many more grains that are easy to store, will keep for a long time and can be made into all kinds of nourishing foods. The whole grain or parts of it can be processed to create a variety of flours, bran and wheat germ, because each grain (wheat berry) comprises an outer layer of fibre, a store of starch and, in the centre, the miraculous little germ designed to reproduce – wheat germ.
From a nutritional point of view wheat is a valued food, containing carbohydrate, protein, a little fat, vitamins, minerals and fibre, but its true worth lies in the gluten it contains. No other grain will make a delicate sponge, a crisp biscuit or crispbread, pastry that melts in the mouth, a large loaf of bread, crusty rolls, light scones, soft crumble or rich fruit cake. All these are possible because of gluten – a special rubbery kind of protein which enables an elastic kind of dough to be made that will rise and double in size keep its shape and hold up fruit, and enclose liquids or moist food. All this, combined with an excellent flavour, endless supply and low price – little wonder that wheat is known as the 'king of crops'.
WHEAT ALLERGY AND INTOLERANCE
Although, because it is so widely used, and in so many forms, it is tempting to think of wheat as wholly beneficial, for a small percentage of the population it represents a harmful element in their daily food. Wheat is now thought to be the major allergen (allergy-provoking substance) in the Western diet. Symptoms vary and may involve one or several of the following:
1 Eyes: watery, itching, swollen, red, blurred vision, tired, sore, heavy feeling in eyelids.
2 Nose: runny nose, sinusitis, sneezing, itching, excessive mucus, burning, blocked nose.
3 Ears: ringing in the ears, soreness, earache, loss of hearing, burning sensations, itching.
4 Head: feeling faint and dizzy, heavy feeling, headaches, migraine.
5 Throat and mouth: soreness, swollen tongue, mouth ulcers, sore gums, loss of taste, hoarseness, cough, choking fits, itching of the roof of the mouth, bad breath.
6 Heart and lungs: pains in the chest, rapid heart beat, palpitations, asthma, congestion in the chest, tight feeling across chest, shallow breathing, excessive sighing, breathlessness, catarrh.
7 Gastro-intestinal: feeling of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, swollen stomach, bloated feeling after eating, feeling 'full-up' long after meals, indigestion, flatulence, poor appetite, cravings for foods, dyspepsia.
8 Skin: rashes, hives, easily marked skin, eczema, excessively pale colour, inexplicable bruises, dermatitis, itching, soreness, excessive sweating, redness, sores, acne.
9 Other physical symptoms: weakness, fatigue, cramp, convulsions (extremely rare), cold hands and feet, shivering fits, nervousness, flushing, trembling, aches and pains in the joints, swelling of limbs, face, hands, feet and ankles, swollen joints, aches and pains in the muscles, constant feeling of hunger, gorging with food, oedema, hayfever, obesity.
10 Psychological and behaviour symptoms: anxiety, attacks of panic, depression, hyperactivity, apathy, restlessness, irritability, daydreaming, speech difficulties, confusion, poor concentration, general feeling of misery, mood swings, aggressive behaviour, unreasonable giggling or weeping, couldn't-care-less attitude, excessive sleeping, insomnia.
From this long list you can see that confusion might easily arise regarding diagnosis, and this is probably why the medical profession is so shy of diagnosing food allergy – there are several possible explanations for each symptom. Take, for instance, headaches. These could be caused by eye-strain, tension, not enough sleep, migraine, a head injury, constipation or a much more serious complaint.
With such a battery of symptoms it is not surprising to find a wheat-free diet being used to try and control several illnesses or symptoms – M.E. (myalgic encephalomyelitis or post viral syndrome), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), Crohn's disease, MS (multiple sclerosis), Gulf War syndrome, autism, dyslexia, migraine, arthritis, inexplicable skin rashes, aches and pains; headaches, fatigue, depression, or any or several of the symptoms listed above. Some seem to be complaints for which there is no known cure. However, this does not mean that wheat should be blamed for all illnesses. Any persistent symptoms are best investigated by a qualified medical practitioner. If a cure is not possible, then any alleviation of symptoms is worth having to lessen the misery and discomfort of persistent ill health, and this is why people try a wheat-free diet. It is often the first to be suggested by practitioners of alternative and complementary medicine, who are more inclined to treat the patient as a whole rather than just addressing the allergy symptoms. Wheat plays such a major role in our daily diet that where allergies are suspected the culprit is more likely to be wheat than any other grain or food.
As wheat can turn up in the most unlikely foods, excluding it means removing not only the foods that obviously contain it – bread, cakes, pasta and biscuits – but also many others that contain small amounts, such as gravies, sauces and soups. This has the effect of nutritionally unbalancing the normal diet to the extent that it becomes unworkable. To give you some idea of how much wheat is in our diet, look at the second and third columns of.
USES OF WHEAT FLOUR
Flour made from wheat has many uses – for thickening, binding, dusting and making liquids creamy. You will find it used for thickening gravies, soups, sauces, casseroles and stews; for dusting biscuits, crispbreads, breads and baking tins; for rolling out pastry and coating food before frying; as a base for baking powder; added to blancmange, custard and desserts; to 'stretch' pepper, curry powder, spices and so on.
Wheat flour bread is used for stuffings, breadcrumb coatings, bulking out burgers, pastes, pates, sausages and pie or pasty fillings, summer pudding, charlotte, bread and butter pudding, toast, fried bread, croutons, toppings; for thickening soups; to make 'rusk', itself a thickener and dry powder base when ground.
Wheat flour biscuits are used for cake and pie bases, flans, toppings and confectionery.
Wheat starch may be used to make MSG (Monosodium Glutamate, a flavour enhancer), and communion wafers.
Some brands of food may contain wheat while a similar product of another brand does not – for example, tomato sauce. For this reason it is easier to prepare food at home rather than trudge around the shops looking for a wheat-free commercial version.
THE BATTLE AGAINST WHEAT
Wheat in Processed Foods
During the processing of wheat-free foods, wheat may be added. Although they start life on the wheat-free list, it does not take much for them to be transferred to the unsafe list, to be avoided.
Any food which has been processed – canned, frozen, cooked, baked, fried, mixed, liquidised, dusted, coated, minced, bottled, ground or shredded – has had the opportunity to have wheat added. Plain, simple foods are always the safest.
Reading the Label
Put yourself in the position of a manufacturer. You have a product which needs to be thickened: business sense will tell you to use the cheapest starch available. Usually it will be wheat, but there may be times when you cannot obtain this or when another starch is cheaper. Also, you may not wish your competitors to know what you have used. Your printed list of ingredients on the label may therefore show any of the following: wholegrain, flour, starch, modified starch, rusk, cereal protein, cereal, edible starch, food starch, binder, vegetable protein, thickening or thickener.
All these could indicate wheat or a wheat byproduct. On the other hand they might not mean wheat at all. (Only if wheat meal or wheat protein appear on the list can you assume they definitely contain wheat.)
There are other thickeners – cornstarch, cornflour, rye flour and barley flour, although the last two are rarely used as they are expensive compared to wheat and corn/maize products.
Sometimes wheat is used not actually in the food product itself but in its manufacture, for example, to dust tins or baking sheets, rather than the more costly rye, barley and oatmeal. However, wheat is still unlikely to appear on the ingredients list. A crispbread packet label might list 'rye flour, water, salt' but the food could be contaminated by the dusting wheat used to prevent the crispbreads sticking together. Was the rye flour milled in the same grain mill as wheat flour? The only clue is an allergic reaction to the supposed wheat-free product. Although this is not a problem for the average allergy sufferer it could be serious for someone acutely allergic to wheat.
Contamination may also occur in the home when wheat flour or wheat products are handled in the same area as others. Take a look in your toaster. Unless you have dismantled it and cleaned it thoroughly after the last piece of toast was made in it, it will be contaminated by wheat breadcrumbs.
Have you ever seen inside a bakery? A cloud of wheat dust hangs over the whole area. It is also on the baker's overalls, under his fingernails, in his hair, on his face, all over the equipment, the walls, the floor and so on. There will be sacks of wheat flour and much-used and seldom changed baking tins. Common sense will tell you that there is no hope of buying any food from a wheat bakery which is completely wheat-free and any person with a wheat allergy should avoid bakeries and mills. For some people, just breathing in the dust is enough to set off an allergic reaction.
Please don't be daunted by all this information. Help is at hand in the rest of this book. If you are prepared to cook at home, 95 per cent of the problems will disappear and your main source of trouble will probably be supermarkets and restaurants.
If you are cooking for someone else or the rest of the family it is easy to make a mistake and then feel guilty because you have failed. If you yourself are the wheat allergic and you make a mistake, retribution comes with the return of symptoms – sometimes learning has to be done the hard way.
No one should expect to be in control of the situation immediately: a wheat-free diet is not like a slimming diet that can be broken and then resumed without harm. However, we are all human – even a genius can make mistakes. Know-how is all-important and a practical approach from home really is by far the easiest solution.
In the recipe chapters the ingredients likely to be suspect are emphasised to draw your attention to them. You will also find information there explaining why particular ingredients need special care. By working through the recipes you will gradually build up the knowledge you need to cope with a wheat-free diet.
If you are keeping both wheat-containing and wheat-free foods in the same kitchen, mark the special ones in some way to avoid mistakes. Cut up address labels, or you can buy small, coloured stick-on labels from stationers and some supermarkets. You should find that good kitchen shops stock labels with special glue to stick on food for the freezer (ordinary stick-on labels will fall off in the frosty atmosphere).
There are two approaches to going on a special diet. One is to find out all you can about it, calmly make adjustments and rely largely on home cooking and food preparation. The other, calculated to make your family, friends and colleagues run out of patience, is to spend hours shopping and parting with a lot of money for strange foods, just because they are wheat-free, which you probably won't enjoy. Combine this with doing the rounds of local eating places which have never heard of, and certainly don't intend to cope with, a wheat-free diet, and is it any wonder that life becomes difficult?
Budget and Shopping
Assuming your budget is the same for the new diet as it was for your previous one, then the more basic, unprocessed foods that you can use the better. There is no need to spend a small fortune on exotic ingredients or to patronise specialist shops.
You will probably find shopping in supermarkets a nuisance if you are used to buying processed and ready-made foods. It takes a little longer to shop if you have to keep reading ingredients labels. A little notebook, preferably indexed, will be invaluable here. Once you have found a suitable brand or brands of foods that you need on a regular basis, write the name in the notebook and always take it with you when you go shopping for food, or give it to someone who is shopping for you. Keep it up to date and life will be easier, but still check the labels in case the ingredients have changed. Also include your own ingredients list of thickeners. The more fresh fruit, vegetables, plain meat and fish you buy, the fewer problems you will experience. Junk food is your real danger!
Use this book to get started sensibly. If a wheat-free diet is the answer to your health problem, then the rewards for persevering will be positive and worthwhile. Balance your diet using the information in the next chapter to make it as nutritious as possible and try not to be too ambitious to start with.
In the recipe chapters you will find many ordinary, well-known foods changed just slightly to make them wheat-free; you are unlikely to notice the difference and their very familiarity will feel reassuring and help build confidence in the new regime.
There is one short list of basic foods it would be useful to know by heart. They form the basis of a wheat-free diet:
sugar/milk/nuts – all PLAIN
A note here about the term 'gluten-free'. Sometimes, but not always, this can indicate that a product is also wheat-free. However, many products labelled 'gluten-free' can be wheat starch itself. So don't fall into the trap of assuming gluten-free automatically means wheat-free – it doesn't.
Many supermarkets now have a 'free-from' section with products for wheat-free dieters. Just like ordinary food, a percentage of it may be classed as junk food. Don't be too optimistic of their suitability. Homemade can be better and much cheaper.CHAPTER 2
Nutrition for a Wheat-Free Diet
Removing all forms of wheat from your diet can be a traumatic affair if care is not taken to re-balance your food intake. It is quite common to experience a drastic loss of weight at first, simply because it means cutting out so many of the popular and convenience foods we enjoy. To remove all these at a stroke is nothing short of a disaster to a person dependent on them. So, having established that the situation is not to be taken lightly, your first step must be to reorganise your shopping, cooking and kitchen skills.
Your greatest difficulty may be the gap left by wheat bread. Unfortunately, you may find yourself craving for the very food that has been causing problems. With some people, eating bread and wheat-based foods becomes a kind of addiction and avoiding them can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
As it will be difficult, expensive or even impossible to buy 100 per cent wheat-free bread, one of your priorities is to find a good substitute. Rye and barley flour are both nutritious but do not contain the same quality or amount of gluten to bind them that we find in wheat. Both are best blended with other flours to improve taste and baking performance. Egg white can be added to give extra elasticity to the dough, but a mixture of rye, barley and other flours will make an acceptable bread to replace the heavier kind of coarse, wholewheat bread. If you are used to the light, white type of bread and crave for it, a blended flour with less rye is perhaps more suitable, or a special flour blended for a wheat-free diet.
Before going further, we need to have a look at the basics of good nutrition. A healthy body needs protein, fat, carbohydrate, fibre, water and essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements (micronutrients). All these come in foods, generally in a mixture rather than singly. The body has to digest food and use it for energy, movement, work, growth, repair and (sometimes) reproduction. Most of what we eat is broken down chemically by the digestive system and passed into the bloodstream to be carried to where it is needed in the body. Waste is passed out and so are waste liquids.
In the western world we enjoy a mixed diet made up of a wide variety of foods. This is to our advantage as we have the opportunity of taking in everything we need for our bodies to function and keep healthy.
Excerpted from Wheat-Free Cooking by Rita Greer. Copyright © 2011 Rita Greer. Excerpted by permission of Souvenir Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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