Gluten–What’s the Big Deal?

‘Gluten-free’ – these words are becoming more and more popular these days, from bread and desserts to snacks and sauces.

What is gluten anyway and what’s the big deal? How can gluten affect our health?

Gliadin and glutenins are proteins found in wheat, oats, rye, and barley. Gliaden can also be found as an additive in soy sauce, starch, ice cream, soup, and some alcohols.

These proteins can be very problematic to some people, especially the gluten in wheat. Intestinal symptoms, including bloating and water retention, are common. Some people’s immune systems react to wheat as if there is an invader present, attacking it and the surrounding tissue. This immune reaction causes inflammation, and can be a multi-symptom issue that affects the entire body.

Research has shown that obese people can be unknowingly affected by a gluten intolerance, hindering weight loss, and that rheumatoid arthritis is often adversely affected by wheat consumption. It is also believed that the consumption of wheat can aggravate mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, autism, addictions, and depression.

A wonderful reference that includes in-depth information on the detriments of wheat is Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis.

To me, the ‘big deal’ is that a lot of people are adversely affected by wheat without knowing. What we have come to realize in our family is that wheat drags us down. We have low energy levels and are moody when we eat too much wheat.

So, what can we do about it, especially in our small city? Here are some ideas that I have come up with to suit our family:

-Gluten free flours for baking are available locally at Riverside Grocery, but they are very pricey. Orders for large bags of flour can be made, but shipping costs can be expensive. My family joins forces with others in Whitehorse to place orders through a company called Horizon Food Distributers, which offers a good deal on shipping if we put in a large enough order.

When baking with gluten-free flour, the right recipe makes all the difference—I have found some good gluten-free recipes and some bad ones! There are some great recipe books out there, but a free reference I enjoy is

-Perhaps responding to the increasing trend towards gluten-free diets, many Whitehorse businesses now offer gluten-free baked goods, including bread.

-Opt for whole grain wraps (typically not completely gluten-free, but usually containing significantly less wheat) or rice crackers to accompany your meal/snacks.

-If you are eating out, choose salads, rice dishes, and potatoes as a side dish instead of bread, or ask for your burger without the bun.

-Brown rice pasta is a great gluten-free option and is now more widely available. There are other gluten-free pasta options but they are more difficult to find.

-Use no more than 25 percent of your grain intake as wheat. Our family finds that white, processed wheat is a lot harder on us than whole wheat so we stick to good-quality whole wheat as much as possible.

-Spelt is a grain that contains some gluten. Having said that, some people who are intolerant to wheat can handle spelt. It is something we use in our family quite often. I have successfully substituted it into recipes that call for whole wheat flour, including a low-gluten spelt bread (see below for recipe).

Overall, a good way to avoid wheat as much as possible is to avoid processed foods. Not only can they be high in processed wheat, they are also typically loaded with sugar, additives, and synthetic ingredients, all which tax our systems.

It’s worth trying a gluten-free diet for a few weeks and seeing what the results are. You may find you and your family have a lot more energy, vitality, and a more positive outlook. My family definitely does, and that’s a ‘big deal’ to us!

Whole Grain Spelt Bread

Yield: 2 medium-sized loaves

Step 1:

Combine 1 cup hot water, ¾ cups of yogurt or kefir and 4-5 cups spelt flour

Lay plastic over top of dough in a large bowl and cover bowl with a cloth. Let it sit overnight (at least 12 hours) in a warm spot.

Step 2:

In a separate bowl, blend 1 cup of warm water, 1 tbsp yeast and ½ tsp honey. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until bubbly then add ½ tsp baking soda (will neutralize acids in grain).

Step 3:

Blend 1/3 cup olive oil (or melted butter), 1/3 cup of honey and 2 tsp salt. Work into dough along with yeast mix from step 2 until well blended.

Step 4:

Add 1 cup of spelt flour and 1-2 cups of unbleached white flour (can also use sprouted grain flour here but I haven’t tried this), and blend well. Knead dough outside of the bowl on a floured (use white flour for this) surface for a good 10 minutes. Let rise in a slightly greased bowl in a warm place for about 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Step 5:

Work dough down again and let rise again until doubled.

Step 6:

Work dough down again, shape into two loaves and place in greased pans. Let rise again until doubled in size. Bake in oven at 350°F for 35-45 minutes. Take loaves out of pans to cool on racks.

Amoree Briggs lives in the Yukon countryside with her family and has just completed her diploma in holistic nutrition.

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