GLUTEN FREE: THE TRUTH BEHIND THE LABEL

For anyone who makes the courageous leap to go completely gluten free for the first time, the story may go a little like this…

You head out to the supermarket with an optimistic stride in your step and prepare to buy your very first loaf of gluten free bread. You are quietly excited about your decision to take the plunge and experiment with this much talked about gluten free land. The excitement wavers slightly as you scan over the bread section for the fifth time trying to find anything labelled gluten-free. Finally you spot a gluten free label on the bottom shelf – success. Or is it? The tiny, crumbling loaf looks dry and anaemic, the ingredients list is filled with more refined carbohydrates and inflammatory ingredients than a McDonalds menu and the price on the label is so absurdly high you have to take a second glance to see if it really is referring to the miniature sized package you hold in your hands. White rice flour, potato flour, maize flour, soy flour, canola oil, sugar, salt, preservatives, additives… and a whopping price tag to top it off. Your hope begins to deflate as you start to wonder what else could substitute. Aha – you quickly pace over to the health food aisle and inspect your options. The offerings are equally bleak – gluten free bread mixes filled with toxic preservatives and refined flours, gluten free crackers made with more cheap, inflammatory ingredients and the final insult: gluten free muesli packed with sugar and cornflakes.

If you find yourself in the above scenario, don’t panic. Eliminating gluten doesn’t have to mean elimination of nutrients and taste. There are plenty of healthy, reasonably priced and tasty gluten free sources – but usually you won’t find these pre-made in a packet. In fact I wouldn’t recommend buying any gluten free packaged foods unless they contain nutritious sources like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat or amaranth with no added sugar or strange-sounding preservatives and additives. Breads, cake mixes, snacks, pastas and cereals with a gluten free label are almost always filled with hidden nasties in a poor effort by manufacturers to eliminate gluten and still keep the product tasty and cheap to produce. Why add a more pricey, nutritious gluten free grain when they can sneak in genetically modified corn or soy flour plus some cheap oils, starches and sugar to mask it all?

So, back to those nutritious gluten free options. Head to your local health food store and get yourself some bulk buckwheat groats and quinoa grains or flakes. Be prepared to drop the sandwich habit (unless you have the time to make your own gluten free bread) and swap to buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, millet or brown rice based dishes. It doesn’t have to be all about grains – try using vegetables as the bulking agent for main meals or snacks. Legumes like lentils, kidney beans and borlotti beans can also provide a filling and convenient core ingredient. In baking, try substitutes like coconut flour, buckwheat flour and almond meal paired with a raising agent like baking powder or eggs. If you stock your cupboards well with plenty of delicious substitutes you can avoid any feelings of deprivation. Remember to include sufficient protein and plenty of good fats with each meal to keep your appetite satisfied. There are thousands of interesting recipes that make a gluten free diet rewarding and delicious rather than a challenging burden.

Even so, at times you may be tempted to call off the whole gluten free expedition and run back to the safe familiarity of bread, crackers, pasta and more bread. Of course you are more than welcome to do this – but for those with chronic health issues it could be worth dedicating just six weeks of your life to find out if your symptoms reduce or disappear completely. Allergy testing may not always detect gluten intolerance, however a six week elimination diet can easily determine whether or not you need to part ways with gluten for good. This could be a small sacrifice in order to potentially solve chronic health issues that interfere with your quality of life. Remember, preparation and research will ease your transition into the gluten free world and if you do find yourself in need of a packaged snack – be sure to read the ingredients list first!

*Note: If you are consuming gluten free grains on an elimination diet, make sure the product is ‘certified gluten free’ as this will ensure the manufacturer has tested for gluten traces and ruled out the risk of cross-contamination (with other gluten products) during processing. Or, a completely foolproof option is to avoid all grains during the elimination diet.

CHICKEN, LEEK AND KIDNEY BEAN FIESTA

Protein, fibre, prebiotics, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants all make their way into this fiesta of flavours and nutrients, with a tangy, sugar-free, too-good-to-be-healthy tomato relish that really gets the party started! There’s no more excuses for ordering takeaways when it’s this easy to make a nutrient-dense meal that tastes amazing and avoids nasties like sugar and trans fats – why would you eat any other way?

Ingredients (serves 2)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 leek, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 tbsp mixed herbs

1 can kidney beans, rinsed

2 organic chicken breasts, sliced evenly

100g parmesan cheese

Relish:

1 cup spinach leaves

1 large truss tomato

3-4 pitted prunes

Juice of half a lemon

Sea salt and pepper

 

For the relish: in a food processor or blender, add spinach leaves, tomato, prunes, lemon juice, a generous sprinkle of sea salt and pepper and process until smooth. Set aside.

In a large fry pan, cook leeks, chilli flakes and garlic in olive oil on medium-low heat until softened. Turn heat on high, add chicken slices, mixed herbs and stir in a tablespoon of the relish mixture. When chicken is just sealed add kidney beans, stirring through until chicken is browned, then add remaining relish mixture. Stir thoroughly, adding extra sea salt/pepper if required. Pile servings high and grate parmesan cheese over the top. Drizzle olive oil over each serving and dig in!

5 HEALING FOODS

Visiting a friend in hospital recently, I was disheartened to watch the nurses handing out chocolate muffins, bowls of icecream and sweet biscuits to severely ill patients. Why is it that hospitals continue to provide foods that clearly aggravate the body’s ability to heal and recover? If the whole purpose of a hospital is to enhance health, shouldn’t all food provided be nourishing and sustaining, rather than inflammatory and immune suppressing?

Each meal time is an opportunity to nourish patients with anti-inflammatory, nutrient-rich, immune-boosting and hydrating foods. When you visit a loved one in hospital you would do anything to help them get better and yet many patients are missing out on vital nutrients from the most fundamental medicine of all – food. Every patient deserves the right to fresh, healthy, vibrant foods that support health and fast track the recovery process. I hope one day hospitals will acknowledge this fact and start providing 100% healing, wholesome foods.

Here are a few of my favourite healing foods…

1. Wild salmon

The king of anti-inflammatory foods due to its potent omega 3 content, salmon is also a source of protein and zinc to support repair and recovery.

2. Garlic

Antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, immune-stimulating, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory…need I say more?

3. Mixed berries

High in vitamin C for immune support, a source of anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids and rich in antioxidants to compensate for increased oxidative stress during illness.

4. Himalayan salt

Added to meals, unprocessed salts are full of hydrating minerals that support enzymatic processes in the body and overall healing. Add to homemade chicken broth for the ultimate convalescence remedy and electrolyte tonic.

5. Vegies, vegies, vegies!

The high mineral content in vegetables provides hydration and replenishment, while the vitamins and antioxidants support repair and reduce oxidative stress.

Note:

– garlic can boost circulation and have a slight blood thinning effect – usually a good thing – but if you’re recovery is a post surgical matter, it is normally advised to wait a few days before dosing up on our good old garlic friend to allow the stitches to do their job.

– salt gets vilified due to its effect on blood pressure (increasing). If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure it’s important to be careful with your salt intake. However, often when I see elderly patients they are severely lacking in minerals and consequently dehydrated. Unprocessed salts like Himalayan and celtic sea salt are rich in a wide array of minerals that the body needs for hydration and cellular energy.

THE HUMBLE GARLIC CLOVE

One summer in Italy, I stayed in a villa surrounded by these enchanting pink flowers  and was delighted to discover the humble garlic bulb hiding at the root. We added the cute little cloves to all our savoury meals and enjoyed the creamy goodness of handpicked, Italian style garlic.

Of all the herbs, I have always been particularly fond of garlic. Its seductive aroma evokes fantasies of gourmet wood-fired pizzas and buttery seafood pastas. Garlic interweaves warmth and character through even the most simple of dishes.

A common ingredient in the kitchen, you don’t always find garlic in the medicine cabinet and yet its health benefits are endless…

  • Garlic is a saviour in times of illness – a common home remedy for boosting the immune system with its potent antibacterial and antimicrobial qualities. Studies have shown garlic supplementation can help to prevent the common cold as well as reduce the duration of symptoms during a cold.
  • Garlic not only provides antioxidant activity through its active constituents, it further boosts the activity of other antioxidant enzymes present in the body.
  • A complete cardiovascular tonic, garlic has been shown to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and blood clotting while boosting circulation.
  • Studies have proven that garlic is anticarcinogenic, meaning it can reduce the risk of certain types of cancers.
  • Garlic is antihyperglycemic. Evidence demonstrates garlic can lower blood sugar and reverse diabetic-type symptoms.

These are just a few examples – some pretty potent effects for a common, staple herb! The natural oils in garlic are so potent that once eaten, the vapours disperse through our lungs providing a fantastic antiseptic for any chest congestion. Garlic is a must for the elderly in particular to keep their immunity strong.

Once again nature provides us with the simple yet powerful ingredients for wellness. So the next time you’re dicing up your garlic clove, hopefully you will have a newfound respect for this little gem of medicinal benefits!

POACHED EGG ON BED OF BUCKWHEAT

If you’re trying to cut out gluten, you shouldn’t be deprived of the mouth watering experience of a poached egg on toast. Creamy, golden egg yolk oozed over warm, buttery toast is a match made in heaven. Unfortunately most gluten free breads are filled with nutrient-hollow, inflammatory ingredients that taste terrible and do more damage than good to your body. The good news is you can still enjoy this triumphant taste sensation without a base of gluten or bread for that matter. Step in buckwheat. Although dissimilar to the taste or texture of toast, buckwheat provides all the necessary qualities of a poached-egg-base; absorbent texture, subtle taste that quietly compliments that of the egg while providing substantial satiation. Buckwheat is packed with nutrients (including fibre and bioflavonoids) and unlike bread it can accommodate further nutritious ingredients such as leek and pumpkins seeds (see recipe below), to transform your poached egg into a healthy haven flavours.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 cup of rinsed buckwheat groats (soak in 2 cups of purified water overnight)

1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil

1 brown onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tsp dried oregano (or mixed herbs)

1 cup of spinach leaves, washed

Half cup of pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Squeeze of lemon juice

Extra virgin olive oil

Place buckwheat in a saucepan with enough water just to cover, turn the heat on high and cover with a lid. Place coconut oil in a fry pan, followed by onions, garlic and oregano and cook on medium heat until onions are transparent. When buckwheat is bubbling, take lid off, turn heat down to medium and stir until all water is evaporated and buckwheat is soft and fluffy. Add cooked buckwheat to onion mixture, season with sea salt and pepper, throw spinach leaves and pepitas on top and leave on low heat. In a separate saucepan bring water to boiling point then reduce to simmer, stir the water into a whirlpool, add eggs one at a time and gently scoop around each egg to keep intact. Once the whites are set, scoop the eggs out and place on on a plate lined with paper towels. Arrange buckwheat mixture on each plate with a squeeze of lemon juice. Gently place each egg on the bed of buckwheat, add a drizzle of olive oil, extra seasoning if required and serve!

THE MEDICINAL POWER OF CULINARY HERBS AND SPICES

I love that herbs and spices not only provide a flavoursome addition to meals, they just happen to be PACKED with unique, medicinal qualities! Throw in 2 or 3 different spices and you get to enjoy multiple health benefits! Here are a few of my favourites…

Cinnamon: stabilises blood sugar, antimicrobial, natural sweetener

Turmeric: potent anti-inflammatory agent, antioxidant, hypolipidemic

Ginger: potent anti-inflammatory agent, anti-emetic (relieves nausea), circulatory stimulant

Garlic: antibacterial, hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), antiviral

Chilli: circulatory stimulant, aromatic digestive, anti-inflammatory agent

Cumin: antibacterial, aromatic digestive, antifungal

Cayenne pepper: anti-inflammatory, circulatory stimulant, aromatic digestive

Fennel seed: galactagogue (increases breast milk in nursing mothers), expectorant (relieves wet coughs)

Fenugreek: galactagogue, hypoglycaemic (lowers blood sugar), hypocholesterolemic (lowers cholesterol)

Coriander seed: a traditional detoxification agent, digestive tonic

Anise: respiratory tonic, digestive tonic, natural sweetener

Paprika: circulatory stimulant, aromatic digestive, immune tonic

Cardamom: digestive tonic, diuretic, respiratory tonic

Rosemary: antioxidant, antimicrobial, circulatory stimulant

Thyme: antibacterial, expectorant (relieves wet coughs)

Incorporating these therapeutic herbs and spices in to your meals everyday will give your body a natural, healing boost.