The last couple of days have been pretty uneventful for my coeliac awareness week of gluten-free eating. That’s more because I predominantly do all my own cooking and this week has been relatively quiet on the socialising front. My partner has been awfully sympathetic of my challenge this week… on Thursday night he went to the shops to buy some food and when he came home brought out a tub of ben and jerry’s ice-cream saying ‘look at what I got, does that contain gluten??! Oh what a shame….’ Naughty isn’t he!!
So what is gluten exactly anyway? Everyone knows that gluten is in bread, pasta and cakes – but did you also know gluten is in couscous, bulgar wheat and spelt? Gluten is protein found in wheat (all forms), rye, barley and oats. It is what gives bread it’s elasticity and assists with rising to get that soft squishy loaf of bread amongst many other things.
Oats are a controversial area with coeliac disease and gluten-free diets as there is some mixed evidence and it depends on where in the world you are as to what is recommended. Avelin & glutelin are proteins in oats that structurally are quite similar to gliadin and glutenin in wheat and can be problematic to people with coeliac disease. Some people with coeliac disease do appear to be able to tolerate oats but it is important to eliminate contamination as oats are frequently grown with and processed with other gluten-containing grains. As I said before, the recommendations will differ from country to country. For people with newly diagnosed coeliac disease it is generally recommended to exclude oats from a gluten-free diet for at least the first 12-18 months post diagnosis and then challenge oats with a maximum 50g per day and regular testing and biopsies to establish whether they are problematic. Not all people with coeliac disease experience external physical symptoms after gluten consumption – but that doesn’t mean that internal damage could be taking place.
It can be pretty easy for people on a gluten-free diet to focus on what they CAN’T eat, so I thought I would talk about about foods that you CAN eat when following a gluten-free diet. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, chicken, beans, nuts, seeds legumes etc are all gluten free. There are a wide range of other cereals, grains and starches that are considered gluten free which include rice, potato, corn, quinoa, teff, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and sorghum.
In an attempt to expand my knowledge and experience of cooking with (and eating) gluten-free products that I’d never heard of before, I recently bought a packet of amaranth to try. Thursday night I actually got around to cooking it and trying it out. It requires a lot of water to cook with as it just keeps on absorbing liquid but you’ll notice if you cook amaranth that the starches form a bit of a ‘goo’ for want of a better word around the seeds while cooking in the pot, so after cooking it is important to drain it through a fine mesh sieve which will leave you with the seeds alone which you can use in salads or other foods.
I used it on Thursday night instead of cous-cous with steamed vege and salmon which wasn’t too bad. It has a bit of an earthy or nutty sort of flavour, quite similar to quinoa just a lot smaller than quinoa. I think because of the size of the actual seeds, it seemed ‘bitty’ to me in my mouth almost like there wasn’t enough substance to it. I think it is better suited to composite dishes such as like a salad with beans, rice, legumes etc or as a breakfast porridge. On Friday I tried the leftover amaranth I had to make some porridge for breakfast, mixing it in with a banana and cooked in the microwave and served with a dusting of cinnamon and fresh milk which tasted pretty good. It definitely kept me going the whole morning which was great. Amaranth has a really high protein content so that would have helped – per 100g it contains around 16g or 16% protein as a raw product which is pretty good!
Some other random facts I have discovered in the past few days are that currently in the UK:
- Malteasers contain gluten (barley) while peanut m&m’s do not (yes!!! love peanut m&ms!)
- Oxo & Bistro grave stock cubes contain wheat (thus gluten) while Knorr stock cubes are gluten free (meaning I get to eat paella tonight!! wooo hoo!)
- Gluten free cooking requires accurate measurements of ingredients – you cannot get away with just ‘throwing things in a bowl and hoping for the best’ (Like I normally do)…. it doesn’t work!