Wednesday, December 17, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: To Gluten or Not to Gluten?

“It helps to understand that food sensitivities in general are usually a response from the immune system.  They can also occur if the body lacks the right enzymes to digest ingredients in foods.  In the case of gluten, its “sticky” attribute interferes with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients.  As you can imagine, poorly digested food leads to a pasty residue in your gut, which alerts the immune system to leap into action, eventually resulting in an assault on the lining of the small intestine.  Those who experience symptoms complain of abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and intestinal distress.  Some people, however, don’t experience obvious signs of gastrointestinal trouble, but they could nevertheless be experiencing a silent attack elsewhere in their body, such as in their nervous system.  Remember that when a body negatively reacts to food, it attempts to control the damage by sending out inflammatory messenger molecules to label the food particles as enemies.  This leads the immune system to keep sending out inflammatory chemicals, killer cells among them, in a bid to wipe out the enemies.  The process often damages our tissue, leaving the walls of our intestine compromised, a condition known as “leaky gut.”  Once you have a leaky gut, you’re highly susceptible to additional food sensitivities in the future.  And the onslaught of inflammation can also put you at risk for developing autoimmune disease.”
                                                                    --from Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD

Gluten – Latin for “glue” - is a protein composite that acts as an adhesive material found in a couple of grains: wheat, rye and barley. Individuals with celiac disease cannot process this protein.  People with celiac disease cannot consume foods containing gluten.  But the reality is that there is so much processed wheat in the American food supply these days (think McDonald’s hamburger buns, pizza, PopTarts and honeybuns, white breads, packaged cookies, and breakfast cereal, etc).  More and more people are developing a sensitivity to gluten because their bodies cannot handle the daily onslaught of huge amounts of it. 

“You are what you eat” is a saying we use in our Growing Healthy Kids in the Kitchen projects because when families understand how much processed wheat they are eating, and what happens to your brain and your body, your increased awareness will guide you to make better food choices.  For many people, learning about gluten sensitivities may be well worth their present and future health. 

Talking about gluten includes talking about the state of your digestive health (and your brain health, but more about brain health in another issue of WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS). Kids are so inundated with foods containing highly processed wheat and they are paying for it with stomach aches, constipation, irritability, lack of bowel movements due to the severe lack of dietary fiber in their foods, and the inability to focus.  Foods containing white flour turn to sugar as soon as they get into our mouth, setting off the chain of inflammation and disease. 

We rarely use wheat, even whole grain wheat, in the healthy cooking classes we do.  People often feel better when they limit, restrict, or eliminate their intake of foods containing wheat.  If you’ve ever felt bloated or have had a stomach ache after eating a sandwich, pizza, or flour tortillas, try eliminating all processed wheat for a week.  What you will discover is that refined wheat (also called “enriched” wheat – what a misnomer!) is in everything!  If this is too radical for you, then just eliminate all wheat except for “whole grain wheat” and see how you feel after a week.  

I feel sorry for all the kids who complain of a stomach ache on a regular basis and their parents think it is a ploy to stay home from school, when in fact, the kids could very well have a gluten sensitivity to all processed, refined wheat they are being bombarded with and their bodies cannot handle.  More education about gluten sensitivity is needed for parents, but also for teachers. 

Here is one of our very popular wheat-free recipes from recent classes.  It is, of course, kid-tested.  Enjoy!  

GROWING HEALTHY KIDS:  Our Recipe Collection


COOK according to directions:
  • 1 box quinoa pasta

WHILE pasta cooks, whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl:
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons chardonnay wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fresh herbs, finely chopped (I like parsley and basil in this recipe)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

DRAIN pasta when cooked al dente (do NOT overcook) and rinse with cool water.  Place in large mixing bowl. 

ADD the following and gently mix thoroughly:
  • 1 cup sundried tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 2 cups fresh arugula, finely sliced (can substitute with fresh spinach)
  • Dressing (see above)

LET salad sit for about 15 minutes before serving so the flavors have a chance to dance together.  Serve on a bed of fresh, local greens with feta cheese on the side. 


NOTE FROM NANCY:  This salad will keep for a day and may even be better the second day.  If you make it for dinner, it makes a fabulous lunch for work (or school for your kids) the next day and all your coworkers will be envious of all the great flavors!  

Remember, kids need good food to thrive.  See you in the kitchen!

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

P.S. For more great kid-tested recipes and tips, don't forget to order your copy of NOURISH AND FLOURISH here.