Avoiding both gluten and high-glycemic foods can make meals twice as healthy.
By Lisa James
Many Americans cope with multiple health issues, a number of which are related to diet. Among the most common are those that involve blood-sugar control, including diabetes, and sensitivity to gluten, a grain-based protein.
Increasing public awareness of the links between diet and ill health has resulted in eating plans designed to address specific issues. Chefs and home cooks are now learning how to tailor these diets to account for more than one health concern.
What’s more, even people without overt dysfunction are avoiding gluten and eating to keep blood sugar on an even keel because it makes them feel better. “I do not have celiac disease and I’m not diabetic, but I always wanted to eat as healthy as possible, so I simply cut out wheat a long time ago as a staple,” says Debbie Johnson, former restaurant owner and author of Fun with Gluten-Free, Low Glycemic Food (Deborah Johnson Publishing).
Gluten is found in wheat and other grains. Besides digestive woes, gluten reactions can include fatigue, breathing difficulties, joint and muscle pain, fever and chills, rashes and other skin problems, headaches and brain fog. In celiac disease, gluten damages the lining of the small intestine.
How much blood sugar rises after eating the carbohydrates in a specific food is expressed as that food’s glycemic index (GI); the higher and faster the increase, the higher the number. Glycemic load (GL) accounts for both GI and the amount of carbs consumed at any one meal.
Healthy and Flavorful
The simple answer to gluten reactions—avoidance—isn’t as easy as it seems. Because it provides flexibility and structure, gluten is added to many processed foods and even to products such as medications and lipstick. In addition to steering clear of the usual gluten suspects, such as bread, pasta and cereal, it’s important to carefully read labels on products you wouldn’t think to check, such as condiments or frozen foods. (To learn more, contact the Gluten Intolerance Group: www.gluten.net, 253-833-6655.) The growth in gluten-free products gives consumers other choices.
Some gluten-free grains can also address the need for lower GI values. Johnson favors quinoa and amaranth, saying, “These higher-protein, low glycemic grains were primary sources of sustenance for ancient peoples.” She cautions that millet, although gluten-free, may be subject to contamination by gluten-bearing grains. If you use millet, ask the producer what processing precautions are taken (a good idea whenever there’s a question about contamination).
Gluten-free grains are generally unrefined. This means they provide more fiber, which helps slow the entry of digested carbs into the bloodstream.
Vegetables provide fiber plus a ton of nutrients. Besides being gluten-free, nonstarchy vegetables have low GIs, perfect for a low-glycemic diet.
“I found I could do amazing things with vegetables,” says Johnson. One trick she learned was finding gluten-free, low-GI ingredients that tasted good. Among her favorites are Braggs Liquid Aminos, Celtic sea salt or pink Himalayan salt, the sweetener stevia and good fats such as ghee (“the flavor of butter in spades”) and organic, cold-pressed and virgin grapeseed, coconut and high-heat sunflower oils.
When both gluten and glucose are problematic, one’s first question is often, “So what can I eat?” The answer: “Plenty.”
Greek Spinach-Quinoa Casserole
2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or grapeseed oil
1 cup chopped or sliced onion
1/2 tsp thyme
2 tsp dried mint leaves
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dill
2 cups cooked quinoa*
1 cup cooked chopped spinach, with water squeezed out
8-12 oz feta cheese (vegans can use walnuts and/or almond “cheese”)
*Per pkg directions with 2 tbsp Bragg Liquid Aminos or 1 tsp Himalayan or Celtic sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place ghee or oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.
Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add all herbs while onions are cooking.
2. In a 1-qt or larger baking dish, blend the quinoa, spinach, cheese (orwalnuts) and
onion mixture, including the pan oil. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until heated throughout.
Serves 4-6. Analysis per serving: 224 calories, 8g protein, 14g fat (6g saturated), 2g fiber, 17g carbohydrate, 426 mg sodium
Reprinted with permission of Debbie Johnson, chef and author of Fun with Gluten-Free,
Low Glycemic Food Cookbook (Deborah Johnson Publishing, http://glutenfreefun.com)
2 tbsp ghee
1/4 tsp Celtic sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
1 tsp kuzu* (firmer crust) or arrowroot powder
1/4 cup amaranth flour
3/4 cup almond meal/flour, finely ground
20 oz frozen organic sweet black cherries
1/4-1/2 cup unsweetened organic cherry or apple juice
1 tbsp agar-agar (no starch) or kuzu or arrowroot powder
1 tsp organic vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/8 tsp Celtic sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
1/8 tsp stevia
1/2 tsp ghee or coconut oil
1/2 cup slivered or ground almonds
*A thickening agent made from the root of the kuzu plant,
which is native to Japan; known as kudzu in the US.
To make the crust: Melt ghee on low heat (you can use the pie pan, if you wish).
Mix in salt, kuzu or arrowroot, amaranth flour and almond meal/flour
until the mixture clumps together. Press into the pie pan.
To make the filling:
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Thaw the cherries and drain well. Place a sieve over an easy-pour container;
gently press the cherries into the sieve to release most of their juice
without crushing them too much. Pour liquid into 1 cup measuring container.
Add apple or additional cherry juice until total fluid measures 1 cup.
3. Pour liquid into medium-sized saucepan and add agar-agar,
kuzu or arrowroot and follow package directions for whichever thickener you choose
(heat and stir constantly until bubbling and thick; for agar-agar, boil an additional 4 minutes).
4. Add extracts, salt, stevia and ghee or coconut oil; stir to combine.
5. Stir mixture with cherries and pour into pie crust.
Top with almonds and bake for 15-20 minutes or until almonds are slightly browned.
Cool and refrigerate to firm. Serve cooled in summer; in winter, allow to come
to room temperature before serving.
Yield: 9” pie. Analysis per 1” slice: 173 calories, 4g protein, 10.5g fat (3g saturated), 16g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 53 mg sodium
Reprinted with permission of Debbie Johnson, chef and author of
Fun with Gluten-Free, Low Glycemic Food Cookbook (Deborah Johnson Publishing, http://glutenfreefun.com).