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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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The Challenges and Benefits of Living Gluten-Free

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Home-made Gluten-Free Foods

Some doctors suggest that people who are handy in the kitchen would be better off making their own gluten-free foods at home rather than relying on expensive, commercially-made gluten-free products. The necessary ingredients to produce your own gluten-free baked goods are now readily available in many supermarkets or online. These include a variety of gluten-free flours made from sweet potato, sorghum, teff and oat, and ingredients like xanthan gum to improve the texture of gluten-free baked goods.

There have also been scores of cookbooks published in recent years featuring gourmet-quality gluten-free dishes, and giving home cooks tips for the successful substitution of gluten-free ingredients into traditional recipes.

The authors of these cookbooks have already gone through the trial and error process to come up with their own formulas and substitutions that yield baked goods of comparable quality to those made with from traditional wheat flour.

Oat flour is sometimes used as a substitute for wheat in gluten-free breads and baked goods, but that practice is controversial. Some researchers believe that gluten-free oat flour may also serve as an allergen for those with celiac disease. As a practical matter, oat flour is often contaminated by gluten from wheat, either in the milling process, or when the oats are grown in the same fields which were previously used for growing. However, for kosher consumers on gluten-free diets, the ability to use oat flour is important, because you cannot make a brocha of “hamotzi” over bread made from the other available gluten-free flour substitutes. This is of special significance on Shabbos, when there is a requirement for “lechem mishna,” and on Yom Tov.

Behind the Rise in Gluten Sensitivity

The rate of celiac disease is on the rise, doubling about every 20 years. New evidence suggests that as many as 1 in 10 people today are gluten sensitive or gluten intolerant, but unlike celiac disease, there is no specific diagnostic blood test available for the other two conditions.

The most practical way to find out whether you have a gluten sensitivity is to go on a strict gluten-free diet for several weeks and then see how you feel. It is not good enough to just reduce your gluten intake. If the diet is going to do you any good, you must eliminate all gluten consumption for at least several weeks before you will start to notice a significant improvement. However, because gluten sensitivity has been linked to so many different health conditions, you might be surprised to find how much of difference the diet can make. The only way to find out for sure is to actually try it, but first check with your doctor or another authority you trust to make sure that your gluten-free diet will meet all of your essential nutritional needs.

People who are gluten sensitive may not have to eliminate gluten from their diets entirely in order to see the benefits. According to Ms. Ullner, “There is a continuum. I’ve met people who indicate that they can eat one piece of wheat bread every three or four days and they’re fine; others will say, they have to be as strict as celiacs — it varies greatly by individual.”

Why is Gluten So Harmful?

There are various theories.

Some researchers believe that the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and intolerance may be triggered, as in celiac disease, by specific, genetically-inherited factors in our immune systems. Others attribute the symptoms to gluten’s interference with the body’s ability to properly absorb certain key nutrients, which would explain why the symptoms clear up after the gluten intake has stopped. Some subscribe to the controversial “leaky gut syndrome” theory, which suggests that the presence of gluten in our diet triggers a mechanism that breaks down the lining of the intestine. This permits the toxins, microbes and other harmful substances normally contained by the intestinal to break out into the rest of the body, where they are attacked by the immune system, resulting in the symptoms associated with gluten intolerance.

Dr. Mark Harmon, an authority in the new field of Functional Medicine and the author of several best-selling books on UltraWellness, blames the sharp increase in gluten-related diseases to key changes in the new high yield strain of dwarf wheat that was developed by Dr. Norman Borlaug, and for which Borlaug won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for increasing the world’s food supply. According to Harmon, the dwarf wheat produces a larger variety of gluten proteins which can trigger celiac disease and the other symptoms of gluten sensitivity and intolerance. Dr. Harmon says that the new wheat also has more starch and substances which increase the appetite, which have contributed to the obesity epidemic. He therefore recommends a wheat-free diet for everyone, whether or not they show signs of gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

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