Friday, April 11, 2014

Chocolate-Almond Moelleux


One of the (many) great things about being married to the graduate of a collegiate hospitality program is Kelli's collection of textbooks. Forget statistics and macroeconomics and organic chemistry. Her books instead are filled with oodles of professional recipes for all manner of desserts, and it's often a great source of inspiration to take one of those recipes and modify it to both make it gluten-free and make it our own.

This moelleux is just that. It's basically a fancy French word for lava cake. Need we say more? This one blends chocolate with almond (one of Kelli's favorite flavors). Pair the hot-out-of-oven individual cakes with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and your Friday night will be set.

Chocolate-Almond Moelleux
Makes 8 ramekins

Ingredients
1/2 cup GF almond paste
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
7 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup Artisan GF Flour Blend
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup melted butter

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Grease eight 6-oz ramekins with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a mixing bowl, using a paddle attachment with the mixer at medium speed, combine the almond paste and confectioner's sugar until the mixture looks sandy.
3. Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix at high speed until the mixture is pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
4. In a separate bowl whip the egg whites and sugar until a stiff meringue forms.
5. Fold the meringue into the yolk mixture.
6. In another separate bowl, whisk together the flour and cocoa powder. Fold into the egg mixture.
7. Fold in the melted butter.
8. Divide the batter among the prepared ramekins.
9. Bake for 15 minutes if you prefer a runny center and 20 minutes if you want the cake just set all the way through.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Promise and Perils of Celiac-Safe Wheat

Last month I looked at whether today's gluten is more toxic to those with active celiac disease than the gluten of old. The general answer is "yes," though it comes with a healthy dose of caveats and nuance. In this post, on the other hand, I'm flipping the toxicity question on its head and examining what recent research has found regarding the prospect of celiac-safe wheat and gluten. You read that right: the prospect of celiac-safe wheat and gluten. It sounds like an oxymoron, and for all practical purposes it is, but the research is intriguing, even if celiac-safe wheat remains an idea much more than a near- or even mid-term possibility.

Mind you, I'm not talking about gluten-free foods for those with celiac disease made from wheat starch that's been isolated from the problematic gluten through processing. I'm talking about plain wheat—gluten and all—but without the toxicity that makes it off limits to those of us with celiac disease and other gluten issues.

Remember: As the thinking goes, for a person to develop active celiac disease (and thus for wheat to become a dietary and major health problem), you need three things: 1) a genetic predisposition, 2) a trigger that turns the disease on, and 3) dietary exposure to celiac-toxic gluten. That last part is crucial: celiac-toxic gluten.

Not all gluten is evil, and no, I'm not crazy for saying that. Saying "gluten" is like saying "human" or "insect." You've given some information, but you've also glossed over tremendous amounts of variation within the umbrella category. When we talk about gluten in relation to celiac disease, what we really care about is not gluten generally but rather the specific sequences of amino acids—especially common in, though not exclusive to, the alpha gliadin forms of gluten coded for by the 6D chromosome—that are toxic to those with celiac disease. That's really where the celiac rubber meets the road.

In theory, you could identify naturally occurring (or develop scientifically) varieties of wheat whose gluten retains its desirable baking characteristics while leaving behind its toxicity. Sounds like a pipe dream, doesn't it? Except it might not be.

Wheat Gluten Without the Toxicity

Numerous studies from within the past decade have identified naturally occurring varieties of wheat and its relatives that have low or even potentially no celiac toxicity. Consider this representative sampling:

  • A 2009 study found a wide variety of alpha gliadin gene expression in tetraploid and hexaploid wheat varieties, including great variation in celiac-specific epitopes that would cause a reaction. Researchers pointed to the possibility of screening to pre-select wheat varieties with very low celiac toxicity potential.
  • A 2010 study similarly examined 11 wheat cultivars, including 3,000 gene sequences that all coded for alpha gliadins. They found naturally occurring sequences that coded for gliadin peptide sequences that lacked celiac toxicity.
  • Another 2010 study examined more than 80 modern and ancestral wheat varieties. They found modern and ancestral varieties alike that contained relatively low levels of toxic gliadin, leading researchers to suggest that "low celiac toxicity" could be a new wheat breeding trait.
  • A 2011 study also concluded that naturally occurring variation could yield gliadins that lack toxicity.
  • An earlier 2005 study looked at diploid, tetraploid, and hexaploid wheats. Researchers found a variety of toxicity levels, promising enough "to endeavor the selection of wheat accessions that contain low amounts" of toxicity, and that this process could lead to the selection and breeding of wheat varieties "suitable for consumption by [celiac disease] patients."
  • Another 2005 study likewise found wheat varieties, especially in the diploid and tetraploid families, where toxicity was nearly absent, raising "the prospect of identifying or producing by breeding wheat species with low or absent levels of harmful gluten proteins."
  • A 2006 study also found essentially absent levels of toxicity among some ancestral varieties.

Meanwhile, in 2010 another set of researchers took another approach. Instead of identifying naturally occurring wheat varieties with low levels of celiac toxicity, they used a technique known as RNA interference to effectively "turn off" the genes that code for toxic gluten. They were largely successful. Researchers concluded that this method "can be used to obtain wheat lines with very low levels of toxicity for [celiac disease] patients."

Two Major Red Flags

This may sound exciting and promising to some folks who long to cook and bake with wheat again and taste its flavors, but there's a long and perilous road to first navigate between the labs of researchers and the agricultural wheat fields of our food supply. I can think of at least two major red flags that would require major address:

Guaranteeing lack of toxicity

It takes a pretty substantial dose of scientific rigor and confidence—even hubris, potentially—to proclaim a wheat variety completely free of celiac toxicity. While we know that the alpha gliadins of the D genome are the worst gluten offenders, we also know they are not the only ones. How are we to know that science has fully, completely, and comprehensively identified all amino acid sequences of gluten that are toxic to those with celiac disease?

The short answer is that we can't be so sure. In fact, researchers from a 2006 study raised just this very concern. They wrote, "There may be more, still unknown ... epitopes of gluten." They later continued, "It may be premature to start breeding of non-toxic wheat varieties."

Furthermore, even if we did somehow identify and breed a wheat variety that truly lacked all celiac toxicity, how could we guarantee that a spontaneous gene mutation or other evolution of the cultivar from one generation to the next (such as hybridization with a toxic variety grown in an adjacent field) didn't reintroduce a known or new toxic form of gluten?

Guaranteeing integrity of celiac-safe wheat

Last year more than 541 million acres of the Earth's surface were planted in wheat. I don't think I'm at all going out on a limb when I say that we'd never see the entirety of world wheat production replaced with celiac-safe wheat. That means that celiac-safe wheat would need to coexist in a world of toxic wheat. This introduces an overwhelming number of concerns.

You'd need agricultural fields dedicated to growing celiac-safe wheat, plus measures put in place to ensure that rogue toxic wheat doesn't infiltrate the crop. And you'd have to implement an impressively robust chain of custody to maintain the integrity of a celiac-safe crop of wheat from field through processing and into flour, products, and/or the dinner table. Remember: celiac-safe wheat will look, bake, and taste like its toxic sisters.

Imagine tracking the life of a celiac-safe crop of wheat through a dedicated flour mill that won't cross-contaminate the batch with conventional wheat, then getting that flour to food product companies and onto supermarket shelves, and then clearly identifying and differentiating those celiac-safe wheat products for consumers (not to mention the regulatory hurdles!).

This is a rabbit hole that goes deeper and deeper the more you think about it. The daunting prospect is enough to make your head spin.

Wait for Celiac-Safe Wheat? Thanks, But No Thanks.

Gluten-based foods processed to remove the gluten are one thing (and a subject best left for another post), but as you can see, inherently celiac-safe wheat that still has gluten in it is an ongoing area of research, if still a distant possibility for consumers at the very best. It's an admirable line of scientific inquiry, but I for one won't be holding my breath. For certain I'll watch ongoing developments with keen interest—for the love of the science, if nothing else—but when it comes to my health and our kitchen at home, wheat has no place, and that isn't likely to change anytime soon, if ever in my lifetime.

What about you? Would you eat celiac-safe wheat and bake with its flour? Do you long for its taste? For the doughy elasticity of true gluten in your baking? I'd love to hear your opinions...

–Pete

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is today's gluten more toxic?

Last week I wrote how the percent gluten content of wheat hasn't changed over the course of at least the last century. In fact, you could even say wheat's gluten content has been remarkably stable in spite of breeding wheat over the years for a host of desirable attributes: improved baking characteristics, better nutrition, higher yields, and increased drought and pest resistance, to name a few. A lot about wheat has changed, and yet its gluten content hasn't.

But if the amount of gluten has remained relatively stable, could the nature of that gluten have changed over time? In particular, is the gluten in today's wheat more toxic than the gluten of old?

It's a more complex question to answer than it might appear at first glance. For example: more toxic for whom? For the sake of this blog post, I'm assuming toxic to those with active celiac disease, since that offers the richest body of peer-reviewed scientific research and published studies. For another example: when we start to explore possible answers to the toxicity question, we need to differentiate between a) ancient wheats vs. modern bread wheat, and b) changes over time within modern bread wheat alone.

I'll explore both of those angles in this blog post, discuss potential implications for the celiac/gluten-free community, and lastly, tee up a follow-up blog post about the prospect of celiac-safe wheat.

Wheat Genetics: A Brief History

When we talk about wheat, even a specific type of wheat such as modern bread wheat, we're actually talking about hundreds or thousands of actual varieties. Almost by necessity, then, we speak in generalities that overlook the variation from one wheat to the next. (That variation will become critically important in a follow-up blog post when I look at the prospect of celiac-safe strains of wheat.)

More or less all the variation in the world's wheats arises from the contributions of one, two, or three genomes—which researchers refer to as the A, B, and D genomes—each of which has 7 chromosomes. Ancient wheat varieties such as einkorn are diploid, meaning they have two sets of chromosomes from one genome (e.g., AA). Other ancient wheat varieties such as emmer as well as modern durum (pasta) wheat are tetraploid, meaning they have two sets of chromosomes from each of two genomes (e.g., AABB). Finally, modern bread wheat is hexaploid, with two sets of chromosomes from each of the three major genomes (e.g., AABBDD). (I also discuss this in chapter 1 of The Gluten-Free Edge.)

As we'll see, those three genomes—A, B, and D—code for gluten of different toxicity levels. And when more than one genome is present, they are not all expressed equally.

But by and large, the major offenders are two "families" of gluten: the alpha and gamma gliadins. They represent the real "problem children" in the gluten family. It's not all gluten that's a problem, but rather specific subsets of amino acid sequences that cause reactions in those with celiac disease. Any genome can code for alpha and gamma gliadins, but how much gliadin they cause and how toxic that gliadin is differ. Therein lies the rub when it comes to answering the "is today's gluten more toxic" question.

Ancient Wheats vs. Modern Bread Wheat

Generally, old wheats were less toxic than modern bread wheat, though all forms of wheat are generally accepted to have at least some level of toxicity for those with celiac disease, making wheat and its relatives categorically excluded from the gluten-free diet. For example, a 2006 study comparing modern bread wheat with ancient einkorn found the modern bread wheat was more toxic.

And though it's safe to generalize and say that modern bread wheat on the average has more toxic gluten than ancient wheat varieties, there is also some evidence that certain ancient varieties could have been more toxic than today's, such as a 2009 study that looked at wheat varieties such as Kamut (considered an ancient relative of modern durum pasta wheat). Not only were its gluten peptides as toxic as today's durum wheat, but it had more of that toxic gluten.

The Evolution of Modern Bread Wheat

As a hexaploid wheat, modern bread wheat contains the A, B, and D genomes. A 2012 study (and many before it, including these from 20052006, and 2009) showed that the D genome codes for the most toxic strains of gluten, followed by the A genome, and then the B. And when all three genomes are present (as they are in modern bread wheat), not all are expressed equally. In fact, the D genome—which codes for the most toxic strains of gluten—is preferentially expressed.

Further, when we look at hexaploid wheat (i.e., modern bread wheat) over time, we find that it has in fact gotten more toxic. A 2010 study, for example, compared 36 modern European hexaploid wheats against 50 hexaploid wheats grown up until about one century ago. Researchers found that alpha 9 gliadin, one of the most toxic forms of gluten, is more prevalent in the modern wheat varieties. They concluded, this "suggests modern wheat breeding practices may have led to an increased exposure to celiac disease epitopes."

Implications for the Celiac/Gluten-Free Community

As the thinking goes, for a person to develop active celiac disease, you need three things: 1) a genetic predisposition, 2) a trigger that turns the disease on, and 3) dietary exposure to celiac-toxic gluten. Much recent research has begun to look at #2, investigating possible triggers that could help to account for Americans' rising prevalence of celiac disease. The "is today's gluten more toxic" question, on the other hand, gets at #3.

It will be tempting to conclude that today's gluten is more toxic to those with celiac disease, and therefore say that today's toxic gluten is partly responsible for the rising rates of celiac disease. But that's not what the research (so far) shows. I've seen scant few studies that have examined whether the celiac-toxicity of wheat gluten is positively correlated with risk for developing celiac disease in the first place. There's an important difference between identifying those forms of gluten that are most toxic to those with active celiac disease vs. identifying the factors that cause celiac disease to "turn on" in the first place with someone with the genetic predisposition. Remember: even with today's more toxic gluten, there remain millions of Americans (and millions more internationally) who have the genetic predisposition yet still fail to develop active celiac disease despite having the genes for it.

We may very well find that the amount of gluten to which you are exposed, and—to the point of this post—the relative celiac toxicity of that gluten are risk factors for developing celiac disease in the first place. A study just came out last month in fact looking at the former. As for the latter, it for now remains a possibility but not a certainty, so let's refrain from jumping to premature conclusions, however tempting that may be to do.

In the meantime, what are we as a celiac/gluten-free community to do with this information about the relative toxicity of gluten from various modern and ancient strains of wheat? For now, not much. Regardless of their relative toxicity levels, all forms of wheat have shown at least some level of toxicity to those with celiac disease, meaning that this is a black and white issue—they're all "out" of the gluten-free diet.

For those with other forms of gluten intolerance, especially those who have some threshold of exposure to gluten to trigger a negative response, the idea of choosing less-toxic, lower-gluten forms of wheat might sound like an appealing dietary possibility. But how would you as a consumer reliably identify which wheats you should and shouldn't have?

The much more intriguing prospect is this: despite a trend in modern bread wheat toward gluten that's more toxic to celiac disease patients, researchers have been identifying individual varieties of wheat across the spectrum (modern and ancient alike) that seem to exhibit low or even no toxicity for those with celiac disease. If such varieties can be identified that still retain other desirable characteristics (e.g., yield, baking quality, drought and pest resistance), it opens the controversial door to the possibility that we might one day see celiac-safe wheat. That will be the topic of next week's post.

–Pete

Friday, March 14, 2014

Singapore Street Noodles


When you hear of Singapore street noodles, what's the first thing that comes to mind? If you're like us, it's probably the dish from the regular and gluten-free menus at P.F. Chang's. But what makes Singapore street noodles what they are? From what we can gather, it's the combination of vermicelli rice noodles, vegetables, often shrimp and/or chicken, and a light sauce. A hallmark of Western versions is curry, common to both the P.F. Chang's version and copycat recipes. However, according to at least one writer who's actually eaten noodle dishes on the streets of Singapore, the curry flavor profile is nowhere to be found.

Our version similarly foregoes the curry in favor of an easy-to-make sauce that's both complex and light in flavor. We opt for chicken, though you could easily substitute or add shrimp, or likewise omit both and bolster the vegetables to make it a more substantial vegetarian meal. Our last tip: do all the prep work first, then start your cooking. Making this dish is a snap when you have a few bowls lined up (mise en place) with your carrots, cabbage, chicken, garlic and ginger, and sauce.


Singapore Street Noodles
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
3 to 4 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
1/2 head green cabbage, sliced thin or shredded
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 to 1.5 inches fresh ginger, minced
Olive oil
Salt
8 ounces vermicelli rice noodles

For the chicken marinade
1 tbsp GF tamari wheat-free soy sauce
1 tbsp sherry
1 tbsp sesame oil

For the sauce
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp GF tamari wheat-free soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sherry
1/4 tsp sesame oil

Steps
1. Place the sliced chicken breast in a small bowl, add the marinade, toss to coat, and let sit while you prepare the first steps of the recipe. Bring a large pot of water up to a boil.
2. In a large skillet, saute the carrots in about 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat until al dente.
3. Add the cabbage to the skillet, drizzle with an additional 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil, lightly salt, and continue sautéing to wilt and cook down the cabbage, until al dente and reduced in volume by 1/3 to 1/2. Remove the cabbage and carrots from the pan.
4. Add the chicken and marinade to the skillet, and cook until the chicken is done.
5. Add a tsp of olive oil to the chicken, then add the garlic and ginger and saute just until fragrant, about 1 minute.
6. Add the cabbage and carrots back to the skillet, and toss everything to evenly mix.
7. Add the vermicelli rice noodles to the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente, only 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and add the noodles to the skillet.
8. Whisk together all sauce ingredients, then pour the sauce over the noodles in the skillet. Toss to evenly coat the noodles, chicken, and veggies and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the flavor has melded.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Has the Gluten Content of Wheat Increased Over Time?


As you might imagine from my recent posts about wheat as a scapegoat (highlighting the utter lack of correlation between wheat consumption and obesity rates) and the seven questions the gluten-free community should be asking, one of my big pet peeves is unsubstantiated claims, or worse, claims that are blatantly contradicted by the evidence (i.e., data). Today I'm diving into a related topic—the persistent (and false) notion that the gluten content of wheat has dramatically increased over the course of the past half century.

You don't have to look far—or far back—to find this claim mentioned in prominent outlets. Consider these examples from just one year ago: From the New York Times: "Blame for the increase of celiac disease sometimes falls on gluten-rich, modern wheat varietals..." From NaturalNews.com: "50–60 years ago wheat containing only five percent gluten has become 50 percent gluten today... leading to the 10-fold increase of wheat's gluten." (Ha!) And from Mother Jones: "...the hybrid varieties [of wheat] we eat today contain more gluten..." Many other examples abound, but I call these three out specifically because they are recent, all published in early 2013. More recently, at least two readers wrote to me following my "Wheat, the Scapegoat" post espousing wheat's supposedly higher gluten content today compared to the wheat of our parents and grandparents.

Around the same time that the New York Times and Mother Jones articles came out last year, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a study by Don Kasarda, a respected cereals researcher with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, asking—and answering—the fundamental question, "Can an increase in celiac disease be attributed to an increase in the gluten content of wheat as a consequence of wheat breeding?" The results of his research were a resounding "no." Kasarda wrote, "I found no evidence of any obvious trend toward higher protein content for either winter or spring wheats since the early part of the 20th century when the key ancestral varieties of bread wheats ... were introduced to the United States."

Kasarda's work should have been the definitive nail in the coffin of the "wheat's gluten content has been increasing" myth. And indeed, early and mid 2013 abounded with articles—from the mainstream media to the gluten-free community to the wheat industry—disabusing the public of the notion that today's wheat has more gluten than the wheat of the mid-20th century. Of the dozen or so that I read researching this post, nearly every one cited and/or linked to Kasarda's study. Yet myths die hard.

And so I took a page out of the book of the think tank where I'm editorial director. The unofficial slogan within the halls of our office is W. Edwards Deming's famous quote, "In God we trust; all others bring data." Here, then, is some good, hard data:

I focused on bread wheat, which accounts for some 95% of all wheat planted on Earth. It's higher in gluten content than other varieties of wheat, so if we're going to point the finger anywhere, it's at bread wheat—it's both abundant and high in gluten. Bread wheat is the colloquial term for the higher-gluten hard wheats (there are also lower-gluten soft wheats). Hard wheat comes in both winter and spring varieties. Hard spring wheat is better suited to northern climes, which is why you'll find it in places such as Montana and Minnesota in the United States. Hard winter wheat, on the other hand, can be found in great quantities farther south in the Great Plains.

For the graph above, I targeted hard winter wheat in Kansas specifically. I had a strong rationale for focusing on Kansas. For one, the state has a long history of wheat agriculture dating back to the 19th century. It also has a long and detailed record of wheat crops over that period of time, often including percent protein of each year's wheat crop. (And since gluten comprises 80% of the protein in wheat, a crop's percent protein is a reliable proxy for wheat's gluten content over time as well.)

In addition, Kansas grows more wheat than any other state in the nation, virtually all of it hard winter wheat, and of all the wheat varieties planted in the U.S. each year, hard winter wheat alone makes up more than half. Of the 56.5 million acres planted in the country in 2013, 9.4 million of those acres were in Kansas, 50% greater than the next closest state. When we describe the Great Plains as the nation's breadbasket, that moniker is closer to being literally true in Kansas than anywhere else. (I remember driving through western Kansas on assignment for a magazine, and passing a giant billboard of Jesus with his arms outstretched, standing armpit-high in a field of wheat...)

I pulled most of my data from two primary sources: 1) a historical document published in January 1940 by Kansas State University looking at the state's wheat crops from the early 1900s through 1939 and 2) the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service's Kansas wheat history, last updated November 2013 and which includes percent protein for each year's wheat crop starting in the late 1940s. Between the two documents, I could piece together a more or less continuous history of the state's wheat crop gluten content over the course of the last century. It offers one heck of a view.

Go ahead and click on the graph at the top of this post to get the full-screen view. The blue and red bars show the low and high range of the percent protein for Kansas's wheat crop in each of the reporting periods. You're looking at 100 years of wheat crops, and if one thing is abundantly clear it is this: the amount of protein (and thus, gluten) in the wheat has remained unchanged. There is no upward trend.

This conclusion holds true when you look beyond Kansas's hard winter wheat-filled borders to other wheat varieties, other states, and even other countries. For example, the graph at the bottom of this page from the Canadian Grain Commission shows that the protein (gluten) content of Canada Western Red Spring wheat has fluctuated plus or minus around a stable average for the last 90 years, similarly with no upward trend.

As previously promised, I'll soon be circling around to what has changed—about wheat, environmental influences, and science's understanding of our own gut ecosystem—in coming blog posts. But in the meantime, remember that wheat's percent gluten content over the years has been remarkably steady. Other factors are clearly to blame for the rising rates of celiac disease and other forms of gluten intolerance.

–Pete

Friday, March 7, 2014

Blueberry-Walnut Coffee Cake


Between my mother and father's sides of the family, my mom's was by far the more "culinary" branch of the family tree. There were, of course, some exceptions, such as my paternal grandmother's nut cups. But one of my other strong food memories from that side of the family was the ubiquity of an Entenmann's coffee cake—a rich, moist cake with a cinnamon crumb topping and a generous dusting of powdered sugar. It was as much a part of that kitchen as a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. You made sure you didn't run out of any of the three.

To this day I retain a strong fondness for a good square of coffee cake. In recent years, Kelly Brozyna's coffee cake recipe from Grain-Free Baked Goods and Desserts has been one of our go-to options. We've recently been experimenting, though, with a "more traditional" gluten-free coffee cake, built upon inspiration from an old recipe from the family of one of Kelli's childhood friends that's been sitting tucked away on a piece of paper in our recipe binder.

After a few iterations, this gorgeous (and delicious ... though doesn't every food blogger say that about their own recipes!?) blueberry-walnut coffee cake is the result. It's both gluten-free and dairy-free.

You'll notice more gluten-free and dairy-free recipes coming from us in the near future. Timothy, already rapidly approaching his two month birthday, has proven to be a bit of a colicky baby. Don't get me wrong—on the average he's a very agreeable and happy baby. But he has times when he's pretty out of sorts. And so we're doing all we can to make him comfortable, including giving him a daily dose of infant-appropriate probiotics, which recent research suggests could help.

We're also avoiding what seem to be trigger foods in Kelli's diet, since we're breastfeeding Timothy. After an elimination diet and then adding back in foods one at a time to see how our little man responds, dairy has proven one of his red flags. And so as a family we've made a pretty big shift. Our refrigerator is absent cow's milk, replaced by soy, coconut, and almond milks. And our baking has moved to dairy-free alternatives to milk, cream, butter, etc.

But one bite of this delectable coffee cake and we're convinced you wouldn't know the difference.

Blueberry-Walnut Coffee Cake
Makes one 8-inch square pan

Ingredients
2 cups (250 g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp GF baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted (or vegan shortening)
3/4 cup almond milk (or coconut milk)
2 eggs
1 tsp GF pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

For the topping
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.
3. Use your hands or a pastry blender to incorporate the coconut oil or shortening completely into the flour mixture.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract.
5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk to combine. The batter will be thick.
6. Stir in the blueberries.
7. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
8. In a small bowl, mix together the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Sprinkle the mixture over the batter.
9. Bake for 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The 7 Questions the Gluten-Free Community Should be Asking

When we say (and to be clear, that's the royal "we") that wheat and gluten are bad, and that they’re worse for us today than they used to be, we’re actually conflating three or more distinct questions: a) For whom is wheat/gluten bad? b) Is today’s wheat more toxic for those with active celiac disease? And c) Why are rates of celiac disease higher now than they were a few decades ago? These are separate questions each with separate answers.

Listen, I know that we’re all individuals, with varied food sensitivities and dietary restrictions. But as a gluten-free community, we also have (and need) some community-wide guidelines and answers to make life livable, so that we’re all not reinventing the wheel from scratch for ourselves each time someone comes to the gluten-free table for the first (or tenth) time.

And so here is my list of the 7 questions the GF community should be asking:

1. What’s in and what’s out on a gluten-free diet?

No one’s going to argue that a tomato or an almond or an egg aren’t gluten-free. They are. And I’m sure you’ve seen the common listed of widely accepted gluten-free foods. But some foods remain controversial, and we need to sort through the confusion to offer definitive guidance on what constitutes a “proper” gluten-free diet. For example, are beers brewed from gluten-containing grains and processed to remove gluten safe, and do we have appropriate and sufficiently accurate tests to say so with confidence? Ditto for distilled spirits made from gluten-containing grains, such as vodka made from wheat. The fact that we’re still debating issues such as these means we either haven’t adequately answered the question, haven’t popularized the accepted answer, or both.

2. What persistent myths can (and should) be put to bed (for good)?

You’ve probably heard claims that, like a zombie rising from the grave, keep coming back (sometimes seemingly from the dead) again and again and again. “Going gluten-free will help you lose weight.” (I think this one may finally be past its peak and starting to fade. Hooray!) Myths are a troublesome thing—they’re a dangerous combination of false and persistent. Let’s squash the ones that deserve squashing, once and for all.

3. Why is celiac disease more common today than it once was?

A Mayo Clinic study comparing celiac disease prevalence in the 1950s and 1990s/2000s found that celiac disease is four times more prevalent today than it was decades ago. This is independent of rates of diagnosis. What environmental and other factors are causing a population of people (e.g., Americans) with basically an unchanged genetic predisposition to develop active celiac disease at such higher rates? What’s causing the spike? (I’ll explore some intriguing possibilities in forthcoming blog posts.)

4. What other conditions can be definitively linked to gluten exposure?

Celiac disease is often described as sitting at one extreme end of a gluten intolerance spectrum. But as we saw with the medical and scientific community’s identification, acknowledgement, and acceptance of non-celiac gluten sensitivity as a legitimate condition, what other health challenges can be definitively linked to dietary exposure to gluten? And how are the dietary and medical/health needs of those people similar to or different from those with celiac disease, arguably the most studied gluten-related health challenge?

5. Is wheat/gluten really bad for all the world’s population?

As I wrote last week, the claim that wheat/gluten are bad for all people everywhere is nearly inescapable these days, thanks to some current and quite sensational books. So here’s the challenge: If the claim is yes, prove it…with a preponderance of peer-reviewed science (not hearsay and anecdotal examples). Big claims demand big evidence. And here’s the thing about sweeping claims that come without caveats or qualifiers: to consider them proven, they must always hold true, every time. To disprove them, they only need to be shown false once. (See where I’m going with this? In my strong opinion, the answer to question #5 is a resounding “no.”)

6. How do we resolve contradictory or conflicting claims when the community doesn’t agree?

Members of the gluten-free community are looking for straightforward guidance and information. But sometimes, we’re left with gray areas, disagreement, or lack of resolution or consensus (sometimes because the research hasn’t yet gone far enough to offer us definitive resolution, sometimes because we’re unwilling to accept the answer, and sometimes for other reasons). So how do we resolve when trusted, respected sources of information—like the major celiac and gluten intolerance organizations—don’t offer a unified perspective on an issue? Consider oats, for example. Most research suggests that pure oats are safe for people with celiac disease. We also know that oats are often cross-contaminated with wheat, making it crucial to source certified gluten-free oats. But then there’s the issue of a small minority of the celiac population actually cross-reacting to the protein in oats (avenin). And then there’s some research that suggests rather that some varieties of oats are more “toxic” than others, and that all people with celiac disease would respond negatively to the more toxic versions of oats. I could point to lots of other examples, such as the 20 ppm standard, vs. a more stringent standard, vs. the “zero tolerance” subset of the gluten-free community.

7. How can we educate the non-GF community?

For better or worse, there’s a big fad/trend component to the gluten-free diet right now. Research and consumer surveys show that far more people are “trying out” a gluten-free diet than have a medical reason to do so. How then do we educate the media and the public (including restaurants and our own family and friends) about the difference between those jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon and the medically gluten-free community? And how do we educate them about the issue of cross-contamination and fostering an inclusive dinner table?

So those are my questions. What do you think? Do you agree? Have some of those questions been sufficiently answered and we should delete them from the list? What other questions might we ask (and answer) that I didn’t include here?

Maybe the answer to some of these questions is that, like I said in my intro above, we’re all individuals, and so there will always be caveats and qualifiers and exceptions to the gluten-free rules. And if that’s the case—and it’s totally possible and legitimate that it is—perhaps we’re destined to continue asking and debating questions like these.

–Pete