What is gluten intolerance?
What foods contain gluten? (Including sneaky, hidden sources of gluten.)
Can food still taste good – without gluten?
Chef Kendra Peterson, who lives with gluten intolerance herself, is the owner of Chicago-based Drizzle Kitchen and demonstrates gluten-free cooking for Swiss Diamond, the only cookware recommended by the American Vegetarian Association and designed for allergy-free cooking.
Please note: While Chef Kendra has a degree in Food Science and Nutrition, she is not a medical professional. This interview is for informational purposes only. Discuss any potential health concerns with a licensed physician.
Q&A with Chef Kendra
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Q: We’re talking about cooking gluten-free. First of all, for those who hear that a lot and aren’t really sure what it means, just explain what that means.
A: So there’s two things that can be an issue. You can either have Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease, where you actually have serious internal damage from eating gluten, which is a protein found in wheat. Or, you can have a gluten sensitivity – some people hear gluten intolerance, it’s the same thing. With a gluten sensitivity you can have the same symptoms, it can feel just as bad for that person, but you don’t have the internal damage to your G.I. tract.
Q: So explain the difference between somebody who might have a peanut allergy or be allergic to a food, versus somebody who has Celiac, who has a problem digesting gluten.
A: Sure, sure. So with Celiac disease, what actually happens is the little fingers called villi that line your intestines go flat. Those are really important for so many functions; there’s different vitamins that are processed in there, it’s what moves your food through your body basically.
So you don’t necessarily have the throat closing like you do with a peanut allergy. You don’t always have the swelling of the eyes, the puffy lips – you know, you see the “fish lips” on people who eat seafood. You don’t have that very recognizable sort of factor. So a lot of people don’t really believe it’s an allergy, because it’s all internal. You might not feel it for 12-24 hours. The problem [with gluten intolerance] is it can be 200 different ways that [allergy] shows up. You can get a rash, you can get a stomachache, you can get migraines. There’s 200 symptoms basically.
Q: What else do you find gluten in, besides [bread and] wheat pasta?
A: That’s a great question. Rye, barley and oats. There are certified gluten-free oats, but the challenge is most people who have one allergy often have another allergy that goes along with it. Chips can often have sneaky wheat in there; cereals too, it’s really important to read the ingredients. And they use gluten quite a bit as a stabilizer in a lot of shelf-ready products, so just like when we were hearing about soy, how there’s soy protein in everything and it’s used to thicken things and stabilize [them], it’s kind of the same way that now gluten is infiltrating products that you’d never think it would be in. It’s kind of hidden. Beer would be a common one that most people don’t know. If you have Celiac, you even have to look at things like lipstick and lotion – you have to really look at exactly where you’re finding that wheat, because it shows up in crazy places.
Q: What about gluten-free food labeling?
A: It can be hard to understand, if something says “gluten free,” or “free of gluten,” or “not processed with gluten” – it depends how sensitive you are. If you have Celiac disease, it’s really important to probably get things that are verified gluten-free, really just to avoid [problems]. (Learn more about gluten-free food labeling from About.com.)
Some products, they will tell you there’s no gluten in them [in the ingredients list], but they are made on the exact same [manufacturing] line as products that have wheat. So even though they’re potato chips, and say they are void of gluten…
Q: You mentioned “they are made on the same [manufacturing] line.” So gluten can be transferred, it doesn’t have to be baked into a product.
A: Exactly, exactly. It can be – and here’s an interesting one that most people don’t think about: ovens. If you have a convection oven, it can literally blow flour around and [the flour] can land on your food. A convection oven can cause cross-contamination.
Q: So what are your gluten-free pantry staples?
A: I find I use more brown rice flour than any other flour in my pantry. It’s also one of the flours I put in my flour mix when I bake. It’s pretty inexpensive, and because you can get brown rice flour, it has a little bit of fiber in it. If you don’t have a nut [allergy], I find that almond flour is amazing. It lends a lot of moisture to whatever you’re baking. It’s really, really great in quick breads, baked goods… But again, the important thing with baking gluten-free is that you need to have a blend of flours. You can’t just substitute brown rice flour, you can’t just substitute almond flour [cup-for-cup for wheat flour]. You need to have a blend – get a recipe – and you need to have a starch in there. So another good thing for the pantry would be tapioca starch or potato starch.
Q: What about for gluten-free cooking, as opposed to baking?
A: As you cook more and more while you’re gluten-free, you’ll realize the things that you use more often. Like rice and lentils – I use those all the time, so I always have those. And they’re easy, they’re quick. Quinoa – I love it. Fifteen minutes, one part quinoa to one-and-a-half parts water, in a pot like rice. Boom. Done.
Q: Okay, so you can show us how to make dishes without the gluten so that you can still enjoy great food. [Gluten intolerance] doesn’t mean you have to have bland food, right?
A: Absolutely, absolutely. The way that I cook for my clients in Chicago is using “real food.” I don’t make gluten-free pizza or gluten-free pasta – we use rice and lentils and beans and potatoes. Part of what I want to do is get people back to eating “real food” products and stop using the processed things. So even if you don’t have a gluten allergy, everything tastes great.
Chef Kendra’s recipe for Herbed Vegetable Frittata with Smoky Paprika Goat Cheese
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Image Credit(s): CLGF