A study from the University of Maryland that was released this week shows that the gluten in wheat and other grains can set off a negative reaction in the immune system and intestines, even if someone has tested negative for celiac disease. This information is so important because many people who seem to be gluten-sensitive, but are told that they don’t have celiac disease continue to eat wheat, with painful consequences. Fortunately, healthy and delicious alternatives like buckwheat can help people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivities or wheat allergies enjoy a variety of dishes and baked goods.
Three health problems wheat can cause:
1. Gluten intolerance: This is also referred to as gluten sensitivity. Some people have difficulty digesting gluten grains such as wheat, spelt, kamut and barley. Food intolerance is often mistaken as a food allergy, but the difference is that a food intolerance does not involve an immune reaction to the food in question — rather, it’s a mechanical inability to break the food down during digestion.
2. Wheat allergy: By contrast, an allergy is an abnormal response to wheat, triggered by a specific reaction in the immune system. Someone with a wheat allergy might experience certain, often characteristic, symptoms like itching in the mouth, difficulty swallowing and breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain after eating a food made with wheat. Some people are only allergic to wheat and can enjoy other gluten grains, though many find that they become allergic to all gluten grains.
3. Celiac disease: This is an autoimmune disorder with a genetic component, and it involves a profound reaction to eating or inhaling any gluten. Celiac disease can be especially dangerous because over time as the intestinal lining is perforated and worn down by the consumption of gluten. This prevents the absorption of necessary nutrients including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Gluten-free alternatives to wheat
For most people who live on toast for breakfast, pizza for lunch and pasta for dinner, this information may leave you feeling like you would starve if you had to avoid wheat. However, there are some fantastic gluten-free alternatives available. I have been gluten-free for 12 years, and I love how it’s pushed me to find cool foods from other parts of the world — like Africa and Asia.
One great example of this is buckwheat, recognized by the Canadian Celiac Association as a gluten-free alternative to wheat. This grain is popular in Russia and used to make soba noodles in Japan, but it’s usually only used in pancakes here in Canada. Contrary to what its name might suggest, buckwheat is not actually related to wheat at all — instead, it’s more closely related to rhubarb and sorrel. You may also have heard of kasha, which is roasted buckwheat.
Five reasons to replace wheat with buckwheat
1. Buckwheat is a great vegetarian source of iron: One cup of cooked buckwheat contains 25 percent of the RDA for iron, which is necessary for oxygen transport and healthy lungs. A 2010 study showed that children who have prolonged iron deficiency are nearly six times more likely to develop asthma at an early age.
2. Buckwheat is high in magnesium: Magnesium has been shown to reduce blood pressure and promote muscle relaxation. Recent studies also showed that maintaining adequate levels of magnesium in the diet can drastically reduce your risk of ischemic stroke and improve circulation to the brain.
3. Buckwheat can improve circulation: Buckwheat contains an antioxidant called rutin that protects the arteries from free radicals, preventing damage to the arterial walls. Rutin also helps strengthen capillaries, improving venous circulation and preventing varicose veins.
4. Buckwheat can help reduce cholesterol: Recent studies showed that buckwheat proteins bind tightly to cholesterol in the colon to improve elimination of these artery-clogging lipids.
5. Buckwheat improves insulin resistance: Buckwheat contains a compound called d-Chiro-inositol, which helps insulin transport glucose into the cells to be used for energy. This is important to people suffering from diabetes, because d-Chiro-inositol can help reduce glucose levels in the blood.
Great buckwheat crepes
This is a lovely fluffy crepe recipe. You can leave the honey out if you want a savory crepe. Kefir is considered the champagne of milk because the dairy bubbles as it ferments. The probiotics in the kefir help to digest the buckwheat. You can substitute the kefir for other non-dairy milks if you have an dairy allergy.
¾ cup kefir (or yogurt)
2 teaspoons tahini (sesame butter)
1/2 cup whole buckwheat kernels
2 teaspoons honey
Choice of berries, oranges and sliced banana for inside the crepe
1. Combine kefir (or yogurt), tahini and grain in the blender. Blend for about 3 minutes on high to grind the buckwheat kernels smooth.
2. Add egg and honey (if making sweet style). Blend till well mixed. If time permits, cover blender and let batter stand overnight at room temp to allow the microbes in the kefir digest the grains. It makes for a fluffy and easy-to-digest crepe.
3. Spray the cast iron pan with oil and and place on heat. Have it ready for between crepes. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the hot pan and quickly tilt the pan to spread the batter evenly to the edges.
4. Mix your batter each time before making each new crepe. Cook till edges are browned and loosen along the edges with a thin spatula. Turn over crepe and cook for about 30 seconds. Turn over onto a plate and keep it warm with a light towel covering it. Rub more oil on pan and continue till batter is used up.
Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts the Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her soon-to-be-published first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process.
For more amazing recipes visit Chatelaine.com’s recipe section.