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Oats: the good, the bad and the ugly

oats, gluten-free oats

First off, a few of you might have noticed, I haven’t posted anything for weeks. Months? Okay, it’s been well over 2 years. You know how it goes; life happens and priorities change. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that life is short and I’d rather spend time doing fun things with the people I care about, rather than sitting at my computer writing blog posts. No offense, I loved the old-school blogging world. Back in the olden days (I started this blog in 2006), the food/nutrition blogosphere was a tightly knit, supportive community. The gluten-free sub-set of that community was very small and consisted of people helping people. Friendly people sharing information, nourishing spirits, and promoting good health. It lessened the feeling of isolation a restrictive diet (for medical reasons) can foster. There was a genuine sense of belonging, but somewhere along the way, we hit a tipping point. I’m not sure I like the direction we’ve tipped.

Having said that, every so often something comes up that motivates me to dust off my blog, catch up with WordPress, and get back into writing about food and exercise. This is one of those times — the ongoing oat saga. Oats (gluten-free) are, and always have been, a mainstay of my diet, even though I have celiac disease. They’re versatile, they’re nutritious (or can be), they taste good, they cook up quickly, and are a perfect addition to an athlete’s and/or backpacker’s pantry. I use oatmeal loaded with dried fruit, nuts, and seeds as breakfast fuel for early morning mountain bike rides. I grind them up and use them in homemade energy bars. I bake bread from oat flour. They’re a backpacking and camping staple. I even use oats as a protein booster in veggie burgers.

Many years ago I discovered Montana Gluten-Free Processors. The “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” theme is more difficult than it sounds, but I do know these people. I know the brilliant (and quirky) plant scientist who selected this oat variety based on nutritional value. I know the CEO of Montana Gluten-Free (AKA: head farmer, Gary Iverson) who lives a gluten-free lifestyle, grows these oats, and insures that they’re truly gluten-free. They harvest, mill, and package their products with dedicated equipment. The oats are processed in a certified gluten-free facility. They’re organic, non-GMO, hull-less (easier to digest), low glycemic, and are 25% higher in protein than other oat varieties. They also test out at under 3 ppm with ELISA testing protocols. What more could you ask for? Other than excellent customer service from pleasant, reliable, salt-of-the-earth folks. They’re the best. For more information, check out their website.

Talk about “knowing your farmer.” Who’s behind the oats at General Mills? Who is General Mills? Who’s responsible for the cereal products labeled gluten-free at General Mills that weren’t actually gluten-free? Who knows? I understand the need for easy, convenient breakfast foods. Who hasn’t dumped a handful of Cheerios on their toddler’s high chair tray at one time or another? I’ll admit to that — back when I was juggling four kiddos at once, although I’d like to think our food quality was a little better back then (30-some years ago). That was also pre-celiac disease days, before the word “gluten” was part of our family’s vocabulary. If you’re unfamiliar with the gluten contamination and quality control problems at General Mills (and Quaker), I’ll direct you to a couple of the food bloggers who were on top of it from the beginning.

Check out prolific and friendly blogger Shirley Braden’s (at Gluten-Free Easily) take on the General Mills fiasco. You can find her detailed explanation here. For more information on the manufacturing, sorting, and gluten-free purity protocol for oats, check out Trisha Thompson’s (at Gluten-Free Watchdog) gluten-free testing data. You can find that information here.

Would you like a side of weed-killer with your oatmeal?

Glyphosate is a broad spectrum, systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially perennial weeds and grasses that compete with crops. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate is the most widely used, non-selective (meaning it will kill most plants) herbicide used in the United States. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the brand-name of the herbicide produced by Monsanto. Because glyphosate is non-selective, some crops have been genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to the herbicide. They’re called Roundup Ready crops. Farmers can plant these GM plants and spray them with Roundup (glyphosate) to eliminate unwanted weeds without killing the crop.

In March of 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, assessed the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate and several other pesticides. Glyphosate was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans. It was also determined that glyphosate caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.

What does this have to do with oatmeal, you ask? According to Forbes Magazine, Quaker Oats is facing a potential class-action lawsuit because they claim their oats are “100% Natural” and are grown using “eco-friendly” farming practices, and yet they spray the oats with glyphosate before harvest. Glyphosate can also be used as a drying agent. Although it’s not against the law to use glyphosate on cereal crops, calling the product “Natural” and suggesting the farming practices are “eco friendly” is a stretch — and deceptive, hence the lawsuit.

I have a science degree, but I’m not a plant scientist, so I don’t understand how organophosphate pesticides like glyphosate work, how much of this stuff is in our food system, how dangerous these substances are to human health, or how detrimental they may be to the soil and water. And other than the basic definition of manually inserting new DNA into an organism to add new traits to that organism, I have a foggy understanding of genetic engineering. What I do know is that my intuition tells me spraying poison on food and then eating it is probably a bad thing. Especially if it causes DNA and chromosomal damage and probably causes cancer. As for manipulating genetic material and engineering food crops, I don’t know, but I’d like to choose not to eat those foods if I knew which ones they were. At this point, they aren’t universally labeled.

Bottom line? If at all possible, get involved in your community — support small farmers who are trying to grow nutritious and safe food, frequent farmer’s markets, ask questions, do what you can to increase agricultural awareness, help grow an appreciation and understanding of where our food comes from, and make choices that support local food production. Know your farmer, know your food. It’s not easy or always practical, I know that, but it’s important for overall health. The more we know, the better (and healthier) choices we can make.

Peace, love and good food.

My top 5 gluten-free products

Montana Processors Gluten-Free Oats

Before I get to my favorite gluten-free products, let me start by saying, I’m not fond of food “products.” I’m a nutritionist specializing in healthy, active, gluten-free living. That means a focus on whole foods and an active lifestyle, not gluten-free Dunkin’ Donuts, processed food, and unlimited couch time. I advise people to stick with the real thing (vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, a few naturally gluten-free grains, small amounts of high-quality meat). That’s straight forward and simple enough.

Hey wait—back up. No, it’s not simple. It’s hard and frustrating at times!

What if you want an oatmeal cookie, a pumpkin muffin, some pancakes, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a pizza?

These are the most common questions/comments I get from people who are newly diagnosed with gluten-related issues. Help! Tell me what I can eat. Tell me what bread to buy. How can I possibly survive without wheat? All the gluten-free products taste like ground styrofoam.

I know. I get it. I like pancakes, cookies, and grilled cheese sandwiches, too. And there’s nothing better than a pizza piled high with fresh vegetables.

Here’s the deal, though—those should be occasional treats, not daily indulgences. We thrive on real food, not meals from boxes with futuristic expiration dates. But don’t despair, there are ways to navigate the super market and make wise choices when it comes to gluten-free packaged food.

We have to live in the real world, right? Every once in awhile we’re going to want something we didn’t grow from scratch, hunt down, or buy at the farmer’s market. Here are my top 5 favorite gluten-free products.

Montana PrOatina Gluten-Free Oats
Ingredients: Whole-Grain Rolled Oats (see photo above)
These are 100% whole grain oats and although they’re  processed to some degree, the processing is minimal and done with great care (dry milled, no heat applied). These aren’t your typical oats. They’ve been carefully selected (by nerdy plant scientists) for their high protein content and favorable amino acid profile. They’re also very low in avenin, the peptide thought to be responsible for allergic reactions. Yes, I know—as part of a gluten-free diet, oats are somewhat controversial, but recent research indicates that pure, uncontaminated oats are safe for most people with celiac disease and gluten-related issues. This study found no immune response to avenin in people with celiac disease, but check with your health care provider if you have concerns. It’s often the high fiber content that bothers people and not the protein. Aside from hearty oatmeal, these oats make the best cookies. If you don’t want to do the baking yourself, check out Gluten-Free Prairie. They use these oats for their “Granola Bites” and “Hunger Buster Oatmeal Cookies.” They’re delicious.

Tinkyada Organic Brown Rice Pasta
Ingredients: Organic Brown Rice, Water
I love pesto, but it needs to be tossed into a bowl of pasta for optimal enjoyment. I make pesto out of a variety of different greens, from spinach to mustard micro-greens to baby kale (check out this recipe on my other website, Tinkyada pasta is the best gluten-free version I’ve found. It’s organic, easy to work with, and never mushy. They also have a great selection of pasta types (spaghetti, elbow, penne, etc.).

Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix
Ingredients: Brown Rice Flour, White Rice Flour, Cultured Buttermilk, Natural Almond Meal (may appear as brown flecks), Tapioca Starch, Sweet Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Grainless & Aluminum Free Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Sea Salt, Xanthan Gum
I no longer blend my own gluten-free baking mixes because Pamela’s general baking mix is as good as it gets. This gluten-free mix rivals the best out there, whether gluten-free or not. I’ve use it for pancakes, waffles, muffins, quick-breads, and cookies and haven’t had any trouble substituting it for wheat flour. If you have a nut allergy, this mix is not for you as it contains almond meal.

Canyon Bakehouse 7 Grain Bread
Ingredients: Water, Brown Rice Flour, Tapioca Flour, Whole Grain Sorghum Flour,  Eggs, Organic Agave Syrup, Whole Grain Teff, Whole Grain Millet, Xanthan Gum, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sugarcane Molasses, Whole Grain Quinoa, Whole Grain Amaranth, Whole Buckwheat Flour, Yeast, Cultured Brown Rice Flour, Sea Salt, Natural Enzymes
Canyon Bakehouse is a dedicated gluten-free bakery located in Loveland, Colorado. This 7-grain bread is my favorite, all-purpose, ready-made bread. It’s packed with healthy, whole grains like teff, quinoa, and amaranth and has a wheat-like texture. It’s even good without toasting it (the litmus test for good gluten-free bread).

Outside the Breadbox Pizza Crusts
Ingredients: Filtered Water, Tapioca Starch, Brown Rice Flour, Rice Starch, Olive Oil, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Egg White, Turbinado Sugar, Yeast, Xanthan Gum, Sea Salt, Cider Vinegar, Enzymes
Outside The Breadbox is a dedicated gluten-free bakery located in the historic district of Colorado Springs. These 12-inch pizza crusts are easy to prepare and make a delicious, thin crust. They’re hard to come by, especially if you don’t live in Colorado, but you can order them directly from the bakery.

Do you have any favorites that should be on this list?

Peace, love, and occasional treats!

farmers food and focus groups

I have a thing for farm-fresh food.

I was in San Diego last weekend, attending the Celiac Sprue Association’s national conference. These conferences usually feature one or two celiac rock stars from the medical community. This year was no different as Dr. Peter Green from Columbia University was the keynote speaker. Yes, he’s brilliant, charming, knows his way around intestinal micro-villi, and is one of the top celiac researchers in the world. Plus, he has an Australian accent. Total swoon-potential, if you’re into that kind of thing.


I’m into farmers.

No disrespect to the docs, but it’s the farmers who rock my world. Good nutrition is about good agriculture. Our health and the health of the environment depends on what happens out in the field. It’s all linked. We can talk about medical advances, pathology, and pharmaceuticals until the cows come home (sticking with my farm theme), but it’s the quality of the food we eat that holds the promise to better health.

While in San Diego, I reconnected with some farmer friends (I admit, I’m an ag groupie) from Montana and bought some Toasted Oat Bread Mix to experiment with. Yesterday I baked a loaf of whole grain, toasted oat bread and, I’m not kidding, the smell drifting from my kitchen window was intoxicating. The UPS guy asked me to marry him.

I used pastured eggs from Grant Family Farms, the toasted oat mix from the Montana farmers, and local Madhava honey to make the bread. Once cooled, I used fresh, organic pears from my Grant Farms fruit share and smoked gouda cheese. I ended up with the most amazing grilled cheese sandwich ever. In fact, this is the best loaf of bread I’ve ever made and that includes the whole wheat bread (little did I know) I made from scratch back in my hippie-girl days.

gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich (gourmet comfort food)
2 slices toasted oat bread (I made the mix in my breadmaker)
sliced pear (not-quite-ripe is best)
thin slices of smoked gouda cheese

Melt butter in a sauté pan on low-medium heat. Make sure it doesn’t burn. Assemble sandwich and grill in sizzling butter on both sides. You might have to put a lid (askew so it doesn’t get moist) on the pan to fully melt the cheese. Sniff, slice and drool.

Other gluten-free grilled cheese ideas—
• Peaches, raw cheddar, thinly sliced almonds
• Goat cheese, figs, sliced pears
• Roasted green chiles, tomatoes, colby cheese

For more on Montana Gluten-Free Products, check here.

For more information on oats and to be included in a focus group on oats, please read on.

If you have celiac disease and are unsure about adding oats to your diet, take part in the nationwide focus group on oats (check with your doctor first to make sure this is appropriate for you). Click here for details. If you fit the criteria, you’ll get a free (yes, free) bag of Montana GF PrOatina oats to try. Deb from the blog NotEvenACrumb has joined forces with the Montana farmers to help conduct a survey determining the gluten-free community’s tolerance to PrOatina, the farmers’ trademark oat product. I have no problem with oats and, as a nutritionist, feel they are a wonderful addition to the gluten-free diet. If you want to experiment with GF oats, start slowly so you don’t confuse too much fiber with a sensitivity to the oats. Montana GF products are certified gluten-free and processed in a dedicated facility. Their products are also free of dairy, corn, soy, nuts, and are GMO-free. Check here for details.

Disclosure: I’m thankful for farmers and appreciate and respect their hard work. I like knowing where my food comes from and I support the farmers who are doing it right. This is about passion and the future of our food supply, it’s not about money. I get nothing if you click any of these links, not even a free pear or a loaf of bread. This is not about that, it’s about supporting the people who are growing our food. We need to do that. They deserve it.

If you want to try a loaf of toasted oat bread, you can get the mix here. This is my new favorite bread mix. It’s wonderful. Seriously. Go, try it now and be prepared to be flirted with if your windows are open.

Peace, love and grilled cheese sandwiches on toasted oat bread. What’s your favorite?

gluten-free scotch irish oat cakes

As is often the case, I’m a day (10 days?) late and a dollar (more than a dollar, but who’s counting?) short. It was my intention to post this recipe on St. Patrick’s Day, but my good intentions got blasted by real life. And snow. And spring skiing.

These tasty treats should actually be called gluten-free, Scotch-Irish, wild-west, Montana oat cakes. I know that’s a mouthful, but so are these hearty little cakes. I’m always on the lookout for bread substitutes and this recipe hit the spot.

First, let’s deal with the controversial “oats” question. Should people with gluten intolerance eat oats? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s my take on it, but remember I’m a celiac-specializing nutritionist, not a celiac-specializing lab researcher/doctor. I do have celiac, so that makes me a bit of an expert in my own little bio-world, but everyone is different. What works for me, may not work for you.

Current research shows that pure, uncontaminated oats in moderate amounts are safe for most people with celiac disease. The key word here is “most.” Some people don’t tolerate oats at all and others, not used to the high fiber load, experience digestive problems while getting used to them. Check with your health care professional first and then start with a small dose (1/4 cup before cooking). Try a bowl of gluten-free, hot oatmeal once or twice the first week and see how you do.

Oats are a high-fiber, nutrient-dense, hearty cereal grain. They contain a specific fiber called beta-glucan, which studies show helps lower cholesterol and enhance immune function. Most Americans don’t get nearly the fiber they need and oats are a great way to boost intake. They’re also high in vitamins, minerals, are packed with bioavailable antioxidants (Journal of Nutrition) and they also help maintain blood sugar levels. They’re perfect for people with diabetes or metabolic disorders and are rich in manganese, selenium, tryptophan, phosphorus, thiamin and protein. Plus, they taste good. I love oats, absolutely love them.

Blah, blah, blah. I don’t want to bog you down with geek talk, but trust me, oats can be a healthy addition to anyone’s diet (almost anyone). As I said above, proceed with caution if you’re gluten intolerant.

I found several recipes for oat cakes and most were very similar. I tested three and found this one, taken from Vegetarian Times Magazine, worked the best. I “tweaked” it just a touch.

gluten-free Scotch-Irish wild west Montana oat cakes
what you need

1 cup + 2 tablespoons gluten-free oat flour (more for shaping the cakes) *
2 cups gluten-free, old-fashioned oats *
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup Earth Balance “butter” or “shortening”

what you do
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Oil a baking sheet. You can also use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (which I used).
2. Mix together oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
3. Place oat flour in a large mixing bowl. Cut in Earth Balance and mix with fingers until crumbly.*
4. Add oat mixture and then buttermilk to the oat flour/Earth Balance combination and combine until well blended.
5. Using an ice-cream scoop (or about that amount), work the mixture into a flat patty about 1/4 inch thick. You may need to dust your work surface or your hands to shape and flatten out the “cake.” Work with them and add a tiny touch more flour if you think they’re too wet to shape properly. Be careful though, you want them moist. My pre-baked patties ended up about the size of a rice cake, but a lot thinner.
6. Place them on the prepared baking sheet about an inch or two apart. Bake on center rack for 15 minutes and then rotate the pan for even baking. Continue baking for another 5 to 15 minutes. I baked mine for almost 30 minutes, but the original recipe called for 15 to 20 minutes. They should be a nice, light golden brown.
7. Cool on a wire rack.
8. Serve with peanut butter and honey or jelly, just like you would a rice cake. YUM! They make a perfect “holder” for all kinds of good things (almond butter, cheese, etc.). Be creative!

* I use Montana Gluten-Free Processors pure and uncontaminated oat products. They’re tested and certified GF and kosher. Check here for details.

* One of the best ways to mix butter or shortening into flour is to freeze it first and shred it into the flour mix with a cheese grater. I always have butter and shortening on hand in the freezer and ready to shred. It also works great in pie crusts and crumble toppings.

Cheers and happy late St. Patrick’s Day!

the gf montana cookie diet

You’ve heard of the Hollywood Cookie Diet, right? I’m not kidding, it exists. The website has a vee-vee-la-voom blonde in a little white bikini, staring out over the ocean, flinging her hair back and forth. It’s one of those “this could be you” ads.

I’m not the beach-bunny, Hollywood type, so none of that appeals to me. I own an ice axe, a four-season tent, backcountry skis and an Alaskan Malamute that outweighs me. I don’t want to be her, although I do like flinging my hair around now and then.

I’m the Montana Cookie type. Hearty, gluten-free grains, fiber-filled oats, flannel-clad farmers, mountains, tractors and big skies. That’s much more to my liking than white bikinis, “diet” cookies, fake tans, or dogs that fit in purses.

Needless to say, the Hollywood Cookie Diet makes no sense to me. But tasty, gluten-free, monster cookies do. We’ll talk about that bothersome calorie thing later.

I love to experiment in the kitchen, I don’t follow rules well and I fancy myself as a chemist. No bikini necessary – I much prefer a lab coat or vintage apron. I’ve been playing with this hearty Timtana flour again. The independent and spirited stuff from Montana. It doesn’t always do what I want, but I like it, so I’m not giving up. I’m also smitten with gluten-free oats right now and mixing them with some Timtana flour eventually made for a perfect cookie blend. I’m also playing with eliminating xanthan gum and some of the starchy stuff, so my kitchen has been in full-blown test-baker mode lately.

My first try at Timtana oatmeal cookies was just so-so. Hearty and healthy? Yes. Sweet and tasty? Not so much. I wanted a nice mix of the two, not a horse biscuit. My second try was good, but I wasn’t quite satisfied. I didn’t use any starchy flours on that batch. My third try was okay, but not very sweet and not very “cookie” like. It was more like a power bar but the wrong shape. Power bars are next on my Timtana/oats test baking agenda. My fourth try was perfect, although there’s more sugar and a little starch – but no xanthan gum (that’s not easy to do with GF baking). See photo above, aren’t they gorgeous? Hearty (but light), nutritious, tasty, crispy around the edges and slightly-sweet. And they got better the longer I let them sit. Seriously, my test-tasters went nuts over these cookies.

Timtana gluten-free oatmeal garbanzo bean chocolate chip cookies (or something like that)
what you need

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill garbanzo/fava bean flour
1 & 1/2 cup gluten-free rolled oats *
1/2 cup Timtana flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup Earth Balance, softened
3/4 cup organic light brown sugar
1/2 cup organic sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk (I used brown rice milk)
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

what you do
Place dry ingredients (except oats) in a medium-sized bowl and whisk well to blend. Cream Earth Balance with sugars. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until creamy. Combine milk and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl and let sit for a few moments. Mix in the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients and add milk/vinegar mixture. Blend until well mixed. Stir in oats and chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Drop by spoonful onto a lightly greased cookie sheet or a silicon baking mat. Make sure cookies are a couple inches apart as they spread while in the oven. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 7 or 8 minutes and rotate pan. Bake for another 7 or 8 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire rack and enjoy!

* Certified gluten-free oats are safe for most people (most people, not everyone) with celiac disease or a gluten-sensitivity. Make sure your oats are certified gluten-free and are from a reputable supplier. Montana Gluten-Free Processors products are certified GF and Kosher.

Don’t you love knowing where your food comes from? Check here for the Montana gluten-free harvest pictured above. I like knowing the details. This field is where these cookies started their journey into my oven. Who knows where those Hollywood Diet Cookies came from. In fact, I don’t even recognize half the ingredients listed on the package label. What a difference!

Go forth and support your local farmers!
P.S. I almost forgot – that pesky calorie thing. Don’t overeat. Exercise every day. (Easier said than done, I know.)
P.P.S. I’m including this recipe in Nancy’s “Calling All Cookies” post over at The Sensitive Pantry. Check out her long and tasty list of cookie recipes. You’ll be drooling in no time.

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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