Gluten Free For Good


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Archive for March, 2008

got milk? maybe not . . .


Moooo . . . isn’t she cute? Big smooch!

A couple of years ago, I thought I might have a problem with the protein in milk (casein), which sometimes occurs when you have celiac disease and you’re not breaking down your food properly. Casein is molecularly similar to gluten, so it is believed to illicit a negative response in some people. I went totally dairy free (none, zip, zilch) for over a year. Then I decided to ease back into it and before I even had time to reintroduce words like fromage back into my vocabulary, I was eating chunks of camembert with pecans, grating a nice parmigiano reggiano on salads, or topping beefsteak tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. Not to mention daily doses of my all-time favorite treat, vanilla goat yogurt. I slid right back into drinking milk and eating dairy products like there was no tomorrow.

Darn it – it’s not working so well for me now so I’m back on the dairy-free bandwagon although I may consider dabbling in raw milk as an alternative.

What’s the deal with dairy, anyway?

If you want some answers, grab a cup of green tea, because my friend, Daisy, is going to clear a few things up for you. We’ll start with the basics.

Lactose is the sugar in milk. It’s a disaccharide (double sugar) composed of glucose and galactose linked together. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks this double sugar bond and if we don’t produce enough lactase to break the bond, we can’t absorb the sugars. Single sugars we can deal with, double sugars are too big to be absorbed. If these disaccharides aren’t absorbed, they end up as tasty treats for the bacteria housed in the digestive tract – and this bacterial frenzy causes all kinds of intestinal discomfort. After about the age of 4 or 5 our production of the sugar splitting enzyme (lactase) declines dramatically – for most of us anyway. And if you have celiac, it makes breaking down sugars even harder (there’s a reason for that but I’ll save it for another post). So, although gluten, casein, and lactose are all different substances, there are reasons each can cause problems for people with celiac or gluten-intolerance.

In addition to lactose, cow’s milk also contains several different kinds of proteins that can cause reactions in people sensitive to them. These proteins may register in the system as “foreign” substances and cause an immune response. If you already have an immune mediated response to gluten – these proteins may be bothersome as well.

Here are some dairy-related definitions that will help you understand this big milky picture.

Lactose intolerance: a condition that results from an inability to digest the milk sugar lactose; characterized by bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea.

Casein: a protein found in milk. It has a molecular structure that is similar to gluten and can cause an autoimmune response in people sensitive to it. Casein is the curd portion of curds and whey. Casein intolerance is different from lactose intolerance.

Whey: the liquid protein portion remaining after milk has been curdled and is used in the production of ricotta and brown cheeses. Whey is thought to be a migraine trigger in certain people.

Rennet: enzymes produced to digest mother’s milk (all mammals produce this enzyme). Rennet is used in the production of cheese.

Another concern is the potential connection between ovarian cancer and high lactose intake. A November 2004 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a possible relationship between high intakes of milk products and a specific type of ovarian cancer. More studies are needed to quantify this relationship, but it’s certainly something to think about if you have a strong family history of ovarian cancer. And is it the milk, or the processing and additives involved that cause the problems? The relationship was NOT made between raw milk and ovarian cancer. Something else to think about.

Consumer’s have been conditioned to believe we “need” to eat dairy products to maintain strong bones and enjoy optimal health. The Dairy Council is hard at work trying to convince us that we need several servings per day of dairy products to obtain the necessary calcium and nutrients for overall health. You know – the whole “Got Milk” campaign.

Well, that’s not necessarily true. With a little effort and a lot of knowledge, we can get plenty of calcium from other food sources. And if absolutely necessary, calcium supplements are also an option.

I have to say, I feel more vitality and a decrease in joint and muscle aches and pains when I exclude dairy from my diet. And as I said, it could be the types of dairy products I’m choosing, but I do believe it’s the casein that causes an immune response in my system. We each have to figure out what works best for us – for health and for ethical reasons. Raw milk and cheese may provide an alternative for people who have “issues” with dairy products. Cared for and pastured animals, grass fed and free of antibiotics and hormones, produce nutritious milk. Evidence has shown that high quality raw milk may be a good alternative for those suffering from lactose or casein intolerance. Pasteurization and the way the animals are treated (drugs, factory farms, grains, etc.) may be the culprit rather than the milk itself.

In the meantime, here’s a list of calcium-rich food sources for those of you who don’t eat dairy for whatever reasons. Many of these foods also contain other nutrients that play a role in bone health (magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, boron), so add them to your shopping cart to boost overall health!

collard greens
teff (a wonderfully healthy GF grain)
amaranth (another great GF grain)
Swiss chard
romaine lettuce
sesame seeds
green beans
summer squash
mustard seeds
Brussels sprouts
crimini mushrooms

In good health,

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.

Melissa’s mile high energy bars


I’m an outdoorsy girl and creating healthy, gluten-free food that travels well in the backcountry is a passion of mine. This energy bar recipe is a take-off from the granola I make, but with several variations.

You can substitute any of these ingredients for something similar. This recipe is just a “launching pad” for whatever you want to come up with. Be creative and play with your food. That makes life more fun, don’t you agree?

Melissa’s Mile High Energy Bars

What you need

• 1 tablespoon coconut oil, olive oil, or butter (to grease the pan)
• 1/2 cup chopped almonds
• 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
• 1 cup GF rolled oats (I use Gifts of Nature’s certified GF rolled oats) * (see below)
• 1 cup Erewhon Organic GF Crispy Brown Rice Cereal (make sure it’s the GF version)
• 1 cup Arrowhead Mills Organic GF Maple Buckwheat Flakes (pulsed in a food processor to a medium chop)
• 3/4 cup finely shredded coconut (I use Let’s Do Organic unsweetened organic coconut)
• 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
• 1/3 cup raisins
• 1/4 cup lightly ground flax seeds (I pulse them a couple times in a small coffee grinder I use
exclusively for seed and spice grinding)
• 1/4 cup honey or agave (agave isn’t as thick, which works better – but either one is okay)
• 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
• 1/4 cup almond butter
• 2 tablespoons cocoa nibs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

What you do

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with oil.
Mix chopped nuts, oats, shredded coconut, sunflower seeds, and lightly ground flax seeds and spread out on rimmed cookie sheet. Put in the oven and set timer for 3 to 4 minutes. Watch carefully as this stuff can burn in no time. Stir and reset timer for another 3 minutes. This mixture should be a nice toasted golden color. Adjust according to what works best for your oven. Remove from oven and cool. Mix in a large bowl with the rice cereal, chopped buckwheat cereal, raisins, and the cocoa nibs.

Combine honey (or agave), maple syrup, almond butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in saucepan and bring to low boil over low to medium heat. Stir constantly and let boil for 3 or 4 minutes. You want this thick enough to hold the energy bar ingredients together, but not so thick it’s hard to work with.

Pour over the cereal mixture and stir well to mix it all together.

Spread into your prepared 9 x 13 inch pan, cover, and cool in the fridge before cutting into bar sizes. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. These make great treats for hiking, backpacking, skiing, and life in general!


* According to the Celiac Sprue Association, oats should be considered with caution. I have used the GF options with no problem, although I don’t eat a lot of them. Apparently some people can’t tolerate even small amounts of GF oats. Here is some current information to help you make an informed decision regarding what would be best for you. If you don’t want to try oats, just substitute something else for that ingredient – no problem.

In good health,

does my butt look big


Well, does it? Be honest.

Actually, I just wanted to get your attention, but I will admit that my jeans feel a bit snug after a long winter of stews, soups, and casseroles. But that’s changing since I’m drifting into my spring eating habits. I like to wander culinarily from season to season. I’m into the fresh stuff right now, which is naturally lower in calories, so I never stress much about small weight fluctuations either way.

But I do fuss about it when my jeans start feeling too tight. Maybe I shouldn’t. Ladies, the next time you’re doing that thing in front of the mirror where you squirm around twisting and twirling, trying to see whether your jeans look too tight or your bum looks too big, just stop – don’t even bother. You’re way too smart for that. Seriously. Research shows a direct correlation between an ample booty and increased cognitive ability – in women and their offspring.


And whose idea was it to do a study on curvy women and brain power, anyway?

I wonder.

But, I’m also not complaining. In fact, I’m thinking it’s about dang time. Yippee, hallelujah, and pass the gluten-free snickerdoodles!

The study I’m referring to has to do with omega-3 fatty acids (no pun intended), a woman’s waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), and the relative proportion of upper-body fat to lower-body fat. We’re talking smaller waists and bigger rear-ends and hips, so this full-figured, hippo-mamma featured above wouldn’t qualify. She doesn’t exactly have a small waist, but I think we can safely say she’s bottom heavy.

Dr. William Lassek, a rather geeky* University of Pittsburgh epidemiologist, co-authored a recently released study entitled, Waist-hip ratio and cognitive ability: is gluteofemoral fat a privileged store of neurodevelopmental resources? Published in Evolution and Human Behavior, it suggests that men prefer women with smaller waists and wider hips for evolutionary reasons. Survival of the fittest. According to the research, those women are smarter and have a heightened survival advantage. In addition, the study found that the children of vee-vee-la-voom moms also scored higher on cognitive tests.

The body fat around a woman’s hips is higher in omega-3s, which improves brain function and is important to fetal neuro-development. Omega-3s also boost fertility and overall health. According to Dr. Lassek and his colleagues, it stands to reason that for survival purposes, men would prefer women who are smarter, more fertile, healthier, and who produce brighter offspring. The curves just come with the territory.

Oooh – so, men can’t help it?

I see. Gawking at curvy women is just a matter of male genetic expression. Slack-jawed drooling can’t possibly be part of the natural selection process, so don’t get carried away, but this is certainly interesting and entertaining research.

Little did we know that waist-to-hip ratio has been of interest to evolutionary psychologists for years now. Several studies, including an analysis of data collected by the US Department of Health and Human Services (our tax money at work), link female body shape with mental performance. Lower-body fat is higher in omega-3s while abdominal and upper-body fat is higher in omega-6s and saturated fats. It is hypothesized that omega-6s are less important to brain development and function and may even be detrimental. Omega-3s are thought to enhance communication between brain cells, making for zippy intelligence.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers compared female waste-to-hip ratios to scores on cognitive function tests and found that a lower WHR correlated with higher scores. They also found that as the mom’s ratio goes down, the children’s intelligence scores go up. The data is fairly persuasive. The study sample included more than 16,000 women and the curvy girls with hourglass figures outsmarted the skinny ones on cognitive tests – same with their offspring.

Are you wondering how you figure out this magical ratio and how your IQ is somehow connected to your rear-end? You divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement and hope for the best. According to these guys (remember these are guys doing the research), this study suggests an “ideal” WHR of somewhere around 0.6 to 0.7. Think J-Lo – small waist, ample booty.

Bottom line? Next time you shop for new jeans and have to give up after 10 minutes of shimmying and wrestling with a size that just won’t cooperate with you, let it go. You’re too smart for those jeans anyway!

* I actually find “geeky” very appealing. I’m thinking that the curvy women, if they were that smart, probably chose the guys who could protect them from the sabertoothed tigers. Would that be the big strong cavemen-types or the resourceful MacGyver-types?  Well, here we are a bazillion years later and it’s the geeky guys doing the research on the curvy girls.

Isn’t life grand? Evolutionarily speaking.

Go forth and embrace those curves.

seasonal foods for march


Spring? Pineapples?

Maybe somewhere, but there’s a bunch of snow in my yard right now and my dog’s water bowl was frozen solid this morning. Yesterday we had blizzard conditions for most of the state, but less than 24 hours earlier it was 74 degrees and sunny. If states were given zodiac signs, colorful Colorado would surely be a gemini – dual-natured, complex, and contradictory. Or schizophrenic, however you want to look at it.

March signifies the arrival of spring, but it’s also our snowiest month. I do like the snow and I’m not complaining, but my list of seasonal foods for March reads more like a tropical vacation than a winter wonderland. Life is interesting, isn’t it?

Even if you walk into the market wearing a down parka and snow boots, the fresh pineapples, kiwis, and mangos are the harbingers of the harvest (and weather) to come. Yippee! A diet rich in colorful fresh fruits and veggies lends itself to optimal health, so add the following to your shopping list and reap the benefits.

Pineapple – sweet and zippy! Although they’re available year round, this is the start of the actual season (March – June). Fresh is best and they aren’t that expensive right now, so skip the canned stuff and go for the real thing. Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which is a natural anti-inflammatory agent, digestive aid, and immune booster. This fruit is also an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese.

Kiwi – these little fruits look as good as they taste. The emerald green color and tiny black speckles make for a luscious addition to a fruit salad, not to mention you get almost 100% of your daily vitamin C needs from one kiwi. And how hard is it to eat one kiwi? They also contain potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E.

Mangos – mangos are another fruit full of healing enzymes. They’re also a good source of vitamins A and C and they’re high in fiber and rich in potassium. The enzymes in mangos aid digestion and help us break down our food – and most of us can probably use the help! Mango trees are evergreens (wow, who knew) and are known to grow 60 feet tall.

Bananas – yes, another tropical fruit! Bananas are full of potassium, which helps control blood pressure and protects against atherosclerosis. They’re also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, and they aid digestion and soothe the stomach lining.

Figs – figs have been part of the diet for a very long time. Just ask Eve, she ate the first fig then fashioned a bikini out of leaves. Smart girl. Although they’re in season right now somewhere in the Mediterranean, they actually aren’t in season until June in California, but dried figs are available all year and they make a good treat if you want something sweet and chewy. Yum! They’re also high in fiber and contain a good amount of potassium.

Cauliflower – this cruciferous veggie is rich in all kinds of health-promoting substances. It’s high in vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and folic acid and studies show it contains substances that may protect against cancer. I love it steamed and whipped like mashed potatoes – that way it doesn’t taste so, so, cauliflowerish.

Leeks – yikes, scallions on steroids! Garlic, onions, scallions, shallots and leeks all belong in the same family and all contain similar protective substances that have been shown to reduce cholesterol and raise HDL levels. Research shows these veggies also lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke. Leeks add a nice subtle flavor to soups, stews, and stir fries.

In good health,

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.

spring renewal


March? How the heck did March get here so fast?

Spring in Colorado is so unpredictable. It’s supposed to reach 75 degrees today followed by snow tonight. Meteorologically speaking, it’s never boring around here.

Renewal. That’s what spring is all about and I’ve decided March is a perfect time for a blog renewal.

Those of you who have your own blogs know how much time it takes to create, edit, publish, and manage posts. Each of us has our own blah, blah, blog “voice” and that usually takes a little time to reveal itself. My goal is to increase awareness of celiac disease and help people lead healthier lives. When I started this blog endeavor, I jumped on the gluten-free recipe bandwagon because that’s the key to dealing with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Changing your food choices.

Celiac disease is a genetically predisposed, immune-mediated disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten, the main storage protein in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s an autoimmune disease. I have it, my daughter has it, and I believe undiagnosed celiac may have contributed to my dad’s death a few years ago. My two boys have the genetic markers, but at this point, show no signs of elevated antibodies specific to celiac. The probability for celiac is determined by specific variations of either the DQ2 or DQ8 HLA molecule. Both of these genes are believed to express susceptibility for celiac by presenting incompletely digested gluten peptides as antigens to the immune cells of the small intestine. One and/or both genes must be present for the immune system to respond and the disease to develop. Gluten protein molecules induce a chronic inflammatory response in the lining of the small intestine, resulting in all kinds of problems, including an increase in the possibility of secondary autoimmune disorders, various nutrient deficiencies, and associated food sensitivities. There’s more to the genetic piece than scientists currently understand and there’s more to gluten intolerance than just these two genes. The absence of DQ2 or DQ8 rules out celiac, but you can still be gluten intolerant with all kinds of associated problems. It’s all a bit confusing, but the bottom line is, many people don’t tolerate gluten and are better off eliminating it from their diets. Hence my name choice for this blog, gluten-free for good. Forever and for my own good.

Celiac is the only autoimmune disease in which the main trigger piece has been identified – and it’s food. In the murky gene pool of autoimmune diseases, celiac is the one to choose. Not that you’d choose this and not that it’s easy to deal with, but comparatively, it’s not that bad. If I had never eaten gluten in my life, I’d never have celiac. I no longer consider myself as having a disease. I just don’t eat gluten-containing grains. No big deal. I know I’m lucky – for some people, it’s far more complicated.

Okay, sorry about all the science talk, although fellow science blogettes Cindy and Michelle are probably eating this stuff up. The rest of you have either skipped out or your eyes are starting to glaze over.

But, my point is, and I do have one (as my third favorite yoga instructor Scott always says), my focus is on providing people with information on how to lead healthier lives. (There’s a story behind that third favorite comment, but I’ll save that for my yoga post, which is currently on hold and collecting cyber-dust. Oh, but I do love Scott and his unorthodox yoga classes.)

This is my mission and I’m passionate about it for a number of reasons. Now, what does that have to do with spring renewal? I’m rethinking the direction of this blog. I fumbled around quite a bit at the beginning, thinking I had to keep up with all these wonderful gluten-free recipe bloggers. Not to mention having no clue how to use blogging software, which I’m still arguing with on occasion.

From now on, I’ll focus my attention on gluten-free health and nutrition and what we need to heal, become stronger, and express more vitality in our lives. This applies to everyone, gluten intolerant or not. I will occasionally post my favorite recipes, but that won’t be the intent of this blog. Food, yes. Recipes, not so much. I’ll leave that to people like Karina, Shauna, and the rest of you tasty GF bloggers. This is such a wonderful little subculture, full of people helping people, everyone finding their own special niche. Kelly and Kim providing groovy general information, Michelle for her heart health links, Lizzie the good eatah, Catherine the social guide, Cindy our in-depth reporter, Sea our exotic gluten-free food guru, Sally our inspiration, Steve my local boy, Suzanne the culinary lifestyle queen (check out her new Gluten-Free Answer Book), and my favorite gluten-eating, but talented and creative food writer, David from Leite’s Culinary. There are way too many of you to mention, but each and every one has a special gift they’re willing to share with the rest of us. It’s a nice community and I’m grateful to be part of it. Thank you and united we stand!

So – my part will be nutrition, exercise, yoga, healing, health-boosting foods, and gluten-free life in the backcountry. Those of you who have been with me from the beginning have probably noticed the directional shift taking place and I hope you’ll continue to come along for the ride (however bumpy it may be).

Stay tuned for seasonal foods for March, which I’ll post next week. I’m also working on a sugar post, an anti-inflammatory diet post, yoga for digestion, yoga for osteoporosis, gluten-free backpacking foods (Annie, where are you?), artful aging, boosting your metabolism, and the occasional GF recipe – well, you get the idea.

Merry March and happy spring renewal!

Onward . . .

In good health,

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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