Tag Archives: Gluten-free diet

6 Things To Know About the New “Gluten-Free” Label

Gluten Free Image

The new gluten-free FDA labeling guidelines went into effect August 15, 2014.  Prior to this, there was no regulation on the term, unless a specific retailer demanded it from the vendor (Whole Foods has for years). If you want to dig into the weeds on the details, visit celiac.org for very informative FAQs, a fact sheet, and presentation from the NFCA. But, if you just want the quick and dirty, here are the 6 main points you need to know:

1) “Gluten-Free” is the only regulated label – any “no-gluten”, “free of gluten”, “without gluten”, “what the hell is gluten?” [kidding] will be considered misbranded.

2) The “Gluten-Free” label requires that no gluten-containing grains or derivatives (e.g. wheat flours) may be used in the product (this goes for all packaged food AND supplements).

3) For any unavoidable presence of gluten (e.g. from cross-contamination during processing or manufacturing), there must be less than 20 ppm of gluten (ppm=parts per million=20mg of gluten per kilogram of food=less than a crumb). So, it is possible you may still see a “Gluten-Free” labeled item that also includes a statement stating something like, “made in a facility that also processes wheat…”. However, the onus is on the manufacturer to ensure that any resulting contamination stayed below that threshold of 20 ppm. This is an approved level from the WHO (World Health Organization). It is somewhat controversial because it is thought that some people extremely sensitive to gluten could still react to levels below 20ppm, but there is no reliable testing available to test below this threshold. That is a more involved conversation in regards to ELISA test methods, so I will refer you again to the link above if it peaks your interest.

4) This ruling only applies to packaged foods – restaurant menus are not being regulated (although, they are encouraged to comply). So, interrogate on cooking methods and ingredients to your liking and pack your enzymes.

5) You will still want to check the ingredient lists for hydrolyzed wheat protein as there isn’t a clear ruling on hydrolyzed (or fermented) foods.

6) Labeling applies to beer too. Cheers!


Keeping it Real: Easy Ways to Avoid Nutrient Deficiencies on a Gluten-Free Diet

There seems to be a lot of “buyer beware” messaging whenever the gluten-free diet is covered in the mainstream media. For example, the November ABC Nightline segment on “The Dangers of the Gluten-Free Diet”, which I recently viewed from my DVR archives. And I’ve seen multiple other examples in the past couple of years since the diet has been receiving buzz around Hollywood for its role in weight loss, increased energy and better skin and for its controversial role in treating disorders, such as Autism. It’s always the same old [school] story —  it has no benefit to you unless you have true celiac disease and a diet without gluten will lead to nutrient deficiencies.

I admit that it is possible to be deficient in certain nutrients if you’re following a gluten-free, but otherwise unbalanced, diet. But let’s keep it real — Americans as a whole are overfed and undernourished. The standard American, gluten-heavy diet is by no means nutritionally superior. It’s just getting a little back-up from the government.

A Bit of Enrichment

It breaks down like this: The FDA requires that manufacturers of wheat flour add Riboflavin, Thiamin, Niacin, Folic Acid (all B Vitamins), Iron and sometimes Calcium to the product because they were completely stripped during the refining process. This process includes removing the bran and germ from the wheat kernel, so it’s no longer a “whole grain”. It is then bleached, to provide a better appearance to the consumer.  Sounds nutritious, right? Ironically, this process is what the term “enriched” refers to.  There are no such regulations for gluten-free grains, which is why gluten-free flours made from refined grains (e.g. white rice flour, corn/potato flours and starches), can be even more nutrient deficient than wheat flour.

But why don’t we try to gain a bit of perspective here.  Are we only to receive nutrients from bread products? No. Does a gluten-free diet mandate avoiding fruits and vegetables and other nutrient dense ingredients?  Absolutely not. Are we not suppose to follow the same recommendations to “eat whole grains” when we’re choosing a gluten-free diet? No – and  this where I see the biggest source of misconception. As I discussed in my last post, whole grain gluten-free products can be hard to find, but there are some good ones out there that are made with whole and/or ancient grain products such as brown rice, quinoa or millet.  Clean Cravings products, for example, have more than 20 grams of whole grains per serving.

The Biggest Offenders

B-Vitamins (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate/Folic Acid)

Playing a critical role in cognitive function, energy, metabolism and skin health, B vitamins can be found in wide variety of  fruits, vegetables and nuts. Below is a list of the major players.

All B Vitamins: avocados, legumes (e.g. beans, lentils), gluten-free whole grains (e.g. brown rice), nutritional yeast (look for a brand with B12 if consuming a vegan diet), asparagus, broccoli, spinach, bananas, potatoes, dried apricots/dates/figs,  and nuts (especially pine nuts, coconuts, walnuts, almonds and cashews).

Folic Acid: I’m isolating Folic Acid because of its critical role in the prevention of birth defects. The best clean sources here are: lentils, chickpeas/garbanzo beans (think hummus with some toasted Just Crust Minis), black beans, green leafy vegetables (especially spinach, asparagus and broccoli), avocado, sunflower seeds and oranges. You need 400 micrograms per day, which you could get in 1 cup of cooked spinach, 2 Tablespoons of sunflower seeds and 1 cup of OJ. And if you take a decent multivitamin (preferably made with whole foods), that will give you the 400 micrograms by itself.


Iron is a critical mineral because of its role in the transport of oxygen to tissues relating to energy and immune function. Good sources include: cooked spinach, lentils, broccoli, quinoa, collard greens, black, pinto & kidney beans, potato, beets, and many nuts and seeds.

Note that I’ve listed vegan sources of Iron. While it’s commonly thought that vegetarian diets are low in iron, research has shown that iron deficiency is not an issue for this population. The reasons are likely two-fold: 1) when you look at the amount of iron by weight, vegetarian foods are a denser source of iron. For example, you would have to eat more than 1700 calories of sirloin steak to get the same amount of iron as found in 100 calories of spinach. 2) Because a vegetarian diet is high in Vitamin C, the absorption of iron is enhanced.


Calcium is a structural component of the bones and teeth and also plays a role in hormonal secretion regulation, muscle contraction, blood clotting and activation of some enzyme systems. There’s likely more [unfounded] concern of deficiency in a dairy/casein-free diet than there is for strictly a gluten-free diet, but since both are important elements in clean eating, I’m giving it some air time.

Despite the on-going aggressive milk campaigning, it is not that difficult to get the calcium and other nutrients needed from non-dairy sources. For example, almond milk  has almost just as much calcium as cow’s milk (30% DV vs. 35%) and steamed or dark leafy greens have as much calcium per serving as milk. Moreover, the calcium in kale is even better absorbed than the calcium from cow’s milk.

Other good non-diary sources include: almonds (more than milk), hazelnuts, walnuts, sesame, sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast.


There’s no doubt fiber is an integral part of a healthy diet. It lowers cholesterol, increases satiety, regulates blood sugar, encourages proper bowel function and balances intestinal pH. But, I find the idea that a gluten-free diet has to equal a low fiber diet, particularly unconvincing.  As I referred to in my earlier tirade, eating gluten-free puts no restrictions on consuming fruits and vegetables or whole grains, which are the best sources of fiber available. You’d be hard pressed to find any items in these categories without any fiber, but the best bang for your buck is going to be from:  berries, green leafy veggies, sweet potatoes/yams (with skins), quinoa, brown rice, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds.

Keeping it Real

Gluten-free diets, like any other diet, can be extremely healthy or they can be extremely unhealthy. It all comes down to what you choose to eat – choosing whole, real foods are always going to pay dividends over refined, processed items.

And the sad truth is, it’s unlikely even the healthiest of diets are receiving the proper nutrients needed without supplementation, due to factory farming and soil erosion compromising the nutrient values of our foods. So I recommend that everyone take a high quality, multi-vitamin and mineral supplement made from whole foods just to cover your bases.

Top 10 Tips for Gluten-Free, Vegan Holiday Baking

While my Holiday spirit has waned a bit with this 80 degree weather we’re experiencing in Cali, the thought of baking and decorating cookies with Jordan (my 3-year old, eager helper) paired with a little “Last Christmas” by Wham! is keeping me on track.

My preparations are now underway to heat it up in the kitchen later in the week once the temp falls, so I thought it would be the perfect time to share my top tips for clean holiday baking. For those of you who thought eating clean would mean missing out on your favorite goodies and holiday traditions, think again.

So here goes — my Top 10 products and tips that meet my stringent and overriding criteria: clean. easy. delicious.

First, lets start with the staples to stock up on that can be exchanged for allergy-unfriendly ingredients in just about in any recipe.

1. Lankato Sugar. When I discovered this through a mother of a child with Autism, I knew my sweet tooth dreams had been answered. It is the closest natural sweetener to sugar EVER in terms of its taste and its versatility … but NOT in terms of the risks it poses to your health. Zero calories, zero glycemic index AND zero additives. But, best of all it has the flavor and texture of real turbinado sugar. None of the bitter taste you get from Stevia. Admittedly pricey, but worth every penny.  You can read more and purchase here. The only retail store I’ve seen it at is Erewhon next to The Grove in Los Angeles.

2. Sorghum Flour. Found at most natural food stores with all the other baking flours.  I’ve had success substituting this straight across whenever any type of wheat or other gluten-containing flour is called for in baking. Provides a great texture and lift.

3. Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks.Full disclosure – it contains soy, which I’m lucky enough to tolerate in small amounts (although I avoid as much as possible,especially when its not organic). However, they work JUST like  regular butter sticks — complete with those little TBSP markers and other helpful metrics which I can never keep straight.

4. Nut, Hemp, Coconut or Rice Milk. Perfect 1:1 substitutes whenever regular milk is called for. I rarely stray from my trusted non-sweetened vanilla almond milk but I’m going to start venturing out with hemp and coconut milk for added protein and nutrients. I’ve found rice milk to have a more watery consistency, but in the small amounts usually called for in baking I’m sure it would work fine.

5. Gluten-Free Oats. While oats themselves are gluten-free, they are typically processed alongside wheat, precluding them from being labeled gluten-free because of the cross-contamination. However, there are now vendors who are getting oats processed alone so that they are officially gluten-free. Again, can be found at any natural food store. Should be either with regular oats or in a special gluten-free section.

6. Allergen-Free Chocolate Chips. Enjoy Life Foods makes a dairy, gluten, corn, egg, soy and nut-free chocolate chip. Perfect for fudge, brownies or cookies. A staple to keep on hand all year.

7. Natural Expeller-Pressed Safflower Oil. This is my oil of choice whenever a baking recipe calls for vegetable oil. Besides having a great flavor, it contains the highest source of polyunsaturated fats than any other type of vegetable oil and contains other essential nutrients such as omega-6 fatty acids and Vitamin E. The “expeller-pressed” refers to being natural processed vs. being chemically processed and depleting its nutrient content.

8. Organic Maple Syrup. A tasty natural sweetener that is commonly called for in the recipe book I detail below. Also great to have on hand for gluten-free pancakes and waffles.

And for those of you that are not so creatively inclined in adapting existing recipes….

9. “Simple Treats” Recipe Book by Ellen Abraham. In all honesty – I haven’t done a recent, exhaustive search on baking recipe books. However, I found this early on in my clean crusade and have tried many of these recipes and not-a-one has let me down, so I haven’t found the need to purchase another.  All recipes are wheat & dairy-free and very straightforward. The most complex it gets is putting your oats in a food processor to prepare a flour consistency. But even with that step, I can still bust out the mixes in under 15 minutes. And as ironic as it is, this founder of a food company is not a natural whiz in the kitchen. My favorites include the Almond Butter and Chocolate Walnut Brownie Cookies. My only note is to use the Lankato Sugar and Sorghum Flour to substitute the sugar and Barley flour, respectively. I found it on Amazon.

10. Clean Baking Mixes. Lets face it, with all the chaos of the holiday season (or any season for that matter), time seems to dwindle away from us all. Sometimes a short cut is just necessary. In a crunch, I default to my fave line of baking mixes– Cherrybrook Farms. I’ve used various flavors of cake and frosting mixes and have been able to fool the biggest gluten-free skeptics with the taste and texture. All the mixes I’ve used are wheat, dairy, soy and corn-free (just picked up the Sugar Cookie mix last week) and can be kept clean by using your nut or hemp milk and vegan buttery sticks for the required milk and margarine additions.  Some mixes do contain sugar (ironically, the “sugar cookies” don’t) but relative to the other gluten-free mixes available [not mentioning any national brand names that have tried to capitalize on the gluten-free market, but produce allergen and preservative laden crap] this is still a great option. They also have a pre-mixed frosting now – a good time saver, but noticed that it contains cornstarch and corn syrup (the mix does not). I’ll let you weigh the cost-benefit on that one depending on your specific situation.

Wishing you all a sweet, delectable holiday season!

p.s. Please share your tips and ideas for other clean baking ideas – just post a comment below to share with us all.

Jordan making cookies

my sugar plum fairy in action

Gluten Sensitivity and Brain Function

There was an excellent article in the Huffington Post on Sunday: Gluten Sensitivity and the Effect on the Brain by David Perlmutter, MD . He profiled a 9-year old girl who struggled in school until discovering a gluten-sensitivity. Upon following a gluten-free diet, she showed dramatic cognitive improvement within 2 weeks. And by the end of the school year her academic testing went from below a 3rd grade level to a 5th-8th grade level.

Cognitive effects are just one of many ways a sensitivity to gluten can manifest. Contrary to what Dr. Perlmutter was taught in medical school (and what I was taught in my conventional nutrition education), gluten-sensitivity and/or celiac disease does not always involve classic gastrointestinal tract (GI) symptoms (no need to go into details). This is why I was so incredulous when I tested mildly positive for celiac disease through a blood test done through my acupuncturist (about a month after testing positive for rheumatoid arthritis). I didn’t have any of the classic GI symptoms. Instead, the morning after I ate any gluten/wheat,  I would (and still do) wake with very painful, burning and stiff joints, sometimes to the point where it was hard to walk because my feet were so cramped up. After I got moving the symptoms would drastically improve, but that is no way to start your day. Taking Aleve helped even more, but I knew those symptoms were a sign of something intrinsically wrong with my body and to achieve the level of wellness I desired was not going to be about slapping a pharmaceutical band-aid on it. Not to mention, I would soon learn that Aleve and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – e.g. naproxen, ibuprofen, etc.) actually contribute to the true underlying issue I was experiencing —Leaky Gut Syndrome .

There is one thing I would like to point out in this article, which I think is the source of confusion for many: gluten-sensitivity does not always = celiac disease (and to add to the confusion, “gluten-sensitivity” can also be referred to as “gluten intolerance”). Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine which requires a small bowel biopsy to confirm the diagnosis (looking for damage to the lining of your small intestine). However, inconclusive or negative results in these tests do not necessarily mean you’re free from a wheat or gluten sensitivity of intolerance. In fact, most people experiencing legitimate and significant gluten sensitive symptoms have officially tested negative for celiac disease. These individuals are categorized as non-celiac gluten sensitive, or NCGS (again we’ll dive into gluten-testing later — so much good stuff to to cover, so little time). Personally, I have not had the biopsy. It is my opinion that whether I have celiac disease or just  a sensitivity to gluten, my body clearly isn’t a fan, so why subject myself to such an invasive procedure.  The treatment for both is the same — avoid gluten. Easy, right? Stay tuned for my top tips on getting started….its not as painful as you think.