For the weekend: Gluten-free cooking made easy

Consumer Reports News: March 13, 2010 06:08 AM

Whether you’ve recently switched to a gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease, or just for preference, you’re one of the reasons it’s become a craze. Eight to 10 percent of Americans follow a gluten-free diet, according to the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. But when it comes to cooking, you might find it challenging because there are so many ingredients to avoid that can be hidden in packaged and processed foods. Our Consumer Reports Food and Fitness magazine has some tips to make gluten-free cooking a little easier. Now all you need to do is buy the ingredients, and hit the kitchen.

Foods to avoid: Forms of wheat such as spelt, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), as well as kamut, farina, bulgur, durum flour, barley, matzo meal, graham flour, wheat germ and cracked wheat. What’s more, you’ll need to stay vigilant. Since manufacturers sometimes swap ingredients, a food you once thought was gluten-free may no longer be safe to eat.

Foods to include: Several food staples are allowed in a gluten-free diet, including dairy items, meats, fish, and poultry. The rest is a matter of trading the grains you can’t eat for the grains you can, nixing wheat breads, cereals, crackers, and pastas for gluten-less rice, corn meal, potato, quinoa and soy products.

You may also find a number of rice-based items in the Asian food aisles. If you don’t, try a food co-op, or an organic foods store, or consult a Web site like Gluten Intolerance Group of North America for a list of gluten-free shops and brands. Note that while oats don’t appear to be troublesome for people with celiac disease, they’re often contaminated with wheat, so experts recommend that you avoid them.

Cooking tips: Use cornmeal, rice mixtures, potato flakes, or gluten-free bread crumbs and cereals to coat meat, or simply omit the step. When recipes call for thickening use potato, cornstarch, or tapioca flour instead of wheat flour. If you bake, rice, corn, or soy flour can substitute for wheat flour, though you’ll fare best with recipes that call for small amounts of such ingredients.

Keep separate toasters and cutting boards for gluten-free foods to avoid contaminating them with foods that do have gluten.

Easy meal ideas: Gluten-free macaroni and cheese; Quesadillas made with corn tortillas; Southwestern Chicken Lasagna, made with gluten-free pasta, ground chicken, low-fat ricotta, green chilies and picante sauce. For recipe ideas, visit the Celiac Sprue Association Web site, the largest nonprofit celiac support group in America.

Ginger Skinner, and the Consumer Reports Food and Fitness editors

Learn more about living gluten-free and for updates, tips, and recipes, follow CeliacHandbook on Twitter. And for more tips on cooking better meals for your family, making better food choices at the supermarket, and keeping the healthy habits going, pick up our special issue of Consumer Reports Food & Fitness magazine, on newsstands now. 

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