Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My first heartbreak..

Today was almost tragic! It's a shame I don't have a reality TV show because this would have been entertaining. I nearly had a breakdown in the grocery store when I momentarily thought that Splenda was not gluten free. I have had many of my patients ask me about Splenda and I always assure them that it is gluten free, and I myself am a Splenda devotee for my daily cup of coffee. So I experienced something close to heartbreak when I saw that the one of the main ingredients is "maltodextrin." I think the hard part was that I wasn't prepared for it. I had already amicably parted ways with bread, pasta, and my beloved Healthy Choice frozen dinners, but this was unexpected! After a solid 5 minutes of staring at the box in disbelief, I purchased (begrudingly) a different sugar substitute and came home to immediately google the situation.

(Side note: If I learned nothing else from grad school or in working at a research-based hospital, I learned the importance of deciphering quality, trustworthy health information from credible resources. And much of my training as a dietitian is to learn how to navigate and distinguish between the true and the false when it comes to such information. One of the things I don't want my patients to do is go straight to the internet for all their nutrition advice. With that being said, I feel confident that I did a thorough review of the information available for Splenda!)

According to Splenda's website (and various others), Splenda has no gluten-containing products. The maltodextrin actually is a corn-derivative. However, they do note that they do not test the finished product, and it is currently not gluten free certified. So this is one of those many "grey areas" that individuals need to ultimately decide for themselves. I personally feel that I am confident recommending Splenda as a "safe" gluten free food.

While I'm mentioning the grocery store, I want to also point out another grey area: My wonderful mother informed me that all of the Boar's Head deli meats were advertised as gluten-free (which they are). However, my particular deli did not wash the meat slicer between slicing my GF order and the previous person's non-GF order. I did not specifically request that they do so, and they may very well have been willing to. But nonetheless- something to take into consideration. This was definitely a potential for cross-contamination!

That is all for now. I'm having a GF kick-off dinner tomorrow night (nothing crazy, just chicken, rice, veggies and homemade ice cream!) before I launch the full-fledged Sept 1st! I'm hoping the ice cream works out, and I'll post it if it does!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Risotto: a Gluten Free delight!

I have had a fascination with risotto long before my Gluten Free endeavor. I know, it is not likely to be the first recipe a newly GF person will try because it can be rather time consuming, but as I was thinking about the recipes I already make, I was thrilled to realize this one is on the "safe" list without having to alter it! I first tried to make this several months ago, with little success. (Word of advice: do not make this on a first date if you are not good at multi-tasking; i.e. trying to engage in meaningful conversation, all while constantly stirring and timing). But not liking to fail, I resolved to conquer the art of risotto, with the help of my friend, Russell. He offered me a great Basic Risotto recipe which I'll share with you below: (Also, check out his blog at http://www.myplateisfullblog.com/ for other great recipes!)

Basic Risotto
Serves 4

1 cup Arborio rice
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced (about 1/2 -3/4 cup)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 1/2-3 cups chicken broth (be sure this is GF! Pacific Foods is a good one)
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbs cream (regular or fat free both work)


1. Preheat the chicken broth just to the boiling point and keep heated stove side. In a large skillet with a heavy bottom, heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Cook the onions until translucent.

2. Add the arborio rice and saute with the onions, until grains are toasted and begin to brown (about 7 minutes).

3. Once rice is toasted, add wine slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon.

4. After the rice has absorbed the wine and the skillet is nearly dry, add the heated broth, 1/2 to 1 cup at a time, stirring occassionally. Cook over low heat until absorbed. You can tell when to add more broth by drawing a line in the middle of the skillet and the resulting line fills in very slowly (see picture below). Repeat this process until the your broth is gone and rice is cooked and chewy. This whole process usually takes me 25-30 minutes.

5. Add butter, parmesan, and cream and stir to combine. (Note: some recipes then say to cover and let sit for 3-5 minutes)

Another fun thing about risotto, is once you have your basic risotto, you can mix in any of your favorite ingredients. I've done with shrimp, spinach and sundried tomatoes. Most recently I added cooked spinach and cannellini (white) beans. Delicious!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bye Bye, Pasta..See you in my dreams!

So my creative wheels have been turning 24/7...literally! I woke up the other night thinking about all the possibilities of a gluten free eating plan. I know, I should not be losing sleep over this, but new projects get me excited the first few days. I was laying in bed making a mental list of all the things I can make in the coming weeks..my mind said: "fish tacos! Polenta! Twice baked potatoes...and risotto!" The endless possibilities. Given my Italian heritage, I am risking being cast out of my family by saying, I think I'll be just fine without pasta and bread (sorry Mom!). I will, however, miss the convenience of throwing a sandwich together last minute or boiling spaghetti for dinner. I have observed though, while replacing items in my pantry with gluten-free foods and being conscious of reading every food label this past week, the key element in my success on this eating plan will be planning. No more on-the-spot decisions, because nearly everything goes through some sort of processing (and therefore likely has gluten). This is something I encourage all my patients in anyway, regardless of their dietary needs: when you rely on processed foods and eating out, then you give away the control over what you are putting in your body. So this has been enlightening for me, and I have prior knowledge and resources to my credit. I can't imagine how overwhelming this can be for someone who is not doing this by choice. Which brings me back to my mission :)

Oh, and great news! I have been looking into local restaurants via the Gluten Free Registry (www.glutenfreeregistry.com/index.jsp) and was delighted to find Mellow Mushroom on the list in my town. I emailed the manager to ask about what they offer and he assured me that they have certified gluten-free chefs, and that the recipes are prepared in a separate part of the kitchen in a separate oven. And so, for the good of the people, I tried their pizza right away :) It was very tasty. The crust was thinner and slightly less heavenly than their homemade pizza crust, but definitely perfectly acceptable pizza. Now to find a gluten-free beer to drink with my pizza.

I also made a great risotto recipe, courtesy of my friend Russell. I will be posting that later, with pictures! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The "Skinny" on Gluten free

I love puns and acronyms, so I'll use them whenever possible! So before I get into the fun stuff, I wanted to give a little background on the gluten free diet.

What a gluten free diet is:
A gluten free diet is used mainly for people with Celiac Disease (CD), which is an autoimmune disorder in which the body (specifically the intestinal tract) does not tolerate gluten- a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Because the body responds to gluten like an "allergy," its immune response causes the intestine to become inflamed and gluten is not absorbed. Our efficient body does whatever it can to eliminate gluten, which it perceives to be a foreign substance. This can lead to stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and malabsorption of nutrients. And here is where the danger lies for people with CD: long term malabsorption of gluten can lead to malabsorption of other nutrients and therefore the potential for many secondary conditions like anemia, osteoporosis, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The only treatment is the absolute avoidance of gluten and all foods containing it.

It is more than possible to have a healthy balanced diet following a GF eating plan. It does not exclude any one food group, and is adequate in all nutrients. It is, however, quite restricted in the grain group. The greatest struggle comes with the consumption of processed foods, because some gluten is present in many preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Some sneaky culprits (there are many but a few less obvious):
  • "natural flavor"
  • "artificial flavor"
  • maltodextrin or dextrin
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • modified starch
  • soy sauce
  • salad dressings
  • shredded cheese
  • ice cream
What it is NOT:
A gluten free diet is not a "diet" in the usual sense of the word, meaning it is not intended for weight loss. In fact, many specialty gluten free products are higher calorie than the original product they are replacing. Although it has become a recent fad in the celebrity world, there is no research showing that it has much benefit for the average healthy person without CD. A positive for eating a gluten free diet is that it avoids many processed foods, and focuses on natural whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, protein and dairy.

OK that's enough mumbo jumbo..more to come!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Mission

Welcome! My name is Heather and I am a Registered Dietitian. So basically I get to talk and think about food all day long- and get paid for it! My job is to help people with various medical conditions alter their diets to meet their individual needs. A great challenge of the job is helping people turn their new restrictions into a practical, and joyful, way of life. This is easier said than done. Knowing the ins and outs of a diet is vastly different than living it. I often leave work wishing I had known the answer to every question, or that I had better ideas to offer. One day recently I realized that I won't ever be able to relate to my patients until I walk in their shoes. What better way to help them than to experience their struggles for myself, and learn strategies to overcome them? And the idea was born! I decided I would follow each of the various diets that I educate my patients about. The blog is a place for me to document my struggles and successes, offer recipes, links, tips, or whatever else can help people in the day-to-day when they leave my office.

And so we begin. I decided to start with what I consider to be the hardest diet to follow in today's world: a gluten free diet. It has been quite the hype as the latest fad diet; but it is medically necessary for people with a condition called Celiac disease. More to come on the details of the diet, but I'm starting with this one because I have a roommate (my resident expert) who is gluten free and I figured, if all else fails then I can just copy her and eat what she eats! :)

My official "launch" of going gluten free is September 1st. I'll be spending the rest of the month eating through my gluten-filled pantry. I welcome ideas, recipes, questions and thoughts! Thanks for reading!