Monday, March 31, 2008

Gluten-Free Diet: Think Green Bars / Think Thin Bars



I recently came across these gluten-free Think Green "health bars" or energy bars while shopping at Whole Foods Market, and decided to give them a try. I was nearly scared off by the ingredients, which include an interesting list of dehydrated vegetable powders that are labeled a "Superfood" by the manufacturer - like broccoli and more. They do have a bit of a "green" taste that is rather unique, but certainly not bad. In fact, that green stuff is growing on me!

The same company makes another set of gluten-free bars in a Think Thin line - which is a higher-protein blend (mainly soy protein) - that I recently found at Trader Joe's. I have grown rather fond of the Peanut Butter varieties and the chocolate varieties - who would have guessed, given my love of chocolate!?

Both of these product-lines are gluten-free (*except the "S’mores" Think Thin variety) and have no added sugar, though they will taste plenty sweet with sugar-alcohols being used instead, which result in very low net-carb levels. They are vitamin fortified, and the Think Green bars are definitely high in antioxidants too. The company markets the Think Green bars as even being a cholesterol lowering product, and the Think Thin bars as a diabetic-approved product.

What started out as an experimental purchase for me has now become my principal gluten-free energy-bar / snack-bar to keep on hand when out for a bike ride or a day trip. I keep a couple handy in the car and in my notebook computer case now too, just in case I find myself out away from my normal gluten-free foods for long enough to become hungry and find myself in need of a "safe" snack food. I also, if I know I'll be out for a while working or something, tend to pack some other "super foods" like fresh carrots, apples, and mixed nuts too - but the option of a wheat-free / gluten-free all-in-one bar is always nice too.

You can purchase the bars on the company's web site for approximately the same price as retail stores offer the bars for, though you'll have to pay shipping charges of course. Either way, if you don't have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's around, this option will surely come in handy. The prices seem to currently be $1.50/bar online, sold in 15-packs for $22.50. I think that makes them quite competitive with other options like the Larabar products and the like.

I definitely give these gluten-free diet / snack bars a big "thumbs up" rating, though you may find them to be a bit different (especially the Think Green bars like the chocolate-peanut-butter, where I notice the "green" as much as the chocolate and peanut butter - and, it's quite sweet tasting too).

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Gluten-Free Vegan Diet helps Rheumatoid Arthritis

Who would have guessed? A gluten-free diet appears to benefit an entirely new target-audience beyond just the traditional Coeliac / Celiac Disease sufferer or the wheat-free dieter. A brand new study coming out of research performed at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm surfaced some rather fascinating results. Researchers used a Gluten-Free Vegan diet as a means to improve the long-term health of people with rheumatoid arthritis - and the results were quite promising!

Some of the key findings of the gluten-free vegan diet among the test group included:
  • Reduced LDL and oxLDL levels (a good thing!)
  • Raised antiPC antibodies (more good news, since these are hypothesized to protect against cardiovascular disease!)
  • Lowered the body-mass index (BMI) of the volunteers in that group (I think we can all appreciate the promise of lower BMI) :)
  • Levels of other fatty molecules, including triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) stayed the same.
These results have now shown that diet (in particular a gluten-free diet that is vegan in nature) could benefit the long-term health of people with rheumatoid arthritis. It was note d that a larger study group will be needed to figure out which aspects of the diet helped improve these various markers the most, as this particular group was 66 persons total, with 38 randomly assigned to the gluten-free diet, and 28 assigned to a well-balanced (though non-vegan) diet for a period of one year.

I find this encouraging on a few levels. As always, anything that raises awareness of even what a "gluten free diet" is can certainly be a good thing, as it will likely also make more people interested in clear gluten-free labeling laws and the like. In addition, I extracted from this outcome that the gluten-free vegan diet offered some health benefits that we can all enjoy, regardless of whether we suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis.

I am not vegan personally, though I don't consume very much in the way of animal products. Certainly some of my favorite gluten-free diet foods happen to be vegan, and I actually tend towards that side of the grocery aisle, but I still have a weakness (especially) for some wonderful dairy products now and then!

Now, if only this study could have included a third distinct group - gluten-free with dairy and eggs - and shown that to be equally healthful... that would get me close enough to culinary bliss! :) Perhaps wishful thinking, but it wouldn't surprise me if there is still plenty of benefit to being a gluten-free vegetarian (that occasionally consumes some dairy and egg products).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gliadin Protein in 3D - the enemy revealed


Isn't it deceptively beautiful?

That's a snapshot of the Gliadin molecule (well, actually it's the Crystal structure of HLA-DQ2 complexed with deamidated gliadin peptide - but, close enough for this example). I rendered it using the free Protein Workshop software available at the RCSB Protein Data Bank (which is a really cool tool and database if you are into protein analysis and research - you can't quite get the full effect here with just a 2D snapshot of a full 3-axis / 3D rotation interface).

Gliadin is a glycoprotein present in wheat and other gluten-containing grains. It's one of the primary proteins that people with Celiac disease are sensitive to (particularly that a, ß, and y gliadins). And, as you can see, it's a rather complex molecular structure, and typical of such proteins. This molecule is to be avoided at all cost if you are living with a gluten-free diet and Celiac Disease - it is an enemy.

I was curious to see how the proteins in gluten compared in structure to those in whey (like, β-lactoglobulin - the major whey protein of cow's milk), in an attempt to better understand how the whey protein seems to be able to emulate some "gluten-like" binding abilities in recipes I have been playing with. In a 3D model, there are certainly some similarities between these various proteins - in both their complexity and shapes.

The Gliadin in wheat and other grains is what gives bread some of it's elasticity, allowing it to rise while maintaining that wonderful texture. So, experimenting with alternative means of emulating "gluten" (and not just by using vegetable gums) is certainly something I find continually intriguing. And, now one more tool to be employed in my gluten-free diet research is the Protein Workshop and data-bank. Will it help? Who knows, but it sure is fun to play with!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Gluten-Free Soup : Simple can be Delicious


When it comes to my gluten-free / wheat-free diet requirements, I am all for doing whatever it takes to create a memorable, delicious dish. Often that implies cooking or baking something completely "from scratch", but on occasion there comes along a wonderful pre-made gluten-free food product that can be extended or built-upon to make an even better dish with little effort.

This latest gluten-free soup (pictured above) is one such dish, where the foundation was simply a carton of Trader Joe's brand gluten-free Organic Roasted Red Pepper Soup - low sodium too! It is a creamier soup (dairy based) with a rich red-pepper and tomato flavor. It is already quite nice on it's own. But, I often long for something just a bit more "homemade" or gourmet, and my wife was quick to deliver with a few simple additions:
  • Some caramelized onions - one large Spanish onion, and another Sweet Onion were used
  • Some fresh basil
That's it! It just doesn't get much simpler! I just love what the added onions and fresh basil bring to the soup in the form of added flavor and substance. Fact is, I'm rather sure the result could be passed off as "homemade" if desired, as both of the freshly added vegetables give that clear indication of a recently prepared foods.

I give this Trader Joe's brand soup a big "thumbs up" rating on its own, and an even greater rating when considered as the basis for a wide range of gluten-free soup variations and options.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gluten-Free Blizzard-Bread and more...


We here in Ohio were fortunate enough to get buried with a foot and a half of snow or more this weekend (that's our car above - needless to say, it wasn't going anywhere!)

So, why would I refer to a near-blizzard as "fortunate"? Quite simply, it'd be too easy to call it a bad event, so I tried to focus on the positive side of the event, which was how it basically forced us to stay at home all weekend, and doing so afforded us the opportunity to perform some experimental gluten-free baking and recipe creation.

The Gluten-Free Blizzard Bread

My wife was being quite creative, and came up with a really delicious recipe that I affectionately titled the "Blizzard Bread" for now. It makes use of all sorts of great gluten-free foods and ingredients. There is some buckwheat in it, ground flaxseed meal, pumpkin, molasses, whey protein, honey, caraway seeds, and a few other things that all led to great weekend treat for us!

The gluten-free bread ended up with an interestingly unique flavor combination that resulted in a sweeter bread (from the honey) with hints of rye (from the caraway seed) and a lovely texture from the flax, whey, and other ingredients. It held up pretty well for the next couple days after it was baked too. We also froze a few pieces to test the storage ability of the bread. I'll post the full recipe later hopefully (didn't get time to type it up yet).

The bread was just a bit firmer/denser than we had hoped for, and I think another iteration will be forthcoming to see if altering the ingredient balance (including liquids-to-dry ratio) can "pump up the volume". I didn't mind it at all in its current form, and I ate nearly the whole loaf in no time. It has that nice sponginess I look for in bread, gluten-free or not, and a marvelous crispy and crunchy crust. But, chances are, it can be made even better with a little more fine-tuning. Hopefully we don't need another blizzard to get time to play with the recipe more - my gluten-free diet demands good bread without waiting on mother nature! :)

Why Taste AND Texture Matter

Anyone care to guess what it is? If you said hummus, you'd be right with regards to the texture, but definitely not in regards to taste. This was a "recipe" I tried to create on the fly, and sadly, it didn't quite have the desired outcome. It tastes fine, but the texture is not what I had in mind.

Well, it started out as an omega-3 rich gluten-free Salmon Pâté (at least in my mind), and I have made this before with success, by mixing the ingredients by hand. Instead, I decided to use our Vitamixer (food processor / blender) to see what would happen... and, the result is above. The essence remained the same, but with a texture that was closer to a fine hummus, this just was not what I had in mind.

I created this recipe a while back (without the vitamixer involvement) using Canned Wild Alaskan Salmon from Whole Foods, along with some California English Walnuts, Olive Oil, and Wasabi mayo (a healthy canola-based type). I usually just mix it together in a bowl, using a fork, until the texture is as I desire. And, I'll eat it plain or on crackers (I really like it on Mary's Gone Crackers gluten-free products - the Caraway Seed variety especially).

Texture makes all the difference with this recipe. I love the stuff when I make it by hand, but I just can't get into the mixer-pulverized version that nearly became a salmon-sauce. lol. I didn't let it go to waste, and I used it for a dip. But, that's the last time I ever try making a Pâté with power tools. :)

There were some other gluten-free recipes resulting from this weekend's snow event, and I'll try to get them posted in coming weeks for others to try - with or without snowstorms present.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gluten-Free Blog in Reader's Digest

A few of my gluten-free readers were kind enough to bring to my attention how this blog, my "Gluten Free Blog", was mentioned in the March 2008 issue of Reader's Digest Magazine as a great resource for people with Celiac Disease, gluten-intolerance, and/or a wheat-allergy. I am definitely excited about this!

I have not seen the magazine article first hand, though I'm told that the link to this blog appeared in the Large-Print edition of Reader's Digest on page 65, and on page 75 in the normal-print version. My wife and I went to the store to get a copy, but for whatever reason, the store we were at still had the February edition on the shelf. I'll try again a few days, since I definitely want a copy for my collection.

I understand there was a section in the magazine about some of the common food allergies people are facing (wheat / gluten being one), and in reference to this topic the publication listed three blogs of note, with mine being the blog identified as a great Gluten-Free resource for Recipes and helpful science and diet information (and, the author pointed out one recipe here for Gluten-Free Pumpkin Risotto as an example of the free recipes I have online).

This would explain the recent increase in sales of my Gluten-Free and Wheat-Free Gourmet Desserts Recipe Book, which I certainly am always glad to see, especially when I don't do any advertising and I don't sell it through any large retail channels or book stores. So, thank you Reader's Digest for indirectly bringing added attention to my cookbook as well - I appreciate it!

As always, I hope anyone reading my blog is finding it to be a great resource for living within the confines of a gluten-free diet (or wheat-free diet if that is your thing), and that my various gluten-free recipes also help you make the transition to life without gluten in a delicious and satisfying way. Yes, it would be great if we could all eat wheat without any ill consequences, but in the absence of that option, a repertoire of great gluten-free and wheat-free recipes can make leading a satisfying and healthy life not just possible, but also quite enjoyable!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Gluten-Free Recipe: Orange-Nut Bread


I really had intended to post this gluten-free bread recipe back around the holidays, as it seemed a perfect sweeter-type bread for parties and get-togethers. Well, fact is, I like the bread any time, and I also didn't get around to posting the recipe until now :) This flavorful and semi-sweet bread works well as a gluten-free dessert, or simply as a snack food or treat.

Here's a link to the full gluten-free recipe: orange-nut bread over on my gluten-free / wheat-free recipe library pages.

It's similar to a panettone bread in some ways, and perhaps a bit like a kuchen (German sweet bread / cake). This recipe has lovely hints of orange and a nice bit of white-chocolate added to it. Yum! And, it also features some healthful flaxseed, while making use of the whey-protein isolate (I have blogged about here) for enhancing the texture and moistness and sponginess. The end result is just simply delicious.

I love my gluten-free diet, especially when I have gluten-free food options that are so enjoyable to consume. I really don't feel like I am missing out on anything while living gluten-free, as I have been able to replace nearly all "normal foods" (i.e., the old gluten-containing items) with wheat-free and gluten-free alternatives. This is just yet another gluten-free recipe that keeps me happy and satisfied while living without gluten!

And, it is a relatively simple bread to create too (baking-soda leavened, so nothing too complicated here). And, though the bread is best fresh-baked (like most breads), it is fine the next day. I have even placed thick-cut slices into a wide-mouth toaster to warm it back up and slightly brown the surface a couple days after baking, and that worked out quite nice too.



Hope you like it! I have some more recipes coming soon, as I start to address my backlog and get these things posted on my gluten-free blog and my recipe site for all to enjoy.