Monday, August 29, 2011

Chocolate : Gluten-Free Healthy Diet Component

Chocolate in your Gluten-Free Diet for Improved Health

Chocolate as a preventative measure for cardiometabolic diseases

Thank God chocolate is gluten-free! I love chocolate, and it is nearly its own "food group" in my diet. And, chocolate is once again getting more attention from the medical and scientific community researching its potential to influence our health in a positive way. I have written about the health benefits of chocolate / cocoa here on the Gluten-Free Blog in the past, including this blog from just a year ago about how Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure. This latest research reinforces prior findings.

The BMJ (British Medical Journal) just published their research findings about chocolate in a paper titled "Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis". Those "disorders" looked at include cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease and stroke), diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. And, chocolate consumption proved to be quite beneficial in reducing some symptoms of those diseases/disorders.

Chocolate Consumption leads to Substantial Reduction in Risk of Cardiometabolic Disorders

I for one do not require further encouragement to consume chocolate, but it is nice to know that my cocoa and chocolate addiction could at least help me maintain better overall health as part of my gluten-free diet. This particular study came up with the following Results/Conclusions (directly quoted excerpts from the BMJ article):

Chocolate Study Results

From 4576 references seven studies met the inclusion criteria (including 114 009 participants). None of the studies was a randomised trial, six were cohort studies, and one a cross sectional study. Large variation was observed between these seven studies for measurement of chocolate consumption, methods, and outcomes evaluated. Five of the seven studies reported a beneficial association between higher levels of chocolate consumption and the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. The highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease (relative risk 0.63 (95% confidence interval 0.44 to 0.90)) and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels.

Chocolate Study Conclusions

Based on observational evidence, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. Further experimental studies are required to confirm a potentially beneficial effect of chocolate consumption.

Getting more Chocolate in your Gluten-Free Diet

If you want to bump-up the amount of chocolate in your gluten-free diet in hopes of obtaining some of those same beneficial results, how can you best go about that? First of all, keep in mind that the benefits shown in these studies can be offset by the negative effects of consuming too many calories, too much fat, too much sugar, and so on.

Next, keep in mind that it is the COCOA that is apparently providing the health benefits through its polyphenol content and anti-oxidants — thus, plain cocoa is going to provide the most health benefit for the buck, followed by dark chocolate. Keep in mind that many forms of chocolate (like milk chocolate) will contain saturated fats that are certainly not "healthy". So, my personal opinion is that you should find ways to primarily consume cocoa without all the added fats, sugars, and such.

Sure, I am going to get my cocoa in my gluten-free chocolate cakes, cookies, and so forth, but I get most of my cocoa in frequently-consumed healthier creations like my near-daily gluten-free pancakes (where I use a LOT of cocoa), and in my homemade chocolate smoothies (again, much cocoa) just to name a couple.  Cocoa is a rather versatile ingredient, and it makes a great gluten-free "flour" from my experience (high in fiber and even some minerals).

See my prior blog for links to various Gluten-Free Recipes using cocoa : including diet-shakes that I have posted online.  That chocolate-chia-seed-pumpkin-spice "milkshake" (its actually dairy-free) is one great way to get a low-cal cocoa-enhanced flavorful summertime treat (note: I personally use a lot more cocoa than the "normal" amount shown in the recipe; I also use unsweetened rice-milk or hemp-milk and add a packet or two of PureVia stevia for sweetness to keep the sugar down).

Enjoy your cocoa!

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lower triglycerides with Spices

Spice-Up Your Gluten-Free Diet and Lower your Triglycerides

The Health-Benefits of Common Spices

I was just reading an interesting publication from the Journal of Nutrition wherein Penn State researchers were reporting their observations regarding the effects of a High Antioxidant Spice Blend (in one's diet) and how these significant amounts of various common spices could reduce the typical post-meal Insulin and Triglyceride responses while increasing antioxidants too, particularly when added to a high-fat meal.

Lowering triglycerides is certainly a good thing, since high levels of triglycerides (in your blood) are linked to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. And, since humans are "hard wired" to enjoy the taste of high-fat meals, if it could be as simple as adding some significant doses of culinary spices to our gluten-free diets to help lower our triglycerides, I am all for it.

Which Spices, and How Much Spice?

This particular study was not done using gluten-free foods, but that should not matter since the only difference between the "control" group and the "spice" group was just the spices — implying that it is only the spices that account for the observed reduction in insulin and triglyceride responses:
"The researchers added two tablespoons of culinary spices to each serving of the test meal, which consisted of chicken curry, Italian herb bread, and a cinnamon biscuit. The control meal was identical, except that spices were not included." 
All of the spices used within this study are generally what I would consider "mainstream" spices — though turmeric would be the one spice I would more closely associate with Indian and/or middle-eastern cuisine, and cloves are used rather sparingly in Western dishes too from my experience (clove can quickly overwhelm other flavors). Here are the spices that were used in the study:
"In the spiced meal, we used rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika,"
If one considers all the possibilities for using such spices, many wonderful and tasty main dishes, appetizers, desserts, and even drinks come to mind. I use a LOT of cinnamon in my daily gluten-free buckwheat pancakes for example, and I enjoy making Chai Tea with Cinnamon, Cloves, and even a bit of black pepper (plus Cardamon and other complementary spices). I like turmeric, garlic, black pepper, and paprika in dishes ranging from potato salad to quinoa/rice dishes to the chicken curries (mentioned in the article).  There are many, many tasty dishes where these spices could be used to produce fantastic flavor-filled meals.

My only concern in reading this article was related to the amount of spices the researchers used: two tablespoons.  The didn't give a breakdown of how much of each spice was used, but my first thought is how I can consume a LOT of spices like cinnamon, garlic, and black pepper, but I use relatively little oregano, paprika, clove, and turmeric due to their relative "strength" (flavor-wise) in dishes.  I can consume two tablespoons of cinnamon in one batch of my pancakes, but I can hardly dream up a way to consume (in an enjoyable fashion) two tablespoons of clove at once :)

Results: Substantially Lower Triglycerides and Lower Insulin Response

The results were rather significant and encouraging:
"We found that adding spices to a high-fat meal reduced triglyceride response by about 30 percent, compared to a similar meal with no spices added."

Wow, 30 percent lower just from the addition of these spices!  That is certainly noteworthy. If you want to read more details, you can find the original article here I would definitely like to see some other studies confirm these results in the coming months and years.  You would think it would be very easy to do so, since the study sounded quite simple to duplicate

The results went further too:
When the meal contained a blend of antioxidant spices, antioxidant activity in the blood was increased by 13 percent and insulin response decreased by about 20 percent
The insulin-response numbers alone should be getting the attention of any researchers studying diabetes / blood-sugar conditions and treatments.  20% is a substantial number for sure.

So, whether or not spices produce this desirable lowering of triglycerides in your gluten-free diet or not, it sounds like an easy enough change to consider working into your meal program.  The cost of spices may be semi-prohibitive, but if it could offset medical costs, I'd personally choose investing in spices.  I am working on ways to add more of these spices to my own gluten-free foods on a daily basis, and it is mainly just the turmeric, paprika, and clove that I do not regularly consume, so my changes should be minimal.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Costco Gluten-Free Bargains 2011 - Part 1


Costco Gluten-Free Bargains, Deals, and Money-Saving Items

I wrote a Gluten-Free Blog entry about Gluten-Free Food Bargains at Costco a couple years ago, and thought it was a good time to post some updates to that blog as Costco has introduced new gluten-free items and/or modified the pricing of gluten-free foods that have been available ever since I wrote the original article.

We have been able to really save a lot of money purchasing some of our regularly-used gluten-free items from CostCo, and enough so that the savings definitely pays for the annual membership. I have compared the bulk-pricing of certain gluten-free diet items to the non-bulk-pricing counterparts in normal grocery stores, and in some instances we are saving well over 50% on the same items! This adds up to huge savings over the period of a year (i.e., the membership period) and has easily exceeded the $50.00 annual fee.

I will be posting more of these observed gluten-free items and prices in future blogs, as there are many more items to list than I want to cram into on blog entry :)

Gluten-Free Quinoa at a Great Price

Gluten-Free Cheap Quinoa at Costco

Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that is a perennial favorite with me! As such, this Costco gluten-free bargain is a huge money-saver for me. This 4-pound bag of Earthly Delights Organic Quinoa is only $9.49, which pushes the per-pound price down to a very reasonable $2.37/pound! Compare that to what some grocery stores want for small boxes — I have even seen prices at some grocery stores approaching a per-pound price that is up there with what Costco charges for this entire 4-pound bag!

Needless to say, when you find money-savings potential like this on a gluten-free diet food that you regularly consume, the savings adds up. I prefer Quinoa to rice for many reasons — taste, texture, and nutrition — and thanks to this much more affordable way of buying quinoa, I can also like it without feeling like the price is much of a detractor.

Gluten-Free Tasty Bite Madras Lentils

Gluten-Free Tasty Bite Madras Lentils at Costco

As you can see in the picture, Costco wants $6.99 for a box of (4) 10-ounce packages of these ready-to-eat Madras Lentils. I rather enjoy these semi-spicy Indian-inspired lentils over a bit of rice or quinoa. I have also found that these work well as a baked-potato topping. They are simple to prepare (just microwave them for about 90-seconds), and I find the price decent for a total of 8 servings (pushing the per-serving price under a dollar).

I am not going to do a full product review at this time, but I will say that I like the fact that they are vegetarian, gluten-free, have no MSG or preservatives, and are all natural. They only have 150 calories per serving, and that includes a nice 7grams of protein and 14% of the RDA of Iron. What I do not care for is the 510mg of sodium per serving, but luckily I consume very little sodium in my diet otherwise, so this is not a big deal for me personally. But, it is something to consider.

Gluten-Free Almond Butter

Gluten-Free Almond Butter bargain at Costco

If you have shopped around for almond butter, you know that it can be rather expensive depending where you find it. Well, here comes Costco to the rescue with a very nice deal on what is clearly labeled "gluten-free" Almond Butter from Maranatha (brand), with a nice big 2# jar costing just $5.99. At $3.00/pound, this is getting down into the price territory of peanut-butter, and as such you may want to try some wonderful variations to peanut-butter cookies or similar gluten-free desserts and recipes (especially if someone you know has a peanut allergy but can still consume almonds).

This almond butter is ground to a "creamy style" consistency, though it is still very thick. Why? Well, this is the real deal: it has only ONE ingredient — ground dry-roasted almonds. That's it! No added sodium (awesome!), no added anything. As such, the almond oil naturally separates to the top and you have to stir it in once you open the container. It's full of protein too (7g per 2 tablespoons). At only $3.00/pound, I turn to almond butter much more often that I would otherwise.

Gluten-Free Rice Dream Organic Rice Milk

Costco sells this gluten-free rice milk in cases of twelve (12) one-quart-sized (i.e., 32-ounce) containers for $16.49. This brings the per-quart price down to $1.37, which is by far the best price I have found it for anywhere. It is not uncommon for me to see the same quart-sized containers at the grocery store for $1.99 or higher. And, since this product has a rather lengthy shelf-life, you can buy a case, save some money, and have it around for quite a while.

We use enough of this gluten-free drink to save a lot of money over a year. In fact, the savings on this rice milk alone nearly pays for our membership. We use a fair amount of it on breakfast cereals as well as in things like our homemade gluten-free smoothies. I personally tend to mix it half-and-half with Living Harvest's Tempt hemp-milk to cut down on the carbs a bit while also introducing some extra Omega 3's and 6's into the equation, but the hemp-milk is around $4.00/quart as compared to this $1.37/quart bargain rice-milk from Costco.

Gluten-Free Pure Via : Stevia Sweetener at Best Price anywhere

Pure Via (Pepsi company's brand of Stevia Sweetener) has saved me countless calories and carbohydrates, and now Costco is saving me a lot of dollars as well — they have the Pure Via Stevia Sweetener (which is gluten-free per the company website's FAQ) for only $9.79 for a 400-packet box. This 400-count box gets the per-packet price down to a very reasonable 2.5-cents/packet.

With no carbohydrates and no blood-sugar impact, this sweetener is great for my morning tea or coffee. I admit I like my tea rather sweet, so I will use 2 packets of Pure Via in a large (20-ounce) glass of tea in the morning. I also use it in my smoothies to sweeten without calories, which is handy when I am using otherwise low-sugar ingredients in the smoothies particularly.

I have not yet tried to bake any of my gluten-free desserts with it yet, but sooner or later I hope to see if I can create some reduced-sugar dessert recipes by substituting at least part of the sugar with this Stevia product. If so, buying stevia in bulk at Costco will make even more sense than it already does. Again, this deal is saving me a lot of money already (I have seen smaller packages/boxes of PureVia sell at prices that are 5-times or more the per-packet price this Costco bargain offers).


Gluten-Free Corn Tortillas : Super Bargain

Mission Brand Corn Tortillas - 100 count - $2.99! (that is 5#12oz of tortillas!) Clearly labeled gluten-free and a super-deal at just 3-cents per tortilla! These gluten-free tortillas are wonderful for making all sorts of "wraps" also - whether you like placing some salad items in them, your favorite meats, etc. I am utterly amazed at the price of only 3-cents each! Wow! They hold up rather well in the fridge, and I have managed to use one bag of these over a period of 3 months without a problem. These are a no-brainer purchase for me, as I enjoy gluten-free corn tortillas in my diet on a regular basis.

More Gluten-Free Costco Bargains to Come...

This is just the first installment of the Costco gluten-free products I will be discussing here. So, stay tuned and I will be bringing another list of deals to you soon. Hopefully you have a Costco near you where you can take advantage of these low prices and bulk-items when it can save you money.

CONTINUED... the following link takes you to my next round of Costco Gluten-free Bargains : 2011 part 2 here on the Gluten-Free Blog.