What is Gluten?

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Gluten can be found in many common foods we have at home, learning about what contains gluten is important.
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Nourished: The Plant-Based Path to Health & Happiness by Pamela Wasabi

In her debut bookNourished (Mango Publishing, 2017), renowned farm-to-table chef Pamela Wasabi invites readers to discover a new love for cooking. For her, this isn’t about following recipes or some restrictive diet. It’s about appreciating the beauty of creating something to nourish yourself from the best nature has to offer. Anyone who’s ever felt frustrated in the kitchen or who relies on the microwave or daily takeout will learn how to easy it is to choose ingredients and make a satisfying meal all on your own. Pamela shows readers how learning to cook helped her to overcome medical challenges and put her on the path to becoming a plant-based chef. Organized in accordance with the life-cycle of a plant, from seed to plant to the nourishment on the table, Wasabi shares her passion for cooking healthy meals for loved ones.

What is it about gluten? I get a lot of my friends asking me about gluten and about the trend that rules our hashtags and social media accounts these days: #glutenfree. Should we go that route, or is this just a passing fad? I believe it’s not a fad, and that the longer we continue to purchase gluten in processed foods and consume it, the more the wave will build into a tsunami of gluten-free-for-all. Almost every autoimmune condition known to man is associated with gut health. 80% of our immune system lives in our intestines, and the lack of proper digestion, impediments to nutrient absorption, and the permeability of our intestinal walls are the perfect storm for developing autoimmune conditions.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. We eat it in the form of pasta, bread, baked goods, and cookies, as well as in warm sauces and some salad dressings. The protein is what makes the flour sticky and useful for making delicious, self-rising biscuits and breads. It is the binding agent in flour. Once a short grass used in artisan bakeries, it is now one of the most genetically modified ingredients in the US, next to canola, soy, and corn. It’s been modified now to be a tall grass in order to guarantee the self-rising factor, the binding properties of the flour, and even everlasting baked goods at your grocery store. Proteins are the most difficult substances to digest, and gluten is no an exception. When we consume low quality processed gluten on a daily basis three to four times a day, we are wreaking havoc on our digestive engine and causing a great deal of distress in our gut and intestinal wall. When this occurs after years of eating the same way, our intestinal impermeability starts to give up, and we end up with IBS, bloating, gas, allergies, skin rashes, fatigue, headaches – to sum it all up, what is known as leaky gut.

Leaky gut is when the wall that protects the gut becomes permeable. Think of this wall that surrounds your intestines as an array of red theater curtains hanging next to each other. When they are fully closed, they protect you from any pathogens outside of your gut and keeping indigestible substances inside your intestines to then excrete them via your colon. However, when the curtains start to open due to inflammation, and the gap between one curtain and the other becomes wider, it leaves space for all the toxins and bad bacteria, to travel in and out of your gut and into your blood. The toxins then are flushed to all major organs, your heart, liver, pancreas, glands, and thyroid.

When we have a substance in our stomach that is as hard to digest as gluten and we keep eating it over and over again, it stars to accumulate and create agony in the gut. If you don’t have a condition known as celiac disease, which is clinically an allergy to gluten, you will develop sensitivity to gluten by eating low quality gluten in excessive amounts. This creates inflammation every time you eat it, and ongoing inflammation causes stress in the body. Stress triggers the release of another set of hormones and substances to treat the inflamed area, resulting in a never-ending cycle of inflammation and depletion of your body. Whether you have a sensitivity to gluten or not, it’s better to choose naturally gluten free grains like amaranth, rice, quinoa, millet, sorghum, oats, buckwheat, and chickpea flour, and only eat gluten on special occasions or when you find an artisanal stone-ground bread at the farmers’ market. You can also eat naturally fermented sourdough, since during the fermentation of the dough, the yeast eats the gluten, making the bread easier to digest. Eat gluten only as the exception, not the rule. However, if you have an autoimmune condition or feel discomfort after eating gluten, leave it out. And to my thyroid comrades, gluten can really affect the levels of antibodies in your glands.* If you suffer from any thyroid imbalance, especially Hashimoto’s, it’s better to abstain from eating gluten, at least until you reverse your condition. Cutting gluten out can actually return your body back to health if that was the root cause of your autoimmune condition.

As you move into the kitchen, if you wish to follow a gluten-free recipe and you don’t have the flour that was called for, do not just try to replace it with whatever you have in your pantry, especially if you are baking. Baking is a very exact art, and different flours have distinct characteristics. Each flour has different qualities; some of them naturally bind, while others can dry out the batter or will not bind or rise at all. Gluten-free baking may seem difficult to some because they are used to using only one naturally rising and binding flour, but it’s not difficult, it just requires getting out of your comfort zone and being willing to do some experimenting. When baking gluten-free you must blend flours, add binding agents like xanthan gum, starches, or flax and chia meal, and become familiar with the properties of the flours. One awesome exercise is to get all your flours out and simply touch them and feel each one between your fingers; you will experience the difference in the grain texture and size, and you’ll be able to feel its cooking properties. This will help you understand the behavior of each type of flour. As I write this chapter, this morning I received the results of a sensitivity blood test. It turns out I’m sensitive to all dairy and eggs and can somewhat tolerate gluten, but can’t have pineapple or almonds at all. Test or no test, the best indicator of your allergies and sensitivities is you. I guess I’ve been gravitating towards a vegan diet for a reason after all. Listen to your body, notice if there is discomfort and know that pain is not the way you should naturally feel at all. Your body was designed to thrive, and if that vitality is not what you are experiencing, then seek what may be causing its dysfunction.


Excerpted fromNourished: The Plant-based Path to Health & Happiness © 2018 by Pamela Wasabi. Published by Mango Publishing.

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