Gluten. The word that pops up again and again in diet and nutrition articles as something you should be scared of eating. We all know someone that sticks to a gluten-free diet, whether it’s a coworker or family member. Avoiding gluten is a big business – in the US, more than $15.5 billion will be spent on gluten free products in 2018!
Those with Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance or on a gluten-free diet may find it hard to avoid gluten during the holidays – each sugar cookie or holiday cupcake can provoke an unlucky stomach ache or embarrassing digestive symptoms. And there’s always one well-meaning friend or relative who won’t take no for an answer, who won’t understand that wheat can make you seriously ill… and that it’s never worth it!
But choosing to go gluten-free, or staying committed over the holidays, doesn’t have to be overly difficult. With a bit of careful planning, you’ll be able to join in the festivities. After all, breaking bread (or cookies) together is part of what makes the holidays special!
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a combination of two proteins found in cereal grains like wheat. In baking, it’s what gives dough that gooey, gluey consistency (the clue is in the name!), allowing it to stick together. Gluten is super important in standard baking because it binds the ingredients, giving the bread or other baked good the strength to stay together, helping it rise and giving the finished product a chewy texture.
This protein is found in any food that contains wheat or other cereal grains, including:
However, it’s often a hidden ingredient in everything from soup to roasted nuts! Gluten is prized by the food industry for its thickening and stabilizing properties.
This protein can also bring pain with the pleasure of holiday treats. Gluten has absolutely no nutritional value and can cause uncomfortable symptoms for those that are gluten intolerant or have Celiac Disease.
Should Everyone Eat Gluten-Free?
Those with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance MUST avoid foods containing gluten in order to steer clear of uncomfortable symptoms.
If you have gluten intolerance you may struggle with the following symptoms:
If you have Celiac Disease, gluten is a foreign invader that stimulates your immune system. If you keep eating gluten, your immune system starts to attack an enzyme located in your intestinal wall causing inflammation and damage to the lining of the intestine.
Signs and Symptoms associated with Celiac Disease include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
Gluten related issues have become trending health topics in recent years. Many of my patients who don’t have Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity symptoms ask me if they should give up gluten.
Dr. Yepuri’s gluten recommendation – “I’m not averse to suggesting that patients with no symptoms seriously cut down on foods containing gluten, as these foods are typically carbohydrate rich. I generally recommend reducing dietary carbohydrates – particularly the processed kind as these contribute to poor gut health! The bottom line is that diet and health choices should be made by patients and their doctor – not a celebrity testimonial. I would encourage those considering a gluten-free diet for a non-medical reason to first consult with their doctor or nutritionist.”
What Are The Best Gluten-Free Ingredients For Baking?
Gluten-free holiday baking is very different when compared to the standard baking you may have done in the past. Get familiar with the following ingredients before attempting a gluten-free recipe:
- Flours – often, a combination of two or more of the following gets the best results:
- All-purpose GF flour
- Coconut flour
- Almond flour
- Buckwheat flour
- Rice flours
- Potato flour
- Xantham gum or guar gum – these gums help create a better, lighter texture for baked goods, performing the function of gluten.
- Cornmeal, Cornstarch and Potato starch – all great ways to get that fluffy texture in breads and cakes.
Above all, make sure all the ingredients you plan on using are certified gluten-free and have been produced in a gluten-free processing plant. Due to its thickening properties, gluten is often snuck into flavor extracts, chocolate chips and even easy release cake sprays! Look for an FDA gluten-free label.
5 Tips for Easy Gluten-Free Holiday Baking
If you’re researching gluten-free baking for the first time, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. There’s a lot to consider. Here are my top tips to help you feel less stressed – after all, it’s the holidays and you have enough on your plate!
- Find a specific gluten-free recipe – it’s much harder to adapt an existing ‘standard’ recipe.
- Always read through a recipe first before making the gluten-free treat!
- Invest in a set of electronic scales to measure your ingredients with greater precision, or make sure you pack each cup fully with the dry ingredients and level off the top before adding to the mixture.
- Try to use a mixture of flours when baking – too much of one kind can create a heavy cake or cookie.
- The lack of gluten means there’s no danger of over-mixing the batter – it’s usually beneficial to beat the mixture for a few minutes longer to include as much air as possible.
Gluten-Free Bakeries in the Fort Worth, Texas Area
As the holidays are so busy, you may find it more convenient to order and pick up some gluten-free goodies! I had a great experience visiting Unrefined Bakery and highly recommend them for gluten-free baked items.
Unrefined Bakery in Fort Worth, Texas specializes in gluten-free treats that can be delivered locally or shipped outside of the Metroplex. Their holiday collection includes an amazing selection of pies – many of which fit the vegan, paleo or keto diets.
I Heart Muffins Bakery in Hurst, Texas is dedicated to gluten-free baking, avoiding cross contamination and ensuring peace of mind. They specialize in muffins, cakes and pies – but also offer paleo options on request.
Perfect Bite Artisan Bakery in Euless, Texas is an artisan bakery that caters to a variety of dietary preferences and needs. They offer a range of gluten free baked goods in the form of cake pops, cupcakes, sugar cookies and dessert bars.
If you suspect gluten is to blame for your gut issues, and you’re looking for a board-certified gastroenterologist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, don’t hesitate to get in touch. It’s my passion to help patients find long-term lasting relief for their gastrointestinal issues. You can request an appointment by calling (817) 267-8470 or filling out a form online.
I hope everyone has a great holiday season with family, friends and plenty of “gut friendly” treats!
Image Credit: Unrefined Bakery