A wheat-free diet is a challenge, but so worth it! While gluten-free products will always be “wheat-free,” it isn’t always essential to be “gluten-free.” Wheat grain in the U.S. today is uniquely challenged, and choosing other than wheat is often enough to improve health. This article will help you make the best choices for YOU!
The benefits are dramatic. Eliminating wheat from the diet can reduce allergies, promote weight loss, reduce bowel disturbances, boost energy, lift moods, reduce pain and inflammation, stabilize blood sugar levels – and the list goes on.
The problem with wheat
Most wheat foods available today are manufactured commodities. Consistency of the finished product and a long shelf life take priority over nutrition. Because most wheat products are made from refined and enriched white flour, those “foods” are devoid of nutrients other than the minimal synthetic vitamins that are added back in after the original nutrients are stripped by the manufacturing process. These synthetic vitamins are notorious for not meeting the complex balance of nutrients needed by the human body. For example, zinc supplementation is too low in its ratio to copper supplementation, which can create myriad problems.
In addition, bromating the flour (“improving” the strength of the flour by adding an oxidizing agent) creates byproducts which can have devastating effects on the pancreas, increasing the risk for diabetes. Bromate/bromine is also a halogen which attaches to thyroid and iodine receptors and blocks action and iodine uptake. All the healthy oils (which contain fat‐soluble vitamins) are removed from the germ and bran, as well as most of the minerals. Even if you eat whole‐wheat products, you may notice from the label that a majority of the flour in a product is actually ‘enriched wheat flour,’ or in other words, white flour. The resulting substance requires your body to rob from its storage of nutrients in order to be able to digest it.
Wheat is highly hybridized, and has been over‐consumed in our diets for many generations, causing more allergenic problems. What’s more, modern baking and processing methods bypass very important grain preparations, such as soaking, sprouting, or treating with sourdough starter. This leaves grain phytates intact. These phytates bind with minerals and carry them away, and are indigestible, thus creating more inflammation in the gut.
Berlin Natural Bakery has written some detailed articles on this subject that I highly recommend. You can find them on the linked blog. See the articles starting with “Is Bread Making You Sick?” in the index of blog posts on the right side of the page.1
Is it any wonder more and more people are reacting to wheat?
Eat white bread, the sooner you’re dead!
Almost anyone will benefit from reducing wheat in their diet. For those persons who know they are sensitive or allergic to wheat, eliminating wheat products is a necessity. But as previously stated, while gluten-free products will be “wheat-free,” it isn’t always essential to be “gluten-free.” Choose from the following suggestions according to Pati’s recommendations for YOU.
What does this mean? It may sound daunting, but in fact it’s easy once you get used to it.
Eating on the run
In restaurants avoid pasta, bread, muffins, crackers, noodles, desserts made with flour, thickened soups or cream sauces, flour tortillas or wraps, breaded foods, crusts, or stuffings.
Before choosing a restaurant, find out if they serve rice or risotto (most pasta dishes are delicious served over rice). Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese dishes are often made with rice noodles and rice papers, and the array of vegetables is fabulous. Mexican menus will usually offer corn tortillas in place of flour tortillas, and will always have rice.
Remember to take your own rice/spelt/rye crackers to scoop up those great appetizer dips at your favorite eatery. Gluten‐free items will be wheat‐free, so ask for gluten‐free menus.
If you are on the run, try eating a salad with meat or fish (grilled chicken added to a Caesar salad is delicious, but skip the croutons), or a sandwich without the bun or bread but with extra lettuce to make lettuce roll-ups, crispy corn tacos (ask if the soft‐shell tortillas are made from corn or flour) from the drive‐thru, Wok and Roll type places with rice or noodle bowls, soups, chili, and stew. In a pinch, pop into a grocery store and buy wheat‐free crackers and deli meat, or a roasted chicken and crudité tray of fresh veggies.
Baking and eating without wheat at home is a breeze!
Though spelt is an ancient variety variety of wheat and contains some gluten, it is often tolerated well. The balance of nutrients is better in spelt, and the grain hasn’t been hybridized. Do not worry if the packaging label says “This product contains wheat.” If it is a spelt product, it doesn’t contain the wheat you are trying to avoid. I have found that most of my original favorite “wheat” recipes have translated closely using spelt.
For baking, use a combination of white and whole grain spelt flours, or you can use gluten-free flour mixes such as Pamela’s or Bob’s Red Mill. White spelt flour can be hard to find. In Colorado it is available at Whole Foods (in the bulk section) and at Natural Grocers (in their refrigerator case). You can also order white spelt flour on the internet; one source is www.berlinnaturalbakery.com. Sprouted grain flours, including spelt, are now available in stores or online, and are preferable nutritionally to simple milled flours.
You will have to make some adjustments to measurements, depending on your elevation and humidity levels. For example, in high-altitude Colorado I make chocolate chip cookies with spelt flour by reducing the butter by 2 tablespoons and increasing the flour. Bake one cookie first to see if the consistency of the dough is correct.
If baking breads or rolls with yeast, I recommend adding a bit of xanthan gum to increase elasticity and texture. Adding 1/8 cup of arrowroot sometimes helps the cohesiveness of some spelt desserts. Alternatively, play around with oat, rice, kamut, buckwheat, organic corn, quinoa, rye and amaranth flours. Oat flour tends to be very gluey (high gluten), so use less and in combination with other flours, but it can work well for a 100% whole grain flour baked product. Coconut flour is wonderful, too, but must be used in ratios listed on the package or the product will be too dry and dense. The less glutinous grains will work well for cookies and crackers that you want to be crunchy.
We are lucky today to have many wheat‐free products to choose from. Though spelt products are favored for their similarity to wheat flour products, any product which is gluten‐free will also be wheat‐free, and thus allowed. As per my General Diet Guidelines (and Weston A. Price Foundation traditional dietary recommendations), I do recommend sprouted or sourdough products from flour as much as possible.
As these bread products are not as “gluey” as white bread, it helps to keep them in the freezer, taking out slices only as needed. Defrosting these breads briefly in the toaster helps the bread consistency for sandwiches. I recommend buttering and grilling buns with a lid on the pan to soften them for burgers or hot dogs. I save the crumbs and end pieces in the freezer for use as bread crumbs.
Spelt or gluten‐free pastas and noodles need to be cooked in a large pan with lots of water, and stirred from time to time, which prevents them from sticking together. Use a kitchen timer and watch them closely for doneness. Unlike wheat pastas, they fall apart quickly or get gooey.
Some shopping recommendations
Even though these products can be more expensive than wheat products, they are bargains when you remember how many more nutrients you are getting per ounce – and when food is more nutritious, we eat and need less, too. Our grains digest better when soaked, sprouted, or made with sourdough starter. Try to select products made these ways, when possible, for optimal nutrition benefits.
Berlin Bakery Products: this company provides many products such as hamburger and hot dog buns, Artisan breads, flour, and best of all, sprouted and sourdough spelt breads. I order these2 by the case and freeze them. Some can be found in the freezer section of Natural Grocer and Whole Foods stores.
Rudi’s: Rudi’s regular spelt and Ancient Grain spelt breads are very nice for sandwiches and toast. They also have spelt English muffins. Available at King’s Soopers, Natural Grocers, and Whole Foods, on the regular bread shelves. Rudi’s also has spelt tortillas that are great for roll-ups, quesadillas, and as thin-crust for pizza. These can be found at Natural Grocer with the fresh breads. If you aren’t going to use them up within a week, I recommend separating the tortillas with waxed paper and freezing the package as soon as you buy it, which helps keep them from crumbling and makes them easier to pull apart. The whole grain tortillas are great as a thin crust base for pizza: brush both sides with a very thin coat of olive oil, add toppings, and bake on a sheet in the oven, or on foil on your grill.
Great Harvest Bakery in Fort Collins: offers whole grain spelt bread (much like their honey whole wheat) one day per week. It helps to call ahead and place an order as they only make small batches. I ask for this “unsliced” as I feel it is too thick in their slicer. I slice it myself at home a bit thinner, and then freeze it.
Trader Joe’s: often carries at least one loaf of spelt bread; make sure it doesn’t contain soy flour.
German breads: these are the thin sliced heavy loaves you find near the deli. They are usually of sprouted grain, very dense, 100% rye or spelt. Toast them slightly, add butter or mayonnaise to soften them, and try open‐faced sandwiches. I use them in small squares for hummus and bean dips.
Home bread oven: make your own fabulous blends at home; these ovens work great with spelt flour!
Corn or sprouted corn tortillas: corn is about the most genetically modified product there is, so I recommend you find organic tortillas (and tortilla chips), or if unavailable eat rarely. Sprouted tortillas are available in the refrigerator sections of Natural Grocers.
Crackers: happily in grocery stores there many choices for wheat-free crackers – rice crackers, spelt crackers, RyVita rye crackers, seeded gluten-free crackers.
Gluten‐free products: today there are many products available in stores that are gluten-free. They are certainly wheat-free, but since these are also mostly made from “white” flours (potato, rice, tapioca, etc.) I don’t find them to be very nutritious. They should be eaten only rarely. But you are safe eating them, and may like them, too.
About pasta: remember that pasta is best eaten rarely, and should not be considered a staple. Fortunately there are some really great substitute pastas today. My favorites are VitaSpelt d’Abruzzo pasta and Berlin Bakery’s Spelt noodles and spaghetti. Quinoa with corn flour pasta is well‐liked, too. There are many rice pasta and noodle products. They are all different, so keep trying brands until you find one that is to your liking. Chinese rice noodles, mung bean noodles, and soba buckwheat noodles are easy to find (oddly, buckwheat is not wheat, but be sure to check labels – sometimes wheat flour is mixed in). Vietnamese Pho Soup is a favorite of mine, made with rice noodles.