Whilst the wheat we eat in the UK is not (yet) genetically modified, for many people the grain may contribute to a host of unsavoury health problems and issues – ‘weight management’ being a major one.
In some people, wheat may be the underlying cause of their:
- bouts of bloating
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- stomach aches
- and many other disruptions inside the gut.
In more serious cases it has been linked with depression.
You would be surprised how many people are intolerant to wheat and just don’t know it! I’d recommend that if you have any of the symptoms above, try cutting the wheat out of your diet just for a week or two and see if the symptoms disappear.
Some people are seriously allergic to gluten and the medical term for this is ‘Celiac disease’. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where there is specific damage to the lining of the small intestine and can be ‘ life threatening’ if the person diagnosed with it eats any gluten at all. Gluten is found in wheat, rye & barley and can block the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals like calcium & iron, creating further health problems for people with Celiac disease.
Keep Calm and…
Don’t panic! It’s not the end of the world if you leave wheat out of your diet – there are plenty of alternative seed and grains out there which can help make your transition to a ‘wheat friendly’ diet – easy & painless – as well as being much more healthier for you.
The mainstream alternatives to traditional wheat are buckwheat & rice.
Despite its name containing the word ‘wheat’, buckwheat is 100% gluten free and is actually a member of the rhubarb family. Buckwheat
is a protein and nutrient-rich seed which you can eat as you would any other grain. The seed is ground into flour and buckwheat flour can be purchased from most supermarkets or health stores and can be used as you would any other flour.
Rice is also 100% gluten free and although is very much a grain it contains a massive amount of essential B vitamins which contribute to our overall energy system as well as high levels of Potassium. BUT, and there is a but…this is only if we eat whole-grain brown rice, as white rice will have gone through loads of
processes which strips out any essential important nutrients – just leaving the stodgy starch which really has little to offer us nutritionally.
Even if you don’t know how to cook and are finding it difficult giving up your beloved processed wheat-based food – fear not! – you can now easily find loads of convenient products such as pasta, noodles, breads, crackers…the list goes on, that is made from buckwheat or brown rice. Just look in any big supermarket or High St. health shop – how good is that?
Not Quite As Famous…
Less well-known alternatives are the ancient seeds amaranth & quinoa; both have long fascinating histories but have made their way back to British diets over the past 10 years.
Pronounced ‘keen-wah’, was a staple part of the Incan diet, and was referred to as ‘grain of the gods’. The Inca warriors believed it contributed to their strength and overall health. Quinoa is not actually a grain but a seed and contains a much healthier spectrum of protein than wheat. Also, the vitamin & mineral profile is said to be fairly balanced and high in amounts.
Quinoa can be used as you would use any grain, try quinoa porridge and add some dried fruits & nuts for a healthy breakfast, or use as an accompaniment to any sweet or savoury dish. I like to eat quinoa cold and add grated carrot, apple, spring onions, frozen peas and any other leftover vegetables sprinkled with a little apple cider vinegar & olive oil, I find it keeps well for days and makes a great lunch whether I am eating at home or on the go.
The word ‘amaranth’ means “everlasting” in Greek. This tiny seed has endured the ages as an important food source for ancient civilisations in South America and Mexico, to its current resurgence in western society as a highly nutritious gluten free grain. Amaranth seeds can be used as you would any other grain and ground into flour. Both amaranth & quinoa are much higher in protein and essential vitamins & minerals than wheat.
A Little Lighter on the Pocket…
Two inexpensive alternatives which have worked they way into western cuisine are gram & millet.
Gram is made from chickpeas and is an essential ingredient in the Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine and is widely used now in the UK gluten free market. It is dense flour and is an excellent choice when making savoury pancakes, scones, dumplings or fritters. Chickpeas also have a wide range of healthy vitamins and minerals and contain a good ratio of protein.
Now millet is not just for ‘Rocky’ – your pet budgie!, it can do you some good as well. Millet is an inexpensive, highly nutritious gentle grain which is very versatile. You can use millet as you would any other grain – it is a great gluten-free alternative to couscous, makes great porridge and meal accompaniments.
So, what are you waiting for? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so to speak. Get out there and try some of the alternatives I have mentioned, you may be surprised by how much healthier you feel as well as enjoying new delicious tastes and flavours.