JOPLIN, Mo. —
A national group is challenging people to try eating food without a key, hidden ingredient: Glutens, which are proteins found in all forms of wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Though found naturally in the grains, they are also added as a stabilizing agent to other foods, such as ketchup and ice cream.
Part of it is merchandising: The group has teamed up with Pamela’s Products, a maker of gluten-free foods. But there are some health concerns that call for avoiding glutens.
And the Gluten Intolerance Group is encouraging people to sit down at the same table and eat the same gluten-free foods. The group challenges families to leave glutens behind during the upcoming weekend.
Suzanne Nelson, owner of Suzanne’s Natural Foods, said that gluten-free foods comprise a significant amount of her stock. Baking mixes, frozen pizzas, pretzels, pancake mixes, macaroni and cheese, snack foods, chicken nuggets Ñ the list of gluten-free products is long and varied.
More than 1,000 gluten-free items are available at her store ÑÊmainly because some of her customers don’t have a choice.
“There’s a high demand for them, but not because people choose to eat that way,” Nelson said. “They have to eat that way for health reasons.”
Mainly, people afflicted with celiac disease must avoid glutens. The disease is a digestive disorder that creates a toxic reaction that damages the small intestine, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. One of every 133 people has the disease, according to the foundation.
There’s only one treatment for the disease, Nelson said: Avoid eating glutens.
“If they eat gluten it can be almost deadly,” she said.
A gluten-free diet has also been connected to treatment for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Nelson said that she hears from a lot of mothers who say they notice improvements in the behavior of their autistic children. When the Route 66 Movie Theater in Webb City hosts sensory-friendly films for autistic children and their families, they are allowed to bring in gluten-free snacks.
But unlike celiac disease, there is no scientific evidence that the diet helps, said Jennifer Kirby, clinical director for the Ozark Center for Autism.
She said the National Center for Autism labels such a diet as a “non-established treatment” that has no scientific evidence supporting that it works.
“All the evidence is anecdotal,” Kirby said. “And another problem that arises is that a lot of times kids with autism are picky eaters. Restricting diets can cause problems in that area.”
Kirby said that autistic children don’t suffer from gastrointestinal disorders any more regularly than other groups of children. But unlike most other groups, these kids may not be able to communicate any discomfort.
“Kids with autism can’t tell us when they have a tummyache,” Kirby said. “It involves a lot of problem solving.”
So how do they taste?
Nelson mixes up the food for her family. Her food selection is entirely preventive in nature, she said. She mixes the diet for her healthy 3-year-old son between gluten-free and normal foods, she said.
“I think that part of the problem with gluten intolerance is people consuming too much of them,” Nelson said. “I usually choose gluten-free, but it’s good to have a variety.”
The products cost about as much, if not more, than their counterparts.
Nelson said the gluten-free products tend to be a bit sweeter. Cookies tend to be more crumbly than soft and chewy, but not without flavor, she said. And she can’t tell a difference in pretzels or pizza crusts.
As part of its gluten-free challenge, the Gluten Intolerance Group encourages people to try some specially prepared entrees and try eating for a weekend without glutens. The following recipes are part of the challenge, which is at www.gogfchallenge.com:
Steamed pork dumplings
1 bag (3-1/2 cups) gluten-free bread mix including yeast packet
1/4 cup oil
11/4 cups warm water
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons soy sauce (be sure it’s gluten-free, tamari sauce works well)
6 green onions, chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Combine bread mix, yeast packet, oil and water (reserve a couple of tablespoons of mix for dusting dough later). Mix well to form dough. Let rise 60 minutes.
On plastic wrap sprinkle reserved mix and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Cut dough into 4-by-4-inch squares.
Mix pork with corn starch, soy sauce, green onions and red pepper. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons in the center of each square and fold dough over the top of the meat mixture. Place into lightly oiled steamer and steam 20 minutes. Cook in batches until all dumplings are ready to serve.
Serve with soy sauce or your favorite dipping sauce. Try adding garlic and/or ginger to the filling for a spicier dumpling.
Easy monte cristo sandwiches
2 cups gluten-free pancake mix
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
12 slices gluten-free, thinly sliced ham
12 slices gluten-free, thinly sliced turkey
2/3 cup strawberry fruit spread
powdered sugar for sprinkling on top
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch square baking dish. Mix the pancake mix and the butter with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, add the milk, and stir with a fork. Put half the mixture in the bottom of your baking pan, then sprinkle on 1 cup mozzarella, 1/2 of the thinly sliced ham, then 1/2 of the thinly sliced turkey. Spread strawberry fruit spread on top spreading to within 1/2 inch of the edge, then layer the last half of the ham, then the last half of the turkey, then sprinkle on 1 cup mozzarella. Spread the rest of the baking mix on top, and bake for 30 minutes.
When nicely browned remove from the oven and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Cut into wedges and enjoy.
Cherry chip cookies
11/2 cups melted butter
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla
3 cups gluten-free baking and pancake mix
1/4 teaspoon real salt
11/4 cups dried cherries
11/2 cups coconut
Mix wet ingredients, then add in dry ingredients. Form into balls and bake 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees.