ask the nutritionist: should I go gluten-free?

Gluten-Free. These two words are all around us yet so many of us have no idea what it means, where it is found and why we should or shouldn’t avoid it. Gluten-Free foods are showing up in grocery stores, restaurants and even ball-parks.

Gluten-Free Stand at Coors Field

Let’s start with the basics:

  • Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. (Oats do not have any gluten in them but are often cross contaminated with wheat so are not always safe unless they are certified gluten-free.)


  • People who have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease  cannot digest gluten which causes many digestive ailments and can even dmage the villi of the intestines after time.
  • There is no “cure” or pill for Celiac Disease – a gluten-free diet for life is the only current course of healing. Unfortunately many people with Celiac Disease are undiagnosed although 1 out of 100 are affected.
  • How do you know if you have a gluten intolerance? You need to have your blood tested by your Doctor. Symptoms can be found here.
  • Is gluten bad for us? No, if you do not have an intolerance or Celiac Disease, gluten does not cause your body any harm.
  • Are gluten-free foods healthy? There are some great gluten-free products that utlize whole-grains like quinoa, teff, amaranth, millet, etc. – there are also a lot of products that are full of refined gluten-free flours and sugars – so gluten-free on the label doesn’t always equal healthy.
  • So I’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance, now what? The resources that are now available are abundant – my favorite is the “Gluten-Free Diet A Comprehensive Resource Guide” by Shelley Case. This book has great information on Celiac Disease, recipes and recommended gluten-free products – considered the Gluten-Free Bible!
  • There are also many online resources: Celiac Disease Foundation, Gluten Intolerance GroupCeliac Sprue Association that are very informative and a great starting point for more information.

I hope I’ve answered some of your questions about gluten and gluten intolerance’s – let me know if you have any others!

Have you tried or do you eat any gluten-free foods?

cherry chicken pasta salad

A Twin Cities chain of grocery stores has a cherry chicken pasta salad that is truly hard to resist. I don’t even know how or why I tried this – it really isn’t my style, but I may or may not get a small container of it on Friday afternoons. While it is undeniably delicious, I knew it could be equally delicious made-over.

The pasta could be whole-grain, the chicken, well, it would preferably be organic or free-range and the mayo and poppy seed dressing? Could definitely benefit from some lightening. So here it is – it may not be as creamy as the store version, but it is certainly a lot better for you and I promise you won’t miss all the mayo!

Cherry Chicken Pasta Salad  – makes a large bowl

  • 8 oz whole-grain penne
  • 8 oz chicken thighs, cooked and chopped (we grilled ours)
  • 3 oz dried cherries
  • 5 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 bunch of green onions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup Briannas poppy seed dressing

Prepare pasta as directed. Let cool. Combine mayo and poppy seed dressing and stir until combined. Toss with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate for 2 hours minimum. Serve over greens or straight from the bowl!

breakfast quesadilla

The Breakfast Quesadilla at the French Meadow Cafe has got to be one of my favorite items on the menu. Sprouted tortillas? Love. Eggs? Love. Spinach? Love. Cheese? Obviously.

It has been far to long since I’ve visited the cafe, but I was craving that quesadilla so I decided to make it myself. The taster suggested adding some peppers, onions and mushrooms to the egg mixture and I’m always happy to add some extra vegetables to meals – the more vegetables the better in my book.

While this may be called a Breakfast Quesadilla, I consider  to be a well-balanced meal anytime of the day. And I can tell you from experience that it happens to taste wonderful at dinner time.

Breakfast Quesadilla – 2 servings

Spray pan with cooking spray and add onions, peppers and mushrooms, stirring occasionally over medium heat. Add eggs and cooked until set, 2-3 minutes. Heat large pan over medium heat. Place one tortilla in pan and layer with egg mixture, spinach and cheese. Top with other tortilla and cook until cheese has melted. Slice and serve with guacamole, salsa and jalapeño sour cream.