Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Wall Street Journal, gluten-free food, and perpetuating a negative image

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a column in the business section of the newspaper titled 'The Gluten-Free Craze: Is It Healthy' (http://online.wsj.com/articles/how-we-eat-the-gluten-free-craze-is-it-healthy-1403491041). Embedded deep within the story was a side-bar that stated this column was "first in a series about how consumer perceptions and corporate strategies shape the national diet."
This is what the nutrition and health news of the country have turned into - corporate strategies and a reporter's perceptions.
Interestingly, the article does state that about 20 million Americans (one to two million with Celiac disease and another 18 million with gluten intolerance) have a health requirement that necessitates that they eat gluten-free foods.
To put the size of this group into perspective: it is the same as the entire population of the City of Baltimore, MD; it ismore than Johns Hopkins Medicine website's estimated 15 million people in the U.S. with coronary heart disease (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/cardiovascular_diseases/cardiovascular_disease_statistics_85,P00243/)
Yet despite the size of the group of people who must eat gluten-free, the WSJ article still chose the word 'craze' to describe the increase in foods and consumer awareness surrounding this market segment. It makes the reader wonder whether the next drug company that brings a drug to combat coronary heart disease to market will be referred to as 'a craze.'
The writer in support of her position then shows three gluten-free products that have less nutrition than their 'with gluten' counterparts made from manufacturers who were adapting their existing product line. There was no information about readily available gluten-free products from mainstream manufacturers like Van'sSeeds of Change, and Bob's Red Mill and how they compare to those companies with dueling product lines - a more authentic comparison.
In addition, the article states that 'critics' view some product labeling as 'misleading' because certain manufacturers' products that have always been gluten-free (or trans-fat free, or whatever-free) are now labeled as such. Really. Accurate, clearly displayed information is now 'misleading'?
Many people without medical conditions chose to eliminate certain foods or ingredients from their diets because they feel better or have certain religious or social conscious beliefs. Why is there a stigma attached to those who chose to omit gluten?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Food for thought: an open mind can improve nutrition

Having a casual conversation with people about different foods and restaurants can often lead to more details about a person’s life. Their religious affiliation may include dietary restrictions. Their health issues might necessitate their avoidance of certain foods. Their chosen social consciousness may revolve around only eating particular food groups. And then, there are just the garden-variety picky eaters who only have a limited palate.
Sometimes though, a conversation can drift into that gray area of ‘diets’ that can make people feel uncomfortable (or even hostile). Why is it different when people talk about food and relate it to another facet of their lives (religion, health, or social consciousness) from a chosen diet regime?
On the one side, the ‘tellers’ are usually excited and motivated by their choice of diet. And, let’s face it - some people can be preach-y when they talk about the ‘one-true-way-to-eat-for-life.’ On the other side, the ‘listeners’ might be a little self-conscious about their own bad habits that have led to not feeling their best and subsequent feelings of defensiveness. Recently, there have been a lot of snarky comments in the news about gluten-free eaters and the surge in product options that are gluten-free in supermarkets and restaurant menus.
Even The New Yorker magazine got on a lighthearted bandwagon when it published a cartoon the week of April 28, 2014 that was captioned, "I've only been gluten-free for a week, but I'm already really annoying."(http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/I-ve-only-been-gluten-free-for-a-week-but-I-m-already-really-annoying-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i10691199_.htm) As recently as June 16, The New York Times proclaimed in a headline, 'Gluten-free eating appears to be here to stay' (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/18/dining/gluten-free-eating-appears-to-be-here-to-stay.html). Really.
However, every once in a while, there is an opportunity for what might be called a ‘teaching and learning moment’ where food and diets and choices converge.
While being asked about the content of this column, a question was asked by someone who was not familiar with what benefits there were for people to eat gluten-free foods and products who did not have to for health reasons. Here is the response given.
There are many nutritional benefits to wheat-based products as well as convenience, affordability, and availability. Unfortunately, there are many products that have gluten and gluten derivatives used as fillers and preservatives that do nothing but take away from a quality food product. As an example, Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q sauces, marinades, and rubs are all made with pure ingredients (spices, oils, juices, vinegars, etc.) that do not include wheat gluten. Other purveyors of similar products choose to use wheat gluten as a thickener and/or flavor enhancer. Choosing products and prepared foods that are labeled gluten-free is one way to find many “regular” products that are of a higher quality just like Stubb’s product assortment (http://www.stubbsbbq.com/products/).
The same example can be applied to the product of corn syrup. Corn syrup is a sugar. If it is in desserts, it is reasonable and makes sense (a sugar in a sweet product, of course!). If corn syrup is in tomato sauce, sandwich bread, and frozen dinner entrees, it becomes an ingredient that says the manufacturer just might be trying to use fillers and cheap ingredients (as well as making their products undesirable to customers who cannot or don't want to eat sugars).
Bottom line – we can all learn from one another about healthful options with open minds and sharp eyes on ingredient labels.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Salata - for salads that are great and gluten-free

Salata - The Next Generation Salad Bar is a restaurant chain making a commitment to healthy eating for all diners and especially those who eat gluten-free. Why? Salata states, "We respect the dietary restrictions of our customers and made a few modifications to our recipes to provide healthy dining options for all of our customers."

Wow. Salata gets it. Great recipes with a few modifications equals a menu for everyone to enjoy.
In addition, Salata informs diners that they do have a few items that are not gluten-free, that their restaurants are not a gluten-free environments, and to always be aware that cross-contamination can occur. They recommend that you speak with your location's Kitchen Manager, Owner, or Chef (who you will find are readily available and happy to help) before ordering because they practice "proper procedures when preparing gluten-free items and do our very best to ensure a final gluten-free product," according to their corporate offices.
Salata's website provides additional information on their products (dressings, soups, and sauces) as well as additional resources for their patrons at: http://salata.com/salata/glutenfree.
When you visit Salata here a few tasty tips to keep in mind because there is so much to choose from:
1) The first sign you see on the glass at the beginning of the salad assembly line encourages you to mention to a server if you need special assistance with a gluten-free meal. People are friendly and willing to help, so speak up.
2) There are lots of savory and sweet choices (from all the usual salad bar options and also a large variety of nuts & seeds, cheeses, dried and fresh fruits).
3) There are many dressings to choose from and the servers are happy to provide you with a tasting spoon so that you can sample them before your custom salad is tossed.
4) Go hungry. Portions are ample and a cup of one of the hot soups make a great add-on for a full meal.
To find a location near you, visit: http://salata.com/location/find and enjoy "Salata" great food.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Great gluten-free barbecue ideas and rich flavors for everyone

It can be difficult to find a variety of flavors in sauces, marinades, and spice rubs that are gluten-free. Look no further - there is Stubb's Legendary Bar-B-Q for everyone. (http://www.stubbsbbq.com)

Spice rubs come in four blends, and the 
Bar-B-Q and Steakrubs are particularly good - they are not only great rubs for meats, they also can be used for other dishes. Mixed into ground beef for an awesome grilled hamburger, or used as a sprinkle on top of a baked potato with butter and cheese, these rubs do double and triple duty in your kitchen.
Marinades come in six flavors. For the average cook, theChicken Citrus & Onion Marinade is a great staple to add to your pantry. Whether grilling chicken, or baking up some chicken tenders for a whole crowd, you can put the chicken in one or two zip lock plastic bags with the marinade in your fridge the night before for a deep flavor. Then grill or bake it all the next day for easy preparation - and time to enjoy your company. For the little more adventurous, try the Green Chile Marinade made with Hatch chilis, garlic, and lime as an enhancement to grilled or baked fish (like tilapia) and chicken and pork will work well, too. These two marinades give you many, many options.
Sauces also come in six flavors. Three varieties that will please everyone are the Spicy All Natural Bar-B-Q, theSticky Sweet, and the Original Bar-B-Q sauces. Whether basting your grilling meats as they cook or using them as a warmed-up dipping sauce after the meat is cooked, these sauces are deeply flavored and delicious. Most important, all sauces are made with pure cane sugar and molasses for sweetness (not high fructose corn syrup) for a richer, high quality product.
For even more recipes that are easy and will please a summer crowd at your house, visit Stubb's recipe page on their website at: http://www.stubbsbbq.com/recipes/ Then, sit back and share some great food that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Zoe's Kitchen at Preston Road & Park Blvd - something for everyone

The outrageously rich flourless chocolate cake that became a restaurant dessert menu staple several years ago is an excellent example of foods that do ‘double duty’ for diners. Flourless chocolate cake is often described as ‘an indulgent treat for chocolate lovers.’ If you have ever had this cake, you know that it is as described. And, this cake is also gluten-free (though rarely is it advertised or written about that way).
Back in the 1970’s when the first version of a famous diet doctor’s low carb diet became popular, in the disallowed food list happened to be everything that contained wheat and almost all grains, too. As many people decided that eating low-carb was the best diet for them, they didn’t even realize that they were also eating a gluten-free diet. Hmm… see where this is going?
Sometimes, it may be better not to ask about gluten-free restaurant menu selections. Sometimes it is better to ask for low-carb or vegan options. Why, you may ask?
Many establishments believe that is they offer an item as gluten-free, they must certify it to be from a no cross-contamination environment. This simply isn’t so. People with Celiac disease who must eaten pure gluten-free foods know this. Those who are not sensitive to cross-contamination do, too.
If an establishment wants to certify an item as gluten-free, there are steps the must take to do so and insure that these steps are followed. However, any place can offer a wide variety and selection of foods that fit many people’s needs – and offer a short disclaimer as to the possibility of cross-contamination as open disclosure.
As a restaurant customer, by keeping your mind open to what different menus provide and how other dietary selections can also meet a gluten-free standard, you can have better dining experiences.
A restaurant you might want to check out is Zoe’s Kitchen (http://zoeskitchen.com for locations and menu), and before going take a look at their ‘Live Mediterranean’ style with options for everyone.http://zoeskitchen.com/LiveMediterranean.aspx