Gluten Free Latin Everyday!

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Published on Latino American Today, October 2014, -article and recipes by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard.  Celiac disease is nothing new. It affects children, adults and elders in all parts of the world. More than 2 million people in the US have the disease. Many cases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because the symptoms vary by individual and often they can apply to other conditions. Adhering to a gluten-free diet can be challenging for celiac disease sufferers without the proper treatment and information. The food industry has responded with a multitude of gluten-free products to accommodate a rising demand and as a result, main grocery store shelves now stock a great variety of gluten-free foods virtually unseen a few years back.

Gluten is present in wheat, rye, barley, bulgur, and their byproducts, such as oats, pasta, breads, cereals, crackers, pies, cakes, cookies, beer, and in many restaurant and home-cooked meals like soups, sauces, and gravies that have been thickened with wheat flour. Other processed foods such as salad dressings, canned soups, candy bars, ice cream, deli cold cuts, instant coffee, ketchup, mustard, pills, vitamins, and even cosmetics, such as lip balm and lipstick, can contain gluten. At times it can be daunting trying to determine which foods have gluten, thus when in doubt, it is best to read labels or ask the maker. The internet is also a great resource (Celiac Disease Foundation, Mayo Clinic, and US Department of Health) for gluten-free foods and information about diet for this chronic condition.

Latin American fare can be a good ally in treating celiac disease. Fruits and vegetables are abundant in many Latin American cuisines and potatoes and rice often complement meals traditionally. Corn in many forms and corn tortillas are also a great and delicious substitute for wheat breads. Gluten-free pasta made with quinoa (a super food from the Andes region), is growing in popularity among not only special dieters, but also with many others who look for new, healthier, and alternative foods. Many Latin balanced meals containing lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans), and gluten-free starches (rice, potatoes, corn, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and others), are naturally gluten-free.

Home-cooked meals can be an excellent option for controlling gluten content. A weeknight meal consisting of pan-roasted chicken breast, baked fish or lean pork loin topped with lemon juice and fresh herbs (or a fresh fruit salsa), can be paired with potato purée and a quick salad made with butter lettuce, tomato, avocado and red onion and a quick red wine vinaigrette.

For breakfast, a small bowl containing 3-4 different kinds of fruit, whole grain toast (gluten-free) with a light buttery spread and strawberry preserves (or rice cereal topped with fruit of choice), and paired with a soft-boiled egg, are easy alternatives during a rushed morning. Cutting the fruit the night before eases the routine even more.

Lactose-free milk and dairy products are often part of the diet of people affected with celiac disease. These days it is easy finding all these products at main grocery chains. Licuados (recipe below) are a delicious and nutritious breakfast or snack drinks for the entire familia. Combine lactose-free milk with frozen fruit pulp or frozen fruit chunks, such as mango or strawberries, with a hint of almond extract and sugar to taste, or make a concoction of your own. Alternatively, simply combine various frozen fruits with ice and a bit of orange juice and honey to taste for a lighter and refreshing smoothie treat.

¡Buen provecho!

View Recipe: Licuado de Banano y Fresa (banana and strawberry smoothie)