Gluten-free? Not for Me!
By Cheryl Forberg, RD
Perhaps the longest lasting “trend” in recent years is the widely popular gluten-free craze. For many people who have a gluten
intolerance, or celiac disease this is no craze – it’s a necessity. Some people have a very real allergy or intolerance to this
protein which is found in several grains. They may suffer mild to severe digestive (and other) problems if they don’t adhere to a
very strict gluten-free diet.
Wheat is the primary gluten-containing grain, but there is also naturally occurring gluten found in rye and barley. Many oat
products also contain gluten, but gluten is not naturally occurring in oats. It is found in oats because of cross contamination
during processing. That said, you can purchase oats that are gluten-free (not cross-contaminated) and it will very clearly state
this on the label.(If it doesn’t say gluten free, assume it’s not.)
But what is gluten? If you ask a large number of people who swear by a gluten-free diet, you will find they don’t know what gluten
is. But they may claim to feel better avoiding it, and they may even say that “going gluten-free” helped them lose weight. How can
Gluten, also known as glutenin and gliadin are two proteins that are found in wheat. Glutenin provides the structure of many baked
goods such as bread, bagels and pizza crust. Some baked good recipes even called for the addition of extra pure gluten* to their
wheat flour to deliver an extra bang of gluten for extra chewy texture. For those who don’t have an allergy or intolerance, this can
be a very good thing. Who doesn’t love the texture of a perfectly chewy bagel, a crispy pizza crust, or a warm slice of homemade
Many people can’t enjoy any of these things and are forced to eat gluten-free to maintain their health. Because of the recent
increase in “GF” preference, there are now a plethora of GF products on the market. But just because it’s GF does not mean it’s
Many of the GF products may be void of wheat, barley, rye and gluten, but some contain highly refined flours (e.g. NOT whole grain),
and/or lots of sugar and not so healthy fats to make the taste and texture more tolerable. On top of that, many manufacturers are
charging a premium price for using ingredients that are not necessarily more expensive... buyer beware!
I don’t deny that many of us might feel better or even lose weight going GF – but that’s often because too many of us are simply
eating too many carbs, including too much wheat (often refined).
If you’re thinking of going GF because you believe you have a physical problem with it, please see your health professional to be
tested before embarking on a GF lifestyle plan. Otherwise you may never know if going G-free really made a difference in your
symptoms (if any).
I am not a heavy carb eater, but I do enjoy my whole grains, including wheat (rye AND barley). I’m always trying new grains and new
preparations to share with my clients and students not just because they’re healthy, but also because they’re delicious and have
incredible textures too.
Today I’d like to share a recipe for a vegetarian meatball made from “freekeh” an ancient form of whole grain wheat. Freekeh (pronounced “free-ka”)
is produced by harvesting wheat grains while they are still soft, young and green. They are then roasted and dried. Freekeh is the name of this process but not the name of a grain variety. It may also be referred to as freekah, frikeh, fireek, or farik.
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This is an adaptation of a recipe I tried last summer at Stoker's Wine Bar in Fargo, North Dakota. It’s a great recipe choice for
2 cups Vegetable Stock (or mushroom or chicken broth)
1 six-ounce package Melissa’s Freekeh
(about 1 cup)
¼ Yellow Onion
1 teaspoon Melissa’s Minced Garlic
2 tablespoons Cilantro
, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Fennel Seed
1 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
¾ teaspoon Smoked Salt (optional – if broth is salted this won’t be necessary)
¾ teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
In a 2 quart saucepan, combine broth, freekeh, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and then reduce to simmer.
Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until most of the broth is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to stand, covered for 10 minutes.
Drain freekeh of any excess liquid; reserve liquid. Cool freekeh.
Transfer cooked freekah to the bowl of a food processor. Add seasonings and process until the mixture looks like finely crumbled
sausage. It should not be puréed. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl. There should be about 2 cups.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Form seasoned freekeh mixture into sixteen 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) balls. If the freekeh doesn’t stick together, add a small amount
of water or reserved cooking liquid. Place on a nonstick baking sheet and bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or
until browned. You can also brown the meatballs in oil on the stove instead of baking).
Nutritional Analyses – one serving (4 meatballs)
Calories from fat