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Gluten-Free? Not for Me

By Cheryl Forberg, RD
Image of Cornbread Sausage and Chestnut Dressing
Perhaps the longest lasting “trend” in recent years is the widely popular gluten-free craze. For many people who have 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 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 this be?

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 bread?

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 necessarily healthier.

Gluten-free 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! Be sure to check the ingredient list and nutrition facts label.

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.

If you’re headed into the holiday season with a GF guest at your table, here is a scrumptious recipe that EVERYONE can enjoy.

Cornbread Sausage and Chestnut Dressing
Stuffing baked outside of the bird is actually called dressing. It can be dry if you don’t add the right blend of ingredients. This dressing is luscious and moist and doesn’t contain all of the cholesterol and added fat of a stuffing baked under turkey skin.

Yield: 6 cups; enough for stuffing turkey breast and eight ½ cup side dish servings


4 cups Gluten-Free Cornbread Cubes (check the label; some cornbread recipes do use a bit of white flour)
4 ounces Lean Italian Turkey Sausage, casing removed
1 tablespoon Grapeseed Oil
1 cup Yellow or White Onion, chopped
¼ cup Celery, diced
¼ cup Carrot, diced
1 small Garlic Clove, crushed
1 (6.5 ounce) package Melissa’s Steamed Chestnuts, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon Dried Thyme
¾ teaspoons Dried Sage
¼ teaspoon Dried Marjoram
1 cup Fat-Free, Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
¼ cup Fresh Parsley, minced
½ teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Egg, lightly beaten

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Place cornbread in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. In a small nonstick skillet, cook sausage over medium-high heat, crumbling and stirring until brown and cooked through. Drain well and set aside.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat canola oil over medium heat. Stir in onions, celery and carrots; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer, but don’t allow garlic to brown. Stir in sausage, chestnuts, thyme, sage, marjoram and 1/4 cup of the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat; pour vegetable mixture over cornbread. Add parsley and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. (The dressing may be prepared to this stage a day ahead and refrigerated, covered.)
  4. Whisk together egg and remaining ¾ cup broth and pour over cornbread mixture, tossing well. Spray 2-quart baking dish with grapeseed oil cooking spray and transfer to baking dish. Cover dish with foil and set aside.
  5. Place covered baking dish of dressing in oven. Bake for about 30 minutes or until top begins to brown.
Nutrition Facts:

Calories 100
Calories from Fat 35
Total Fat 3.5g
Sat Fat 1g
Cholesterol 30mg
Sodium 310mg
Total Carb 12g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugar 4g
Protein 3g
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