The Wonderful World of Gluten and Wheat Free Alternatives

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Written by contributor Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home

It isn’t easy being gluten or wheat free.

Just this afternoon, I sat in a Starbucks, typing away happily. Except that to the left of me? An entire dessert display case, full of tempting, scrumptious looking goodies that screamed out, “You can’t eat me!” Sigh…

Thankfully, deprivation or frustration truly doesn’t have to be the story of our lives. Particularly over the past 3-5 years, awareness of gluten and other grain allergies has skyrocketed. This means more options for those of us who have to forgo the foods that others are able to enjoy, because now we can enjoy so many more things ourselves!

Which Grains Are Off Limits?

Before we go too far in this discussion, I think it’s important to make some clear distinctions between which grains are appropriate, depending on the nature of your dietary restrictions. There are plenty of grain alternatives that can be used in place of wheat.

If you are eating wheat-free, you could still consume these grains:

Kamut (an ancient form of wheat that many people tolerate even if they can’t eat wheat), spelt (same ideas as kamut), rye, barley, oats and any of the gluten free grains listed below.

If you are eating gluten-free, these grains are appropriate for you:

Rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat (technically not even a grain, but usually classified as one due to use and taste), millet, sorghum, cornmeal (I recommend organic only), coconut flour (again, not a grain, but a flour with growing popularity for those with allergies), nut flours (like almond flour- also not a grain, but a very versatile and delicious flour for baking and cooking).

This isn’t necessarily meant to be a primer on eating wheat- or gluten-free, but rather a practical walk through the types of baked goods that we eat most commonly.

I want to offer you some simple alternatives that will suit your dietary needs and maybe help you to think outside of the box when you’re feeling bogged down by restrictions of everything you can’t eat. Flipping it around, to see what you CAN eat, can be immensely helpful and hopeful.

Here are some options that might work for the various foods you’re wishing you could have…


Photo by adactio

1. Bread

The staff of life. Our daily bread. With phrases like this, it’s no wonder that not being able to just eat bread like everyone else can feel like a death sentence.

The truth is, there are plenty of bread options for those who are both wheat- and gluten-free, so you need not be deprived.

Wheat-Free Alternatives:

  • Sourdough rye
  • Breads made of “ancient grains”, like kamut or spelt, in place of wheat flour
  • Unique loaves like oat breads or barley bread

Watch out for:

  • Wheat flour mixed in to breads made with other grains, even if it’s not obviously stated on the package. If it’s not a specialty brand or a health food store, beware anything that looks like it’s wheat free. Unless you read the ingredients and see that it is truly wheat free, that fluffy “ancient grains” or “dark rye sourdough” loaf likely contains wheat just like everything else.

Gluten Free Bread Alternatives

  • Rice bread– you can find this in both brown and white varieties. It often contains other starches to help bind it together and create a better texture, things like tapioca starch, potato starch, arrowroot powder, and the like. This is usually fine, unless you have other sensitivities or allergies, and then always check the ingredients carefully.
  • Coconut bread– a grain free alternative, you’ll be hard pressed to find this in stores, but it’s a tasty and easy loaf to make at home.
  • Some speciality stores will offer breads made with unique gluten-free grains like millet, quinoa, amaranth or buckwheat. They’re likely expensive, but may be worth it to you if they add a bit of variety to your diet.

Watch out for:

  • Any other allergens. Common ones to look for includes eggs and soy, although there may be others.
  • I’ve recently been off of yeast as well as any type of sugars, including honey. That meant that even most gluten free breads were off limits for me, but by looking carefully I did manage to find one that was a sourdough-leavened, sweetener-free, gluten-free bread. Score!

Photo by jenn.b

2. Quick Breads- Muffins, Pancakes (and all those other forms of yumminess)

When it comes to quick breads, you’re more likely to end up having to make your own. BUT, wheat- and gluten-free mixes are becomming more common, as are specialty bakeries in health food stores, that might offer a few allergy-friendly options like muffins or English muffins.

Wheat-Free Alternatives:

  • Kamut and spelt are both wonderfully easy to work with. They can generally be substituted at 1:1 ratios (sometimes I use just slightly less kamut, as it can absorb liquids a little more readily). You can typically convert your favorite quick bread and breakfast recipes to using kamut and spelt with little extra effort than simply buying a different bag of flour.
  • Alternative flours like barley and oat can add interest and different textures to your recipes. Oat flour is great in pancakes and waffles. I’ve often enjoyed using barley flour in more refined baking, like scones, cookies or muffins.

Gluten-Free Alternatives

  • You’ll probably want to buy or make a gluten-free flour mix, a combination of different flours that will help you to achieve the best overall flavor and texture results. Flours like millet, amaranth, or buckwheat are great for a portion of your flour, but not usually for the whole. Starches like arrowroot and tapioca are often added in to the mix, as they help the product to stick together better and can lighten the texture. Once you have a gluten-free flour mix that you like, recipes become much easier, as you can dump in 3 cups of the mix, instead of 1/4 cup of this, and 1 cup of that.
  • Gluten-free mixes are becoming increasingly available for any sort of muffin, sweet bread, pancake, waffle, pizza crust, etc. that you’d like to make.
  • Quick breads are easy to make with grain-free alternatives, like coconut flour and almond flour. In fact, some of the best gluten-free quick breads I’ve made have been with almond flour. I find the recipes quick and simple to pull together, and less finicky than many other gluten free recipes. Almond flour also has a natural sweetness that makes it perfect in something like banana or zucchini bread, or a slightly-sweet pancake.

Watch out for:

  • Again, other allergens. Just because it is gluten-free doesn’t mean it doesn’t have cornstarch, eggs, soy, nuts or other products. Always check the ingredients.
  • Sugars. I’ve come to see that gluten-free products are not necessarily made with unrefined sweeteners, or are any lower in sugars than conventional processed foods. If you see words like “organic sugar” on the back, that’s just a word for fancy organic refined sugar, but it’s still refine and should be avoided.
  • Most grain-free goodies need to be made with eggs, in order to rise nicely and not have a thick, dense texture. If you can’t eat eggs, you’ll probably want to stick more with gluten-free grains and use an egg replacer like flax seed instead.

Photo by pixelnaiad

3. Cereals

Both hot and cold, cereals are delicious breakfast fare. Given the choice, my children would probably eat them 2-3 times a day (and among other reasons, that is why God gave mothers to children).

Wheat-Free Alternatives

  • Oats are a perfect alternative. Make them into hot oatmeal (or a baked oatmeal), or make homemade granola for a cold breakfast with milk or yogurt.
  • I’ve seen quite a few cereals on the market these days made with wheat-free flours like kamut. Flakes, O’s, even crunchy cluster type cereals are beginning to go wheat-free.

Gluten-Free Alternatives

  • Hot cereal can be made with certified gluten-free oats, but it can also use grains such as millet or quinoa. Topped with milk, honey, fruit, cinnamon, etc. these can taste just as much as delicious breakfast cereal as anything else.
  • Gluten-free cereals are probably one of the biggest trends in health food stores these days. If you walk through the cereal aisle, I bet you’ll find at least half of them to be gluten free, in almost any flavor, size, style as their conventional-cereal counterparts.
  • Really creative options, like the granola Holy Crap (yes, I really hate the name, but it’s actually quite tasty) are coming out. For example, this particular “granola” consists of hemp, chia and flax (??), in addition to various dried fruits, with no sweeteners or grains at all. Add it to yogurt or your choice of milk and it’s a pleasant alternative.

Watch out for:

  • Again, sugar. Especially so with boxed cereal alternatives. The kids ones are the worst, so be mindful to look for wholesome sweeteners instead of refined ones (honey, molasses, maple syrup, or at least unrefined cane sugar), but even more so, look for ones with sugar very low down on the list. There are a few out on the market that are fruit-juice sweetened instead, which is an improvement over the more sugar-laden ones.
  • The oils in cereal and granolas in particular. I personally avoid canola, soy and corn oils, and yet those refined vegetable oils are frequently used in even health food store options.
  • Puffed cereals. The process used to puff these grains isn’t very kind to the digestive system, so avoid these as much as you can. Hot cereals or granolas made with rolled whole grains or whole grain flours are a much better option.

Photo by missmeng

4. Desserts and Sweet Treats

We’re moved into holiday season and that means there are more tempting goodies around than usual. Although we may not be able to eat much of what is offered when we’re out, this does NOT have to apply when treating yourself at home!

Those of us who avoid wheat or gluten can make just as many scrumptious goodies as anyone else, and you’ll hardly know you’re missing anything at all. Attending holiday get-togethers? Bring your own diet-friendly treats along to share with everyone else.

Wheat-Free Alternatives

  • Just as with quick breads, most of your favorite recipes can be easily adapted to use flours like kamut and spelt. The sky is the limit!
  • Think outside the baking box. What about meringues, puddings, baked fruit, special drinks, homemade chocolates or truffles, nut and fruit balls or bars, and other grain-free delights?

Gluten-Free Alternatives

  • There are SO many grain-free dessert recipes out there lately. How about Apple Pie or Chewy Gingersnaps, for example?
  • Almond flour (or other nuts flours) makes amazing desserts. Try Elena’s Pantry (and her cookbooks) for incredible recipes.
  • Pie crusts are so easy, and you can make any number of amazing fillings to go with them. One of my favorite crusts is made with butter, honey, coconut flakes and ground almonds.
  • Looking for fast and easy? There are some delicious gluten free baking mixes out there when you need something in a pinch. A friend of mine raves about Namaste’s mixes, particularly their Spice Cake Mix.
  • Rice flours adapt well to dessert recipes. If you want to buy something ready made, chances are you can find cookies or bars in your local health food store made with rice flour.
Watch out for:
  • Refined sugars are still a big culprit in any packaged desserts or mixes. Look for unrefined sweeteners whenever possible.
  • Your special treats being eaten up just as quickly as any regular treat, just because they’re so good that you can’t keep other naughty fingers away from them. :)

Recipe Resources

Here are a few of the places that I frequently find delicious wheat and gluten free recipes:
Cheeseslave (lots of grain-free recipes)

Do you eat wheat or gluten free? What alternatives work best for you? What tips do you have for making it easier to eat this way?

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About Stephanie

Stephanie Langford has a passion for encouraging homemakers who want to make healthy changes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke, and (her newest!) through successful meal planning. Together she runs a music school teaching piano lessons in Surrey with her handsome husband, is mama to 4 little ones, and she is the editor and author of Keeper of the Home.

Comments

  1. WOW. What a great collection of information and resources. I’m browsing some of those recipe collections, and my GF mouth is watering. :)
    Sarah´s latest post: Four Sharps in a bathroom…

  2. Stephanie, neither myself nor anyone in my family has gluten or wheat intolerances, but I do have a few friends who need to avoid gluten, and I simply like having some gluten-free options on hand. That being said, have you found a ratio of gluten free flours that works rather well as a general replacement for wheat (example: 1 part spelt, 1 part kamut, 2 parts rice flour or something of the sort)? And if so, can you generally replace it 1:1 for wheat in a recipe? I’d love to be able to have a gluten-free mix I could reach for when needed. Thanks for a great article!!!

  3. Thank you for this great post! My son was just recently diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. He is three years old and it has been very difficult because he is a picky eater and eats basically only three things: dairy, fruit, and bread/crackers. I keep saying that this would be an easy transition if he would just eat meat and vegetables. As it is it’s been hard trying to get him to understand what’s going on and not to be devastated that he can’t have his beloved pizza. I’ve tried many of the GF products and he just can’t adapt to the taste. Any suggestions for GF foods that suit a pre-schooler’s palate?
    Elizabeth E.´s latest post: New Adventures

  4. What a great quick-guide! I’ve grown to really like millet and quinoa, and I’e also found that some people who are gluten-intolerant can still handle wheat is it’s been soaked overnight with water and a little bit of apple cider vinegar.
    Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)´s latest post: Using Lentils to Stretch Meat (Recipe: Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash)

  5. Love this list! There’s a lot I’m avoiding right now: wheat, gluten, soy, eggs, dairy, and baker’s yeast. I found a tapioca bread that was legal for me, but I didn’t care for it. I wish I could have eggs! That would make homemade breads so much easier. Maybe soon.
    Kacie´s latest post: Keeping warm this winter

  6. Jodi Peterson says:

    Can I ask what the brand is that you found of the sourdough that wasn’t sweetened? The only sweetener my son can tolerate is maple syrup (not even honey!) so i have looked high and low for a GF sugar free bread.
    We love Pamela’s baking mix as a base for quick breads and pancakes. It doesn’t have sugar so I can add my own.
    Thanks Jodi

    • It was a local Canadian brand, but I’ve seen a couple different ones when I look really closely at the stores. One is in a conventional grocery store, in their dark rye bread section, and it’s basically rye, water, salt. The other is in the bread section of a health food store, and same ingredients, but another small company.
      Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home´s latest post: Happy Thanksgiving

  7. You know I’ve wanted to try going wheat/gluten free for a while to see if it would clear up some of my health problems but thought it would be tough finding substitutes. Thanks for the list! I’m gonna give it a shot… at least for a couple weeks! :)
    carly´s latest post: My Beaverton dentist

  8. I just stumbled on your blog. I want to share that we are gluten intolerant and follow the suggestions on the website http://www.glutenfreesociety.org It has improved the health of everyone in the family and I believe it saved my baby’s life. The website is very informative on the subject of gluten intollerance and has many videos, podcasts and articles related to the subject for anyone who is interested in learning more.
    Tina´s latest post: Daybook ~ November 14, 2011

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