Pros: A wealth of useful information & encouragement; good recipes
Cons: No recipe photos
Rating: 5 out of 5
In order to produce The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Eating, writer Eve Adamson paired up with dietitian Tricia Thompson, MS, RD. Thompson specializes in nutrition consulting for celiac disease, a condition in which the ingestion of gluten found in wheat, barley, and rye results in damage to the body in ways that reduce its ability to absorb needed nutrition. In order to best research the book and understand the concerns of gluten-free eaters, Adamson went entirely gluten-free while writing it.
I daresay that most people who aren’t gluten intolerant don’t understand much about this condition. It’s something I have some familiarity with, as celiac disease runs in my family (in fact, I’m still awaiting my own biopsy results to make sure I don’t have it myself—because family history makes you much more likely to have it yourself, if you have relatives with celiac it just makes sense to get tested for it). To quote author Adamson,
Recently, we hosted a big multi-course Italian dinner party at my house, and my friend said, “You aren’t going to be gluten-free tonight, are you? …
The other day, at a potluck, I commented that the cake looked really good. A friend said to me, “Well, can’t you just eat the frosting off the top?”
These comments make a couple of assumptions. First, that gluten-free eating is a choice in the way that, say, only eating organic foods is a choice. In general, if someone is on a gluten-free diet, it means that eating gluten will actively damage their body and make them sick. Second, that you can just eat around anything that has gluten in it. Instead, although gluten intolerance isn’t an allergy, it’s as sensitive and potentially dangerous to a person as many allergies. The guidelines in here are very clear: you can’t afford to eat any gluten. Cross-contamination of utensils, dishes, and pots is a serious issue. You can’t just pick the croutons out of your salad or cook your gluten-free pasta in water that was used to cook regular pasta. You can’t use the same spatula on your gluten-free cookies that was used on regular cookies. Even though oats don’t have gluten in them, most are contaminated with gluten, so you can’t cook with them unless they’re specified as gluten-free.
Getting the idea of just how tough gluten-free eating can be?
Thankfully, Adamson and Thompson have written this book in the attempt to make this difficult task much easier—on you and everyone around you. They explain what celiac disease is, why you shouldn’t try to diagnose yourself, and how to get a proper diagnosis. They give you a general idea of the foods that do and don’t have gluten in them. (Bet you weren’t expecting beer to be on the ‘has gluten’ list, were you? Luckily for you beer afficionados, there are some good gluten-free beers out now, and the authors evaluate some of them for you.)
The authors give you a guide to reading food labels and interpreting menus. They tell you where to look for ‘hidden’ gluten. While they can’t tell you which brands or specific items will or won’t have gluten (as this changes all the time), they give you an idea of which foods tend to have gluten in them, or have gluten-free alternatives available. They also recommend some specific favorite gluten-free brands that each author prefers.
One of my favorite parts about this book, however, is that the authors understand that you aren’t just dealing with the grocery store—you want to go out to eat, and you want to eat with friends. They tell you not just how to make things easier on yourself, but also how to make things easier on others so that they can better accommodate your needs. They even discuss such things as making road-trips gluten-free!
It’s hard to believe it, but on top of all that they even manage to fit in some recipes. Only a smattering—they’re really meant more as examples of the fact that you can eat well when gluten-free than as a full resource of foods. There’s a baking mix and several recipes that use it. Given that it’s particularly tough to bake without gluten, I of course had to try this out to let you know how it came out. The baking mix’s ‘secret ingredient’ is xanthan gum. This is a rather expensive ingredient, but when you consider that a teaspoon of the stuff is enough to last through a batch of cookies and a pancake breakfast, you realize that the high price spreads itself out pretty well.
Speaking of those pancakes, they were incredibly delicious and surprisingly thick and decadent. To quote my husband, “I expected to say that these were good for gluten-free, but they’re just good.” We both agreed that we’d happily make those again as a delicious recipe in its own right, regardless of its gluten-free status. The chocolate chip cookies weren’t quite as indistinguishable from the ‘real thing,’ but I enjoyed them in their own right. They were soft, almost cake-like, and surprisingly molasses-flavored.
When we made a tuna pasta salad using brown rice pasta, I deliberately picked up the brand of pasta recommended by the author. It was far better than other non-wheat pastas I’d tried before, and I’d use it in place of regular pasta in a heartbeat even without the need to eat gluten-free.
If you have to eat gluten-free or have a friend or family member you want to help out in that regard, I highly recommend this book. It’s packed full of fascinating and useful information, encouragement, and delicious recipes!