A Big Bet on Gluten Free – But Why?


A (semi) recent New York Times article, “A Big Bet on Gluten-Free,” discussed the trend of grocery retailers and food product companies capitalizing on the boom in gluten-free eating. From food labels to shelf labels, everything and anything that is gluten-free is being labelled as so, including naturally gluten-free foods such as fruit juice, fresh produce, and milk. Beyond that, dry food manufacturers such as General Mills (which owns brands like Betty Crocker and Bisquick) have been creating gluten-free versions of their products over the last five years to compete with the slew of small businesses such as Glutino and Udi’s, who were the first to cater to the market. The growth of the GF market has gotten so big that Smart Balance purchased Glutino for over $66 million in 2011, and Udi’s for more than $120 million the following year. Food companies saw a real potential for growth of this market, and are not stopping anytime soon to take advantage.


However, while reading this article I found myself wondering why? Yes, it’s undeniable that this trend has really taken off – and probably in a long-term way, unlike the short-lived “cupcake fad” to which the article refers – but why have people been so quick to jump on the bandwagon? Not a day goes by without some talk show hosting a nutritionist or dietitian who warns us about the dangers of gluten for our digestive system. There’s no doubt that doctors and scientists are on to something when they say that, perhaps, we really weren’t meant to digest gluten after all. Well it’s great that we know that finally. But are we completely taking their advice in the wrong way?

You can walk into a Whole Foods, Star Market, or Stop&Shop and find a version of just about anything that is labeled gluten-free: healthy cereal, unhealthy cereal, toaster pastries, cheese puffs, cupcakes, donuts, sandwich bread. But if you are already on a high-carb diet and you simply switch from regular starchy foods to gluten free ones, are you really doing your body any good? Yes, there is that chance that the gluten-free version is slightly more natural, or made by a certified-organic company (or hey, at least it doesn’t have that evil gluten in it). There is also a chance it is just as crap-loaded as the “original” product, laden with unnatural sugar, processed oils, and ingredients you can’t pronounce. That so many Americans are concerned with health (why would they switch to GF eating – which they somehow think is healthier – if they weren’t?) but fail to see this baffles me. The proof is in the numbers – only 1.8 million people in American suffer from celiac, but way more than 1.8 million people are feeding off this gluten-free market.

I wish that someone would come out and say, “Hey Americans, gluten-free is only a healthier option if you cut out the processed crap!” And there is plenty of processed crap that just happens to be gluten-free. It is only by adding more vegetables, fruits, and fresh, clean foods to your diet that you will truly begin to feel the benefits of a gluten-free diet. As Dr. Osborne explained in a recent video, simply replacing gluten with other grains isn’t going to do you any good. You will begin to feel healthier only by living a clean lifestyle rather than just a gluten-free one. It’s great that the gluten-free market is so big now that I can run to the store and get some GF “oreos” if I am really craving them, but the tricky thing is to not let this become a habit.

No-Churn Banana Cocoa Ice Cream from Comfy Belly

I wanted to share this Banana Cocoa Ice Cream  from Comfy Belly just because. And everyone deserves a nice bowl of ice cream once in a while. It is simple, easy, and probably only the healthiest ice cream you could make. There are three ingredients. Seriously, three. I made it twice over the weekend using my Magic Bullet. Perfection.
banana ice cream

Starbucks Orange Cake by Elena’s Pantry

I tried this orange cake for the first time to bring to my dad’s house the Friday night of Easter weekend, and my family – including my little five-year-old taste-tester brother – really enjoyed it. It is not as sweet as you would expect, especially since the entire orange is used in the recipe, but it really is rich, creamy, and the perfect spring desert. Though I used 100% organic ingredients, it does call for quite a bit of sweetener, so I had to stop myself from having a second slice!


Starbucks Orange Cake by Elena's Pantry
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6-8
  • 2 oranges
  • 4 eggs, or 2 eggs and equivalent egg whites
  • 2 cups blanched almond flour
  • ¾ cup agave nectar or honey
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  1. Wash the oranges and boil them whole (peel and all) for 1½ hours, or until soft
  2. Place whole oranges (peel and all) in a food processor and blend until smooth
  3. Process in eggs, agave, almond flour, salt and baking soda until well blended
  4. Pour batter into a greased 9-Inch round cake pan
  5. Bake at 375° for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean
  6. Cool in the pan for 2 hours
  7. Serve


This entry was posted in Recipes.

Almond Flour Brownies from the Wannabe Chef

These almond flour brownies from the Wannabe Chef are ridiculously good. I don’t know what else to say – if you are Paleo, gluten-free, dairy free, enjoy baking with almond flour, or just really appreciate a good brownie, you need to try them for yourself! In this version, I swapped out some of the ingredients to make it dairy-free and sugar-free, but butter and regular cane sugar could be used as well.

For chocolatey desserts like this, I’ve been using Trader Joe’s semisweet chocolate chips lately – they are delicious and inexpensive and dairy-free. Note: They are not guaranteed vegan and still have sugar as one of the ingredients. If you are 100% against consuming processed sugar or are Paleo, go for unsweetened dark chocolate chips and add a couple extra tablespoons of agave,  maple syrup, or honey to the brownies. (You can find so many high-quality brands of unsweetened chocolate at Whole Foods.) Otherwise, I would definitely recommend T Joe’s if you want to indulge a little.

Almond Flour Brownies from the Wannabe Chef
5.0 from 1 reviews
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 16
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup + 2 T agave or maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules or espresso powder (optional)
  1. Mix together almond flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a small bowl
  2. In a separate bowl, melt ½ cup chocolate chips with the coconut oil (if solid)
  3. In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, sweetener, vanilla, and coffee powder if using
  4. Slowly pour the melted chocolate/oil combination into the wet ingredients while whisking until fully incorporated. Don't go too fast so that the raw eggs don't cook upon contact.
  5. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients while whisking or stirring and mix completely.
  6. Pour the batter into an 8 x 8 pan that is greased or lined with wax paper and greased.
  7. Sprinkle the top with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate and gently press into the batter.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Let cool completely before cutting in.


This entry was posted in Recipes.

Double Chocolate Orange Torte from Elena’s Pantry

This double chocolate orange torte from Elena’s Pantry is decadent, rich, and incredibly satisfying. I tried it a couple weekends ago for Easter along with these other desserts, and the family members who tried it absolutely loved it. However, something I would do differently next time is line the pan with wax paper, as the torte was very stubborn in coming out of the pan, or I would actually buy a springform pan like Elena suggests. (I don’t know how easy it would be to line a 9-in round cake pan with wax paper, but I guess where there’s a will there’s a way…)

Double Chocolate Orange Torte from Elena's Pantry
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
Note: I adapted a few of the ingredients here based on what I actually used. I substituted coconut oil for grapeseed oil, and used only half the amount. For the other half, I substituted the oil with applesauce. I also used Trader Joe's brand semisweet chocolate chips and added a dash of orange juice, and the torte turned out fabulous.
  • ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup blanched almond flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup agave nectar
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ applesauce
  • 1 T orange zest
  • 1 T orange juice
  • ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Place ½ cup chocolate chips in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground
  2. Pulse in almond flour, cocoa powder, and salt and process about 10 seconds
  3. Agg eggs to food processor and pulse again, then add in agave, grapeseed oil, orange juice and orange zest
  4. Pulse all ingredients until smooth
  5. Remove bowl from food processor and stir in second ½ cup of chocolate chips using a spoon or a spatula
  6. Transfer batter into a greased 8 or 9-inch springform pan (I used a regular nonstick pan and had trouble with sticking)
  7. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean



Almond Flour Everything

In the spirit of promoting almonds and almond flour in my last post, I wanted to share a few of the amazing recipes I tried last weekend for Easter. I literally spent two hours that Saturday night scouring the internet for even more almond flour recipes after experimenting with it for the first time and realizing what delicious desserts it produces. After I had finished baking my desserts and wrapping them up (at 2 AM), I was so excited that I made a list on my google docs of all the recipes I want to try in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll share these few from some of my favorite paleo/gluten free/foodie blogs. You can also find the versions I shared on my “Favorite Recipes” page here.

The Wannabe Chef’s AMAZING almond flour brownies:



Decadent double chocolate orange tort from Elena’s Pantry:



Starbucks orange cake from Elena’s Pantry:



So what’s the deal with almonds?


Last weekend I prepared three desserts for Easter, each of them using almond flour. It was my first time baking with almond flour – as in, I didn’t even get to try all of my creations before serving them to my discriminating family – but the recipes I found looked so delicious and received so many positive reviews that I didn’t even think twice. But I was met by a few disappointing responses by my family members when I asked them to test out my treats: “I’m afraid of all the fat from the almond flour,” “I’m trying to be healthy,” and of course, the scrunched-up-nose face.

And yet, not a single one of my family members refused my aunt’s famous strawberry cream pie which – I’m sure it was absolutely delicious and the perfect Easter treat, but it paled in comparison to my desserts in terms of nutrition! I didn’t understand why everybody jumped to the conclusion that my totally natural, almond flour, agave, and coconut oil-based treats were so bad for you. Sure, they certainly aren’t the best things you can eat – but hey, they are still desserts, and they are about as healthy as you are going to get for a decadent dessert.

So I decided to do some investigating so that I can prove to my family almond flour is, indeed, a healthier alternative to wheat flour. Blanched almond flour is made entirely from blanched (skinless) raw almonds – a great alternative to people who don’t always like the gritty texture of coconut flour or who have an allergy to it. And like coconuts, almonds are dense with nutrients, protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Here are some facts I found from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle :

Eating about 23 almonds a day is an easy way to incorporate many crucial nutrients into your diet. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Additionally, almonds are a significant source of protein and fiber, while being naturally low in sugar. One 23-almond serving packs 13 grams of healthy unsaturated fats, 1 gram of saturated fat and no cholesterol or salt. Of all tree nuts, almonds rank highest in protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin content by weight. There are 160 calories in 23 almonds. While many of these calories come from fat, it is primarily the healthy unsaturated fats and not the unhealthy saturated kind.

Heart Health:
According to the FDA, eating 1.5 ounces a day of most nuts, like almonds, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Many of the nutrients in almonds help contribute to increased heart health. For one, almonds are rich in magnesium, which is critical in preventing heart attacks and hypertension. Several clinical studies have also shown almonds can be effective in reducing bad cholesterol and preserving healthy cholesterol, which plays a major role in heart health.

Weight Maintenance:
Nuts, like almonds, are also beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight. The fiber, protein and fat content of almonds means it only takes a handful to keep you feeling full and satisfied so you won’t have the urge to overeat. According to “Fitness” magazine, the magnesium in almonds helps regulate blood sugar, which is key in reducing food cravings. Almonds may even be able to block the body’s absorption of calories, making them the ultimate weight-loss-friendly snack. Because almonds are naturally high in calories, it’s important to limit your serving size to the recommended 1 ounce, or 23 nuts.

Other Health Benefits:
Almonds may also promote gastrointestinal health and even combat diabetes. The high fiber content of almonds gives them prebiotic properties, which contributes to health in the gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotics are non-digestible food substances, which serve as food for the good bacteria in the intestinal tract and help maintain a healthy balance. According to a study by the American Diabetes Association, a Mediterranean diet incorporating nuts, such as almonds, helps fight diabetes even without significant changes to weight, physical activity or caloric intake.

So what’s the verdict? Yes, almond flour, like all things that aren’t lettuce and water, should be eaten in moderation. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that a serving size here and there is a great way to incorporate healthy fats, protein, and nutrients into your diet.  So if you are going to feed your body with sweets and treats – nothing wrong with that, I know I would be a grumpy cat if I didn’t satisfy my sweet tooth a little bit every day – feed it with the right ingredients.

To be, or not to be gluten-free…that is the question

In this Fox interview from last February, Dr. Peter Osborne gives a great and simple explanation of why so many people have “gone gluten-free” and the issues surrounding a GF diet.

The skeptic in me tries to always keep in mind that many people do not suffer at all from eating gluten and simply do not have sensitive stomachs. But for the many who truly suffer from gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the intestines become inflamed, eliminating gluten doesn’t mean that just any product labelled as “gluten-free” will be okay for them – a gluten-free diet simply isn’t enough. Dr. Osborne argues in favor of a grain-free diet.

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat and barley – therefore , starchy products labelled as gluten-free will simply replace the wheat with another similar grain (think corn and rice). Dr. Osborne explains that these alternative grains may not have the gluten protein, but the proteins found in them are similar enough that they still irritate the stomachs of many celiac patients.

He talks about a recent study in which celiac patients were put on a “traditional” gluten-free diet, and 92% of the patients’ gut inflammation did not heal. Perhaps we will see new a new definition of celiac disease pop up soon as more studies like this continue to be done – could it be that the immune system attacks the body in celiac patients when any grain is consumed? And as the reporter asks, why is it, exactly, that food allergies have become so common in the last few decades? Is it because everyone wants to hop on the bandwagon of this new “trend”? Probably for some, but as Dr. Osborne explains, the rise in food allergies has been directly proportionate to the rise in GMOs and chemicals in our foods. On top of that, he says that grains were built with protective casings for a reason – humans are not meant to digest them.

Does this mean everyone should avoid grains because Mother Nature never intended for us to eat them? Or only the people who actually show symptoms? There are so many advocates out there for the various sides of this argument – what do you believe?

Have we really adapted, or is there truth behind the Paleo diet?

Paleo Diet


If you follow current fitness and nutrition trends, have fitness-junkie friends, or if you use any social media at all and have not been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard of the Paleo diet. Or the caveman diet, or the ancestral diet. These are all different names for the same diet, based on what our Paleolithic ancestors theoretically feasted on. Basically, their diets were comprised only of things they could kill, catch, or pluck from the ground. The idea is to adapt this to our crazy modern lives by eating as similarly as possible, though we’re probably not hunting and gathering our own food these days. The paleo diet, therefore, includes meat and fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. That’s it. Nothing processed, nothing that needs to be harvested, or milled, or churned or curdled. No dairy, grains, legumes, refined sugars, or processed oils. (That also means no booze). Nothing that needs to go through any sort of process other than simply cooking before it reaches our mouths.

Sounds healthy, right? And according to many advocates of this diet – which is a lifestyle, they would tell you, more than a diet – it is the healthiest way we can possibly eat in our modern world. This is based on the idea that our hunter-gathering, Paleolithic ancestors were largely disease, sickness, disorder and allergy-free (at least, as far as we know).  The Paleo diet has become so popular not just because of its weight-loss benefits, but because of all the research that points to its inverse relationship with sickness, disease, and disorders. Robb Wolf, former biochemist, author, and one of the pioneers of the movement, advocates going Paleo to reverse the effects of autism. Just a quick Google search of “autism and paleo diet” will render dozens of articles and blog posts by moms and dads who swear that switching their autistic children to a completely grain and dairy-free diet significantly improved their behavior and symptoms. It’s amazing to think that nutrition alone can improve the symptoms of something that is essentially uncurable. Though it is not really known how food components like sugars, gluten, and casein biologically affect symptoms of disorders such as autism and ADHD, the countless tales floating around the internet of these ecstatic parents obviously prove that there is real truth behind it.

The only problem is, researchers haven’t really deciphered yet what that truth is. Sure, we know that there is probably some correlation between gluten and behavior, simply because so many people claim that removing it from their children’s diets lead to drastic improvements. So the takeaway is that if a healthy Paleo diet improved the lives of children who are severely autistic, it hopefully will lead to general health improvements for the average person as well.

But then the question arises of whether we are overdoing it. Is it necessary for the average, normal-sized, healthy person to change their lifestyle so drastically? Sure, cutting out gluten makes sense. Even cutting out dairy makes sense, as it causes so many people to suffer from lactose intolerance, skin issues, and so on – some argue our bodies aren’t equipped to digest dairy at all. And obviously, we can all unanimously agree that there is just no need for processed white starches and sugars in our diet.

But what about all the grains we have been told for so long to include? Just a few years ago, quinoa had a short stint with stardom that made it almost as talked about as Justin Bieber. Talk shows, magazines, fitness and nutrition blogs were raging about the benefits of quinoa over other grains like brown rice, due to its extremely high protein, fiber, and vitamin content. But we were told by nutrition experts and advocates that brown rice was still a healthy alternative to white starch if a grain like quinoa wasn’t available. Same with grains like millet, amarinth and buckwheat. In fact, we’ve been hearing since preschool about the importance of whole grain in our diets.

One on hand, your mom probably tells you to eat more whole grain, and on the other, the fitness-and-health-crazed social media movement is telling you not to. Grains have lectins, they say, which are supposedly bad for you in some way – despite the fact that they are a protein that is found everywhere. Wouldn’t you think that if something is found everywhere in nature, including plants and animals, it should be considered natural and therefore not evil?)

So what are we supposed to do? Maybe we should just accept that for now, nobody knows for sure whether a grain-in or grain-out lifestyle is the best choice, same for dairy and legumes. Nobody really has the answer, the key to perfect health, or the cure to disease. But does that mean we should write off this movement as another fad and continue eating as we normally do? No matter how extreme or fad-like a diet seems, it’s never a bad thing if it encourages vegetables, fruits, and natural meat – even bacon! This is what health-conscious people have been trying to do since before Paleo was even a “thing,” and these are probably the same people who tried not to eat a high-starch diet either before gluten-free was a “thing.” So maybe adapting Paleo to our own individual lifestyles is the way to go.

Whether we want to think of our “ancestors” as the ones who lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, or the ones who lived just a hundred years ago, maybe that should be the way to determine how closely to follow this way of life. Think about your great-great grandparents – the ones you’ve seen old black-and-white photos of. They probably weren’t fat. They probably didn’t eat candy every day, mostly because it was expensive or not very accessible, but I bet they indulged once in a while. They probably also enjoyed a glass of wine here and there (or maybe every day..) and they probably ate a little bit of starch with every meal. But most of their diet was most likely made up of local, inexpensive vegetables, whatever meat they could find, and the fruit from their backyards. They also didn’t have processed foods; they simply didn’t exist. The point here is that they ate everything in moderation, they weren’t fat, and they didn’t have nearly as many behavioral disorders as we have today. Maybe these are the ancestors we should be thinking of when we try to eat an “ancestral” diet. But if we then want to take it a step farther and eliminate all grains and legumes (this means peanut butter) once we’ve cut out the processed stuff, theres probably nothing unhealthy about that. Either way, nearly all of our ancestors – the ones from a hundred years ago and the ones from a thousand years ago – undeniably ate simpler, cleaner, more wholesome diets. If we need to put a label on it like “Paleo” to feel like it makes our goal of eating healthy more tangible, maybe that’s just what we have to do. But if the trend ever dies down and the Paleo name isn’t a “thing” anymore, when people can’t contain their starchy cravings anymore or they realize that a little red wine isn’t the Devil, hopefully the main idea behind the Paleo diet sticks in our society.