05/28/2013 10:08 EDT | Updated 07/28/2013 05:12 EDT

Gluten Free Diet: New Cookbook Talks Health Benefits, Tasty Recipes

sliced bread on a white...
TORONTO - When cookbook author Judith Finlayson began shopping for gluten-free food, she discovered that many items people buy in a bid to improve their health contain highly refined starches such as potato, tapioca or corn starch, and often have little nutritional value.

"That alerted me to the fact that there was a kind of disjuncture between ordinary gluten-free eating and health benefits and so that's when I decided I would do my gluten-free whole grains book," she says.

In a primer in "The Complete Gluten-Free Whole Grains Cookbook: 125 Delicious Recipes from Amaranth to Quinoa to Wild Rice" (Robert Rose), the author includes nutritional profiles of grains ranging from buckwheat, corn and millet to rice and sorghum.

In her 15th cookbook, Finlayson also explains that eating whole grains can reduce the risk of heart attack, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. Whole grains are nutritious, fibre-rich and low in sodium and cholesterol.

Story continues after slideshow:

11 Ways To Live Gluten Free


Gluten is a kind of protein found in wheat and its relatives (spelt, farro, emmer, Kamut, barley, rye and triticale). Those with celiac disease have a genetic autoimmune condition that damages the gastrointestinal tract and hinders the absorption of vitamins and minerals. Sufferers react badly to gluten, the protein component that gives elasticity to dough. Others have an intolerance and find it difficult to digest.

Whether the decision to eat gluten- and wheat-free meals is the result of intolerances or interest in exploring a new diet, research from the NPD Group shows there is a demand in restaurants for these options. Such orders have increased 137 per cent since 2010, the company said recently.

The Toronto-based Finlayson eschews processed foods in her own diet, focusing on sustainable fish, pasture-fed meat, eggs from chickens that are not kept cooped up and preferring cold-pressed over refined oils. But when she had some digestive and other health complaints a couple of years ago she found her symptoms eased by a gluten-free diet. She also shed half a dozen pounds.

She finds a lot of people think that eating tasty gluten-free food isn't possible.

"Although it can be complicated to eat gluten free, particularly if you're travelling, I am amazed at how easy it is to really eat delicious nutritious food on a consistent basis that doesn't involve gluten."

She has developed recipes for such breakfast fare as muffins and cereal, appetizers such as zucchini fritters and smoked salmon and grits cakes, soups like curried sweet potato and millet soup and fusion corn soup, salads with wild rice and smoked turkey, casha and beets or corn and sausage, along with vegetarian and meat-based entrees. She wraps up the book with a chapter on sweets, including cakes, cookies, squares and puddings.

"I think people tend to equate grains with baking — they think breads, cookies, that kind of thing. And in fact you can make wonderful soups, salads, mains and other kinds of desserts ... and they really add significant nutrition to many kinds of dishes," she explains.

Because gluten is found in prepared foods such as salad dressings, deli meats, canned tomatoes, dairy products and spice mixtures like curry powder and cajun seasoning, consumers must conduct their own research.

There is gluten in barley, rye and triticale, and oats can be cross-contaminated in the field or in processing.

"When I call for an ingredient in the book I will have a tip that says 'check to make sure,' for instance," Finlayson says. She also provides ideas for substitutions.

Finlayson says people are often unaware of the range of grains. Rice, for example, comes in red, black and brown along with the traditional white.

"Millet is a wonderful grain and we grow a lot of it in Canada. It's extremely underrated and very, very tasty. Quinoa (a seed) is terrific and a complete protein so very good for vegetarians," she says.

Job's tears — from Asia — has a chewy texture and nutty taste and is becoming more popular as a substitute for gluten-containing grains like wheatberry and barley.

For those who have trouble digesting grains, Finlayson recommends soaking them first. Or you can sour them by soaking in a little vinegar which initiates a slight fermentation that helps digestibility. Sprouted grains and sprouted grain flour are becoming more widely available and are very digestible.