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Nutrition & Good Eating

What is Celiac Disease/Gluten Sensitivity?

There is a lot of talk nowadays about gluten, whether it is eating a gluten-free diet to lose weight or avoiding gluten altogether because of an autoimmune disease, known as celiac disease. First off, gluten is a protein composite that gives dough its elastic texture. Gluten is also responsible for the rising and shape of the dough and gives the final product a more chewy texture. It is found in food processed from wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is also found in foods such as pasta, bread, flour tortillas, cookies, cakes, muffins, pastries, beer, gravy, and sauces.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune  disease where one gets an immune reaction in the small intestine from eating gluten. Over time, if dietary changes are not made, the immune reaction will lead to inflammation along the lining of the small intestine (the villi) and inhibit absorption of some nutrients. This intestinal damage can lead to weight loss, bloating, diarrhea, as well as malnutrition in children. Other symptoms include anemia, which results from iron defiecient, loss of bone density, itchy skin rashes, headaches and fatigue, joint pain, and acid reflux and heartburn. There is no cure for celiac disease and the precise cause is unknown (although it is most common in Caucasians and risk factors include Type 1 diabetes and Down syndrome)  but treatment includes following a strict gluten-free diet to help alleviate symptoms and repair any damages that may have been done to the small intestine.

Gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, apply to people who do not meet the strict diagnostic criteria for celiac disease but found that when they eliminated or limited gluten in their diet, symptoms such as fatigue, gastrointestinal discomforts and neurological issues disappeared. In some cases, their doctors felt that their assessment of their gluten sensitivity is correct, while other doctors are still debating whether gluten sensitivity is even a real medical condition. Some argue that gluten sensitivity might be the precursor to celiac disease, while other think the two might be two completely different conditions. Still others believe that certain people may feel better with limited gluten in their diet because gluten is found in many types of processed and high fat, high sugar foods, and when you eliminate these foods from your diet, your health is bound to improve.

 In short if you are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, you should avoid gluten to the best of your abilities. Culprits include but are not limited to products that contain wheat, rye, and barley. Moreover, always be sure to check the ingredients on the labels to make sure that it doesn’t contain gluten or explicitly states that it is gluten-free. Last but not least, there are many products that usually contain gluten that are made gluten-free to cater to people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Penne al Forno

Serves 4

While you don’t need to bake this dish, it finishes off nicely in the oven, helping everything set and giving the sauce a slightly caramelized taste.

8–10 fresh basil leaves

2 carrots, sliced

2 stalks celery, sliced

2 zucchini, sliced

1/2 yellow onion, chopped


16 ounces brown rice penne pasta

2 roasted red peppers, chopped

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

6–8 green olives stuffed with garlic, sliced, or ¼ cup pitted whole kalamata olives

2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (see below)

Options: 2 cups rinsed cooked cannellini beans

Roll the basil leaves tightly and slice them into ribbons. Over medium heat, sauté the carrots, celery, zucchini, and onion for about 3 to 5 minutes (this will ensure they are soft enough by the time they are done baking and will help all the flavors meld). Bring the water to a boil. Add the brown rice pasta and stir. Cook the pasta until it is slightly underdone (it will finish cooking in the oven). Immediately mix all the ingredients together in deep baking dish. Cover the dish. Bake the pasta at 350 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes. If you want to add the beans, stir them into the pasta just after it comes out of the oven.

Making It Simple: Slice all the veggies and forgo sautéing them. Just throw it all in a baking dish and bake it for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Tip: Cook the pasta after you are done preparing the veggies so that it does not sit for a long time.

Per serving:

  • Calories: 607
  • Fat: 4.4 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0.8 g
  • Calories from Fat: 6.1
  • Cholesterol: 0
  • Protein: 22 g
  • Carbohydrates: 119 g
  • Sugar: 14.8 g
  • Fiber: 10.9 g
  • Sodium: 133 mg
  • Calcium: 88 mg
  • Iron: 5.8 mg
  • Vitamin C: 103.3 mg
  • Beta Carotene: 3853 mcg
  • Vitamin E: 3.7 mg

Source:21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart by Neal Barnard, M.D.; recipe by Jason Wyrick of the Vegan Culinary Experience.

Basic Tomato Sauce

Serves 3

Roma tomatoes are the tomatoes par excellence for sauces. They are inexpensive, and you’ll taste their depth of flavor and robustness in the finished dish.

1/2 yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 medium tomatoes (preferably large Romas), chopped

1/4 cup water

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or oregano or 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Options: 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin; 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or cilantro

Over medium heat, sauté the onion until it turns a rich brown color. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 more minute. Add the tomatoes and then the water and stir. Add the salt, pepper, and thyme/oregano/rosemary. Simmer the tomatoes until they turn into a sauce (only 3 or 4 minutes for a very fresh tomato sauce, and about 7 to 10 minutes for a smooth, heavily cooked sauce). Press on the tomatoes every 30 seconds or so as they cook to help them release their juices. Add extra water as needed to achieve the desired consistency.

Options: If you use cumin, add it along with the salt and pepper. If you are using fresh basil, stir it into the sauce immediately after it comes off the heat. Only cook the sauce for 3 to 4 minutes and as soon as it comes off the heat, stir in the fresh cilantro.

Making It Simple: Instead of chopping and cooking down the tomatoes, stir in 12 ounces of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes and simmer the sauce until it’s warm. 

Per serving:

  • Calories: 24
  • Fat: 0.2 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Calories from Fat: 6.3
  • Cholesterol: 0
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 5.3 g
  • Sugar: 2.7 g
  • Fiber: 1.2 g
  • Sodium: 104 mg
  • Calcium: 17 mg
  • Iron: 0.4 mg
  • Vitamin C: 11.5 mg
  • Beta Carotene: 328 mcg
  • Vitamin E: 0.4 mg

Carena Lowenthal, MS, RD, CDN

Nutrition 365 LLC

(917) 882-5033



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