Gluten-Free Junk Food

I got back early this week from a great trip to Belleville and Ottawa where I was delivering gluten-free living workshops and a booth at the National Celiac Conference. It’s too bad I didn’t get to attend of the lectures at the conference – so if any of you did, please let me know how they were and what you learned!

The other vendors at the conference were a group of really fantastic people. But I do have to say that after taking a few tours around the floor, I can understand why people like Susan Rowan complain about the abundance of gluten-free junk food on the market. Can you say s-u-g-a-r??!

The gentleman next to me who was talking about cassava flour (very interesting product, by the way – more on that another day), brought along some cassava flour baked goodies for people to sample. And while the texture was amazing – fluffy, light, moist – the recipes his chef used were so full of sugar that one gluten-free brownie square put me off all food for almost an hour.

I can see how gluten-free diets are sometimes criticized for poor nutritional values and for contributing to weight gain. But really – if you eat this kind of food gluten-free or not, these problems are the same.

What it comes down to is the fact that highly refined flour like white rice flour is very fine in texture compared to its grittier brown rice counterpart. So, cookies made with white rice flour are lighter in texture, and more similar to store-bought wheat goodies. To me, though, the texture of baked goods made out of brown rice can still be very pleasant, and it’s greater nutritional value is worth this very minor tradeoff.

Sugar, too, also acts as a binder that helps food stick together and retain moisture. So, the more sugar you put in gluten-free goodies, the more moist and less crumbly they tend to be. But there are other ways to make up for binding and moisture – namely healthy fats like grapeseed oil, or small amounts of starches like tapioca or arrowroot. And of course healthier sugar alternatives like stevia, honey or agave.

As long as the majority of your diet is made up of healthy nutrient dense whole foods, you’ll probably be on the right track. There’s not much harm in eating these types of goodies once in a while (unless you’re trying to overcome a sugar addiction, which more of us have than we realize).

What it really comes down to is learning how to bake for yourself so that you can make those healthier ingredient choices: whole grain flours, natural sweeteners, and healthy oils.

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RECIPE THURSDAY: Gluten-free, Sugar-free, Vegan Chocolate Blackberry Cheesecake Recipe



Updates! (June 1/11) One of my readers let me know that her cheesecake turned out a little more mousse-like than cheesecake-like. So I’m suggesting that you add a pack of gelatin to the recipe.
For the vegans out there, you can substitute gelatin with a quarter cup of agar flakes.
For those with nut allergies, omit the almond butter, and use rice milk instead of almond milk.

The video of this recipe is also posted here.

Ok, I’m one day late for recipe Thursday… but I promise it was worth the wait for this gluten-free, sugar-free vegan chocolate blackberry cheesecake! I’m still waiting for my video clip from my segment on Rogers Daytime in Ottawa last Monday, so more on this coming soon!

This is a medium level recipe that takes some patience and might make a bit of a mess, but the result is well worth it. The crust is essentially a chocolate bar, with a creamy cocoa berry filling… yum!!

Chocolate Crust Ingredients:

6 squares unsweetened baker’s chocolate
1/4 tsp stevia powder
3 tbsp honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
100g ground almonds 

Filling Ingredients:

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup almond butter (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup almond milk
1 pack of gelatin, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
2 cubes firm tofu
1-1/2 cups fresh blackberries 


  1. To make the crust, heat a double boiler over medium heat and melt chocolate, stevia, honey, coconut and vanilla. Once melted, stir in ground almonds.
  2. Line an 8-inch spring form cake pan with parchment paper. Pour chocolate mixture into the pan, spreading the chocolate evenly. Cool for 2 hours in the refrigerator, or until crust has hardened
  3. While crust is cooling, prepare the filling. In a medium sized bowl, mix together honey, cocoa, vanilla and almond milk.
  4. Because this mixture is very thick, it’s best to work in small amounts, rather than trying to blend everything at once. Using an upright or hand blender (not a hand beater/mixer), blend a small amount of milk mixture with half a cup of tofu and a handful of berries until smooth. Set aside in a separate bowl, and continuing blending ingredients until finished.
  5. Once you’re finished, mix your blended tofu filling batches by hand, and pour into cake pan over hardened crust.
  6. Bake in preheated oven at 350oF for 30 minutes. Refrigerate to cool and remove from pan before serving. Top with fresh berries and enjoy!
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Susan Rowan, gluten-free whole foods

I just got back from a great evening hosted by the Canadian Celiac Association’s Toronto chapter with guest speaker, Susan Rowan, who talked about eating a healthy, whole food gluten-free diet. I think it’s quite intuitive to all of us that eating “whole” foods, as nature intended, is much healthier than eating processed and refined foods. But what I found interesting was Susan’s explanation for why. Susan compared eating highly processed or refined foods to making transactions with an ATM. When we eat nutrient-poor refined foods, certain vitamins and nutrients aren’t as available to us – such as b vitamins – and so when we eat these foods, our bodies need to “withdraw” these vitamins from our body’s own “bank account balance” in order to complete the digestive and metabolic process. Well, eat enough of these types of foods and eventually your account will empty, and that’s when we feel tired and when we start to experience things like brain fog. A few other interesting tips:

  • Sprouting is the only food process that increases a food’s nutrient content. According to Susan, sprouting can increase a food’s nutrient content by 20 times! So sprout your own grains, or look for pre-sprouted grains in your health food store (bonus, these cook much faster too)
  • Follow an 80/20 rule. Eating whole foods most of the time is the healthiest way to eat. But there’s nothing wrong with having a treat – like a gluten-free muffin or brownie – once in a while. Just opt for healthier options such as snacks made with brown rice instead of white rice, and where the starches are low on the ingredient list.
  • Keep it simple. Whole foods allow us to make a single meal that the entire family can enjoy. Just as I talk about at my gluten-free seminars, the goal is to cook for everyone to enjoy, not to cook seperate meals for everyone.
  • The more nutrient dense foods you eat (especially for breakfast), the less your cravings will be. A great book that delves into this subject that I highly recommend is Michael Polan’s In Defense of Food.

And most importantly, keep a positive attitude. One of the attendees said her doctor told her to look at this as optimizing your food choices, as opposed to restricting your diet. There are so many amazing natural whole foods out there to discover, so go out there and try something new!

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