Gluten-Free: A Lifestyle, Not a Diet

In recent years, the gluten-free diet has grown tremendously in popularity. Not long ago, the only place gluten-free foods were readily available were hospital stores. Today, not only is it prominent in specialty health food stores, but also in mainstream grocery stores, and even discount retailers.

Gluten-free is the fastest growing specialty food segment with an estimated 18% market penetration and sales foretasted to exceed $6.6 billion in the USi this year alone – almost double its $2.6B size in 2010ii. Yet not long ago, only those suffering from Celiac disease (about 1% of the population) would ever dream about following this diet – a diet that once meant paying exorbitant amounts of money for cardboard-tasting bread, not being able to enjoy a simple birthday cake, and avoiding social dinner outings with friends.

While Celiac disease was once a little known condition, its awareness and acceptance has grown steadily over the past decade. With May marking Celiac Disease Awareness Month, now is the perfect opportunity to continue an open and understanding dialogue about a disease with many faces. An autoimmune disorder, Celiac disease triggers a patient’s immune system to mistakenly attack the intestinal lining in reaction to gluten ingestion. Symptoms range widely from digestive issues to unexplained neurological disorders, which can often make the disease difficult to identify and diagnose. There is currently no cure for the disease, and its only treatment is strict and lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet.

Eating gluten-free is not an easy diet to follow, especially given the typical North American diet which is full of breads, pastas and other wheat-based foods. Thankfully, by learning some simple rules of thumb and by spending some time in the kitchen to re-learn how to cook – it can be easy to embrace gluten-free as a healthy new lifestyle. Celebrated gluten-free author, Victoria Yeh, offers these simple tips to living gluten-free:

1. Don’t Cheat. Cheating on a gluten-free diet not only undermines your health, but can also contribute to more intense cravings. The more you cheat, the harder it will be for you to adhere to your diet.

2. Partner Up. Adhering to a gluten-free diet is much easier if you do it with a friend or partner. When you feel accountable to someone close, you’re more likely to stick to your guns. And if you and your partner do this together, you can purge your house of forbidden foods to remove the temptation (and ability) to cheat.

3. Look for Expert Help. Adapting to a gluten-free diet can seem very complicated at first. Seek the expert advice of the many people around you that have already made the journey successfully.

4. Substitute. Just because you can’t eat wheat or gluten, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy waffles on Sunday. There are great resources available, such as Where Do I Start? Your Essential Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Sugar-Free Food Allergy Cookbook ( to teach you how to make successful substitutions to make any recipe gluten-free.

5. Keep Your Goal in Sight. Remember, there’s a reason why you are going gluten free. There is nothing more important in life than good health

Article originally published in Village Living Magazine

Victoria Yeh is a Toronto based public speaker, educator, author of Where Do I Start? Your Essential Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Sugar-Free Food Allergy Cookbook, and owner of Nominated as one of Canada’s Best 2012 Natural Health & Wellness Authors and Motivators/Educators, Victoria is dedicated to helping others adapt to their specific dietary needs and achieve their very best health. For more information, or to purchase her book and personal cooking lessons, visit

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Recipe Thursday: Hearty Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Chicken Stew

My family and friends back home in Edmonton have told me that they’re knee deep in snow now! While the white stuff hasn’t quite hit Toronto, there is definitely a chill in the air. Is it just me, or did the weather turn cold really fast this year??
This week’s recipe is for a hearty and very warming chicken stew, and was also inspired by a few new vendors that I met at the Toronto Gluten-Free Expo back in September. There is some prep work that goes into this, but being a crockpot recipe, it’s actually quite simple. You’ll see the ingredient quantities are BIG, and if you’re ambitious like me, you can double this recipe with two crockpots going at once. Hey, it’s winter time – there are going to be days when you come home from work, it’s dark already (!) and you’re tired, so why not freeze your own ready-made meals for later?
As many of you know, I’m a big advocate for the “cook from scratch” lifestyle in order to live gluten-free. It’s the most affordable, satisfying and healthy way to do it. Being a very frugal cook, I generally have also recommended using single spices. But I realize that many people may not be as comfortable as I am in the kitchen in letting my nose decide what spices to use and in what quantities.
So I was quite happy when I was contacted last month by Fire in the Kitchen – a Canadian specialty seasonings company that I met at the Expo.  The company was created by local Toronto fireman, Christian Horner, who also happens to run a prestige catering business (hence the company’s name, “Fire in the Kitchen”).
I received five spices from the company to sample:
Captain Bradley’s Ocean Rub – a special spice blend for seafood.
Fire Rub – a mild/medium fiery spice great for steaks, roasts, chicken, pork, ribs, game, soups, sauces etc.
JJ’s Veggie Blaze – an all-purpose seasoning for veggies, salad dressings or spiced butter.
Burger Batter – for ground beef, turkey, chicken, pork veal or lamb.
Momma Grace’s Inspired Jerk Rub – a spicy dry rub marinade great for chicken, pork and beef; named after a sweet 75 year old woman who has worked in restaurants most of her life.
I was a little apprehensive about how hot some of the spices would be, but was delighted to find that these seasonings really do live up to their promise of having “just enough heat” to compliment their flavour without overpowering them. The Veggie Blaze is by far my favourite (and actually not spicy at all), so you’ll see that I used that blend in my recipe below. (I’ve also used the Fire Rub to marinate drumsticks… yum!).
Another ingredient I discovered was Sweet Potato flour. You’ll know that my personal default substitute flours are brown rice flour, tapioca starch and sweet rice flour. Sweet potato flour is a binder and I find it works well in the same proportions as I would use to bake with tapioca starch, which is 1 cup wheat flour = 3/4 cup brown rice flour + 1/4 cup sweet potato flour. In the recipe below, I changed the ratio to half and half because I wanted a nice thick stew (hence more binder). The bonus is that sweet potato flour is far more nutrient dense than tapioca starch, and is rich in complex carbs, fibre, beta-carotene and vitamin A. It does have a strong flavour though, so for delicately flavoured cakes or cookies, I might stick with the tapioca or sweet rice.
2 tbsp Olive oil
6 lbs (1.4 kg) Chicken pieces, skiness, bone-in
4 Onions, peeled
8 Carrots, peeled
8 Celery stalks
2 tbsp JJ’s Veggie Blaze spice blend
1 tsp Sea salt
1/4 cup Brown rice flour
1 carton Gluten-free chicken stock
1 cup Green peas

  1. In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken (in batches if necessary) and brown lightly on all sides.
  2. As chicken is cooking, slice onions, carrots and celery stalks thinly. I like to use a food processor, especially when I’m having to chop so many veggies at once.
  3. Once chicken is browned, transfer to slow cooker, set to “low”.
  4. Add sliced veggies to frying pan and cook until softened. Stir in spices, then gradually sprinkle in flours. Stir well and continue cooking until liquids have thickened.
  5. Pour mixture over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours, or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced. When finished, stir in peas.
  6. Serve over a bed of brown rice, quinoa, millet or kasha. Freeze leftovers in individual containers for ready-made frozen dinners.
All the spices from Fire in the Kitchen are mixed in a shared facility that does gluten-free runs, and bottled in a gluten-free facility.  The company says that the mixing plant is tested and falls within current requirements for a gluten-free claim on their products. The spices are available at Longos, Pusateris, Brunos, the Healthy Butcher and many other locations across Ontario, and are priced between $6.99-$8.99.
Jamestown Mills is a dedicated gluten-free mill. Their sweet potato flour and other gluten-free flours are available across the country at Bulk Barn and various other locations in Ontario. A 750g bag sells for $10.99. As with other flours, I recommend storing it in your fridge or freezer to preserve its flavour.

 Get more recipes and a complete guide to successful gluten-free substitutions in my book at!
PS. I’ve been nominated for two Health & Wellness awards as an author and a motivator/educator. I hope that you’ll consider supporting me by casting your vote online. It’s super easy and should take less than 5 minutes!
  • 1. Go to
    2. Click on “create account” (you’ll be emailed a password; your info & nomination is anonymous).
    3. Please select the category “Health and Wellness Motivator / Educator” & “Health & Wellness Author”
    and click “vote” for Victoria Yeh

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How To Make Successful Gluten-Free Substitutions

My friends at recently asked me to weigh in on this month’s installment of their “Ask An Expert” series, where I was able to share some advice on how to mae successful gluten-free baking substitutions. Here’s the article below – enjoy!

A reader asks our Expert, Victoria Yeh of how to make successful gluten-free substitutions when baking. This is an excellent question, particularly for those who are new to gluten-free baking.

Question: I want to recreate some of my recipes into gluten-free versions. Can you shed some light on how to use gluten-free substitutions successfully when baking? 

1. Before you kick it out the door, get to know it first. The key to being able to make successful substitutions to your recipes is to understand what gluten does before you substitute for it. Gluten does three things to a recipe: it adds bulk, it sticks, and it helps it rise. Most people make the mistake of only substituting for gluten’s bulk properties, for example, by making a straight cup-for-cup substitution of brown rice flour for wheat flour. But since this doesn’t take into account the binding (sticky) or leavening (rising) characteristics of gluten, the recipe turns out either as a crumbly mess or a rock hard paperweight. Sound familiar?!

2. Make it stick and make it rise. We know that a straight substitution of rice flour doesn’t work – now what? Back to the first point, we have to find a way to substitute for gluten’s binding and leavening qualities. Binders include starches and gums such as: tapioca starch, arrowroot flour, arrowroot powder, corn starch, potato starch, guar gum, xanthan gum, carrageean and sweet rice flour. Eggs also make a fantastic binder – and bonus, it’s a leavener and also adds fat content, which helps make your recipes moist. Other leaveners include: baking soda, baking powder and yeast. Read the label of any packaged gluten-free goodie, or any gluten-free recipe, and you’ll be able to pick out what they’ve used as bulk, binding and leavening ingredients.
3. Keep in simple. Pick two or three combinations of baking substitutions that you like and apply them to everything. Once you find a couple favourite combinations, you’ll be able to transform any recipe into a gluten-free version. And better yet, you’ll be able to take any gluten-free recipe and still make it work with only the ingredients you have (so no more running out to various stores looking for mysterious ingredients that you’ll only use once!). In my kitchen, I keep brown rice flour, tapioca starch and sweet rice flour on hand at all times, and I can make ANY recipe gluten-free! For example,1 cup of wheat flour = 3/4 cup brown rice flour + 1/4 cup tapioca starch + 1/2 tsp baking powder. For a full chart of substitution combinations, see page 24 of my book

4. Food is a science – if you fail, try again. I started writing the title of this point to read “food is not a science,” but the more I think of it, the more I’m convinced otherwise. Science doesn’t end with one experiment, it is a series of experiments. And every time an experiment fails, a scientist analyzes what went wrong, and tries again a little differently. I approach cooking in very much the same way. If a recipe fails, I examine what went wrong (too crumbly, too gummy, burnt on the outside but raw on the inside, etc) which tells me what I have to do differently next time (add more binder, add fat, add dry ingredients etc). I’ve been experimenting for years and have made everything from potato cookies (yuk!) to bread that could easily be used as concrete foundation blocks. My many years of experiments and lessons are condensed into a complete recipe troubleshooting guide on page 44 of my book to help save you some grief! Remember, this isn’t “failure,” it’s just part of a process.

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