Gluten-Free and Happy


Do you feel heavy and bloated after the Shabbos challah? Does challah give you stomach cramps? Or, perhaps you sneeze several times after eating it, or start to itch. Any of these symptoms and others – one website on Non-Celiac Glucose Sensitivity (NCGS) listed over 50 common reactions to gluten when I first was diagnosed – may be caused by this component in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt that allows these grains to bind together as a flour. I discovered my intolerance when I developed chronic sinusitis. Determined to banish my ever-present froggy voice, I made an appointment with an allergist. After two hours of testing for airborne and food allergies as a trigger for my congestion, absolutely nothing showed up. “So strange,” I said to the doctor, “because I only use spelt, and even a three-day Yom Tov dose of that gives me stomachaches and increased congestion.”

“Oh,” said the doctor. “If that is the case, you have non-celiac gluten intolerance; a few people with this condition can use small amounts of spelt infrequently.”

 “So, what should I eat for a grain?” I asked in panic mode.

 “First, test yourself by avoiding all gluten for 30 days. Then have a portion of it. If you get any symptoms (think 50) within 48 hours, you know you have NCGI. It’s that simple. And if you are sensitive to gluten, eat rice or oats.  I have another patient waiting now. Have a good day.”

That was the end of that doctor-patient relationship but the beginning of a less froggy, if not smooth, voice, and the end of stomachaches. I ate rice crackers galore and learned to enjoy quinoa tabouleh because I could not use bulgur wheat. I discovered delicious alternative to grains with gluten, such as oats, buckwheat, millet, whole grain rice, amaranth, and teff, an ancient Ethiopian grain. And I experimented with no less than six oat challah recipes until I found the one I liked – and which my guests enjoy as well.

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This all occurred over six years ago. Since then, gluten intolerance has become all the rage. Any public library has a shelf of informative books on going gluten-free as well as cookbooks with titles like 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes. Supermarkets have gluten-free aisles, and in some cities, there are even gluten-free restaurants or shops of gluten-free products. Now there are even books out about why going gluten-free can be dangerous for your health it is not clearly indicated. What is the truth here?

I think there are a few important points to be made: First, hybrid wheat is a likely cause of the intolerance. We have been eating hybrid corn and wheat for decades now, for which correlates strongly with the trend toward earlier adolescence and increases in asthma, eczema, and food intolerance. We cannot ignore the effects of what we put in our bodies.

Second, just over 100 years ago, wheat began to be mass produced. It is cheap to grow, hardy to cultivate, filling to the consumer, and cheap for that consumer to buy. The strains of wheat that grew in the wild in the old days were likely not a problem for mankind.

There is another interesting angle: sourdough bread, the classic artisan bread that rises for a day. Both sourdough bread and yeast bread are ancient. In fact, Google will quickly inform you that evidence of yeast has been found in archaeological digs from ancient Egypt. There is one important difference, however: The sourdough starter kills the gluten in the dough! When dough rises properly and completely from a sourdough starter, and not a yeast starter, the sourdough starter destroys all the gluten. Yes, all the gluten. With a little time and patience, one can learn to grow a sourdough starter in one’s own kitchen and enjoy wheat. I haven’t done so yet because I do not have the time or the patience.

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The functional medicine MDs have more to say about gluten. Functional medicine is a new branch of Western medicine that stresses diet and healthy lifestyle to treat to autoimmune illnesses that that have not responded to conventional treatment. These doctors treat patients who have autoimmune-caused versions of asthma, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, or type-two diabetes, etc. It is their opinion that in an autoimmune condition the body may be predisposed to misread the entrance of the protein unique to gluten – although conventional medicine says there is no scientific research to support this.

According to functional medicine, this is quite clear in autoimmune-based hypothyroidism, or low thyroid. In this case, the body “attacks” gluten because its protein configuration is very similar to that of the thyroid hormone. Hence, the body destroys the gluten – and destroys its own vitally-needed thyroid hormone. According to this functional medicine approach, more than thyroid pills may be needed. One must restrict one’s diet: no gluten and more. But that is another story, the story of the low-carb regimen.

Other nasty results result, aside from hypothyroidism, if one is rigged against gluten. We can return to the asthmatic child or the woman with eczema who has found no relief. Or it could be that yeshiva bachur who cannot tolerate the yeshiva food, especially on Shabbos, and who is losing weight fast because he has no choice but to skip meals or skip seder due to stomachaches. When these people stop gluten, they may become symptom free. That simple 30-day trial will provide the answer. And yet, many sufferers continue to eat gluten from time to time because those cookies are too delicious, the sandwich is so convenient, etc. etc.

Here is the motivator for those of you who fit that bill. I know this from personal experience. Last year, after several years of absolutely no gluten, I had a bowl of millet-rice flakes in a moment of laziness. What could be so bad about organic millet-rice flakes for someone who has NCGS? Well, I’ll tell you: barley malt. Barley malt is a natural sweetener used in millet rice flakes. It is a sweetener that attacked the lining of my stomach throughout the night. I thought I was heading to the emergency room from the pain. As soon as it was a civilized time to call my doctor that Sunday morning, I did. He told me something simple and powerful – and he is no functional medicine man but a straightforward internist: For some of us, gluten is inflammatory. The functional medicine men have made it their business to take pictures of this process. What they have seen is remarkable. For those of us wired to gluten sensitivity, the gluten irritates the lining of one’s digestive system so much that for three hours after the gluten encounters the tissue, it causes porousness, a weakening of the lining so strong that the partially digested food and bile, etc. pass through the lining. Pain. Need I say more?

When people ask me how I can be so disciplined, I give them the short version of the millet-rice flakes experience. I am not an angel. I am just a simple human being who does not enjoy my stomach leaking. And I am actually very grateful for my almost-emergency room experience because I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that gluten and I are not friends. I have no temptations. And that is a gift, isn’t it?



1) by Dr. Tom O’Bryan: A fascinating and informative series of researched documentaries on autoimmune conditions and functional medicine. Episode 4 is on gluten and dairy.

2) The Autoimmune Solution by Dr. Amy Myers





Mrs. Naiman’s Gluten-Free Oat Challah

This challah, adapted from, comes out fluffy, light, and almost cake-like. The bracha is Hamotzi.


4 T. yeast

1 3/4 c. warm water

1/2 c. honey

6 c. oat flour (1 bag of Bob’s Red Mill GF oat flour)

1 1/2 T. xanthan gum

2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. tapioca flour

4 eggs or egg substitute (1 T. ground flaxseed plus 3 T. water per egg. Mix and let sit a few minutes until thick.)

1 c. apple sauce or oil (Mrs. Naiman uses oil)

1 c. milk substitute

Preheat oven to 375°. Proof yeast in warm water and all the honey. While yeast is proofing, combine all dry ingredients in a separate bowl or plastic bag. When yeast is frothy, add eggs, oil, and milk substitute. Mix well.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, 2 cups at a time. Mix on high for 10 minutes, to make sure all the dry ingredients are well incorporated. This is an important step, so make sure not to rush this. (This recipe also works well in a bread machine, on the whole wheat cycle.)

This dough is stickier than wheat dough and cannot be braided. Rather, spoon dough into 2 silicon mold pans, each with four braided roll indentations, for a total of 8 large rolls. For smaller rolls, spoon into 12 well-greased cupcake tins. Do not use a medium or large loaf pan, because the challah will be low and dense in the middle.

Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. If desired, top with an egg wash of 1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water. If using cupcake tins, bake for 35 minutes. If using silicon pans, bake 35-45 minutes or until done. Challah will look darker than usual.



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