There is an almost epidemic hierarchy of wheat-related ailments in America today. From intolerance that causes gastrointestinal discomfort to a debilitating disease, the number of people who do not consume wheat is multiplying exponentially.
At the pinnacle of this is Celiac disease. Sufferers are highly sensitive to gluten in any form. The Celiac Disease Foundation defines this:
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
The disorder can cause serious long-term health effects and those with celiac disease should never consume gluten, even in moderation.
Not quite as severe, but still highly uncomfortable, is gluten intolerance. People with gluten intolerance can have anywhere from mild to severe reactions to the consumption of gluten. Issues can include digestive upset, bloating, aching joints, skin problems, and a host of other symptoms.
Kristen Michaelis explains this intolerance very clearly on the website Food Renegade:
First, let’s be clear about what gluten intolerance is. It isn’t a food allergy. It’s a physical condition in your gut. Basically, undigested gluten proteins (prevalent in wheat and other grains) hang out in your intestines and are treated by your body like a foreign invader, irritating your gut and flattening the microvilli along the small intestine wall. Without those microvilli, you have considerably less surface area with which to absorb the nutrients from your food. This leads sufferers to experience symptoms of malabsorption, including chronic fatigue, neurological disorders, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, nausea, skin rashes, depression, and more.
If you remove gluten from the diet, the gut heals and the myriad of symptoms disappears. (source)
Gluten intolerance is written off as a fad by many, especially since lots of people pass the test for the anti-gliadin antibodies and are told the issue is all on their heads. However, a recent report by Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist exposed the fact that the issue for many may not be the gluten in the wheat, but the harvesting process:
Standard wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as withered, dead wheat plants are less taxing on the farm equipment and allows for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest
Pre-harvest application of the herbicide Roundup and other herbicides containing the deadly active ingredient glyphosate to wheat and barley as a desiccant was suggested as early as 1980. It has since become routine over the past 15 years and is used as a drying agent 7-10 days before harvest within the conventional farming community.
Many people are cutting back on wheat in sheer disgust about how it is harvested. If you do choose to continue eating wheat, knowing about the process above makes it even more vital to stick strictly with organic varieties.
Gluten-free eating doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive.
Over the years, most food storage guides have recommended the storage of hundreds of pounds of wheat and flour, and these guidelines have left some gluten-free families flummoxed. Many of us who build large pantries do so for two reasons:
1) The economic savings from buying products in bulk
2) To be better prepared for a wide variety of emergencies or personal economic downturn
Whatever your reason for building a whole-food pantry, it’s obviously vital to have supplies that won’t leave you feeling ill and bloated.
If your family has a member with adverse reactions to gluten or you want to cut out wheat because of your personal preference not to eat herbicide, it might be time to focus your purchasing dollars on grains that are gluten free. like rice, organic corn, quinoa, and oats. Depending on the level of sensitivity (for example, if a family member suffers from Celiac disease or has an intense reaction to trace amounts of gluten), you may need to purchase these from a gluten-free processing facility.
The problem is, gluten-free food is a billion dollar industry, and at the prices Big Food is charging for these specialty items, it’s easy to see how fast the bills can rack up.
You only need to stroll over to the gluten-free section of your grocery store to see that the cost of eating a diet free of wheat is absolutely outrageous. A loaf of Udi’s bread at my local market is $6. And it’s a tiny loaf – with little bitty pieces of bread and a lot fewer slices than a conventional loaf. The Udi’s white and whole grain loaves contain 14 slices. So, if you have 2 kids and 2 adults and all four of you eat a sandwich for lunch every weekday, you’re looking at a cost of nearly $20 – and that is just for the bread, assuming no one is super-hungry and wants 2 of the mini-sized sandwiches. This also assumes no one wants toast for breakfast or garlic bread with dinner.
And speaking of dinner – have you priced out quinoa pasta lately? Enough gluten-free pasta for one spaghetti dinner will run you about $4, vs traditional pasta, which would be closer to $1.
Big Food is cashing in on the gluten-free trend, as more and more people discover that wheat is causing health problems and attempt to go gluten free. In 2012, the Huffington Post reported on the billions of dollars being made off those who wanted to omit wheat from their diets.
The gluten-free foods market is expected to hit $4.2 billion this year, according to a new report by market research publisher Packaged Facts.
And at the rate it’s going, by 2017, gluten-free sales could grow to more than $6.6 billion, the report said. (source)
That is simply astronomical, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
The issue is, everyone wants to eat the same diet they’ve always eaten, just without the wheat. And that won’t work, at least not healthfully.
First of all, the gluten-free products are highly processed. In order to give people the familiar textures, lots of additives are necessary to simulate the airiness that results when wheat gluten is combined with a leavening agent. Here’s an ingredients list from a common gluten-free white bread.
TAPIOCA & POTATO STARCH, BROWN RICE FLOUR, MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH, WATER, NON-GMO VEGETABLE OIL (CANOLA OR SUNFLOWER OR SAFFLOWER), EGG WHITES, TAPIOCA MALTODEXTRIN, EVAPORATED CANE JUICE, TAPIOCA SYRUP, YEAST, XANTHAN GUM, SALT, BAKING POWDER (SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE, SODIUM BICARBONATE, CORN STARCH, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE), CULTURED CORN SYRUP SOLIDS (NATURAL MOLD INHIBITOR), ENZYMES.
While this list of ingredients isn’t as bad as the ingredients in a lot of conventional breads, you end up with a highly processed, low nutrition food item.
If you make it yourself, it is cheaper, but the list of ingredients that you need to make a loaf of homemade bread sans the wheat is lengthy, daunting, and still somewhat expensive. Here are the ingredients for one recipe that I found:
- white rice flour
- tapioca starch
- sweet sorghum flour
- buckwheat flour
- brown rice flour
- dry active yeast
- cane sugar
- guar gum
- xanthan gum
- ground ginger (adds flavor and acts as a natural preservative)
- apple fiber (a dry nutritional supplement, available at health food stores)
- egg whites, room temperature
- light olive oil
- apple cider vinegar
- lukewarm water
This is more nutritious, but it’s certainly far from “simple”. And life is complicated enough without complicated food.
So what if, instead of buying all of these expensive products, you just switched to real foods that are gluten-free naturally?
Instead thinking that you must have either wheat products or pretend wheat products, forget about those foods you’ve been eating. For starters, what are your favorite meals that don’t contain wheat products? What about a stir-fry over rice? Or a delicious salad? Or a steak with a baked potato? Why not hit the farmer’s market and get some delicious in-season produce while supporting local agriculture? (You can find a local farm or market HERE.)
By changing your meal plan around and omitting these products altogether, you can eat nutritiously on a tight budget. We greatly limit our consumption of wheat and have shifted our long-term food supply to reflect that.
If you can’t find it, grind it.
That doesn’t just apply to poorly driving a vehicle with a manual transmission.
Gluten-free specialty products are pricey, but they don’t have to be. By purchasing grains that are not yet ground, you get several benefits. First, the shelf-life is often longer. Secondly, you can save a fortune from the cost of the specialty flours by grinding them yourself. I have both an electric grinder and an off-grid, manual grinder.
By purchasing grains that are not yet ground, you get several benefits. First, the shelf-life is often longer. Secondly, you can save a fortune from the cost of the specialty flours by grinding them yourself. I have both an electric grinder and an off-grid, manual grinder. If you are committed to gluten-free eating, you’ll recoup your grinder investment fairly quickly. Don’t skimp on quality – grinding grains is tough work. The WonderMill is a good choice because it comes with a lifetime warranty.
It doesn’t save you money if you must continuously replace flimsy grinders. On that same note, from someone who learned the hard way: don’t try to use your blender or food processer for this unless it is specifically rated to grind grains, like this attachment for your Kitchen-Aid Mixer.
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You don’t have to be a prepper to build a wheat-free stockpile of grains.
A full pantry isn’t just for preppers. Buying in bulk quantities will get you the best bang for your buck, which is very important when going gluten-free. Below, you can find some reasonably priced options for building a gluten-free pantry. The products linked to are NOT from gluten-free facilities unless specifically noted:
More than 3 billion people across the world eat rice every day. Rice has long been at the top of the hierarchy in the prepper’s pantry. It’s inexpensive, a source of energy-boosting carbohydrates and can extend one humble serving of meat to turn it into a meal for an entire hungry family.
Conventionally grown rice has a very high pesticide load. PANNA (Pesticide Action Network of North America) identified more than 40 different pesticides on rice grown in California, with 15 of those pesticides on their “bad actors” list – which means that the pesticides have been proven in multiple studies to have negative effects on human beings and/or groundwater systems.
The website “What’s On My Food?” noted that the pesticides included those which were known to be carcinogenic, bee toxins, human reproductive and developmental toxins, neurotoxins and suspected hormone disruptors.
Rice that has been grown organically is not soaked in pesticides and fungicides from seed to package, like conventional rice. This is a vast improvement for the purity and nutritional value of a bulk rice purchase. White rice, when stored properly, has a far longer shelf life than brown rice, which is far more nutritious (and many find it much tastier as well).
Unfortunately, though, even organic rice is not the best thing to serve on a regular basis. Recent studies have shown that all rice, organic and conventional, has a high level of naturally occurring arsenic.
Arsenic is a metallic element that is toxic to multi-cellular life forms. There are two types of arsenic: inorganic and organic. Inorganic arsenic has not bonded with carbon, and is a known carcinogen. Organic arsenic is found in seafood and is generally considered to be non-toxic. It is excreted through urine within about 48 hours of consumption.
Arsenic is taken into the rice from the soil, through the roots of the plant. Arsenic can get into the soil in many different ways, including the use of arsenic-containing pesticides. These pesticides can remain in the soil for up to 45 years after they were sprayed. Another source of arsenic in the soil is fertilizer made from chicken droppings – commercial chicken feed has been found to have high levels of the toxin. When rice fields are deliberately flooded, the water soluble arsenic in the soil is delivered to the roots of the plants.
Brown rice contains more arsenic than white rice – the arsenic accumulates in the hull, which is stripped during processing. The hull, however, contains most of the nutrients in the rice.
Arsenic can be toxic in both the short-term and the long-term. Everyone is familiar with the use of arsenic as a poison. According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Arsenic is perhaps the best known of the metal toxins, having gained notoriety from its extensive use by Renaissance nobility as an antisyphilitic agent…A wide range of signs and symptoms may be seen in acute arsenic poisoning including headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hypotension, fever, hemolysis, seizures, and mental status changes. Symptoms of chronic poisoning, also called arseniasis, are mostly insidious and nonspecific. The gastrointestinal tract, skin, and central nervous system are usually involved. Nausea, epigastric pain, colic abdominal pain, diarrhea, and paresthesias of the hands and feet can occur.”
Rice can still be important part of your pantry, but it should not be consumed on a daily basis, lest a build-up of this toxic heavy metal occur in your body.
Please, please don’t buy rice from China. While it might be dirt cheap, their food standards are very low. You do NOT want your stockpile to be made up of food like that. If you can’t afford organic or eco-farmed (this means there was no use of chemical pesticides but it isn’t certified organic), please buy American-grown rice.
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Oats can be used to add extra fiber to baked goods, in place of bread crumbs in meatballs and meatloaf, and as a hot cereal. They are also a staple ingredient in granola, and of course, the much beloved oatmeal cookie! Oats can be purchased in bulk quantities and then repackaged for long shelf life.
When oats are grown, they look similar to wheat. Little kernels called “groats” are removed from the hulls and then, most of the time, are minimally processed in a mill to ready them for human consumption.
Oats are milled in several different ways:
Whole Groats: These little kernels look similar to rice. They take a very long time to cook, about an hour and a half, so they may not be the best choice for emergency food. They are the least processed of all of the oat varieties and have a slight nutty flavor. Groats can be used in place of rice or pasta, or as a hot cereal.
Steel-cut oats: Steel cut oats are groats chopped into just a few pieces with (big shock) a steel blade. They take about a half an hour to cook, have a chewier texture than more processed oats, and are known for their more complex flavor.
Rolled Oats: Rolled oats are a bit more processed. Groats are steamed to soften then, then rolled into flakes. This process actually stabilizes the naturally-occurring oils in the oats, which makes them more shelf-stable than steel-cut oats or groats. Rolled oats only take about 5 minutes to cook.
Quick-cooking oats: Quick oats are simply rolled oats, but thinner. Because they are thinner, they cook extremely quickly – they can be ready in about 1 minute. This is a definite perk in a down-grid scenario, since you won’t have to waste precious fuel during a long cooking time. The downside of quick oats is that they don’t maintain their texture as well as rolled or steel-cut oats.
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This delicious little kernel is the highest protein grain around. Quinoa (pronounced keen’-wah) was held sacred by the Incas, who called it the “mother of all grains.” This ancient grain has had a recent resurgence in popularity because of its excellent nutritional profile, easy preparation, and versatile nutty taste. Quinoa is more expensive than most other grains, but the high quality nutrients make it a great investment. Quinoa contains significant amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, niacin, Vitamin E, and folate , as well as minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.Quinoa is used as a grain, but is actually a seed that is closely related to beetroot, spinach, and tumbleweeds. Weird, huh? It contains complete protein, including amino acids. Make sure the quinoa you purchase for your stockpile has been processed to remove the bitter coating (called saponin). In an emergency situation, you don’t want to have to use your precious water storage to wash your grains. Not only does the saponin taste terrible, it can also cause gastrointestinal distress.
Quinoa is used as a grain, but is actually a seed that is closely related to beetroot, spinach, and tumbleweeds. Weird, huh? It contains complete protein, including amino acids. Make sure the quinoa you purchase for your stockpile has been processed to remove the bitter coating (called saponin). In an emergency situation, you don’t want to have to use your precious water storage to wash your grains. Not only does the saponin taste terrible, it can also cause gastrointestinal distress.
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I strongly recommend seeking organic options for all things “corn” as more than 80% of corn in North America is genetically modified, making it a poor choice for your food storage pantry at a time when you need reliable and non-toxic nutrition.
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Despite the name, buckwheat is not actually wheat at all, or even a grain. It’s considered biologically to be part of the fruit family and is related to sorrel and rhubarb. The part we consume is the seed, which is dried and ground into a flour substitute. It doesn’t contain gluten, so won’t rise like flour that contains gluten. However, buckwheat makes delightful pancakes that don’t require all sorts of gums and magical ingredients and a chant to give them a nice texture like most gluten-free pancakes. Buckwheat can be served as a substitute for rice or as a hot breakfast cereal.
Buckwheat is sold either roasted or unroasted. The roasted variety is called “kasha” in Eastern Europe, where it is traditionally served over pasta (opt for gluten-free, of course) topped with onions and brown gravy in a dish called Kashe varnishkes. You can find the recipe HERE. I recommend purchasing the whole buckwheat groats and then grinding them as needed into flour or roasting them lightly.
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Amaranth is a high-quality protein that is similar to quinoa, so it serves double duty in the pantry. The part of the plant consumed is the seeds. It can be served as a pilaf, ground and used as a baking ingredient, or made into a hot breakfast cereal. It’s very gentle on the system and easily digestible, making it a perfect food for someone who is recovering from an illness. Here’s how to cook it, from Dr. Weil.
In Mexico, amaranth seeds are popped like popcorn, and then tossed in honey, chocolate, or molasses. This is sweet treat is called “alegria”. You can click HERE for a recipe.
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For Canadian readers:
Many of these products won’t be available to be shipped to Canada. When I lived in Ontario, my favorite resource was this:
They did not offer free shipping, but the prices were very reasonable and the quality was fantastic.