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‘Gluten free’ seems to be the new buzz. Leaving grains out of the diet is a big part of the Paleo diet that you may have heard people talk about. There are those of us who may be Celiac (5-10% of the population are) and those who may just be a little sensitive to it and by largely avoiding it can see numerous health benefits. People with sensitivity can range from feeling very ill to completely symptomless. What is it and why should we get caught up in the buzz?

Gluten is found in grains (wheat, rye, spelt, barley, kamut, semolina, durum) and can be present in oats through cross contamination. It largely adds texture and chewiness to foods (like a glue!). It is also a thickener and in some cases a flavour enhancer so is found in a multitude of products. In susceptible people the Gliagin (secalin in rye or hordein in barley) portion of gluten (a chain of amino acids essentially the protein part) can damage the lining of the small intestine where most of your food absorption takes place and create an immune response.

It is this immune response and inflammation that is what causes the damage rather than an action actually done by the Gliagin.  These individuals may find absorbing vital minerals (iron and calcium), vitamins (mostly b vitamins like niacin and folate), proteins (essential amino acids) and essential fats (mostly fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K) difficult.   This may cause malnourishment which can then lead to a whole host of symptoms you may not have associated with gluten insensitivity such as iron (anaemia) or Vitamin D deficiency. Gluten can also contain opiod-like proteins making gluten products such as bread addictive to some people.

Most individuals who do have an intolerance will also have an intolerance to dairy products (70% of the population cannot digest lactase in milk). This is mainly due to the damage to the small intestine which produces the necessary enzymes to break down the components in milk that people are intolerant to. So generally it is recommended to reduce these products at the same time – this can make some people’s lives even more difficult. Other food intolerances may also be experienced because of gluten’s resulting inflammation increasing the permeability of the gut which results in a greater opening of food into the blood, which in turns triggers an immune response.

Celiac disease  is genetic and so if a child is diagnosed it is possible one of the parents is also and vice versa. It is difficult to test for as in order for the marker to show up, gluten must have been eaten recently. An elimination diet is where I would start. Normally when eliminating it from the diet obvious changes should be noticed within days. However it could take up to 4-6 weeks for the digestive tract to heal before any real change can be experienced.   Changes you may experience are less abdominal bloating, less pain in the abdominal area after eating, less urgency in needing to go to the toilet, less gas and firmer stool. However increased energy, better skin, a reduction in psoriasis or eczema, less headaches, improved sinus’, enhanced breathing (asthma may be reduced), enhanced sleep and mood is also reported by those with either celiac or an intolerance to gluten.

Gluten is found in many products you may eat everyday such as sausages, seasoning mixes, gravy powders, soy sauce, ketchup, instant coffee, salad dressings, processed meats (including vegetarian imitation meat), cheese and ice-cream. Of course it is also in the obvious breads, pastas, cakes, beer and cereals. So going completely Gluten-free can be a massive change to a family’s lifestyle. This is especially the case when it is a child who is experiencing these symptoms.

However replacements are easy to find. Try to stay focused on what you can eat and with a little creativity and patience, it can be easy to make little changes here and there to greatly reduce if not remove Gluten from your diet.

All nuts, rice and beans can still be eaten as can seeds like quinoa, amaranth and millet; also fresh fruit and vegetables as well as all fresh meat, fish and eggs.  Flours like rice, tapioca, quinoa, chickpea, coconut and almond are a big favourite in my house! Gluten free All Purpose flour can replace normal flour in almost all recipes and you can also buy Biscuit and Baking gluten free mixes, pancake mixes and pizza base mixes around Hong Kong. Gluten free pasta is readily available and almost indistinguishable from wheaten pasta. Bread can be hard to replace but I have found adding a vegetable such as courgette, banana or pumpkin can have a big effect on the graininess and crumbliness you normally find in readymade and homemade gluten free breads.

We’ve put together some great gluten free recipes to help you to create food that tastes great and is good for you.  Check them out here.

Pumpkin bread

Quinoa Flatbreads

Chia porridge

Chocolate Cupcakes

Gluten Free Bread

Banana Flax Crackers

Lentil Burgers


Slow Cooker Lasagna

Pumpkin donuts

Beetroot brownies


Mince Pies

Soda Bread

Eating out can be a challenge but many places if you call ahead can make changes for you. Join Gluten Free in HK if you are on facebook for some great advice and support. Also Healthy Living HK has great tips from people making the same changes. Personally I am 80-90% Gluten free and feel 100% better for it, as does my waistline as my body shape has completely changed. Contact me for any further tips and recipes.

Article written for The Hub

Baked Falafel

Baked Falafel

1 can Chickpeas (you can also use dried chickpeas that have been soaked/sprouted)

½ cup fresh coriander

½ cup fresh parsley

2 cloves of garlic

Salt and pepper

1-2 tbs olive oil

Mix all the ingredients in a food processor adding the olive oil until the right consistency to roll into balls. Heat oven to 180 degrees and brush falafel with olive oil and bake for 10 mins until you can turn them. Bake for 10 more mins. You can also fry them but this way is much healthier! Seen pictured above with Quinoa flatbreads and home made hummus

Have not made my own mince this year- will have to put it on the ‘to do’ list for next year!! But here is a tasty gluten free pastry recipe that’s simple to make and use.

100g almond flour
2 tbs coconut flour
150g biscuit and baking gluten free mix (rice, gram flour, can’t hum gum, baking powder (aluminum free)
100g organic butter, chilled, chopped into cubes
25g coconut mana
1 tbs maple sugar
Pinch Himalayan pink salt
1 egg, chilled
Step 1Process flour, sugar, butter, coconut mana and a pinch of salt in a food processor until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Step 2Whisk egg and in a bowl with mixture until combined.
Step 3Turn pastry out on to a work surface and knead gently to bring together. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours.
Will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge

Gluten free pastry sometimes doesn’t roll so well so divide into balls and press into a shallow muffin tray. Till 1/2 cm thick. Spoon in mince mixture (this year I had to buy some- next year ill make it!) egg wash round the sides and put a top on- I made lattice top! Egg wash the top and make a hole. Sprinkle a little coconut sugar if desired and cook in the oven for 10-15 mins.


My hubby came up with this recipe. These are based on Jamie Oliver’s American pancake recipe, changing the ingredients but keeping e method. Whipping the whites gives these pancakes an amazing lightness. If you need it to be egg free you may lose this lightness. You can substitute the eggs with ground flax- 1 egg= 1 tbs flax to 3 tbs water mixed together then added (so this recipe will need 3tbs flax mixed in 9tbs water) try whipping the mixture to see if it makes a difference.

70g almond flour
25g coconut flour
20g Quinoa flour
3 large eggs
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
140ml Kefir (but you can also use almond milk or oat milk
a pinch of salt

First separate the eggs, putting the whites into one bowl and the yolks into another. Add the flour, baking powder and milk to the yolks and mix to a smooth thick batter. Whisk the whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks. Fold into the batter – it is now ready to use.

Heat a good non-stick pan on a medium heat. Pour some of your batter into the pan and fry for a couple of minutes until it starts to look golden and firm. At this point sprinkle your chosen flavouring (see below) on to the uncooked side before loosening with a spatula and flipping the pancake over. Continue frying until both sides are golden. The batter will keep in the fridge so why not make half and save the other half for the next morning!

We serve these with a choice of nut butter and banana or berries and coconut nectar. But you can have them with anything. You can also add banana, blueberries or raspberries to the batter while they are cooking too if you like and then drizzle them with coconut nectar/maple syrup. Delicious…

I love these brownies, a great friend of mine recently also posted another vegan brownie recipe which I have included below…

Seriously rich and delicious brownies with way more goodness than the normal ones!

400g Raw Beetroot peeled and roughly chopped (use plastic gloves if you don’t want to stain your fingers) then add to saucepan and boil/steam till tender.

100g Hazelnuts

150g Plain Chocolate,

100g coconut oil/mana

1 tsp Vanilla extract,

100-150g Coconut sugar

3 Eggs (To replace one egg: 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds 3 tablespoons water (or other liquid) Stir together until thick and gelatinous)

2 Tbs almond flour (can also use quinoa, rice or chickpea)

70g Cocoa ,

2 tsp baking powder.

Heat oven to 180C and grease a tray bake pan. Roughly chop chocolate, and put in food processor with cooked beetroot, coconut oil and vanilla. Whizz until mixture is smooth. In another bowl, beat  sugar, eggs and salt until foamy and thick. Fold in beetroot mixture. Sift in flour and cocoa and gently fold. Stir through hazelnuts. Poor into tray bake and cook for 20mins. Cool completely in tin then cut into squares. This can easily be a cake, just don’t cut into squares!

My fave raw frosting from The Rawtarian…

1 cup dates

1/4 cup raw cacao (cocoa) powder

1/4 cup cold-pressed coconut oil (also known as coconut butter)

3/4 cup water (or a tiny bit more if needed – try to keep at 3/4 cup or so though)

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender. If possible, let them sit in there for a few minutes to soften the dates a little bit. Blend all ingredients in your high-speed blender. The ingredients can be a little finicky to blend, so start at a slow speed and increase speed slowly. Keep blending for a very long time to get a velvety consistency. This is one of those recipes that really makes use of the power of a high-speed blender. If you feel that the blades are just spinning but aren’t actually moving all of the icing around, turn the blender off and make an air pocket down the side of the blender with a spatula to expose the blades. Remove the spatula, replace the lid, and start blending slowly again.You’ll know it’s ready if there are no bits of dates and all you can taste is velvety chocolate goodness.


Siobhan’s Black bean Brownies:

Awesome vegan brownies

1/2 cup of blended black beans (black beans and water blended to a gluggy consistency)
1tbsp oil
1 c sugar (I usually only do half though as the banana adds sweetness)

1tsp vanilla
1/2 large banana, mashed
1tbsp chia seeds, hydrated
1/2c flour (I use mostly oat with a bit of coconut and quinoa)
1/3c cocoa powder
1/4tsp baking powder
1/4tsp xantham gum
1/4tsp saltPreheat oven to 175C. Grease pan.
In a medium bowl mix bean mixture, sugar, vanilla, mashed banana and chia seeds. In another bowl combine dry ingredients. Gradually stir dry ingredients into wet, until well blended.
Bake for 20-25mins or until brownie starts to pull away from edges of pan.
Let cool then cut into squares.
Enjoy and let me know how they go- if you have any others to add!


Chia Porridge w/Seeds, Nuts & Berries

I have a 10k race tomorrow, my first since having my second baby 18 weeks ago. I am nervous as so far I have maxed out at 7k. My goal was and still is to finish, I never thought I would be running the whole thing. However I am very competitive and so secretly see myself sprinting to the end! So am going to give myself the best chance. This is my (very early) breakfast tomorrow. Great protein, fat and carbs- my kind of ‘carb loading!’

3 tbsp chia seeds
1 cup organic unsweetened almond milk/oat milk
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp vanilla
diced strawberries, raspberries & blueberries for toppings
raw almonds, cashews & sunflower seeds for toppings (preferably soaked over night)

Place almond milk in a bowl and sprinkle chia seeds in and stir immediately for a minute or so to avoid clumping. Add spices as you stir along with the vanilla. Allow to stand for 30-40 mins to thicken, or covered in the fridge over night. Add berries, nuts and seeds on top to eat.

For my son (almost 8 months old) I use 1 tsp chia and mix with 2 tsp water and let soak either overnight in the fridge or for 15mins while he eats some blueberries/mango/melon or banana!