Local and Seasonal Foods for the Gut

seasonal-eatingFor a Celiac sufferer, nothing should pass by the lips that could damage their already fragile intestinal tract.  Most importantly, they must avoid anything that could contain gluten.

In case you don’t already know, gluten is a protein that is found in many grains, but most commonly in wheat, barley and rye (there are many others).  Ingesting any gluten containing grain will trigger a reaction in the intestines of a Celiac (an autoimmune disease), causing their villi (tiny finger like hairs) in the gut to atrophy (or shrink).  This reaction prevents nutrients from being absorbed into the body, thus creating nutritional deficiencies and a multitude of symptoms (bloating, gas, diarrhea, pain, anemia, etc.).  In the non-autoimmune condition called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), the symptoms range even farther than just intestinal.  Many suffer from anxiety, depression, joint pain and migraines, just to name a few.  For a wheat and/or gluten allergy, sufferers must carry an EpiPen to counteract the anaphylaxis response that could be generated from ingesting ingredients.  Three designations of gluten disorders, but all with the same result…ABSOLUTELY NO EATING GLUTEN.

Avoiding gluten containing grains is stressful enough, but my feeling is that they should not only avoid gluten, but try and stay away from foods that don’t support a healthy immune system (i.e. sugar, food dyes, processed foods, etc.).  My recommendation is to choose naturally gluten-free foods to support the immune system.  We naturally are what we eat, so choosing quality foods is important for anyone with a compromised immune system.

One way to support a healthy immune system is to eat foods that are whole, clean, local, seasonal and organic.  I’m not saying that prepacked gluten-free products don’t have a place, but keeping balance in your diet is an important practice.  Where is the best place to do that?  One place to start, is shopping on the outside aisles (fresh produce, dairy and meats) of the grocery store.  BUT, the best place to shop, is the local farm markets in your town.farm4

Here in Eastern, Pennsylvania there are farm markets almost every day of the week from spring until late fall.  Finding a winter market takes a little more work, but they are there.  Wednesday is farm market day in my town and quite honestly, it’s the best day of my week.  Buying local is good for everyone!  Supporting local farmers keeps money and jobs close to home, helps preserve farms, open space and supports families in our community.  And just as important, foods locally produced can help heal the body.  Nutrient content goes down as soon as fresh foods are picked, therefore, the closer to home the food is grown, the more nutrients it will have.  This is not only true for fruits and vegetables, but meat, poultry and dairy as well.

In my opinion, local ingredients produce more flavorful foods as well.  Fresh picked ingredients are usually in the hands of consumers within 24 hours of harvesting.  Compare that to foods grown and picked on the other side of the earth that are shipped to warehouses before getting into stores.  It could take weeks to get to you, after being picked, which certainly affects taste and nutrients.

Another thing to remember is that many foods are picked before fully ripened and exposed to ethylene gas to change their appearance to look riper.  Tomatoes are a good example of this, they are picked green and unripe, then gassed with ethylene to give their appearance a more red and ripe look on the outside.  Food can stay on the vine longer when grown locally, since transportation distances to stores is closer, which helps their flavors build.


The other wonderful benefit of farm markets is finding seasonal foods to eat.  Why does eating seasonally matter on a gluten-free diet you ask?  Our bodies adapt to the environment we live in, specifically the different seasons/climate in the geographic area.  Seasonally rotating foods in (and out) of our diet keeps our immune system in balance. Eating foods out of season (or climate) can overload our systems, which may contribute to food intolerance/imbalances and disrupt our immune system.

A good example of eating seasonally is preparing our bodies for winter.  The foods available here in Pennsylvania during fall are high in vitamins A, D & C (immune supportive) rich foods.  Winter squashes, like pumpkin, butternut and delicatta, as well as ginger, onions, peppers, apples, pears and honey help to make our immune system strong for the coming cold winter.farm1

Eating fats in winter helps to keep us warm and conserve energy.  Low sodium foods, beef, eggs, mushrooms, dairy and root vegetables support our systems and help keep us warm in the winter.farm3

In spring, there will be more cleansing choices to help detox our bodies from winter.  Dark green leafy foods (lettuce, kale, spinach, arugula, etc.) help clean out the liver from the heavy fats consumed in winter.

Summer foods provide liquids to prevent dehydration and keep us cool (melons, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries and lean meats and fish).

Finally, a note on eating organic whenever possible, is always a plus for the gut.  Less pesticides and fungicides on our foods means less in our bodies.  Remember, USDA certified organic means NO GMO ingredients or hormones can be used in foods including livestock.  It’s also better for the environment with less run off into our water and in the air.

My recommendation has always been to try to buy fresh and local whenever you can and maybe do a little preserving or freezing in the summer to enjoy locally produced foods all winter.

To learn more about eating seasonally buy my book, 3 Steps to Gluten-Free Living on Amazon.

It’s ALL about Choices

I’ve read so many articles lately about how gluten-free eating is not healthy and it is a passing fad.  Well, I am here to DEFEND gluten-free eating.  First of all, it’s all about CHOICES!

If you choose to eat a box of cookies (gluten-free or not), you will get fat!  Yes, it’s true that gluten-free products are high in fat and calories and sugar, and the portion sizes are much smaller than gluten-full products.  But, if you are dependent on eating processed foods before going gluten-free, than you have a much bigger problem that gluten-free eating can help.  Portion control is a huge issue for many people, and gluten-free foodies need to be even more aware of it.

When I first went gluten-free I did notice that I lost several pounds very quickly, probably from reduced inflammation.  But, then I put the weight back on, probably from eating high fat things to satiate my need for carbs.  My main food for the first year was homemade granola.  It was perfect to snack on and I would eat it all day long.  Problem was, it was really high in calories and fat and I didn’t measure it out, I just grabbed it by the handful.  Once I  figured out the portion I could eat per day, I dropped the weight and was back to where I wanted to be.

My answer to the “Is eating gluten-free healthy” question, is to eat less and eat fresh and local.  If you can’t do that on a gluten-full diet, than you won’t find the benefits of being gluten-free either.  I was asked by a friend recently what I eat when I’m hungry now!  When in doubt…eggs are a quick and easy thing to eat.  I try to eat egg dishes that contain a little of each food group (proteins, vegetables, dairy, etc.), so Quiche is a great way to get them all in one meal.

Here is an easy recipe for a Crustless Ham and Roasted Red Pepper Quiche.  No kidding, it took 15 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to bake.  It freezes well and is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.


Roasted Red Pepper Crustless Quiche

8 thin slices bacon, about 6 ounces or ¾ cup of ham cubed (cooked and crumbled)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp. minced flat-leaf parsley (or ½ tsp. dried)
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups half-and-half
4 large fresh local eggs
2 large egg yolks
Freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese, about 1 cup
1 roasted red pepper (from jar or made fresh)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cook shallots in olive oil until tender add cooked ham/bacon and parsley. Remove from heat, cool slightly.

Spray a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie pan with butter flavored cooking spray and sprinkle evenly with the grated Parmesan and shallots. Scatter half the Gruyère into the pan and crumble the bacon/ham mixture on top of cheese.

Whisk the half-and-half, eggs and yolks in large glass measuring cup. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Pour the custard over the fillings. Top with remaining slices of red pepper and remaining cheese.

Bake until the Quiche is just set in the center, about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before serving.  Can be made in cupcake pan and cooked for 15-20 minutes or until set.

To roast pepper, remove stem and seeds.  Cover outside skin with vegetable oil.  Sear over open flame of gas stove or grill.  Allow the outside to char, but not catch on fire.  Turn frequently.  Put charred pepper in a brown paper bag and allow to steam.  Remove skin, slice and store in dish with olive oil.

BBQ Chicken Nacho’s

Wondering what to do with that leftover Costco rotisserie chicken?  I bought one the other day and in 3 days, we barely made a dent in it.  They are so inexpensive, so it’s hard not to grab one when I’m at Costco, but it was such a busy weekend that we didn’t even have time to sit down and eat.  One of our family favorite uses for left over chicken is BBQ chicken nacho’s.  They are easy and delicious!

I’m one of those “crazy” people that likes to make my own nacho chips.  It’s a great way to use that already opened corn tortillas, and it only takes a few minutes.  Heat up a pan with an inch of canola or other vegetable oil.  Cut the corn tortillas into 4 or 6 inch pieces and fry on each side until lightly browned.  I usually sprinkle them with a little salt at the end and place them on a wire rack lined with paper towels.  You can also use your favorite gluten-free corn chips as well.  I’ve used blue corn chips and scoops and they work great too.

Next, shred the rotisserie chicken and cover with your favorite BBQ sauce.  I like to use a combination of several kinds to give it spice and sweet flavors.  My favorite combination is Kraft BBQ sauce and Bullseye brand.  Make sure you read the ingredient list for any hidden gluten (i.e. soy sauce, malt flavoring, etc.).  Heat BBQ coated chicken on a stove top in a cooking spray covered pan until warmed completely.

I’ve used different pans to assemble my nacho’s, but found that using one with sides works the best.  Coat pan with non-stick spray and begin layering chips, chicken and sharp cheddar cheese.  Top with a layer of cheese and heat in a broiler until the cheese is melted.  After it comes out of the oven, put a bit more BBQ sauce on and top with whatever Mexican fixings you like; onions, black beans, cilantro, corn, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, re-fried beans, jalapeno peppers, etc.

The list is endless of what you can serve on them.

Try it and let me know what you think!

BBQ Chicken Nacho Recipe

  • Shredded Chicken
  • Bag of Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • Bag of Gluten-Free Tortilla Chips
  • Mexican Fixings (Guacamole, Sour Cream, Sweet Corn, Salsa, Chopped Onions, Chopped Cilantro)

I only sprinkled 1/2 with onions and cilantro so my kids wouldn’t scream!

Wyebrook Farm

I LOVE buying local.  We are blessed to live in Chester County, Pennsylvania in the heart of horse country, surrounded by beautiful landscape and bountiful farms.  One of my favorite bi-weekly stops is the 355 acre Wyebrook Farm in Honeybrook, PA.Ex-Securities Trader, now Farmer, Dean Carlson has given us a place to walk and explore, as well as products that were raised and sold on site.  Growing up in the mountains of Western, Pennsylvania, I love sitting on the deck of the barn admiring all that the farm has to offer (It reminds me of home!).  Inside the barn, Chef Janet is the butcher that will NEVER turn away a question about meat.  I love talking with her about what cuts of meat to use in different recipes as she hand butcher’s the meat to my specifications.  She is the true treasure of the farm.  Downstairs there is a cafe with many different offerings.

I have yet to find a hamburger that tastes more fresh than the Wyebrook burger.  It’s cooked to order and goes wonderfully with a huge helping of fresh-cut french fries.  They are always willing to accommodate my gluten-free request of “no bun”.  I may be gluten-free, but…

“Give me beef or give me death!”.