Specific Carbohydrate Diet - makes the gluten-free diet look like a cake walk!

I'm on my third week. No gluten-free pasta, bread, cookies, muffins... you know, the good stuff! Not a potato, not a grain of rice, not even my simple buckwheat porridge. The first 5 days I was ornery. With two weeks under my belt, I'm starting to get the hang of it. 

You might ask why someone who is already on a deleterious diet might consider taking things a step further. I ask the same question. This has been prescribed to me by my naturopath, because, despite being strictly gluten-free, I'm not without ongoing health issues due to other autoimmune conditions. 

The specific carbohydrate diet (or SCD) was designed by Elaine Gottschall who wrote the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle; Intestinal Health Through Diet. Essentially, the diet omits any sugars that are not monosaccharides, or single sugars such as those found in fruit, honey and certain vegetables. There are zero grains (including rice, potatoes, corn, quinoa... our gluten-free go-to carbs). There is no maple syrup (a recent addiction). There is no milk or yogurt. This also meant pulling off my milky-tea habit. 

I'm in no way recommending this diet - it's a temporary move on my part to see if it can help alleviate some symptoms and give me my energy back. If you operate well on a gf diet - I'd go no further. If you'd like to read up on the SCD diet, I've linked to the official website HERE

I'm writing about this experience because it has really helped me, once again to see that I get into a rut, and that there are some easy places to cut back on my sugar intake (like those enormous chocolate bars I'm magnetically drawn to in the grocery store). It's also always good to be reminded that there are others living on a more restrictive diet through necessity - and that gf (especially now) is pretty simple to adhere to. 

Todays menu will give you a sense of what this diet looks like in action: 

Breakfast - a smoothie made of spinach, a banana, frozen cherries and pumpkin seeds. I was having this for breakfast a lot last summer, but lost interest in the winter when warm carb-filled offerings were more appealing. 

Lunch - tuna with green onion, parsley, olive oil and chopped avocado wrapped in radicchio leaves (image above). These were strangely satisfying and will stay on the roster long after I move off this diet. Lettuce wraps are an excellent solution when you can't get gf bread. Simply mix up tuna or egg salad and wrap into little spring rolls. Radicchio is lovely and bitter which adds a different dimension than typical greens.... plus, they look so pretty!!

Dinner - tomato and meat sauce with onion, spinach and parsley on top of spaghetti squash. While I prefer pasta, this was certainly satiating. Simply cut the squash in half, scoop out seeds and place face down on a tray in the oven for 35 mins at 375 degrees. 

Remove from oven and scrape out the spaghetti like strands onto your plate and top with sauce (or just butter and parmesan cheese). 

Snacks - organic apple sauce (almost everything I'm eating these days is organic), medjool dates, toasted almonds, apple slices with cheddar cheese (which is strangely allowed) - as is WINE! 

When the doctor told me that wine, cheese, nuts and olives were allowed on the diet, I figured it wasn't as torturous as some others I've been on. Regardless of how this all turns out in the end, it's been an excellent reminder to think beyond the bun, pizza, pasta, muffins... and grains in general. I always eat pretty healthy - but tend to cram a decent amount of unhealthy sugary carbs in between the healthy stuff. 

If nothing else, this experience will help me understand if there are foods beyond gluten that cause my system distress. 

Of course - I'm chomping at the bit for gluten-free cookies. Luckily, I know I'll be able to find them pretty much everywhere these days when it's time to start slowly re-introducing foods into my diet. 


Top 10 Tips for Cooking Perfect Gluten-Free Pasta

image of rotini pasta salad provided by Catelli 
I recently blogged about Catelli’s gluten free pasta and they invited me participate in a special launch event for their new gluten free macaroni. I was unable to attend but you can see my post on their product and the thumbs up I've given them HERE.

There couldn't be a more appropriate topic to write about  after my recent trip to Roma.... (If you missed that post – you'll find a great Roman gluten-free round up HERE). 

GF pasta can be tricky stuff when you first get started... but with these tips you'll be ready to serve pasta to the fussiest of Italian palettes! 

Top 10 Pasta Cooking Tips

* Pasta should be cooked according to the directions on the pasta box. For some recipes that require the pasta to be cooked in sauce following boiling, however, an al dente consistency is preferred. For such recipes, cut one to two minutes off the cooking time on the package.

* When cooking pasta, use a large pot. You will need one quart of water to approximately 100 grams of pasta.  Using a large pot will give the pasta room to boil and not stick together.

* Over-seasoning the water with salt – bringing it almost to the taste of the sea – will substantially enhance the flavour profile of the dish. As a rule of thumb, use 10 grams of salt for one litre of water and 100 grams of pasta.

* Never add oil to the water when cooking pasta.  It does not keep it from sticking together.  In fact, the oil creates a coating that prevents the sauce from adhering to the pasta. This is undesirable because you want the pasta to soak up the sauce.

* Always stir the pasta for about 45 seconds after adding it to boiling water.  Then, stir occasionally as the cooking process continues, especially during the first three minutes, as that’s when the pasta can stick together.

* To test if the pasta is ready, bite into a noodle. If the external noodle is soft and yellow in colour (indicating doneness) and the core is a chalky white colour (indicating that it is a little underdone), the pasta is ready to be removed from the water.

* Never rinse pasta after cooking, as it’s important to retain the starch to enable the sauce to coat.

* For some recipes that require the pasta to be cooked in sauce following boiling (see first bullet point), add the pasta to the sauce in a separate pot. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for the final minutes of cooking, allowing the starch to fully release from the pasta into the sauce, adding full flavour to the pasta and making the eating experience more enjoyable.

* When making a pasta dish, think about the harmony of taste, texture and balance between noodle and sauce. Thin pasta strips, for example, work best with a classic tomato, seafood or pesto sauce. Thicker pasta cuts, such as fettuccine, are wonderful for a cheese or cream-based sauce. Filled pasta is ideal with a light tomato broth or cream sauce.

* Use herbs generously for added flavour. When using parsley – the most used herb in the Italian kitchen – don’t chop it, but rather, slice it with a sharp knife.  If you see a green stain when you cut herbs, that means your knife is not sharp and you are losing flavour.  For basil, another popular pasta-enhancing herb, tear the leaves rather than chop them to avoid bruising the herb. Always add herbs to the pasta at the last minute to retain their vibrant colour and natural flavour.

These tips are brought to us by Chef John Higgins, Director of the leading George Brown Chef School in Toronto. He is also a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped Canada and was formerly personal chef for the Queen Mother. He helped launch Catelli's latest product with a cooking demonstration. You can click on the link above to learn more about Catelli and their growing range of fine gluten-free products.