REVIEW: Complete Gluten-Free Diet & Nutrition Guide

By Alexandra Anca with Theresa Santandrea-Cull

Cookbook review courtesy of contributing writer
Andrea Savard

Complete Gluten-Free Diet & Nutrition Guide is available for purchase through our online store or at your local bookstore

Complete Gluten-Free Diet & Nutrition Guide written by Alexandra Anca with Theresa Santandrea-Cull (published by Robert Rose Inc.) is a thorough beginner manual to celiac disease. Alexandra Anca is a certified dietician, and she has put together a well thought out guide for the celiac. The first 136 pages of the book contain descriptions of celiac disease, additional associated illnesses, and vitamin deficiencies typically attributed to this particular disease. There are health charts, aisle by aisle shopping lists, a comprehensive description of a gluten-free diet, along with in-depth explanations of what foods are high in protein and fiber and tips on how to combat vitamin deficiencies. She includes the Canada Food Guide and a helpful Vegetarian Food Guide Rainbow. There is a chapter dedicated to gluten-free meal guides based on charts for men and women, varying ages, and activity levels. This would be a great book if you are just learning the ropes for gluten-free eating, or if you would like to have a meal plan that will help you loose weight without gluten. This is really a great all encompassing nutritional reference book. Even a veteran celiac could learn a thing or two from Alexandra Anca.

The book itself is designed like a manual. There are no photographs with the exception of the cover photo. The recipes that I tried were tasty, but the descriptions didn’t match the end result. Overall this isn’t a book I will return to for recipes, but I will definitely keep it on hand to use as a nutrition guide.

I was intrigued by the Zucchini Patties, Quinoa Cashew Oven Pilaf, and the classic Pineapple Carrot Muffin.

Zucchini Patties

RATING: 3 out of 5 (too much egg and not enough zucchini or patty)

THE TEST: I started out with the Zucchini Patties as I thought they would make for a good snack or lunch box addition. I imagined the final result to be similar to crab cakes – only vegetarian. I mixed the four eggs, rice flour and shredded zucchini with mozzarella, cheddar and garlic (the recipe called for four cloves but I only used two small ones and that ended up being more than enough garlic for these little patties).

When I saw the consistency of the batter, I was a bit dismayed as I realized that the consistency of the patties were more like mini omelets than crab cakes.

THE RESULTS: Even though this recipe didn’t turn out like I expected, it would be a great way to serve a family of six breakfast using only four eggs. You could use this basic recipe and add whatever herbs, vegetables, and cheese you like, and make little mini omelets for the kids.

Quinoa Cashew Oven Pilaf

RAATING: 3 out of 5 (much too sweet & not enough savoury)

THE TEST: As I always like to try new ways of preparing quinoa, I was drawn to this recipe since it included cashews and I’ve never baked Quinoa before. The little note from the author said this was a dish that someone brought to a summer picnic and it was a well-loved recipe.

The ingredients didn’t seem all that summery, but I cut up ½ cup of celery, ½ a red pepper, ¼ of a white onion along with some parsley, one clove of garlic, 1 cup of uncooked quinoa, and 1½ cups of soy-milk. Midway through cooking this dish I opened up the oven and noticed that all of the liquid was absorbed and the quinoa didn’t look cooked at all. I added about ¾ of a cup of water as the edges were almost burning. I stirred up the mixture and put it back in the oven for 20 minutes.

THE RESULTS: The end result was a bit too milky sweet for my taste. I liked the combination of the cashews and the quinoa, but next time I might skip the milk, and just use water or vegetable broth along with fresh thyme or fresh basil to add some much needed flavour. This won’t be added to my list of favourite side dishes, but with a few tweaks it has the potential to turn into a nice low-fat comfort food side dish.

Pineapple Carrot Muffins

RATING: 2 out 5 (muffins didn’t rise, nor were they spiced well)

THE TEST: I wanted to bring something sweet to a recent BBQ we attended. I thought that muffins with some cream cheese icing would be perfect for a spring evening. Seemed like a good idea at the time. The note on the recipe page stated that this recipe was low in fat and high in flavour and nutrients so I was happy that I possibly found a great treat that was low in calories but still tasty.

My first indication this recipe was not going to work out well was the ratio of flour to liquids. One cup of combined flours to more than 1 ½ cups of crushed pineapple, egg, and vegetable oil. In the spice department, the recipe only called for cinnamon. Seriously? What about some nutmeg?! I have always found cinnamon and nutmeg work well together, especially when combined with carrot and pineapple. The recipe was quick to whip up and I didn’t need to use a mixer. I just used a spoon to stir together the brown rice flour, sorghum flour, teff flour, eggs, cinnamon, sugar, pineapple, and carrots along with walnuts.

Initially I decided to make these muffins as I was excited to find out how a recipe without a few of the typical ingredients found in most gluten-free baking might work. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment, as I realized that this recipe was doomed to fail due to the omission of either guar gum or xantham gum which would give the muffins some much needed structure. This recipe would also be improved if the authors used either no-fat yogurt or mayonnaise to give the muffins some moisture without making it overly watery as was the case with just using pineapple chunks.

THE RESULTS: As I was spooning the really runny batter into the muffin trays, I remained hopeful that there would be a happy ending for me and the muffins. Alas, no such luck. When I pulled them out of the oven after 25 minutes they had not fluffed up and were just sad little muffins that would just get laughed at if I attempted to serve them to anyone with or without a gluten allergy. And that wouldn’t be fair for anyone, including the muffins.