In this month’s GlutenFreeFind.com “Ask the Expert” feature, we’re thrilled to learn from award winning cookbook author and renowned nutrition expert Ricki Heller, as she sweetly explains how we can all live an anti-candida and healthy gluten-free life! Read on to hear it from Ricki!
Ricki Heller is the author of Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love without Wheat, Eggs,
Dairy or Refined Sugar, recommended by Ellen DeGeneres on her website. She blogs at
Diet, Dessert and Dogs, featuring recipes made with whole, natural, sugar-free and
gluten-free ingredients. Ricki lives and works near Toronto with her husband and two chatty dogs.
GFF: What advice would you like to share with others who are new to gluten-free living?
RH: As with anything new, what seems strange and perhaps even insurmountable at first can become familiar and second nature fairly quickly. That’s what I found with gluten-free living as well: the learning curve is steep in the beginning, but it doesn’t take long to learn how to use the various gluten-free flours successfully.
For me, what worked best was starting slowly and acquiring information before tackling new ways of cooking. The first bread I made with GF flours was a total disaster (can you say “doorstop”?) and I realized fairly quickly that I needed to learn a little more without simply substituting an equal amount of rice flour for the all-purpose wheat flour I’d been using before.
It’s best to do some reading about the different kinds of gluten-free flours, how they are usually combined, and how they work together before trying out your own recipes. I’d start by using a good all-purpose gluten-free flour mix (you can buy them ready-made, or just mix up your own at home and store it in the fridge or freezer), then use it one-for-one instead of wheat flour. Find a few reliable blogs or websites for gluten-free cooking and try out some of their recipes, too; this will give you an idea of the range of flavors and textures of gluten-free baking. Then, once you know which flours you like best, venture out to try your own recipes or combinations.
The beauty of gluten-free flours is that there’s a flour or a flour combination that suits every type of recipe or occasion. Some of the flours are delicate and mildly flavored for fancy cakes or pastries; others are more robust, with a “country” feel for heavier breads, biscuits, or muffins; still others work better for things like pizza dough or grain-free baking. As you play with the flours, you’ll find that before you know it, gluten-free cooking will feel totally natural and you won’t believe you used to eat those bland, one-flavor-fits-all recipes made with glutenous flour!
GFF: What are your top tips for anti-candida living?
RH: My best tip, believe it or not, doesn’t have anything to do with food: be patient, and be kind to yourself. The anti-candida diet (ACD) is a tough diet for even the most stringent health enthusiast to follow. It takes discipline, it takes time, and most of all it takes patience. When I first started the diet, it took about six months before I started to notice a real change in my symptoms and how I felt day to day (note that I’m a special case—most people see results much faster!). Unlike conventional medicine, the ACD does not produce results in a couple of days, or, in many cases, even a couple of weeks. You need to have faith and be tenacious.
Having said that, don’t berate yourself for a slip up (or six) in the beginning. Just start over and carry on as best you can. Eventually, your body’s chemical balance will shift, your metabolism will change, and all the good, alkaline, probiotic foods you’re putting into your body will accumulate and force the candida out.
As for the diet itself, I have two top tips that worked for me: first, don’t let yourself get hungry. If this means munching on broccoli, rutabaga, pumpkin seeds or your own favorite ACD-friendly food many times a day, go for it. I never thought about quantities when I first began the diet, as long as the foods I ate were sanctioned by the diet. Nowadays, it’s much more important for me to keep track of how much I eat! Second, find at least one sweet treat that’s “legal” on the diet and use it to combat any cravings. For me, the Carob-Coconut Sweeties were a total lifesaver.
GFF: Can you shed light on the different ingredients you recommend using to replace sugar in baking and cooking?
RH: Having followed a strict anti-candida diet for over 6 years now (at two different points in my life), I’ve come up with some sugar-free options that really work for me. There are certainly other low-glycemic and candida-friendly sweeteners out there, but I’m not comfortable with some of them (such as the sugar alcohols like xylitol or erythritol, which can cause some pretty bad digestive distress; or any kind of artificial sweetener, such as aspartame, sucralose, etc.).
Here’s what I use, and why:
Stevia Stevia is my go-to sweetener of choice. It’s natural (derived from an herb you can grow in your own back yard); it can be up to 100 times sweeter than sugar, so you need very little; and it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels, so you don’t have to worry that it will feed candida or increase your risk of Type 2 Diabetes. The only drawbacks to stevia are that it can’t replace sugar directly in recipes (you use so little that the dry/wet balance of the recipe will be affected); and some people find that it has a bitter or aspartame-like aftertaste (I avoid the latter by using it sparingly; smaller amounts tend to avert the problem). Stevia is also great in savory dishes that need a little boost of sweetness, like pasta sauce or salad dressing. Some of my favorite stevia-sweetened recipes on my blog are Mint Chip Ice Cream and Happy Hemp Two-Bite Brownies.
Coconut sugar Another natural sweetener that’s made from the coconut palm flower, coconut sugar is fairly low on the glycemic index; and it can be used one-for-one in place of sugar since it’s a dry, granular sweetner as well (it looks like a dry brown sugar). Coconut sugar is just a tad less sweet than sugar, so you may wish to add a bit more, or compensate with a few drops of stevia to up the sweetness when you use it. I used coconut sugar with great results in my Sugar-Free, Grain-Free, Dairy-Free, Nut-Free, Soy-Free Chocolate “Buttercream” Frosting as well as many other dessert recipes on my blog.
Coconut nectar Is a liquid sweetener that’s sourced the same way as coconut sugar. It’s thick and sticky, like honey or brown rice syrup. Also low glycemic, you can use it in place of other higher-glycemic liquid sweeteners. While I don’t use it often, coconut nectar is used in these Raw Fudge-Topped Brownies.
Agave By now agave nectar has become fairly well known as a low glycemic sweetener made from sap extracted from the agave cactus. It’s not as thick as coconut nectar, and it doesn’t crystallize like honey. If you get the light agave nectar, it has a very mild, pleasant taste that won’t overpower the other ingredients in your recipe. There has been some controversy lately about the high fructose levels in agave, but when used in moderation and for special treats, I don’t have a problem with it. These Coconut Macaroons use agave (along with maple syrup).
Lucuma Lucuma powder is actually dried and pulverized flesh of the lucuma fruit, native to South America. While I wouldn’t use lucuma on its own as the sole sweetener in a recipe, it’s a lovely addition to amp up the sweetness and confer a slight caramel or butterscotch flavor to your dessert. Two of my favorite recipes using lucuma are Walco-Nut Butter and Raw Caramel Cupcakes with Banana Frosting.
Yacon Syrup Yacon is extracted from the yacon plant. A dark, sticky liquid, it’s often compared to molasses, though its glycemic index is much lower (and its flavor not as sweet). I use yacon sparingly, always in combination with another sweetener, as some find its tangy flavor a little too strong. My favorite yacon-sweetened recipes are this Black Bean Fudge and these Raw Gingersnap Cookie Bon Bons.
Fruit purées Although the ACD prohibits the most common fruit purée, banana, I do make use of other fruits to add sweetness and binding power to my baked goods and sweets. Pear purée is a wonderful addition since it adds very little flavor to the final product; similarly, unsweetened applesauce works as well. If you are okay with dried fruits, dates and prunes both offer a great means of sweetening and binding your desserts (and dates have the highest natural sugar content of any fruit). I loved the use of pear in these fudgesicles.
GFF: Do you have myths about healthy baking you could share?
RH: The greatest myth about healthy baking is that it has to taste “healthy”! When I used to give out samples of my baked goods in health food stores, if I introduced the cookies as “healthy,” invariably customers would refuse to try them. If I just offered them “a chocolate chip cookie,” people were happy to taste, and they always loved them!
A second myth I encounter fairly often about healthy desserts is that they need to be low-fat. It’s true that too much fat can be a bad thing, but desserts made with healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil or nuts and seeds are providing antioxidants, mono- and polyunsaturated fats for heart health, and even some fiber in the case of nuts and seeds. As part of an overall healthy diet, there’s no reason whatsoever to avoid them as far as I’m concerned. ♦