Eating Gluten-Free: Tips from an Iron Chef

Written by: on Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
Gluten-Free Red Kidney Beans

Beans are a great, protein-rich, gluten-free food.

It’s not hard these days to come across “gluten-free” labels—in your grocery store and in delis and restaurants around the country. And with the recent standardization of gluten-free labeling by the Food & Drug Administration, you’re sure to see even more products being labeled gluten-free moving forward.

Why it matters: almost 30 percent of Americans are avoiding or eliminating gluten from their diet—many because it just makes them feel better and many others for medical reasons.

An estimated three million Americans suffer from something called Celiac Disease—a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine, and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food when gluten (the protein in wheat, barley, and rye) is eaten. (If you suspect you might have problems digesting gluten, ask your doctor to be tested.)


Alice Blast, of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, discusses gluten-free eating at Chef Mehta’s restaurant in Tribeca.

For those with Celiac Disease—just like those who have a nut allergy—flours, doughs, pastas, and any products containing gluten, can’t touch (or even mix with) gluten-free foods because it would cross contaminate them. Some people even suffer from airborne Celiac Disease, which can be particularly dangerous if food—particularly in a restaurant—isn’t prepared properly.

And therein lies the problem, says Alice Blast, founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Many chefs and foodservice providers remain unprepared and uneducated on how to provide gluten-free food that’s safe, says Blast, who has Celiac Disease herself. (Blast did not find out she had Celiac Disease until she was trying to get pregnant—one reason she wrote the article, “Celiac Disease and Reproductive Health Issues.”)

That’s the reason Blast has spearheaded a Great Kitchens‘ 10-City Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour , which recently kicked off in NYC at Iron Chef finalist Jehangir Mehta’s restaurant, Mehtaphor, located in TriBeca. The aim of this tour: to educate people, the media, and restaurants about what exactly gluten free is—and the importance of having gluten-free options available to those with Celiac Disease.

We got a chance to catch up with Chef Mehta, who is passionate about the importance of having gluten-free options on the menu. Here are his tips on eating gluten free:


Eating simply is often best: a beef burger and simple salad are gluten free.

1) Eat foods naturally gluten free. “One of my core beliefs as a chef is that your health and your diet are inextricably tied,” says Mehta, who adds that naturally gluten-free foods are a great option. Many ethnic dishes, he says, are naturally gluten free because places such as Mumbai, where he grew up, use a lot of rices, beans, and spices, in place of the more expensive wheat and flour.

Other foods naturally gluten free are those that are healthier for you than processed foods. These include fresh fruits (like apples, oranges, berries, and pomegranates) and vegetables (like broccoli, spinach, carrots, and cauliflower). Keep in mind that canned fruits and vegetables aren’t always gluten free; you have to check the labels. (The more ingredients, the greater risk one of them contains gluten.) Single-ingredient frozen fruits and vegetables (and simple mixes, sans sauces) are also gluten free.

Also, just because the lettuce you’re eating is gluten free doesn’t mean the dressing is, particularly if it’s bottled dressing. Be safe, and make your own with extra virgin olive oil and wine or rice vinegar (both are gluten free)—but skip distilled white vinegar and malt vinegar, which are not gluten free.


Fresh cauliflower (no matter what color), as well as other fresh fruits and veggies, is gluten free.

Fresh meat and fish are also typically gluten free, but be aware of meats and fish that are ready-to-cook or in ready-to-eat side dishes. These may not be safe to consume as the store may use sauces or even bread crumbs with gluten. Also be careful around processed meats like hot dogs. Many brands, like Applegate, carry the gluten-free label—but never assume if you don’t see the label.

2. Make your own. Can’t get what you want from your grocery store or local restaurant, make it. If you’re motivated to make your own gluten-free pasta, Meta recommends using chickpea flour, water, and grapeseed oil along with eggs (and an extra yolk to give taste and texture).

The best pre-made gluten-free mixed flours include Domata Living Flour, Bob’s Red Mill, and Jules Gluten Free  (which makes great cut-out cookies).

For a list of gluten-free recipes you can make at home, click here and check out this Holiday Pinterest Board, too. Also download the Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking Essentials Checklist. (Also, check out this great gluten-free website with recipes from author Elana Amsterdam.)

Mehtaphor in Tribeca

Mehta’s restaurant is located in the Duane St. Hotel in New York City’s TriBeca.

3. Become a label reader—and stay educated. Know which brands produce gluten-free (and even dairy- and nut-free) products. (Click here, for a list of manufacturers.)

4. Frequent restaurants that take gluten-free seriously. There are plenty of restaurants like Mehta’s Mehtaphor that offer plenty of gluten-free options. Click here to search for local restaurants with gluten-free menus.

For a sampling of what we tried at Mehta’s Mehtaphor, as part of the Chef’s Table Tour, scroll below (all recipes are gluten free—and delicious!).

Mustard Foie gras crostini with raspberry (using gluten-free bread)








Oysters with tapioca








Grilled tofu with green chutney, topped with a chickpea-crusted onion ring








Sliced Duck served over portobello mushroom with spicy goat cheese and tomato with a mustard and onion chutney








Mehtaphor sundae, including vanilla rum ice cream with Kahlua, rum raisins and lentil chip












The tough love truth about how to lose weight

Written by: on Sunday, October 16th, 2011

It’s New Year’s—and with the holiday and festivities (and holiday hang-overs) come the inevitable resolutions to lose weight. Before you get started on your diet, here are a few basic “tough love” facts about weight that are good to be aware of:

woman weighing herself on a scale

Don't avoid the scale: it can keep you on track.

1) Obesity starts with just a 5-pound weight gain. Think it can’t happen to you? Think again. People aren’t born obese, but they can certainly be heavy when they’re young (as we can see from the staggering numbers of children and adolescents now struggling with obesity). It can also happen to anyone at any age—and as you get older and your metabolism starts to slow down, it gets even easier to put on weight. It starts with gaining just a few pounds…and then a few more…and then even more. And that’s why it’s so important to be vigilant about your weight throughout your life; if you put on 5 pounds, work to take it off right away…as the more you gain, the harder it will get, guaranteed. If this means you have to weigh yourself every day or every week, so be it.

2) No one is to blame but you. Yes, we can point to the high fructose corn syrup in so many foods as the culprit; we can blame all those unhealthy fast food companies that make junk food cheaper to eat than healthier fare; we can point fingers at our genetic makeup, our emotions, our lack of willpower, our love of food… And sure, these may contribute to your weight gain, but the truth is: no one is forcing you to overeat. The only person you have to blame for putting on weight is yourself.


Weight Watchers location next to Porkys in Lindhurst, New Jersey

A real-life picture about how hard the choices in life are! (Actual picture from Lindhurst, New Jersey)

3) Nothing in life comes easy—and weight loss is no exception. For some reason, people today believe that losing weight should come fast—and most disturbing—easily. All it takes is one look at the preponderance of diet pills on the market, detox diets, miracle cures…and even—to some degree—gastric bypass surgery. The idea is that someone else can provide the cures to our problems, when in fact it all starts from the ability within oneself to change. But so many people today don’t look at their weight issues that way: they want solutions and they want someone else to provide them, fast … and essentially do the work for them. Bottom line is there is simply no substitute for changing, and cutting down on, what you eat and exercising regularly.


woman and man exercising outdoors

Make exercise a daily habit and you

4) You don’t like to exercise? Tough. There is no question that exercise—moving your body—is absolutely essential to keeping your body healthy. Yes, it’s hard sometimes—really, really hard—to get motivated, but it’s not optional. Period. And this starts in childhood: the more kids sit around and watch TV or use the computer, the less time they’re outside being active. I notice this firsthand with my son: in the winter, it’s hard to motivate him to get outdoors and he puts on weight as a result. But in the summer when he’s more active, he drops it naturally. I’ve found the same is true for me: if I don’t make it a priority to get to the gym—no matter what the season—I pack on pounds. (And just so you know: I’ve never been a skinny model type who doesn’t have to work out—and most people aren’t.) What it takes is at least 30 minutes of activity (walking, an exercise video, cardio, etc) most days. If you’re able to get in 3 to 4 days a week, that works. The key: this is not a program that you’re doing for 3 or 4 or 5 months to slim down for some event or trip. This is for life.

5) If you’re an obese woman, you will have a tougher time in life than a man. This fact disturbs me too but it’s true. Last year, the journal Obesity published a study suggesting that obesity was a political asset — in men, not in women, despite what people were saying recently about Chris Christie. The truth is: no matter how much you try to deny it, you will be looked at differently than your thinner peers. Rather than getting steamed up about it, use that energy to do something about it. Make a commitment to be healthier for you. And I can guarantee you that you’ll not only feel better about yourself, you’ll be healthier and you’ll exude more confidence. And that goes a long way in your job and in your life.

And for any of you who might get angry by my words here, saying things like: “You don’t know how difficult it is, you haven’t been there,” I can say this: With each of my pregnancies, I gained 50 to 70 pounds. No I wasn’t obese, but I was definitely much heavier after giving birth. And I can tell you that I had to work hard to get my weight back down: it took time (almost a year after each pregnancy), consistent exercise (even on days when I did not want to do anything!), and willpower, but slowly and steadily the weight came off. And the same holds true for everyone who follows these simple tough-love rules.

The beauty of weight loss is that everyone can do it—and keep it off for good.


10 Things I’m Grateful For Today (and Every Day)

Written by: on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

We’re all accustomed to so much complaining these days (I’m no exception) that I decided to put out this list today (not in any particular order).

1.) The sunshine on my shoulders. John Denver knew what he was talking about in his song of the same name; if you’re ever feeling in a bad mood, go to iTunes and download this and listen to it (preferably while you’re outside).

2.) Dandelions.Americans spend so much money on toxic weedkillers to get rid of these “weeds” but to give it a whole new perspective: I was walking outside with my 3-year-old daughter who told me “Don’t step on the beautiful flowers [dandelions] mommy. They’re so beautiful.” And I thought: Darn, they are kind of nice: bright bursts of sunshine. (We don’t use any weed-killers on our yard so we have plenty of dandelions!)

Dandelions-Field of Dandelions

Not sure why people spend so much money getting rid of these flowers (not to mention polluting our environment with toxic chemicals), but I'm realizing just how beautiful these "flowers" are!

3.) My health. We take our health for granted until something serious happens and we can’t enjoy life the same way anymore. For anyone who has yet another excuse for why they can’t get out and exercise (so important for staying healthy), think about all the people who would give anything to be in your position.

4.) My small but cozy home. We live in the age of knockdowns: this house doesn’t have everything I need, so I’ll knock it down and build something even bigger and better. And I think: we have so much more in this country than so many people, yet people always want more and more and more. I’m thankful for my home; it’s everything I need.

5.) A cell-phone-free day. I’ve shut it off today and I don’t care what calls I miss. I’m tired of being connected (almost like by IV!) to this darned thing!!!

6.) An ice cold glass of water. When was the last time you reached for this instead of a bottled ice tea, sugary drink or something else? Try it…you’ll remember how good it really is. And when you think about people around the world who don’t have access to it, you’ll appreciate it even more. (To do something this Earth Month, log on to Aveda is celebrating Earth Month [this month], by encouraging people around the country to participate in Walks for Water. Get out, get some exercise, and do something good for the earth.)

7.) A much-needed vacation. You don’t have to go anywhere…just don’t go to work. It could just be for the day. What are you saving all those days for anyway? (You might just lose them, too…I speak from experience. Over the past 5 years, I have lost more than 80 days of vacation!!!! NOT GOOD!) Oh, and shut off your cell phone and BlackBerry as all the people back at the office won’t hesitate to contact you if they need you.

8.) A nap. When was the last time you took one; I took one this past weekend on a horribly rainy day and it was the best thing ever. Two hours of uninterrupted bliss.

9.) My kids. Who else would tell you that “I love you more than everything in the whole wide world” (my 7-year-old son tells me this) or “Mommy, you are SO beautiful” (my 3-year-old daughter tells me this as she’s brushing my not-so-beautiful hair).

10.) Long-term friendships. There’s an old saying that friends are those people who know everything about you but love you anyway. Enough said!

When I’m feeling the need to complain, I’m going to pull out this list to realize everything I have to appreciate…

Why we should never stop going to “school”

Written by: on Friday, March 18th, 2011
school, adult learning, going back to school

Learning new stuff every day keeps us on our toes...and keeps us engaged in life.

I really, really thought that when I finished my Masters degree in journalism, that I was done with school: I was finished—for good! I had no desire to go back and wanted to be paid for my work from now on. (Many long hard years at school with no money can sometimes do that to you…)

And I pretty much followed that philosophy for 14 years until just recently when I left Shape as the editor in chief. I finally had time—and so I signed up for digital classes at NYU. And it’s now that I’m realizing why putting off the idea of “school” was a big mistake…

I’m in one class all about web design—and many times I’m completely lost and often can’t finish my homework because I can’t figure out what the heck I did wrong in the html coding to screw everything up! (For someone who has worked hard to master my knowledge and career, this is a bit of a humbling experience.) I’m in another class all about social media…and there’s so much information that my brain is on overload and I feel like I can’t absorb it all!

But I’m LOVING every minute of it. Why? Because I’m forcing my brain to look at things differently…outside my comfort zone. And it’s really invigorating. As I said to someone recently: we should never stop trying new things or taking classes— be it a community class about finances, an intro to wine class, an intro to yoga class or a class about web design. It keeps us fresh, keeps our mind engaged, and keeps us meeting new interesting people—outside our daily lives.

Many friends I’ve talked to recently have said: “Oh, I’d love to go back to school.” So my answer to anyone who says that is this: start small; sign up for one class (even if it’s a one-night class) and then go from there. You don’t need to be in a program at a university. Just doing something outside the daily grind will keep you continually excited about—and engaged—in life.  Now, back to my homework…

Why is it so darned hard to remember to take our vitamins?

Written by: on Friday, March 11th, 2011
Vitamins-vitamins for women-remembering to take vitamins

Put your vitamins in plain sight and take them at the same time every day to create a habit.

Just asking…Set your vitamins out on the counter in the kitchen in PLAIN SIGHT as I do and you’d think it’s not so hard to remember to take them. Not the case! It’s like remembering to drink your water when your bottle is sitting in front of you: you just don’t do it…at least I find it really difficult.

There are days when I pass by my vitamins and say to myself “You have to remember to take them” and then…nothing. I forget. (But really, I mean, pick them up and put them in your mouth, Valerie! It’s really not hard.)

Well, I guess you can say it’s a bit like exercising: we know it’s good for us (along with swapping out yummy crispy French Fries for a salad at lunch) but we don’t always do it. Is it the rebellious child in us? Maybe, and maybe it’s a bit of innate laziness. I’m not sure what it is, but instead of giving up something for lent, I’ve decided to “add to” for lent: vitamins (particularly calcium) to keep my body strong and healthy!