Oi, Gluten! What’s the story?

People are so scared of gluten in the US. You could probably rob a bank by waving a baguette in the air.

Even in Ireland, it has earned such a bad rep that somebody I’m married to (no names) thinks gluten must be something delinquent teenagers sniff.

GSOH folks! Gluten is not a poison – let’s get that straight.

Gluten is not unhealthy either.

For most people, gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) is more than tolerable. It’s bleedin’ great. Gluten is what makes baguettes fluffy and donuts spongy. So what’s the problem?

It is estimated that one in 100 people cannot break down gluten. This is coeliac disease, an inflammatory condition where gluten irritates the digestive tract and can cause serious discomfort. Ireland has an impressive headcount of coeliacs, so we can’t all blame Gwynnie.

The reality, however, might be a little more complicated because more than one in 100 are claiming to be gluten sensitive and experiencing similar digestive discomfort. There are many theories but no clear, scientifically satisfying answers.

Many respond well to FODMAP diets, an acronym for a series of carbohydrates that no one will ever remember: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. For more on that, take a look at Professor Peter Gibson’s research at Monash University or Paula Mee’s specialist cookbook.


Photo The Virtuous Tart


Dr David Perlmutter, the godfather of glutards, is a popular neurologist whose research purports to link gluten and grains to Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Controversial? I certainly think so.

Grains aren’t the problem – in fact, they’re part of the solution to a healthy, varied diet. Our modern processed diet has bastardised grains, chiefly wheat, into a nutritionally void substance that most of us consume several times a day. Nearly one-third of the foods found on our supermarket shelves contain some component of nutritionally stripped wheat – usually gluten, starch or both.

Wheat has turned into a bland industrial commodity. The physical distress some people experience after eating commercial bread, for example, has less to do with grains or gluten than with the way large commercial bakeries operate. Instead of spending 48 hours making traditional bread, loaves are belched out on conveyor belts within a few minutes, designed to last for weeks on supermarket shelves. Most commercial white flour in the US is bleached, using chemicals like acetone peroxide, chlorine, and benzoyl peroxide. This is not real bread! Is it any wonder our bodies reject this stuff, manifesting its contempt for such foods through a kaleidoscope of symptoms like eczema, lethargy, constipation, bloating and gas? Your body is trying to talk to you. These symptoms are its language.



So what about spelt? The problem with heritage wheat like spelt, einkorn and dozens of others is that they don’t produce a high yield. From an agronomic perspective, it’s too risky for farmers to consider growing heirloom wheat varieties (unless they’re loaded like Prince Charles and in the market for a new hobby). This leaves us with a standardised, highly processed variety in America, Ireland and the UK.

There is a promising movement of scientists, curious cooks and adventurous bakers who are trying to resurrect older wheat grains. Emmer, faro, einkorn and kamut are all examples of gorgeous heritage wheat grains that taste far superior to the ‘wheat’ that you and I are accustomed to.



So if you’re a member of the GF brigade or just giving wheat a break, count yourself lucky. There are stacks of groovy grains and flours to play with that may have otherwise never muscled for attention – quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, teff. These are your new badass friends. Many taste even better than regular wheat. Rosemary, olive and flaxseed bread instead of boring sliced pan. Mexican chilli beans, avocado and corn tacos in place of soggy pasta evenings. Still with me? Sounds odd, but instead of feeling restricted by your food choices, expect to feel entirely liberated.

Given that we are obsessed with wheat (cereals, bread, pasta, cake, biscuits, even sauces), it does make sense to diversify. Worst-case scenario? Your taste buds will flirt with new flavours and your mother-in-law will be engrossed by your brilliance. Let me help you do just that.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maybe it’s time to make friends with these flours (all explained in detail in The Virtuous Tart cookbook available everywhere books are sold.)


Almond flour and ground almonds

Brown rice flour

Buckwheat flour

Chestnut flour

Chickpea flour, besan flour, gram flour

Coconut flour

Milled flaxseed (linseed)

Milled chia seed


Quinoa flour

Sorghum flour

Teff flour



Leave our kids alone!

Picture the scene.

You’re sitting at home, having your breakfast. There’s a knock on the front door. It’s a salesman, and he wants to talk to your kids. “No thanks,” you say, closing the door firmly. But he won’t go away. In fact, he spends the rest of the day standing outside your house, shouting at your kids. At first you think he’s crazy. Then you realise he’s just immoral. Because this creep wants your kids to buy products that were designed to make them sick.

This may sound wildly implausible – but it’s not. children in Ireland now spend, on average, three hours a day online, where junk food manufacturers routinely peddle their wares. If a creep stood outside your door shouting at your kids for three hours, you would call the police. But when that same predator is inside your house – stalking your kids online – there is nothing you can do about it.

This is a serious problem, and it’s getting worse. The link between the marketing of junk brands and childhood obesity is well-documented. One in four Irish school children is now overweight or obese. At this rate we will soon be one of the fattest nations in the developed world. We are always hearing about the personal responsibility of parents and children, and it’s true that everyone has a part to play in solving this problem. But the junk food industry also has a responsibility – at least, it should. At the moment there is only the flimsiest voluntary self regulation. This is what happens when an industry with no shame has far too much power over politicians. It’s time to take back some of that power.

Irish people are starting to realise that we need to protect our kids online. That is why the Irish Heart Foundation’s new campaign is so welcome. Slick and amusing, but also quite shocking, it exposes the sinister tactics that are used in digital marketing.

I signed the Irish Heart Foundation petition for more regulation around the marketing of junk food, and I hope that you will too, because it’s time to give these junk food creeps a message.

Leave our kids alone.

Trevor White, The Irish Times (my hubbie)



Marketing companies are targeting and grooming our children online. It is sick. And standard industry practice by junk food companies.

We need legislation to stop these marketing companies from taking advantage of our children’s vulnerable minds. We need to tell them to leave our kids alone.


What can you do today?

Sign the Irish Heart Foundation petition to regulate the marketing of junk food to children.

Please forward this message on to any parents or pals who can help us win this battle.

With love and thanks,







Treats & Snacks, Vegan &/or Raw, x For Freezer x

Mint Chocolate ice-cream pops

What do you get when you blend up a popular nut, a green vegetable and Lisa Hannigan’s new album? A Nobel prize in chemistry.

Please don’t’ ask me to explain what happens at an atomic level – I haven’t got the foggiest. The end result feels inexplicably gifted, like Allan Rickman and Sharleen Spiteri dirty dancing at the petrol pump.

Music can heighten the enjoyment of a recipe. Watch what happens to your appetite when you play Bob Dylan on repeat – your synapses will feel like a potted geranium dropped from six stories high. Don’t get me wrong. I have all his albums. But just not in the kitchen. Crank up the volume on Lisa Hannigan when you’re at the stove, and her groove will magically transfer to your fingertips and dimples. Food just tastes better. She gives me wings.



When cashew nuts are soaked for six hours, they blend up like thick cream. Cashews are the David Blaine of vegan ice cream. Magic.

Add to this sumptuously whipped avocado and sticky honey, and you’ve got yourself a blueprint for any dairy-free ice pop.

Cashews have a neat supply of copper, a rather important trace mineral for our bods. Copper is a Big Wig for a whole suite of essential enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase. SOD (geek speak for superoxide dismutase y’all) buoys up our mojo and energy production. And you know what? A good handful of cashew nuts rings in at over 100% of your recommended daily intake of copper. Score.




Dark Chocolate & Mint Ice Cream

I’ve added matcha green tea powder for its groovy glow (and to give my frontal lobe a good rave). Then great big chunks of 70% dark chocolate, because St Patrick is all about chocolate. I. Think.

Drop the coconut milk, if you prefer less ice in your popsicle.


100g unsalted cashews

2 avocados

1 tin full-fat coconut milk

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5-8 tablespoons rice malt syrup (for IQS fans) or raw honey (stronger tasting) 

Pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder

½ teaspoon real peppermint extract

40g your favourite dark chocolate


Soak your cashews in filtered water for anything between 6 and 12 hours (overnight is perfect). Drain and discard and soak liquid. Tip the softened nuts into a high-powered blender and add the remaining ingredients, all except for your chocolate of course. Blitz the bejaysus out of it. When it’s silky and creamy, stir through your chunks of chocolate.

Spoon into lolly molds and freeze for 6 hours before annihilating in one glorious binge. Just kidding! Keep a lid on that lust!