Since the dawn of civilization, pretty much, bread has been known as “the staff of life.” But for those suffering from gluten intolerance, bread may be more like “the enemy of the state” or at least feel that way from the associated digestive issues.

There are times when cutting down on bread can facilitate weight loss, which would make anyone feel better. However, bread, even whole grain bread eaten in moderation, may cause major problems to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract for those gluten sensitive individuals. This GI distress can lead to further complications stemming from malabsorption of essential nutrients as well as concomitant auto-immune diseases.

Gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, is an auto-immune disease in which the GI tract is the initial site of injury. Gluten refers to a group of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. For those celiac disease suffers, the immune system treats gluten as a foreign body and inflames the villi (little finger-like projections in the GI tract) to protect the body from the perceived intruder.

Under normal circumstances, the villi are the main site for nutrient absorption. In their inflamed state, nutrient absorption is hindered leading to nutritional deficiencies and possible short- and long-term complications. Common nutrient deficiencies associated with gluten intolerance include low iron in the blood or anemia which may cause chronic fatigue. Calcium absorption can also be inhibited leading to bone loss or osteoporosis. Gluten intolerance has also been linked to other chronic auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type-1 diabetes.

It seems that once your body begins fighting battles to protect itself from invaders like gluten, it sometimes kills off its own healthy cells. This is the case with type-1 diabetes where the beta-cells of the pancreas are destroyed thereby eliminating the body’s own insulin production. An auto-immune response may promote an increase in pro-inflammatory agents as a way to protect specific body parts from assailants while at the same time unintentionally causing pain and suffering to other areas such as the joints, as seen with rheumatoid arthritis.

Technically, you do not have a true gluten intolerance or celiac disease unless tested and confirmed by a physician. The tests include blood work for the anti-gliadin antibodies (IgA) as well as a biopsy of the GI tract. If you suspect that you are gluten intolerant and begin to eliminate sources of gluten, as I did, your tests will come back negative. You have to ingest the offender in order to stimulate the antibodies. For more on gluten intolerance and foods to avoid as well as foods to include, tune in next week. For now, at least pizza is back on the menu!

Elizabeth Brown is a gluten intolerant registered dietitian and certified holistic chef who has learned that there is more to life than bread. For more information visit her Web site: www.thekitchenvixen.com.

Gluten-free pizza crust recipe

1 packet or 2 1/4 tsp. active, dry yeast

3/4 cup warm water, not too hot to touch

1 tsp. sugar

1 cup brown rice flour

3/4 cup tapioca flour

1/4 cup millet flour

2 tsp. xanthan gum

3/4 tsp. sea salt

2 eggs, room temperature

2 tbs. olive oil

2 tbs. ricotta cheese, room temperature

Allow ricotta and eggs to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 200 degrees and place pizza stone or baking sheet in oven to warm. Place yeast and sugar in a small bowl and add 1/4 cup warm water. Mix to dissolve yeast and sugar and wait five minutes for yeast to activate. The water will appear milky and tiny bubbles will rise to indicate the yeast is active.

In one mixing bowl, combine the flours, xanthan gum and salt. In another bowl, beat eggs and combine with oil and ricotta cheese. You can combine all ingredients by hand in a very large mixing bowl, or use a standing mixer or a food processor. Combine the flour with the yeast-water. Add the egg-ricotta mixture. Add more water very gradually while you either knead the dough by hand or with your mixer. Your goal is to get a shiny, pliable dough.

Turn off your oven. Remove pizza stone or baking tray. Cover stone or tray with parchment paper. Coat your hands with olive oil. Place the dough on your pizza stone or baking tray lined with parchment. Shape the dough into a 12-inch round pizza. Pull up the edges to create a crust.

Turn on your oven light, place the doughy pizza crust in the oven. Do not turn on the oven. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes in the oven with the oven light on. Once the dough has risen, turn the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake the crust for 10 minutes or until golden. Remove crust from the oven and top with your favorite toppings. Turn the oven heat to 400. Bake pizza with toppings for 7 minutes. Or for those anxious pizza eaters, try Amy’s Organic Rice Crust Gluten-free Pizza.