Are modern-day Americans gluttonous? Or are millions of us prone to diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol because we're simply "glutenous?"
I explored this recently in the new book, "Wheat Belly," published by Rodale press.
In it, author William Davis, M.D., picks on wheat as it's the one gluten that dominates our diet - from breakfast cereals to bagels to breads to donuts to pastas to panko crusts on our beloved chicken katsu.
Maui Brick Oven owners are Chad, Leanne and Terry Covington at top (from left). The family operation is the only bona fide gluten-free eatery on the island as father and son are both Celiacs and cannot have any wheat that cross contaminates their food.
But other glutenous grains include rye, barley, oats, spelt, and kamut along with farina, durum, bulgur, matzoh and couscous- and all problematic to gluten-intolerant people and disastrous to those with Celiac disease.
Davis has, "Come to the disturbing conclusion that it is not fat, not sugar, and not our sedentary lifestyle that causes our nation's obesity epidemic - it is wheat."
"It's no longer the sturdy staple our forebears ground into daily bread," he writes. "Today's wheat is genetically altered to provide processed-food manufacturers the greatest yield at the lowest cost; consequently, this once benign grain has been transformed into a nutritionally bankrupt, ubiquitous ingredient that causes blood sugar to spike more rapidly than eating pure table sugar, and it also has addictive properties that cause us to ride the roller coaster of hunger, overeating and fatigue."
Of course, vegetarian societies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture may beg to differ. But there's no doubt the gluten-free movement is here - from new Caesar's Pasta Specialties to cookbooks such as the "No Gluten Solution." And, Maui establishments are formulating new menus and concepts. Here's a rundown what's offered at select stores, hotels and restaurants.
Mana Foods in Paia
For 29 long years, Mana Foods on Baldwin Avenue in Paia has been selling gluten-free products. Today, it offers more than 1,000 GF foods. "As awareness has grown, so has availability of gluten-free items," says Mana Food's Chris Ozee, buyer, manager and partner.
"In the last four years, it has become a focus for Mana Foods. In the summer of 2009, we started an online column, Gluten Freedom, a monthly offering of GF recipes and tips. The current month is available as a handout in the store and archives are online at www.manafoodsmaui.com."
Shoppers won't find a particular GF section, but rather products displayed all over the store in categories such as breads, baked goods, cereals, frozen entrees, pastas, crackers, snacks, desserts, cookies, baking mixes, sport bars, protein powders and more. Just look for the colorful GF shelf labels to find them.
One of the most popular items is Udi's multi-grain bread, frozen and in the deli.
"Udi's whole line is great," says Ozee. "Pamela's has a great GF line, Cadia has some good rice pastas and cookies, Food for Life rice breads have been around for years and they now offer GF English muffins. Canyon Baked breads are a new one and selling quite well. Udi's, Conte's, Bold, and Bella Monica pizzas are all very tasty."
Mana Food's Purchasing Director Sunette Fenn says there is more public awareness these days. "More and more people are discovering they have either gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, and that dictates the market. We offer the best products we can at the lowest prices."
For more details, call Mana Foods at 579-8078.
Maui Brick Oven in Kihei
Terry Covington's mother and grandmother both died of liver failure, but were never diagnosed with Celiac disease. However, liver failure is the end result. Terry finally had a rash diagnosed properly, and discovered he had the disease. Further testing showed his two sons also have it.
Lifestyle changes brought them all back to health and now, Terry and his wife, Leanne, along with son Chad (a chef who graduated from culinary school at UH on the Big Island), opened Maui Brick Oven.
"We moved here from the Big Island and opened Maui Brick Oven Sept. 18 near Long's Drugs in Kihei," says Leanne, who works the front of the house while the men cook in the kitchen.
"People have come in here and literally started crying when they read the menu and learned they could eat just anything we serve here. Some restaurants dedicate a few dishes. Our entire menu is gluten free. There is no wheat in here and so no cross contamination."
Plus, on a recent visit, we found the pizza to be flavorful with a chewy, crunchy crust."We make our crusts from sorghum, millet, brown rice, potato and tapioca flours," says Terry. "Top sellers are the Meat Lover's, the Mediterranean and the Polynesian Passion."
For Maui Brick Oven's famous fish 'n' chips, Terry and Chad dredge fresh mahimahi, ono or walu in beer batter and deep fry to golden doneness.
"People are absolutely raving about the fish 'n' chips," says Leanne. "We use whatever fish is market fresh that day. Every sauce, dressing, crouton and dessert is made in house. We use as many local and organic ingredients as possible."
Terry adds that about 97 percent of people don't know they have Celiac disease, "because you can be really thin or really obese. The obese Celiacs are also starving for nutrients.
"People need to know gluten protein was designed to be a poison to insects. So it makes sense that it's a poison to some humans, too."
For Maui Brick Oven, call 875-7896.
Manoli's Pizza Co. in Wailea
Manoli's Pizza Co. in the former Matteo's in Wailea just debuted its outdoor bar. Adjacent to the entrance, this new 1,300 square-foot expansion offers additional seating overlooking the golf course. It also features 30 seats and flat screen TVs. Since it debuted, Manoli's is open daily from 11:30 a.m. serving food all the way until midnight.
Kamaaina get 15 percent off food, and Maui-grown ingredients grace the menu such as Kula Farm greens, Surfing Goat Dairy cheeses, Olowalu carrots, Hana avocados and much more. Rich and savory sauces and doughs are housemade from scratch. Crusts are whole grain or gluten free for the health conscious.
"Happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 9 to midnight," says owner Aaron Placourakis. "We have brand new marble and granite, slate floors, nine new ceiling fans. In addition to our organic whole wheat pizza dough, every pizza we offer can be gluten free. Our signature banana-cream pie is gluten free. But I tell people who are Celiac, this isn't a laboratory at the White House."
For more details on Manoli's call 874-7449.
Four Seasons Resort Maui
Sit at the Lobby Lounge in Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and sip a gluten-free Redbridge beer, made with sorghum, an old-world grain.
Or wake up to breakfast at the resort's DUO, and head to the gluten-free corner, with its own toaster and a rotation of gourmet items such as scones, fruit loaves and muffins.
"Whether being gluten-free is a lifestyle choice or you are allergic to gluten, we pride ourselves in taking very good care of our guests," says Executive Chef Roger Stettler. "We do very our best to accommodate you, always . Hence, gluten-free menus are available in all of our outlets."
Pastry Chef Rhonda Ashton-Chavez says that they always have gluten-free pizza dough and can modify desserts as well as offer already popular GF creme brulee. Call Four Seasons at 874-8000.
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa
The hotel franchise's culinary philosophy is "food thoughtfully sourced and carefully served." It's one reason why the Kaanapali resort's Japengo restaurant offers gluten-free Tamari soy sauce for any diner who requests it with sushi.
"It seems to me that gluten intolerance is becoming so commonplace, that gluten-free foods should pretty much be on every menu," says the Hyatt Maui's Greg Growhowski, executive chef. "We've written menu items into our banquets, room service, luau and all of our restaurant outlets."
For breakfast at the Hyatt's Halona Kai and at Swan Court outlets, you'll find gluten-free muffins and breads; at 'Umalu, pizzas, salads and other options; and at Japengo, the freshest fish and guilt-free rice dishes money can buy.
"There was a family with four kids, one a Celiac, who just checked in," says the chef. "I spoke with the mother and made sure the child's French fries were cooked in a separate pot for no contamination and that her burger had a gluten-free bun. It's best if you call us ahead of time for strict dietary concerns. But you can also identify a particular waitress or manager and set up what you want."
For Hyatt Maui reservations, call 661-1234.