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Let’s talk gluten!

Interview with Anne and Susan, the founders of gluten-free specialists The Whole Kitchen
The Whole Kitchen Founders

Akesi means ‘part of the healing process’ and because of this you often find us talking about the importance of making balanced lifestyle choices in addition to your daily dose of Akesi probiotic magic! We believe the best ‘diet’ is an informed one and so we have teamed up with The Whole Kitchen to talk about the connection between gluten and gut health, read our interview below.

1. Do you think people should be gluten free even if they are not Celiac?
TWK: We strongly believe in bio-individuality so not everyone is guaranteed to benefit from a gluten free diet as each person would react differently and have a different tolerance level. However, there is increasing new evidence to show that gluten (particularly the protein gliadin in gluten) negatively affects the gut lining for everyone, not just those with Celiac. 
 
We highly encourage you to read the labels on packaged foods – gluten is creeping into our diets and in foods we don’t expect like sauces, processed meats, and beverages. It’s fair to say that there is currently too much gluten in the modern diet. Gluten has been linked to many different symptoms – from the digestive system to brain function. Building a positive relationship with food means including foods that help us feel good physically and mentally, and increase our daily productivity. We believe that being gluten free or even low gluten can support this.

 2. What symptoms could people feel if they are gluten intolerant?
TWK: Gluten affects the lining of the gut by making it more permeable, so waste and toxins might escape into the bloodstream. This activates the immune response and ultimately sets the body up for chronic inflammation which can impair the absorption of nutrients from food. The lack of nutrient absorption can greatly affect children who are still growing and developing.
 
Some digestive symptoms include stomach discomfort, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and nausea. You might also experience lower energy levels, brain fog, and reduced quality of sleep.
  
3. Is it best to simply avoid all grains if gluten intolerant?
TWK: A common misconception that there are limited gluten free grain options. However, there are actually plenty of gluten free grains available that can be consumed whole or grinded into flours for cooking and baking. These flours and grains have been in various cuisines for centuries and are being discovered now in the Western diets for the better!  Some are actually seeds, but are eaten like grains (pseudocereals).
 
Here’s a list: Brown Rice, Quinoa, Buckwheat, Millet, Amaranth, Teff, Sorghum, GF Oats, Chickpea
 
They are rich in nutrients like fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can contribute to our health. In fact, our gluten free breads contain a nutritious blend of these grain flours, mainly brown rice and buckwheat. 
 
4. What improvements could people experience once they cut out gluten?
TWK: Increased nutrient absorption, relief from digestive issues like reduced bloating, better energy levels and reduction of sluggish feelings which can help improve daily productivity, better sleep, clearer headspace. All these help contribute to better overall wellbeing.
 
Cutting out gluten sources from refined carbohydrates and processed food also leaves room to incorporate more nutritious whole foods such as vegetables and fruits, and healthy fats. These foods are satiating and mostly low G.I so they’ll give you a steady stream of energy rather than a spike. You might even find that you’re consuming less food overall due to these factors!
 
5. Tell us about your own journey into being Gluten Free and the origins of TWK
Anne: 
I went on my own health journey and realised that a lot of my bloating and digestive issues were due to the excess gluten in my diet. Having also worked as a health & nutrition coach, I could see the benefits that most people felt when they removed excess processed foods and gluten heavy foods from their diet. 
 
There were certain areas that people struggle more than others – particularly baked goods, bread and snacks as gluten plays a big role in some of these foods. Hence TWK was born to not just be gluten free (which we know doesn’t necessarily mean healthy) but also genuinely healthy with lower sugar levels and all natural ingredients. 
 
Susan:
TWK was established in 2015 and the Singapore food scene was a very different place back then! Healthy food was lacking and tasty rustic cakes and artisanal breads could not be found easily. Personally I have been in the food industry for many years working with great produce. I have always had a diverse diet that is not particularly high in gluten or sugar but there are always benefits of reducing. I’ve always enjoyed cooking for friends and family and TWK is an extension of this. Being able to create food for all communities that taste good and makes you feel good also has been very fulfilling. 
 
6. Describe your typical main meals of the day
Anne:
Sometimes I fast in the mornings, but if I’m having breakfast, I’ll go for these options. Savoury: TWK GF toast (country or sourdough) with avocado, eggs, spinach, mushrooms. Sweet: a granola bowl with TWK granola, coconut yogurt and fresh fruits. 
 
Our main meals focus on lots of vegetables with protein sources like lentils, grass-fed meat, organic chicken salmon, and good quality fats like olive oil, coconut oil, seeds, eggs, coconut milk. Adding herbs and spices gives so much flavour as well. I’ll also complete the meals with a gluten-free carb most days – sweet potato, pumpkin, quinoa, brown rice, chickpea/quinoa/brown rice pasta. 
 
Some days I might feel like a lower carb option so cauliflower is the top option as it’s so versatile – you can rice it, mash it or even make a pizza base out of it! We like to keep it more casual on the weekends with a GF pizza with TWK pizza base or homemade burgers with baked sweet potato.
 
Susan:
As a busy mother and business owner, life is pretty hectic through the week. We have a few weekly family signatures that go around at the dinner table. I try not to skip breakfast as this sets me up for the day but simply with toast or granola and fruits. Weekends are when we catch up on the gourmet foods and cooking at home with the kids. We love BBQs, salads and grazing at the table with family and friends.
 
7. How do these meals differ for your children?
Anne:
We do want my son to try all kinds of food and flavours to build up on his taste profile. Food is definitely a big part of a child’s development – not only physically but also emotionally and socially. It’s important to build the foundations of a good relationship with food, and that means incorporating food that is good for us and makes us feel good. Not forgetting the family memories built around food! So I can say that we eat mostly the same meals to allow us to factor all this in, though we have to adjust when we have spicy food!
 
Susan:
Family time around food is crucial. From a young age our kids have eaten with us which has set them up with healthy eating habits for life and not shy to try and learn about new foods. From oysters and shellfish to salads, strong cheese and olives, our kids try all different types of foods and flavours from salty to sour to sweet. It also makes for a great lesson – learning everything about food like where it comes from (farm to table) and the cultural aspect of it. This openness to food makes them curious and want to cook as well. However, in saying this, I recently found a stash of roasted vegetables hidden under the sofa from my 6 year old!  
 
8. What are some simple first steps to being Gluten Free?
TWK: With any diet or lifestyle changes, sustainability is key. The goal is to transition seamlessly into new healthy habits without it feeling like a “burden”. 
 
Here are some small changes you can start off with:

  • Include more naturally gluten free food (fruit & vegetables, good quality protein, healthy fats)
  • Try having 1 gluten free meal a day
  • Review your usual grocery list and identify gluten containing products that you can swap or do without
  • Swap out one staple gluten containing food to gluten free (e.g bread, pasta)

You don’t have to start off with all these at once, pick 1 or 2 that are feasible for you to incorporate into your lifestyle.
 
9. Any lunch/lunchbox tips for those with children?
TWK: Balanced (different food groups) and easy to grab food!

  • High quality carbohydrates: Brown rice crackers, healthy muesli bars
  • Protein: Cheese sticks, boiled eggs, chickpeas, full fat yoghurt of choice
  • Healthy fats: Trail mix
  • Fruit & Veg: Berries, veggies sticks with homemade dip 
  • Healthy treats: TWK Cherry Choc Energy Pearls (nut-free), homemade Coconut Muffin with no added sugar.

10. Do you have a preferred Akesi product?
 TWK: Berry Spritzer with soda water and frozen berries and Papaya Tonic with soda water are our favs!

11. Do you have a favourite TWK Café item that incorporates Gluten Free and Akesi?
TWK: Our Antioxidant Berry Smoothie Bowl. With fibre, protein, and antioxidants, this is such a nutrient rich and gut-friendly bowl with an added probiotic boost from the Akesi Berry Spritzer. We loved being able to collaborate and create this!

TWK Antioxidant Berry Bowl
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon Akesi’s Berry Spritzer
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut or almond milk
1/2 avocado
1/2 banana
1/2 cup mixed frozen berries
Toppings:
1/2 cup Pecan Coconut Grain Free Granola
A sprinkle of chia seeds, flax seeds and fresh blueberries
Instructions:
Simply add all the ingredients to a blender and blend on low speed until it looks like smooth. Add a protein powder if you’d like. Blend more on low, scraping down the sides until you have a smooth mixture. Pour into a bowl and top with The Whole Kitchen Pecan Coconut Grain Free Granola, some blueberries and flaxseeds. Enjoy!

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