"Ultragrain" Flour: Experiments in Cooking

by Charlotte on February 9, 2010 · 42 comments


Just like performing three posthumous miracles will get you sainted in Catholic circles, there is a litmus test to determine true health nuts. While this won’t get you a cathedral named in your honor (but neither will you have to be martyred, so there is that) you will get a metaphorical halo and intestines of burnished steel. What is this criteria upon which much righteous indignation is predicated? Whole grains of course! One’s willingness to replace all their favorite foodstuffs with 100% whole grains is how you separate the healthy wheat from the diabetes-courting chaff.

I jest. But only a little bit. I do believe that the number one get-healthy tip out there goes something like this: “Ditch all your ‘white’ foods and stock up on whole grains.” White rice becomes brown rice, white pasta becomes whole wheat pasta, white sugar becomes brown sugar. And of course white flour, the ultimate sinner, becomes whole wheat flour.

But what’s that you say? White flour tastes so much better than whole wheat flour? Next thing I know you’ll be telling me brown sugar isn’t really a health food! (You know it isn’t, right?)

I’m not knocking whole grains. I love them. I eat a ton of them. But when it comes to certain baked goods, I have discovered through much trial and (mostly) error that there are some you just can’t make with whole wheat flour. For instance, most chocolate things like brownies and chocolate cupcakes will hide a myriad of healthy additives – everything from whole wheat flour to grated zucchini to pinto beans disappears into that dark oblivion without a palatable trace. The problem comes when you need to cook things with a lighter texture. Like, say, angel food cake. This deceptively named dessert happens to be my very favorite treat when topped with fresh strawberries, toasted almonds and real whipped cream. But it also is made up of pretty much only three ingredients – white flour, white sugar and egg whites (themed cake!) – only one of which has any nutritional value. So of course I tried healthify it by swapping out the flour for whole wheat.

It was a culinary disaster such that angels everywhere hung their halos in shame. I wish I had a picture, it was that awful. (It was way worse than The Turd.)

So you will understand why during a recent trip to Costco this caught my eye:

“Whole wheat white flour”?! Wha…? The tagline actually reads “whole grain nutrition. white flour appeal.”

I spent 20 minutes scrutinizing the package for clues as to what kind of Monsanto demon spawn had produced this anomaly. The ingredient list was no help; it just said “wheat.” The nutritional facts looked pretty close to whole wheat too. My only clue was the superlative laced brand name “Ultragrain.”

I bought it. (Incidentally, this was not the only impulse purchase I made that day. I also came home with a 2-lb tub of tabbouleh. Boy howdy do I love tabbouleh but not even I could eat 2 pounds of buckwheat laced with parsley, lemon and tomatoes and then slam dunked in olive oil before it went bad. Sigh.) When I got home, I pulled out my newly acquired mini-muffin pans (I love you mom!) and opened up my family recipe book to another dessert I have never been able to successfully healthify: poppy seed bread.

Sure you’d think that anything with the word “seed” in the title would be good for you but this bread is pretty much just glorified white almond cake with little black polka dots of poppy seeds for panache. I adore it. I measured out the flour:


The picture isn’t great (this is another reason why I am not a food blogger) but it is only a shade or two darker than regular white flour and the texture is almost the same. If I weren’t paying close attention – which I usually don’t when I cook (and I wonder why I’m so bad at it!) – I’d think it was white flour. After mixing in the rest of the ingredients and tasting the batter several times – nummy! – I baked them for 7 minutes and voila! – muffins:


They looked like the real deal. My taste testers gave them two thumbs up as well:

The 3-year-old ate a whole pan by himself. (In my defense, they were mini muffins.)

Nah, Jelly Bean (3 months old last Friday!) didn’t get to taste one but she sure wanted to!

But what about the nutrition? Regular whole wheat flour has 101 calories, 0.5g fat, 22g carbs, and 4g of protein per 1/4 cup. “Ultragrain” flour has, well, as you can see – it’s exactly the same!

I’m still not exactly sure what this stuff is. It tasted good and therefore I fear it. The Ultragrain website (yes, a flour has its own website) doesn’t really explain it – is it a special breed of wheat? genetically modified? – other than to say that “The Ultragrain milling process retains the fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients concentrated within the bran and germ, while yielding whole grain wheat flour with a taste, ultrasmooth texture and appearance more similar to traditional refined white flour.” So I guess they just grind it up smaller? I guess??

Any of you use this stuff? Is it as cool as it sounds or do you fear, like me, that it is Frankenfood? Do you swap out white flour for whole wheat in every recipe?

And for those of you that are interested, here’s my healthed-up-but-still-yummy

Poppy Seed Muffin recipe:
Ingredients

  • 2 cups “Ultragrain” flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (note: I like my muffins only mildly sweet so I only used 1/3 c sugar but if you want a more traditional flavor, up it to 3/4 c)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream (I used full fat dairy, oh yes I did!)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. Combine remaining ingredients; mix well. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined mini-muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 400 degrees F for 7-10 minutes (12-15 for regular size muffins) or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

AlliB February 9, 2010 at 4:21 am

I use it in all my baking and have yet to discover a negative side effect in the tasty finished products! Even the cake I recently made! It was a pleasant surprise to find it didn't call for cake flour.

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Katie February 9, 2010 at 5:40 am

I healthify everything I make. I use whole wheat pastry flour, which I think is similar to white whole wheat flour. I had to give up gluten though, so I am back to square one with the baking. I found that adding fruit purees keeps things moist with those silly rice flours (which are similar in texture to wheat flour).

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bjbella5 February 9, 2010 at 5:51 am

Interesting. I am trying out something similar maybe? Wheat Montana has a "Prairie Gold" flour that is supposedly 100% whole wheat flour but it is made from Hard White Spring Wheat (as if I have any idea what that is) that it touts as having a "lighter sweeter taste" than regular whole wheat. It has a similar nutrition content 100 calories, 0.5g fat, 21g carbs, 3g fiber, 5g protein. But it looks more wheaty than your flour picture.
I have only tried it half and half in cookies and pancakes and it seems to be ok. Now I need to try your recipe!

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M February 9, 2010 at 9:48 am

First off, you have such beautiful children. And the fact that Jelly Bean has mastered sticking out her tongue at such a young age is quite impressive.

Secondly, I love to bake! So, perhaps I will try this recipe, sometime after I finish my most recent law school misadventure in about a month, and I have time to bake! I'm saving the recipe to my 'recipe box' for later use!!

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Anonymous February 9, 2010 at 11:58 am

Hey Charlotte,

I'm no baker – in fact everone I know is well aware that "Jennifer DOES NOT BAKE", but on going primal lately, one thing I've experimented with for my protein-y pancakes is coconut flour, which is very fine, and might sub in nicely for white flour for some baking, like muffins. Not that I'm going to do it, 'cause…I don't bake. Full stop. BUT, if I did, I'd certainly try it out!

Jennifer (in Newfoundland)

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dragonmamma/naomi February 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I googled Ultragrain. Besides a few other people asking questions about it (with no answers) all I could find was this info from ConAgra:

"ConAgra Mills, the maker of Ultragrain, developed a patented technology that delivers whole grain flour with the same particle size as traditional refined white flour. The Ultragrain milling process retains the fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients concentrated within the bran and germ, while yielding whole grain wheat flour with a taste, ultrasmooth texture and appearance more similar to traditional refined white flour."
******

But I'm sure it's 100% safe, because I know we can totally trust ConAgra not to sell anything that could possibly not be good for us. Right? RIGHT?

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Shirley July 16, 2013 at 2:46 am

Thank you for leaving that bit of information!

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Nathalie February 9, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Your kids are cute :)

I don't mind a healthier version of things and that includes whole wheat, but I cook for a very picky boyfriend. If I use whole wheat in anything he won't even touch it. To bad for him, but then I end up with a whole pan of muffins or cake for myself. I can hide some healthier ingredients and get away with it, but not the flour. I'd love to get my hands on that kind of flour! I'll keep my eyes open.

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Anonymous February 9, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I was searching for a good book to help me with my diet. In the end I googled it and found this site http://www.hungryforweightloss.com.

They are giving away a free ebook called "365 tips for healthy living". I didn't expect it to be any good because it's free but it's actually brilliant so I thought i'd share it here :)

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Joshua February 9, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I have not heard of this Ultragrain, but it sounds interesting. I'd use it. I don't mind whole wheat flour, but only when I'm making bread. No way am I sullying my chocolate chip cookie recipe with whole wheat.

That said, I do whole wheat for a lot of things, namely bread, pasta…does FiberOne cereal for breakfast every morning count? I hope so!

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marathonmaiden February 9, 2010 at 12:53 pm

i was always curious how white-whole-wheat flour works and what it is. bummer that the website was a bust and makes me feel like it is a frankenfood.

on the other hand those muffins look good :)

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JavaChick February 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I've been using Robin Hood Nutri Flour Blend for a while now, which I think is a similar thing. I'm happy to eat whole wheat bread, but there are some things that I refuse to use whole wheat flour for. Pancakes or pizza crust fall into that category, but I find the Nutri Flour works great. I actually prefer it to white flour. I'm just going with it and hoping for the best.

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historicstitcher February 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm

I've never heard of "Ultragrain" flour, but I've been using King Arthur White Whole Wheat for years. It's a hard white wheat, ground whole, and is almost completely interchangeable with white flour. I make treats from it, and no one knows the difference (including my step-dad, ho got in BIG trouble with Mom for claiming my Chocolate Chip cookies are way better than Mom's – not realizing they're healthier, too)

"Normal" whole wheat flour is made from a softer red wheat, and has that characteristic "brown" taste and color.

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Geosomin February 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I was going to make poppyseed muffins this week and was looking for a recipe.
How did you know? :)

I think it's jsut unbleached white flour. I buy it all the time. Less processed, but still processed. Better than white…not as good as whole wheat, but healthier for baking all those white flour type things that whole wheat won't work in…

You have cute little people BTW :)

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Trish February 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Have you heard of "Wonder Flour"? I came across it not too long ago and ordered the ingredients to make it myself. Anything I can eat that is "processed" by me rather than by someone else is a good thing. It has three ingredients: equal parts spelt grain, long grain rice, and pearled barley, ground together and used to replace white flour in baking. Here's the link–I can't wait to try it! http://www.chefbrad.com/grain/articles.php?article=Wonder-Flour&qid=5

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VaMomof2 February 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I healthify just about everything. My fav white flour sub is 1/3 ap flour, 1/3 white wheat flour (I buy the King Arthurs organic) and 1/3 oat flour. Sometimes I ditch the AP all together and use Carbolose (a low carb flour). I also throw in almond flour and golden flax quite often. I have bought coconut flour and quinoa flour but have yet to try them – the coconut scares me a bit because I cannot stand the taste of coconut but did read that the flour does not have the taste. I will need to look for that at Costco next time I go as I can only find the King Arthurs in little containers that are very expensive and do not go far.

I just made a yummy healthified apple cake this weekend using the ap, ww, oat mix plus used mostly splenda and other sugar subs, and apple sauce for most of the oil. Only problem is that it is too tasty.

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linteater February 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm

oh weird…it looks too good to be true, which is why I'm suspicious.

In one of my cookbooks the author suggested adding vital wheat gluten to whole wheat to make it lighter. I can't really tell the difference when I do, but it could just be my nonexistent culinary skills.

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azusmom February 9, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Dang, your kids are ADORABLE!!!!!

Is this the same flour they use in that white-whole-grain bread? Just curious.
I REALLY want to try your recipe, but our oven broke!

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Niki February 9, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Gracious you have cute kiddies!! My understanding was that the only difference was the type of wheat berry used to make whole wheat and whole white wheat flour. Regular is a red berry versus a white berry. And I've heard that it's cheaper too than regular. I've been looking for it here but haven't come across it yet.

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Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman February 9, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Hm, I've never heard about this. I'm still a newbie when it comes to substituting whole grain flower for white. And my husband protests it every time.

By the way, your kids are adorable. The eyelashes on your son!

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katieo February 9, 2010 at 5:50 pm

oh my gosh REALLY?
I must investigate at our Costco!!!

I've made way too many things substituting partial whole wheat flour with marginal results. Seriously, I'm so excited to try it!!

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Marste February 9, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Wow. I was coming down on the side of "too good to be true/healhty," but after reading HistoricStitcher's comment, I think I've changed my mind! Now I'm excited! :)

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Daria February 9, 2010 at 6:43 pm

historicsticher gave a great comment. I have hard white and red wheat at home that I grind myself. Same nutrition, however, the white wheat is definitely lighter and makes my breads lighter and easier to rise. I am betting that is what the flour is that you bought.

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Mineral February 9, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I use King Aruthur's white whole wheat flour all the time for baking in place of standard AP flour.

Also, if you do want to swap actual whole wheat flour into a recipe, start slowly, I usually start by replacing a third of the AP flour with whole wheat. You can then change the ratio depending on how it comes out (some recipes are more forgiving of whole wheat then others).

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Gena February 9, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I may have to try that flour. I love to bake and have also found that some things just don't work when you sub in whole wheat. Also, I must make that recipe! Since I finished off the pound cake, I've been dying for some more pastries around the house.

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alishanewton February 10, 2010 at 12:59 am

I use Ultragrain to feel better about using white flour! haha. I don't know how much better it is, though.

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Jody - Fit at 52 February 10, 2010 at 1:31 am

I saw this at Trader Joes. I am not a great cook or baker but I bought it for my hubby since I prefer the whole wheat type stuff & he likes white. He did not notice a difference. I tried to find out what it was all about too but to no avail.

THOSE KIDDOS ARE SO CUTE!!!!!

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Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) February 10, 2010 at 1:49 am

Muffins sound great Charlotte. I am not a fan of whole wheat flour. It's so heavy and wheaty tasting. I usually always sub oat flour. Just grind up the oats in my food processor. That's how I ended up creating the Oaties. :)

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Becky February 11, 2010 at 1:08 am

Love the kiddos!! What a fun receipe- thanks! PS, are your quads burning??

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Crabby McSlacker February 12, 2010 at 3:07 pm

"It tasted good and therefore I fear it."

Love that.

I too have had reasonably good luck using king arthur's white whole wheat, but it's still heavier tasting than white and doesn't work for everything. Am curious about this stuff you tried; sounds promising! If it really is actual whole wheat ground finer and not some genetically modified frankenfood.

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Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too) February 20, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Hey Charlotte, I know I'm late to this partay (hello, no WiFi for days on end) but with only 2 g of fiber I wonder how "whole" it is??? My thoughts without having time to read the previous 29 comments so forgive any replication of surmisings…could it be a type of Whole Wheat Pastry Flour? I use this often- it's whole wheat flour ground finer and can be subbed A LOT in baking. google it. lemme know what you think.

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Jim&Caren April 27, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I decided to google this ingredient, Ultragrain, found in a recently eaten "All Natural" "Healthy Choice" meal–Tomatoe Basil Penne–which I have to admit was pretty good… I wondered if it was an ingredient that will turn into "Frankenfood" like "Partially Hydrogenated Oils" did after a few years, with everyone eating it only to find out it's completely and utterly evil… My verdict? Probably. lol

I think I'll try the King Arthur's first… ;)

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Jim&Caren April 27, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I decided to google this ingredient, Ultragrain, found in a recently eaten "All Natural" "Healthy Choice" meal–Tomatoe Basil Penne–which I have to admit was pretty good… I wondered if it was an ingredient that will turn into "Frankenfood" like "Partially Hydrogenated Oils" did after a few years, with everyone eating it only to find out it's completely and utterly evil… My verdict? Probably. lol

I think I'll try the King Arthur's first… ;)

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Jim&Caren April 27, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I decided to google this ingredient, Ultragrain, found in a recently eaten "All Natural" "Healthy Choice" meal–Tomatoe Basil Penne–which I have to admit was pretty good… I wondered if it was an ingredient that will turn into "Frankenfood" like "Partially Hydrogenated Oils" did after a few years, with everyone eating it only to find out it's completely and utterly evil… My verdict? Probably. lol

I think I'll try the King Arthur's first… ;)

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Jill June 29, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I think the wheat is genetically modified. I found a website giving instructions for growers. (http://www.coloradowheat.org/controller/banner1.html?inet=aD1vbmFhcmUxLXlheCZyaD11YnpyLXlheCZycGx1Z2luLWFjdGlvbj1kZWZhdWx0)

If you glance through it you'll see that ConAgra is accepting only certain wheat varieties for it's Ultragrain process, and the variety they talk about has a "tolerance to Beyond herbicide."

That of course comes with the normal caveat of no seed saving. I was so excited to see this product at my Costco…and it tastes great. But I'm not sure what to think of this aspect of it.

Sigh! There is ALWAYS a downside!

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Anonymous October 27, 2010 at 7:48 pm

At Main Street Bagels in Grand Junction, Co. we use it for all our muffins. Yes, it is the real deal. It is whole wheat. A lighter colored strain of wheat is milled to very fine partical size. I believe it is milled whole, where as, typical "whole wheat flour" is really white flour with bran added back into it. (The germ is not added back into it.) Therefore, I think ultragrain is more natural and better for you than typical "whole wheat flour". It costs more though.
Mark Smith

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Stefanie Hall April 23, 2011 at 12:56 am

Hi Charlotte!

My name is Stefanie Hall — I’m in marketing at ConAgra Mills and happened upon your great blog about Ultragrain flour. Your feedback about our website is really helpful; hopefully we can clear things up a bit on there to make it more useful.

You’ll be happy to know that Ultragrain is not a genetically modified (GMO) frankenfood ;) There are two reasons that Ultragrain is able to give you whole grain nutrition with white flour appeal. Those are:
1.) Just like flowers are cross-bred to get desirable qualities or color varieties, wheat also is cross-bred in a similar way to get desirable types of wheat (which is still non-GMO). There is red wheat and white wheat, and we have developed a special type of white wheat through that process that is milder in flavor and smoother in texture. Think of it like white wine and red wine. White wine is milder, smoother, sweeter, and has less tannins than red wine. Similarly, white wheat is milder than red wheat — and red wheat is what is in your typical whole wheat flour.
2.) This specially selected white wheat kernel is ground to a really fine particle size through our patented milling process. The bran and germ in the wheat kernel (what typically gives you the specs in your whole wheat bread) are ground repeatedly so they are reduced to a much smaller size than what is traditionally in whole wheat flour. Nothing is added or taken away through the closed-system process — all of the nutrition remains; it is just the special process that allows it to be ground more finely than your typical whole wheat would be.

As a fellow consumer who is also often skeptical of what I’m putting into my body, I understand your quest for more information and hope this helps you and your followers. I think it is so good to ask the question, and to hold food companies accountable for what they are making! You can rest assured knowing that Ultragrain is safe and nutritious :) I hope this helps.

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Charlotte April 23, 2011 at 9:55 am

Oh very cool, Stephanie! Thank you so much for taking the time to explain that – I feel much better about the flour now!!

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Bridget April 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I have been using only the Eagle Mills brand pictured above in all my baking and no one has ever noticed. Actually, I have a highly requested chocolate chip cookie recipe that is awesome and no one’s the wiser! :)
I ended up at your website because my husband brought home the Ultragrain flour from Costco and I was skeptical about using it(GMO factor). But, now that Stephanie has cleared that up I will use it and report my findings! ;)

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JZ November 8, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Ultragrain may not be a GMO product but is it organic? That is the litmus test for a healthy food product. What types of and how many pesticides, herbicides, etc. are used on the Ultragrain crop? And “All Natural”? Do you really believe that? The all natural label is not regulated by any agency and can be and is used haphazardly by food manufacturers. It is an advertising ploy by most companies to get you to buy their product. Such products should be avoided. And remember these food companies are “manufacturing” the products we eat. Want healthier food? Go organic. What to feel better? Reduce the amount of gluten you consume. All this may mean spending more time in the kitchen. Perhaps a few kids will learn how to cook and the importance of a healthy diet.

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