Actor, Author, Math Whiz
Danica McKellar's newest role is living wheat free
It’s been over 15 years since Danica McKellar starred in television’s The Wonder Years, sharing her first kiss with co-star Fred Savage. She then transitioned from child actor to adult actress as Elsie Snuffin on The West Wing. The California native, a summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, has since branched out creatively in other screen projects and shares her passion for mathematics in two New York Times best-selling books, Math Doesn’t Suck and Kiss My Math. Her third book, Hot X: Algebra Exposed, hit bookstores in August.
The 35-year-old actress is married to composer Mike Verta and is expecting their first child this fall. Allergic to wheat, McKellar recently sat down with Living Without to talk about her special diet.
Living Without When did you first suspect you had a problem with wheat?
McKellar I reacted to wheat after I became pregnant but I’ve had this problem before. When I was younger, I noticed that I would get skin irritation whenever I ate anything containing wheat. So I cut all wheat out of my diet and then after a couple years I slowly introduced it back again—but not a lot. Frankly, I thought I’d outgrown the problem but the symptoms reoccurred with my pregnancy. I was recently in New York with my mom and we went out to have some pizza. I figured you’ve got to try some pizza if you’re in New York, right? That same night, I started itching all over. So I got the message—no more wheat! Since then, I’ve cut it out of my diet completely. I’ve also cut out gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye, which has been interesting.
Interesting? How so?
It’s been interesting and challenging. I miss the convenience of the occasional quick sandwich at home. But honestly, the wheat restriction actually makes it easier for me to eat healthier in most environments. Looking at a dinner roll and knowing I’ll be itchy if I eat it is great motivation to keep away. So I eat a lot of whole-grain brown rice crackers and organic whole-grain corn tortillas instead.
Have you ever been tested for food allergies?
Yes. Ten years ago, my skin started breaking out and I got tested for food allergies. Wheat and corn came back positive so I cut them out for a while. This time around, I tested positive just to wheat. But this time it didn’t make me break out; it made me itchy all over. The allergy symptoms—skin irritation—are light and sporadic but I think my body has always been sensitive to wheat.
Do other family members have allergies? Anyone have similar symptoms?
Not that I know of.
Have you found some good-tasting gluten-free products?
Oh, yes. The substitutes now are much better than they were ten years ago. The only thing I still haven’t found is a great-tasting bread—unless I make it myself. So I make this really great gluten-free banana bread. I use quinoa flour, a little bit of honey, no sugar, no wheat.
There are some really great organic brown rice pastas. I’m all about that because I love pasta. I also eat a lot of nuts, like almonds, and good-quality cheese. I buy organic cheddar cheese that’s not colored with anything artificial. I try not to have anything artificial in my diet at all. I try to stay away from processed foods. I also look at the sugar contents of every product because there’s a ton of sugar in so many foods. Cane sugar can be very refined. Corn syrups are so processed. Evaporated cane juice may be healthier for you but I’m still staying away from that right now because I’m being super-conservative now that I’m pregnant.
Has your diet changed a lot since becoming pregnant?
I have the same set of rules that I always had, only stricter. I’ve always avoided refined sugars, greasy foods, junk foods—all that stuff. But before I was pregnant I would let myself indulge from time to time, like go ahead and order cheesecake because I felt like it. But now I just don’t do that.
If you’re avoiding white sugar, what do you use for sweetener?
Raw honey. It hasn’t been filtered or heated and so it still has its nutrients.
Have you experienced any food cravings?
Two kinds—the healthy ones and the not-so-healthy ones. [Laughs.] I’ve been eating a lot more dairy lately because I’ve been craving it, especially yogurt. Plain yogurt. That’s gluten free so I don’t have to think about it. I eat it every morning with a banana on top and some ground flaxseed. I have other cravings but I just don’t indulge them.
Have you seen the gluten-free diet as the new fad in the Hollywood community?
Yes, but I’m probably avoiding wheat and gluten for a different reason than most. Also, I’m hearing more about celiac disease than ever before but I don’t have that.
Any advice for people who must adhere to the gluten-free lifestyle?
Just because a package says “gluten free” doesn’t mean it’s super healthy. It’s sort of like the fat-free craze. I mean, marshmallows are “fat free” but they’re packed with sugar! No matter how “healthy” a gluten-free packaged product is made to look, always read the ingredient label.
MAKES ONE LOAF
“The riper the bananas, the better,” says Danica McKellar. “This recipe doubles very well, a good thing since people usually want more.”
½ cup + 2 tablespoons quinoa flour
⅓ cup quinoa flakes
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt, more to taste
2 very ripe bananas, peeled
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons honey or pure maple syrup
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.
2. Place dry ingredients in large bowl and mix together until well combined.
3. In smaller bowl, mash bananas. Mix in the eggs and honey until combined.
4. Add banana mixture to dry ingredients and beat until combined and batter has a smooth consistency.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes until done.