How was your weekend? For those of you in my corner of southern Ontario, I hope you’re keeping warm because it’s FREEZING outside! Even though it’s a long weekend I’ve done very minimal out-and-about-ing because I have zero desire to battle the snow. Fuzzy hoodie and a big mug of tea? Yes please.
Let’s forget about winter and chat about gluten-free diets. This is a beast of a post, but I want to tell you about how and why I made the transition, and how to do it without succumbing to the plethora of seemingly “healthy” gluten free foods on the market these days. As I’m sure you’re all well aware, gluten-free diets seemed to be one of the biggest trends of 2014, with plenty of people being legitimately tested for gluten sensitivities, intolerances, and full-blown Celiac disease. There’s also a good handful of folks who believe eating gluten-free products is healthier and helps contribute to weight loss, but more about that in a second. (Spoiler alert: It’s definitely not 100% true!)
In my case, it was an allergy test that suggested I had a moderate to strong sensitivity to gluten. I didn’t get a ton of tests done to provide additional evidence because at the time, I was having a bunch of gut issues and figured that it probably wouldn’t hurt to try cutting it out as an experiment. This was a suggestion from my naturopath, and knowing that 3 other members of my extended family have Celiac disease made it seem like a logical path to take.
At this point I should make it clear that my regular diet doesn’t contain many gluten-filled products anyway, so it really wasn’t a huge ordeal. I’d occasionally have wraps, crackers, or granola bars that weren’t gluten free, but most of my grain content was already coming from rice, quinoa, and millet. (I’ve always been more of a salads-for-lunch girl who likes a bunch of grains, veggies and protein-rich foods mixed in, as opposed to the sandwich/wrap type.) However, I know there are plenty of you who do love your gluten-y baked goodies, pastas and other similar foods, so I’ve got a few tips today to help you transition to options that are both gluten free AND healthy.
What’s the wrong way to go gluten-free?
Take a walk down the gluten-free aisle of your local grocery stores and you’ll likely find a whole bunch of products with the same health claim emblazoned across the packaging. To the untrained eye, one might think these are better than the conventional equivalents. Is that the case though? Not necessarily. Here’s a quick summary of the problems:
- They’re often just as processed (and sometimes more so) than regular packaged foods. We all know that the more processing is done to foods, the further away they are from their natural state. Ideally, we want to be eating whole foods, not processed ones.
- Many contain fillers to make up for the lack of gluten. Gluten is what gives bread and other baked goods their volume and fluffiness that we all love so much. It’s also a source of protein. If you try making your average bread or cookie recipe by simply replacing the amount of whole wheat flour with a gluten-free alternative like quinoa or rice flour, it will probably come out as flat as a pancake. To get around this, food manufacturers mix in leaveners and other additives (and flavourings to mask the taste) which means that the ingredient list doubles in length and you find yourself looking at a bunch of ingredients you’ve never heard of before. That takes us right back to that first problem of processed foods.
Now, about those folks that think eating a gluten free diet will lead to weight loss. I’m not saying it can’t happen. Take for example, the girl who eats a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a bowl of pasta for dinner. If you cut out all the gluten-containing foods in there, of course she’ll lose weight – she’d be consuming far fewer calories! But she’d also probably be hungry (and hangry) because of the sudden drop in starchy carbohydrates.
Another example where weight loss might result is if a person does have a legitimate sensitivity or allergy to gluten. By eating gluten-containing products, they’re essentially attacking the gut and causing inflammation. If the source of inflammation is removed – BANG! The gut eventually heals and the body is under less stress. Sure, the person might lose a few pounds because their body is in a happy place again.
But what if you haven’t got compromised digestion and you’re able to handle gluten just fine? Based on what I’ve read, seen and heard, switching from regular bread to a gluten-free bread probably isn’t going to do you much good if weight loss is your goal.
What’s the right way to go gluten-free?
So let’s say you DO need to eliminate gluten from your diet, whether it’s because you’re suspicious or 100% confident that your body doesn’t agree with it. How do you do it the right way? In my opinion and experience, the easiest way is to start (or continue) to focus your diet around whole, unprocessed foods.
Fruits and vegetables: Guess what? You can have as many as you want because there’s no gluten in these beauties! And if eliminating gluten is your goal, extra consumption of fruits and veggies is a great way to make up for the missing fibre. You might find that produce fills you up even more, and that you don’t experience as big of a blood sugar spike in comparison to when you eat gluten-containing foods.
One caveat though, particularly if you’ve got Celiac disease: Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can be a bit tricky. In some cases, the factories that process them may also process gluten-containing foods, so there could be cross-contamination. If they’re canned in any sort of watery solution, there might also be gluten lurking here too. Just be sure to read the label.
Protein Sources: Again, if these foods are fresh and don’t have anything added to them, you won’t find much gluten here. Grass-fed meats, poultry, seafood, fish, free-range eggs, beans and legumes in their unprocessed form are all pretty safe. Again, be careful to watch labels (especially for dairy products and canned beans/legumes) to be on the safe side.
Healthy oils and fats: Whole food sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, pasture-fed butter, ghee, coconut oil, cod liver oil, olive oil and other oils are not only gluten-free, but they’re also wonderful for your skin and digestion. If you deal with digestive issues, healthy fats are wonderful because they help our bodies to create bile, a fluid squirted out by the liver. It plays a key role in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients in the foods we eat. Healthy fats also help to keep things “moving right along”… and that’s pretty darn important! 😉
Grains and grain-based products: Here’s where you’re going to encounter the most uncertainty, but don’t worry because I’ve got a handy list of gluten-free grains for you to pin, print, or just keep bookmarked for reference. Ideally, you want to choose whole grains (again, avoiding the processed ones).
(If you’ve got Celiac disease and want more information, the Celiac Support Organization has a really helpful ingredient look-up glossary here.)
Foods to consider carefully: While it might not be super intuitive, there are a few sneaky ingredients and food products that contain gluten. Aside from the obvious ones being wheat and many grains listed in the chart above, be sure to look at food labels for any packaged items, including:
- Snack foods like chips, crackers and granola bars
- Bread and other baked goods
- Cereal (watch out for the word ‘malt’ here – it indicates the cereal isn’t gluten free)
- Seasoning blends
- Soy sauce (this is not gluten free, but tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos can be substituted)
- Soups – which use flours as thickeners. Be particularly careful with cream-based ones.
- Pre-seasoned meats, fish, or other animal products
- Beer and other alcoholic beverages
- Protein powders and other nutritional supplements.
How to put it all into practice: Healthy gluten-free meals and snacks
If your gluten consumption is currently high and cutting it out completely seems totally overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few of my favourite ways to make healthy meals and snacks gluten-free too.
1. Turn sandwiches and wraps into salads, upping the quantity of vegetables, protein and healthy fats to give your meals some staying power. You can also add some cooked grains to the mix, such as quinoa, millet, rice, or any others in the grain chart above.
2.Try baked sweet potatoes or other starchy vegetables such as winter squash instead of a bread products. You can go savoury with herbs, salsa, or other (gluten-free) condiments if you like, or sweet by sprinkling cinnamon on top.
3. Find a trusted brand that produces gluten-free oats. Bob’s Red Mill is a popular one, and Love Grown Foods’ Super Oats are also gluten-free. Oats are extremely versatile and can be ground into flours for recipes where you’d normally use whole wheat flour, such as pancakes, granola bars and muffins.
4. Use crushed gluten-free crackers, ground seeds or nuts as a coating for chicken or fish to make it crispy, rather than breadcrumbs. This is a fantastic opportunity to amp up the nutrition density of your meals, especially if your alternative ingredients of choice are things like ground flaxseed and hemp seeds. Here’s a quick 4-ingredient recipe that I think you’ll find tastes better than any breadcrumb-coated version!
Flaxseed & Herb Crusted Salmon
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Ingredients (1 serving)
- 1 ½ tbsp ground flaxseed (I used Linwoods ground flax)
- ¼ tsp granulated garlic
- 1 tsp dried herbs (such as a herbs de provence blend)
- 1 salmon fillet
- Preheat the oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a resealable bag, mix together the first 4 ingredients. Pour the mixture out on a plate and spread it around in an even layer.
- Press the salmon (skin-side up if it has skin) into the flax mixture and try to coat it as evenly as possible.
- Place the salmon on the lined baking sheet and bake it in the oven for 25 minutes or until cooked throughout.
- Serve with your choice of salad, steamed veggies, or cooked quinoa.
5. Sprinkle hemp seeds on salads for a crunchy topping instead of croutons. This is a super easy way to add healthy fats to a meal, and they’ll help you absorb even more of the vitamins and minerals in your veggies.
6. Put nut and seed mixtures in parfaits and smoothies instead of cereal. Lately I’ve been using this blend which contains ground flaxseed, sunflower, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and goji berries. It adds a really nice texture to smoothie bowls (like the one below) that makes you chew, rather than downing the whole smoothie in a few big gulps.
Phew. That was a big one. Are you still there?! I have a treat for you because you made it to the end! Today I’m teaming up with Linwoods Health Foods for a giveaway that will help you to not only replace some of the gluten-containing foods in your diet (if that’s a goal of yours, and it’s ok if it’s not), but also rev your nutritional intake with some of the best organic, nutrient-dense superfoods.
One lucky winner will receive a bag each of:
- Ground Flaxseed Sunflower Pumpkin & Sesame Seeds & Goji Berries
- Ground Flaxseed Almonds Brazil Nuts Walnuts & Co-Enzyme Q10
- Shelled Organic Hemp Seeds
- Ground Organic Flaxseed
This giveaway is open to US residents only (I’m so sorry Canadian friends – I promise I’ll get ya next time!) Here’s how to enter:
- Mandatory entry: Comment below telling me what kind of recipe you’d like to use one of these products in to either 1) help you live a healthy gluten-free lifestyle, or 2) amp up your intake of nutrient-dense foods.
- Bonus: Pin any image in this post on Pinterest and comment back here telling me that you did.
- Bonus: Like Linwoods and Eat Spin Run Repeat on Facebook. Comment telling me you did.
- Bonus: Tweet about this giveaway. Something like the tweet below would be perfect! Then comment telling me you did.
You have until this Thursday, February 19th at 8pm ET to enter. I’ll announce the winner in Friday morning’s post. Good luck! 🙂