A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Eating Healthy and Gluten-Free

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This is a guest post by Jenny from Ex-Consumer.

A little over a year ago, I was forced to give up gluten. After over a year of (not so) fun tests, my doctor and I figured out that gluten was causing — or at least seriously aggravating — some disgusting alarming health issues that started when I became pregnant with my second son.

In case you’re not familiar with the gummy protein called gluten, it’s found in wheat, barley and rye, which means it’s in much of the food you and I consider staples: bread, cereal, flour and donuts. What? OK, maybe donuts aren’t considered a staple.

Gluten gives bread its elasticity and provides that nice chewy texture to baked goods that you’ve grown to love.

Learning that I couldn’t eat any gluten at all was quite a shock. After all, a large part of my diet consisted of whole grains. Almost all of which contained wheat flour!

Now, over a year later, I’ve adjusted to my new gluten-free eating plan and can usually make healthy choices in a variety of situations. If you’re curious about testing out a gluten-free diet, the below tips will help you navigate those first steps.

Figure out which of the foods you’re used to eating each day contain gluten.

This part was the most confusing at first, because in the U.S. the FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to label foods as containing gluten. Some foods were easy to identify as gluten-filled. Foods like cereal, bread, whole wheat pasta, and pretzels were an obvious source of gluten. Other foods, however, have sneakier versions of gluten.

For example, many salad dressings, soft cheeses, soy sauces, barbecue sauces, soups, gravies and processed meats are a source of gluten. Heck, even the shampoo I was using was made from wheat complex. Gluten is sometimes used as an emulsifier, so it appears in many unsuspecting places. Reading labels is now second nature as I scan foods for hidden gluten culprits like “modified food starch.”

Decide on a substitute for (or avoid) those foods containing gluten.

At first I tried some of the gluten-free breads (bleck!). After chewing on what rivaled sponges or bricks for a few weeks, I decided to eliminate bread all together.

For breakfast I typically eat gluten-free oats, gluten-free cereal, or eggs and gluten-free pancakes.

For lunch I usually have rice crackers with cottage cheese or hummus, a piece of fresh fruit and some fresh cut up veggies. Brown rice cakes spread with peanut butter and sprinkled with blueberries or raisins make a delicious lunch as well.

Dinners were the easiest to transform into gluten-free meals. Beans and rice, stir-fry with some gluten-free teriyaki sauce, or some lean meat alongside potatoes and a green vegetable are all simple, gluten-free choices. Instead of whole wheat pastas, I switched to brown rice pastas or brown rice.

If you’re going out to eat, look at the menu online and — if needed — call the restaurant to see if they offer gluten free options.

Eating out is the biggest pain I’ve encountered since becoming gluten-free. Luckily we don’t eat out much. When we do, the restaurant managers are usually very helpful. Many restaurants even have a dedicated gluten-free menu to make choosing a meal easy.

If all else fails, salad (hold the blue cheese and croutons) with some oil and vinegar is usually a safe bet.

So, What Can I Eat?

If you’re just starting out on a gluten-free eating plan, the below list of healthy GF foods should help get you started. No eating plan would be complete without the occasional treat, right? I’ve listed a few of my favorite gluten-free indulgences below as well.

Some Healthy Gluten-Free Foods

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Lean Meats
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts & Nut Butters
  • Seeds (sunflower, pepitas, chia, etc.)
  • Brown Rice
  • Brown Rice Pasta
  • Rice Crackers (again, check label)
  • Potatoes (white, red, sweet, etc.)
  • Gluten-Free Oats (a small percentage of those with a gluten sensitivity can not tolerate oats)
  • Nonfat Cottage Cheese
  • Nonfat Yogurt (check label — some conventional brands contain gluten)
  • Hummus

Some Gluten-Free Treats

  • Milk & Dark Chocolate (without cookies or other gluten containing candies mixed in)
  • Certain Brands of Ice Cream (again, without cookies or other gluten containing candies mixed in)
  • Wine
  • GF Brownies
  • Potato Chips

Eating gluten-free can be an incredibly healthy way to eat. As long as you focus on fresh, whole GF foods, this way of eating can help you eliminate much of the garbage that can sneak in to an otherwise healthy diet.

Of course, it’s entirely possible to eat an unhealthy GF diet as well. There are plenty of processed, unhealthy GF food options available to choose from.

Faith’s Minimize Yo’ Butt challenge has prompted me to reevaluate my GF food choices. I’m going to choose more fresh fruits and veggies, and less dark chocolate and potato chips. I’ll eat more nonfat yogurt and less ice cream. Most of the time.

Have you tried a gluten-free eating plan? If so, did you stick with it? Do you have any questions about eating GF?

Jenny writes about getting out of debt, becoming more frugal, mitigating advertising influences, living lighter, exploring the world of minimalism and all the life that falls in between on her blog, Ex-Consumer.

If you are ready to join the Minimize Yo’ Butt Fitness Challenge, make sure you are part of the Minimalist at Home Facebook page. You can also sign up for updates or follow me on Twitter. Thanks so much for reading!

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Comments

  1. Congratulations on eating healthier. I just wanted to add my 2 cents. Your body needs fat, so you might want to splurge on some whole fat yogurt. The book Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes is an interesting read. You might enjoy it, especially because you’ve experienced the ill-effects of gluten in your life. Good luck on your health journey.

    A fellow traveler

    • Hi Anne! Thanks for the tip. Eating some fat is actually not a problem at all. Eating too much fat on the other hand… πŸ˜‰

      I *usually* try to get my fats from healthy sources like nuts, seeds and avocados.

      I haven’t read Why We Get Fat, but it sounds interesting!

  2. Thanks so much for hosting me here today Faith. I’ve been utterly enjoying minimizing my butt this week.

    Thanks so much for this motivating challenge!

    • Faith Janes says:

      Thanks for writing this Jenny. I hear so much about Gluten-Free stuff but was never sure what the deal was. Thank you for sharing your own experiences and giving us some great information!

  3. We have some good friends who’s son is on a gluten free diet as well. When they come to visit, the first thing his Dad and I do is go to the grocery store and pick up some stuff he can eat. Thanks for the great information which will allow me to get some items and have them on hand when we know they’re coming.

    • Hey Travis!

      It’s so easy now for me to find foods without gluten, but at first it was confusing. If you have a Whole Foods near you, they always have a dedicated gluten-free section with lots of great snack-type foods to choose from.

      If you’re ever planning a meet up with your friends and need help planning a gluten-free menu, let me know!

  4. I don’t think I am gluten intolerant, but I know that eating bread, for me tends to be bloating and cause some reflux. I find that if I cut it out, I feel better and I tend to drop a few pounds (if I am not totally blowing it in other areas, like soda and iced coffee!) I don’t currently eat much bread or pasta, except for when we go out. Have considered that I should really try to cut it out altogether. Thanks for giving an explanation here Jenny!
    Bernice
    THE best organizational tool EVER

    • Hi Bernice,

      If you have a reaction to eating bread, you may very well be intolerant to gluten. It’s estimated that something like 1 in 133 Americans are sensitive to gluten.

      My maternal grandma and aunt on my dad’s side are gluten intolerant as well. So there seems to be a genetic component involved.

      Since going gluten-free, I’m always surprised to find how many other people I run into have to avoid gluten as well. It’s more common than I thought!

      Lucky (or not so lucky) for you, both soda and iced coffee are gluten-free. So, if you do have a gluten sensitivity, it won’t affect your intake of those treats. πŸ˜‰

  5. Thanks for the heads up on whey protein being gluten free – that’s great news! Try one of the recipes Hun! I’d recommend the summer fruits – so very tasty! πŸ™‚

  6. Hey Jenny,

    A few years ago I made the connection that gluten and I are not best friends. I grew up in a home where breads, grains and pastas were a huge chunk of the diet and it’s been a hard habit to kick! But…. gluten makes my eyes puffy (really, really puffy) and sometimes it digests terribly, and I’m convinced it packs on the pounds for me as well (or at least some serious bloat).

    I haven’t been able to kick the gluten habit completely though. Sigh, low will-power. I go through phases where I’ll be strict for a month or two, then binge, then get strict again. It’s one of my goals for this year, to really come to terms with my diet and the role gluten plays in it!

    Thanks for sharing this post Jenny. I really needed to read it right now after coming off a family vacation where hunks of bread and slices of cheese tempted me at every moment. πŸ™‚

  7. Awesome post, Jenny! I suspect I have a gluten issue too. Mild though. My health always improves when I stop eating grains. And thanks for giving a list of gluten-free treats too! Yum!

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