Even if you don’t have Celiac’s Disease – which is an autoimmune disease that makes people permanently intolerant of gluten – adopting some of the same approaches to your food consumption is generally a very wise choice. For many of us, the only real benefits of consuming gluten or wheat-based foods are their convenience. After all, they’re hard to avoid: breakfast standards (toast, bagels, pancakes, cereals) are wheat-based; lunch standards (sandwiches) are wheat-based; dinner, while a little safer, still includes pastas, anything batter-dipped, and of course the breads offered at many restaurants, which are all wheat/gluten-based as well.
So what’s so bad about gluten, you ask?
For one, rarely does gluten provide anything in the way of nutritional benefits. Yes, it does provide calories, which in turn convert to energy, but with gluten it’s rarely the right kind (the most efficient) of energy (one notable exception is seitan, a common meat substitute that is gluten-based but is very high in protein, averaging about six times as much protein as carbohydrates; that is energy). Most wheat or gluten-based foods that you will encounter, whether in the store, at restaurants, or in the homes of friends or family, are refined-flour based. While they often taste good to us – what tastes better than fresh bread? – they are not worthy of a healthy diet foundation. “MyPlate,” which replaced the old Food Pyramid in 2011, has 30% allotted to ‘Grains’ – the same recommended daily amount of vegetables – but when they say grains, they mean whole grains, not processed white flours and the like.
So, while these tips for eating well are aimed at those who have Celiac’s Disease, or a high-intolerance to gluten, they’re good guidelines for anyone who wants to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Here are three Tips for Eating Well with Celiac’s Disease:
Replace unhealthy carbs with whole grains
You’d be surprised to learn how many whole grains are gluten-free, and therefore an acceptable addition to a Celiac-friendly diet: rice (ideally brown rice), quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH), millet, amaranth, and buckwheat, among others, are all gluten-free. So is corn, which is much more common and available, but, unless you’re getting it straight from the cob, will tend to be more processed. That said, corn tortillas are a good substitute for breads; and brown rice tortillas might be even better.
Add more high- fiber fruits to your diet
One of the few benefits of eating wheat or gluten-based foods is that they fill us up. But that’s not much of a benefit if it’s not a healthy form of filling. Fruits can be great in that regard, and of course as a general rule are more portable than vegetables; also, and perhaps more importantly, they tend to be more satisfying for most of us.
The best examples of high-fiber fruits that make good snacks or additions to our meals are apples; bananas; avocados (which also have good-for-you fats); pears; and dried fruits. On my website, No Flour, No Sugar Diet, I discuss products that are good alternatives to refined flours and refined sugars. One of them that I highly recommend, that is both gluten-free and refined sugar-free, is the Larabar, a dried fruit-based bar that offers fiber, protein, and no added sugars whatsoever (with the exception of just a few of their flavors, which add chocolate chips, which I recommend avoiding). The great thing about a Larabar is that it’s an easy snack on-the-go, it’s healthy, and it’s very satisfying.
Substitute Gluten-Free versions of Traditional Classics
One of the most difficult aspects of living with Celiac’s Disease is feeling like you’re missing out on the rest of the world’s indulgences: bread, pizza, pancakes, etc. But along with an increased awareness in Celiac’s has come an explosion of gluten-free products on the market. Now you can find just about every wheat or gluten-based food item out there available in a gluten-free version. Not all of them are great, many of them can be expensive, but they are out there and becoming more available all the time. If you want simplicity, try the aforementioned brown rice tortillas, or, for sandwiches, you will find anywhere from 2 to several different versions of gluten-free breads that are available in loaves at most health food and some alternative food market chain stores. There are gluten-free pizza doughs, and many versions of gluten-free pancakes (I like Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix the best).
These days, as someone with Celiac’s Disease, you can consider yourself relatively lucky. There are a lot of good alternative products out there to take advantage of, and tons of recipes (think about how little there would have been even 10 years ago). There are so many alternative options, in fact, that I encourage those who don’t have Celiac’s to start heading in a less gluten-based diet direction as well. Your body, I guarantee, will thank you.
Michael Shaw is a freelance writer who writes about health and about healthier, alternative food products making their way into the mainstream. You can read more of his writings at his site, No Flour, No Sugar Diet.
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