Eating Gluten Free the Healthy Way
By Joanne Aponte, ND • October 9, 2019
I recommend a gluten free diet to many of my patients, and many thrive on it. Gluten is a very common gut irritant and trigger of inflammation in the body. I’ve seen it contribute to a variety of health issues. But when going gluten free, you need to do it the right way to avoid some of the potential health hazards.
Many gluten free alternative products are low in fiber, low in nutrient value and have high glycemic indexes. Foods with a high glycemic index turn into glucose (sugar) very quickly in the body. These high glycemic foods lead to more diabetes, weight gain and inflammation in the body. A gluten free diet mainly consisting of corn, white potato and white rice alternatives will be high glycemic, low in fiber and contribute to a variety of other health issues. When choosing gluten free products such as bread, crackers, pretzels and chips etc, it’s important to choose these wisely.
Best gluten free grain and starch options
- Whole oats
- Teff – Teff flour is my favorite for baking. Whole grain teff makes a nice breakfast cereal.
- Millet – you can bake with this, make casseroles and make breakfast porridges.
- Brown rice, wild rice, red rice, basmati or jasmine Rice (avoid other white rices most of the time)
- Buckwheat – great for pancakes
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Seeds – chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower etc
- Cassava (a root vegetable)
Other acceptable gluten free ingredients found commonly in gluten free foods:
- Bean flours
- Tapioca flour/starch
Wheat and other gluten containing grains (spelt, rye, couscous etc) fall into the food category of carbohydrate or starch.
While carbs and starches are an important part of the diet, we often eat too many of these. It is wise to eat grains only 1-2 servings per day. Instead, choose a grain free starch from the list below for your meal.
Healthy Grain free options for carbs and starches:
- Beans, lentils, hummus
- High carb veggies such as carrots, parsnips, beet.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Winter squashes– butternut, spaghetti, acorn etc
For example: Instead of having bread or pasta with your meal have baked sweet potato fries or roasted butternut squash. .
Rule of thumb:
Eat more foods that are unprocessed and naturally gluten free such as vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, beans and lentils, potatoes and squash.
Choose packaged and processed foods wisely:
Try to reduce the amounts of packaged and boxed foods that you eat. For example, instead of having gluten free bread made of rice or potato – just eat rice or potato. Nevertheless, almost all of us eat some packaged and processed foods. And this is okay! But you need to be mindful, make smart choices and choose fewer foods that come in boxes. Look for the ingredients listed above and aim for at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
Bread alternatives: It is best to eat less bread when on a gluten free diet. Brown rice cakes, Red Rice and Quinoa Thin Stackers by Lundberg, “paleo” breads made from coconut or almond flour, lettuce wraps, collard green wraps, portabella mushroom “buns”, or homemade baked goods like these make good alternatives.
For baking: teff flour, oat flour (simply grind up the oats in a blender to make into a flour), buckwheat flour, almond flour, coconut flour. Add ground flax seeds to your baked goods to boost the nutrient and fiber content. Here are some recipes to give you inspiration.
Pancakes: avoid store bought pancake mixes – these are usually made with rice and are very low in fiber and are high glycemic. Try buckwheat pancakes or these Teff Banana Pancakes
Pasta alternatives: choose noodles made from brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, beans and lentils. Avoid white rice and corn based pastas. The best option is to eat less pasta altogether – try spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles instead. Instead of traditional spaghetti, try marinara sauce over a mix of sautéed veggies or zucchini noodles.
- Mary’s Gone Crackers, Nut-Thins (okay but they contain rice)
- Granola bars made with oats
- Nut & seed bars
- Cassava flour crackers and chips – Siete brand tortilla chips are a great corn chip alternative
- Plantain chips – these are low in sugar!
- Coconut flakes or products made with coconut
- Snow peas
- Root veggies chips such as beet chips or sweet potato chips
- Veggie sticks
- Homemade oatmeal cookies – add ground seeds for extra fiber and protein. This recipe is delicious!
- Date balls
Gluten free ingredients to minimize
(choose alternatives when- ever possible).
Gluten free products are often loaded with corn and rice. This can be a problem if these make up the majority of your gluten free products. As a general rule, keep corn very low in your diet. Rices are better and often have more fiber in them, but rice contains some level of arsenic so eating rice all the time can be another problem. Choose ingredients from the lists above and eat less of the below:
- Corn and corn starch – corn is highly inflammatory, low in nutients and fiber and has a high glycemic index.
- Processed Rice – eating whole grain rice is fine, but you can easily overdo rice when eating a gluten free diet. Rice contains higher levels of arsenic than the other grains, so it’s important to choose alternatives as much as possible.
- Processed soy flour or protein (soy is best consumed in its natural form such as tempeh, natto, miso, tofu, edamame)
- Fillers – tapioca starch, potato starch, guar gum, cellulose, xanthum gum, maltodextrin. These are not harmful ingredients. Just be aware that these starches and fillers provide little nutritive value. When looking for products, look for fewer of these ingredients, they should be towards the end of the ingredient list (ingredients are listed in order of highest content to lowest content).
Where to find a good selection of gluten free foods:
Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Outpost, Fresh Thyme, Whole Foods, Woodmans
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.