Whether you have found out that you have celiac disease, suffer from gluten sensitivity, or your doctor has recommended that you try to limit or eliminate gluten from your diet for inflammatory bowel disease or another chronic condition, finding delicious and healthy food to eat instead of gluten can feel intimidating. Never fear. In this edition of Eat This, Not That, we focus on healthy, delicious gluten-free foods that are not just more of the same.
Instead of: Substituting gluten-free breads for wheat bread
Gluten-free bread has come a long way in the last few years. It is possible to find delicious, tender sandwich bread that is also gluten-free, but many of these breads are expensive and consist mainly of starch and rice flours. While this can be okay in a pinch, these types of bread carry very little nutritional value and can be considered “empty” calories.
Try: The no-bread sandwich
Seems impossible to have a sandwich without a bun, but all it really requires is a little alternative thinking. Grilled Portobello mushrooms, large beefsteak tomatoes, and grilled eggplant make for fresh, delicious bread substitutes without the grain and starches. Plus, they take advantage of the late summer bounty of fresh produce.
Instead of: Substituting corn, rice, or quinoa pasta for wheat pasta
Other than bread, pasta may be one of the hardest things to give up when going gluten-free. Yes, there are more choices in terms of gluten-free pastas, some of which are delicious and easily incorporated into your regular recipes, but they can have their own pitfalls. Most gluten-free pastas are made with starches and fillers and are highly processed. So what happens when you are craving a delicious, hot bowl of pasta?
Try: Zucchini, beet, broccoli, or sweet potato noodles
Spiralizers have hit the culinary world in a big way this summer, and with good reasons. These ingenious devices turn a surplus of zucchini into a plate of delicious “zoodles” in no time flat, ready for your homemade pesto and grilled chicken or shrimp. Spiralize beets, roast them on a cookie sheet to al dente and drizzle with olive oil, fresh burrata, cracked black pepper, and roasted corn cut from the cob. Broccoli stems, previously consigned to the composting bin, can receive new life with a zingy Asian-inspired dish with ginger-sesame dressing. And sweet potatoes can be spiralized and used as taco filling with ricotta, cracked black pepper, and a sweet/tart apple slaw.
Instead of: Rice, rice, and more rice, with just a little quinoa thrown in
Try: Ancient grains, like amaranth or farro (low-gluten but not gluten-free)
Rice and quinoa are reliable staples in a gluten-free diet, but even with the many varieties of rice out there, this workhouse of a grain can get a little tiring. Mix up your diet by trying out amaranth and farro, two ancient grains that are packed with flavor and nutrition. Once you learn how to properly cook each grain you can substitute with impunity and according to your taste.
Amaranth is an ancient grain that looks like quinoa but has extra protein and the amino acid lysine. It can be popped, used as a thickener in soups, made into patties, and eaten for breakfast as an oatmeal-like porridge. The taste is earthy and slightly nutty and worth trying for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For those who are not celiac and can tolerate small amounts of gluten, farro may be a good grain to try. Although not gluten-free, farro contains very little gluten and can offer some variety. The best recipes take advantage of seasonal produce for maximum nutrition. Farro, basil, tomato, and cucumber make an especially delicious late summer combination. Farro is an ancient grain that can be used in place of rice in nearly any dish, including risotto. Mix up your rice-quinoa rotation with farro, adding some variety to your diet.
Instead of: Eating from the prepared foods section of the gluten-free aisle
Yes, there are many more choices for gluten-free eating these days. Yes, some of these prepared meals in the freezer and on the shelves are delicious. No, there is nothing wrong with helping yourself to some gluten-free boxed mac-n-cheese every now and then. But as with other gluten-filled prepared products, the gluten-free substitutes can be packed with added salt, fat, sugar, and preservatives. Junk food is junk food, gluten-free or not.
Try: Shopping the edges of the store
This advice is the same for anyone who enters a grocery store. The good stuff is on the perimeter, and there may be more gluten-free food on the outer edges of the store than in the middle. Sometimes getting a recommendation to go gluten-free can seem like a death knell for delicious food (no more bagels? No more pizza?), but think of everything that you still can eat:
- The entire produce section
- The entire section of meat (sticking with grass-fed and organic for maximum nutrition)
- The entire seafood section
- All of the nuts and seeds
- Many grains
- Most dairy (yes, ice cream!)
Gluten-free doesn’t mean giving up your favorite foods or sticking with pre-packaged breads, pastas, and cereals filled with corn, rice, and starch. With a little creativity and some practice, there are plenty of ways for even people who consider themselves only beginning cooks to make delicious, healthy foods that are gluten-free.
Just getting started? Don’t reach for prepackaged breads and pastas. Try visiting Pinterest for tons of options and new recipes to try!