Cut the gluten-free crap
One of the largest misconceptions that gets sent my way by people who are interested in a gluten-free lifestyle is: “But gluten-free is healthy, right?”
Sure, a gluten-free lifestyle can be healthy. But merely choosing gluten-free foods is not the one and only step in accomplishing a healthy lifestyle. Remember the chubby vegetarian of the years of diets past? Pasta, bread, cheese and other packaged, meat-free products became popular staples in this diet, and people had no idea why they were putting on the pounds. The problem wasn’t with the lifestyle – yay for cruelty free diets! The issue, instead, was with the food choices. Vegetarian or not, the food many of these people were consuming was not healthfully balanced.
In my new book, “The Gluten-Free Revolution,” I talk a lot about this topic – sussing out the difference between gluten-free food and healthy gluten-free food. The growing awareness of gluten-free diets has been largely beneficial to those of us who suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but it has also caused large manufacturers to latch onto the fadlike nature of the “gluten-free” label.
It’s also resulted in a lot of misconception about what a gluten-free lifestyle looks like. Like I’ve always said, packaged snacks and overly processed foods are unhealthy – gluten-free or not. Like any well-balanced lifestyle, it’s important for people who are leading a gluten-free lifestyle to sit down and re-evaluate their gluten-free plates. Ask yourself: Are you simply striving to eat gluten-free or are you striving to be healthy and gluten-free?
A gluten-free diet looks like any healthy diet minus the inclusion of very specific ingredients (wheat, barley, rye and contaminated oats). What does that mean? Whole foods for everyone! Fresh fruits, veggies, simply grilled fish, gluten-free whole grains and, of course, a few homemade treats in between. I don’t subscribe to an all-or-nothing lifestyle – with the exception of always eating gluten-free because of having celiac disease. Yes, you can have your green smoothie and gluten-free brownie, too!
When I talk to people about leading a gluten-free lifestyle, they are always surprised to learn my plate doesn’t look much different than the average healthy plate. In fact, very often my husband – who is not gluten-free – and I sit down to an entirely gluten-free meal because of the foods we choose to eat. For example:
1. Wild-caught, frozen fish – My diet is highly Mediterranean in that I eat primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in addition to whole (gluten-free) grains, legumes, healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, avocados) and seafood. I don’t eat poultry or red meat, but that is simply by choice and not because it’s not gluten-free in its natural form. Wild-caught, frozen fish is a lifesaver on nights when I need to throw together something quick and filling. I typically have mahi mahi and wild Alaskan or coho salmon in the freezer.
2. Fresh green vegetables – I always have several green veggies on hand, including broccoli, baby spinach, a variety of lettuces, green beans and Brussels sprouts. Veggies are versatile, making it easy to prepare them steamed, sautéed in olive oil, roasted or even served raw with some hummus as a snack.
3. Fruit – Apples and bananas are great staple fruits to have on hand. Eat ’em with peanut butter, a bit of cheese or solo for a solid snack. If bananas become too ripe, you can freeze them for future smoothies or baking projects. Berries, grapes, grapefruit, nectarines and other fruits are also good to have on hand when they are in season.
4. Potatoes – I typically have sweet and baby reds in my refrigerator because they can be baked, roasted, stuffed, mashed, whipped and more. They are an especially good choice for people who are gluten-free and active, and are seeking replenishment from healthy carbohydrates. I work out five to six days a week and regularly make potatoes, whether as the main event – hello, stuffed baked potato – or serve them as a side.
5. Grains – Brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat (don’t let the name fool you – this grain does not contain wheat) and amaranth are all gluten-free grains worth making a part of your daily diet.
These are, of course, just five quick examples of food items that not only play a part in a healthy gluten-free diet, but any healthy diet. These whole foods are gluten-free in their natural state – no label required, and that’s important to keep in mind as we navigate these tricky waters of discovering a healthy lifestyle that works for each one of us.
Have a question about going gluten-free? Send me an email and I’ll help you work out the details!
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the upcoming author of a gluten-free healthy lifestyle book, set to be released in January 2014. She is the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com and is currently training to become a certified health coach. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.