I hope you enjoyed the previous three blogs about new and nutritious gluten-free breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas! Now make them even easier by committing to meal prep - making your meals ahead of time so that you don't have to rush to make them when you are starving!
In addition to meal prep, try these amazing meal plans and recipes from Celiac Disease Foundation: Gluten Free 7-Day Meal Plan.
Happy and healthy eating!
As you have probably realized by now, this blog is not intended to be a go-to site for recipes. I love to cook, and I cook every day, but I experiment and use a wing-it approach based on years of trial and error, cooking with my husband and kids, collecting cookbooks, and reading a variety of other people’s recipes. So I like to share tips and ideas with you; you can then search for specific recipes or experiment in your own way.
Besides, as a dietitian and educator, my job is to help you learn to develop confidence in your:
I encourage you to work on just a few easy dinner ideas. You will feel so successful, not to mention satisfied, to know you can whip up a balanced meal that is flavorful and nutritious.
For example, let’s say you decide to learn to make a simple pork stir-fry, beef chili, GF spaghetti with tomato sauce, scrambled egg dinner, and baked chicken.
Once you have mastered these five dishes, I encourage you to make substitutions so that you have more variety AND add more (and more and more) vegetables! Here we go…
1. Pork stir-fry with onions, broccoli, and celery
2. Beef chili (chili con carne)
3. Gluten-free spaghetti with tomato sauce
4. Scrambled eggs
5. Baked chicken breasts
When I try a new recipe, I make notes on the changes I make and any I want to make in the future. That way I can work on making the meal healthier, tastier, and easier with my own style. I’m sure you can do the same.
Wishing you a delicious dinner, with a brisk walk and positive thinking for dessert.
I grew up on PBJ sandwiches for lunch, with the occasional lunch meat sandwich thrown in for variety. As an adult, especially one who is gluten sensitive, I am more interested in sandwich-free lunches these days. I see this meal as an opportunity to fit in some nutrient-rich vegetables, too, since it’s hard to get enough at dinner and snack time. Naturally, then, a variety of salads are my favorite lunches. Close behind, though, are lunches built around last night’s dinner – easy to make and a good way to clean out the fridge.
With no gluten in sight, try these easy lunch salads or spruced up leftovers.
1. Spinach Salad
2. ABC Salad
3. BLT Salad
4. Caprese Salad
5. Leftover Rice and Veggie Bowl
6. Leftover Potato Bowl
7. Leftover Chicken Bowl
Hoping you enjoy your lunch, with plenty of water and fresh air.
Did you know that year after year, surveys show the most popular breakfasts in the U.S. are grain-based? Waffles, pancakes, toast, bagels, danishes, donuts, cold cereal, poptarts, pastries, breakfast bars, English muffins, scones, and the list goes on!
Sometimes, just thinking about those foods can make a gluten-free diet seem unfair. Other times, impossible.
There are many gluten-free alternatives to popular breakfast foods (e.g. GF waffles, breads, and bars); I have seen and tried many of them, and they are usually just as tasty as the gluten-containing originals. I also make my own granola using GF oats, and have talked in previous blogs about making my own GF pancakes and waffles.
But a better use of my time has been exploring breakfasts that do not have grain-based foods at all. I find that I usually feel more satisfied, feel full longer, and have more energy if I skip the gluten-free grains above, because many of them have extra sugar and fat that I don’t really want or need.
In that spirit, with a nod to good health, I share a week’s worth of my favorite gluten-free breakfasts. Feel free to share yours, too!
Wishing you the best of health and a happy Spring!
A concern I have heard a lot recently is if there is gluten in medications and supplements. It is a fair question, because gluten may be used as a coating, filler, binder, or other inactive ingredient.
Let’s start with medications. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the majority of oral drug products are not likely to contain gluten. Specifically about wheat, their website states: “based on information available to the Agency, we are aware of no oral drug products currently marketed in the United States that contain wheat gluten or wheat flour intentionally added as an inactive ingredient. We would expect any such product, if it existed, to include wheat gluten or wheat flour in the list of ingredients in its labeling.” (FDA)
Still, always be sure to discuss prescriptions with your doctor to make sure they do not contain gluten, and check the ingredients on over-the-counter medications.
With supplements, it is a little trickier, because it depends on the type of supplement. Obviously, if you are looking at a food type supplement, such as a protein powder or meal replacement beverage, you must read the label carefully and even call the manufacturer to discuss ingredients. In these you are more likely to find gluten-containing substances as an ingredient, not just a filler or coating.
With vitamin and mineral supplements, look for gluten-free on the label. I do not recommend specific brands because formulas and ingredients change, but I do often use reference lists published by two trustworthy sites; you can explore them here:
As with foods and beverages, read the label of medications and supplement, and be on the lookout for caramel coloring, modified starch, pregelatinized starch, dextrates, dextrimaltose, and dextrin, among other ingredients.
As you know from last week’s blog, I love baking. I experimented with preblended gluten-free flours, and then got brave enough to try a variety of gluten-free individual flours. Almond, oat, rice, tapioca… so many to choose from, my pantry is now full of them.
My favorite project last week was homemade gluten-free fettuccine. My previous attempts making pasta with preblended gluten-free flours had not been great, but then I found a recipe that used brown rice flour, tapioca flour (also called tapioca starch) and xanthan gum instead. Success! Delicious and great consistency. Here is the recipe.
GF flours come from a variety of grains. Be sure to buy ones that are labeled gluten-free, because many grains are grown or processed in the same places as wheat, barley or rye, so there may be cross-contact.
It is to our advantage that there are so many varieties. It is usually necessary to combine two, three or more of these flours to get the best flavor, structure, and texture, so most recipes call for several. Thus, my full pantry.
Rice flour is a common type of flour in GF baked goods and recipes. White rice flour is ground from white rice, is a light color, and has a very mild flavor. Brown rice flour is ground from brown rice, which is higher in fiber and nutrients than white rice because it has the bran and germ still in place. These also give it a nuttier flavor.
Here is a quick list of other GF flours packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals:
For specific uses, visit Beyond Celiac’s Intro to GF Flours.
I hope you will enjoy experimenting as much as I do. Be well.
Are you ready to branch out from store bought GF breads, crackers, muffins, cookies, and banana bread? Are you ready to bake from scratch? The good news: there are many gluten-free flours to choose from. The bad news: it can be a bit overwhelming!
PART 1: GF PREBLENDED FLOURS
For me, the safest way to start baking gluten-free was to use a preblended flour. My first attempt to make my own flour-based product was cookies. Why not, right? I knew the sweet taste of sugar and soft mouthfeel of butter would hide any weird taste that might pop up, so I was up for the challenge: peanut butter cookies. I bought an All Purpose Flour mix from the grocery store. Depending on where you live (or from whom you want to order online), you might choose your store brand (such as Harris Teeter), Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, or Nuts.com, among others.
I was very pleased with the cookie results, so the next week I made GF lemon poppyseed muffins. This time, I was less pleased. They tasted good but I thought they were dense, compared to the light muffins I preferred. It was frustrating, because my daughter had made amazing GF chocolate chip cookies and my son baked delicious GF scones. Maybe I needed to try a different flour?
I did some research, and realized that preblended gluten-free “All Purpose (AP) flour” comes in a variety of flavors and weights, depending on the ingredients. The one I used was made with garbanzo beans, giving it a beany flavor and texture. Other AP flours have fava beans, cornstarch and tapioca in different amounts, changing the flavor and firmness. It just really depends on the combination of flours. I did not like the AP flour for sweet foods, but found it great for savory foods – it works well for bread, crackers and as a breading for chicken.
By contrast, the other bakers in my family used gluten free “1-to-1 baking flour”. This type of GF flour typically has a base of white and brown rice flours, giving it a neutral flavor and lighter texture. It also contains xanthan gum, an important thickening and stabilizing agent. I tried this the next time I baked muffins and they were so good, they tasted and felt like the regular gluten-full muffins I usually make. I use this lighter blend for other sweet baked goods like quick breads and cookies.
Here is my take-away for using preblended gluten free flours:
PART 2: OTHER GF FLOURS
What about pancakes, waffles, and pizza dough? So far, I have to admit I have used a GF pancake mix and a GF pizza dough mix…. see, this whole going GF journey is hard, and I’ve been focusing on label reading, getting enough fiber, adding variety to my fruits and vegetable intake, etc., just like you.
What about pasta? In my two efforts so far, I have used each blend once: GF all purpose flour for lasagna noodles and GF 1-to-1 baking flour for fettuccini. Both were just okay and I want to do some more experimenting and report back.
I am ready to go beyond preblended flour mixes for these foods, and there is a whole new world of options to explore: oat flour, almond flour, tapioca flour, rice flour, buckwheat flour, and more. They are calling to me from my pantry so stay tuned!
And stay well.
Whenever I meet a patient who is new to starting a gluten-free diet, the first food I hear they are eating is rice. Rice cereal for breakfast, rice cakes for lunch, white rice for dinner. It's safe, it's bland, it's the perfect food for going gluten-free.
The problem is, you can get tired of rice pretty quickly.
Besides, regular white rice and white rice products are low in fiber, and if they are replacing foods like whole grain cereal and whole wheat bread, you may be eating a diet much lower in fiber than before you started this gluten-free journey.
What is fiber and why is it important?
Dietary fiber is a substance found in plant products that gives the plant structure. Foods high in fiber, then, have more bulk and structure than foods low in fiber. This is good for the human body because you cannot digest it; instead, your digestive tract sends it on through to the large intestine and out with waste products, or stays and ferments in the large intestine, adding healthy bacteria to your system.
Dietary fiber benefits can be summarized as helping to:
You can find more good information about fiber benefits here from the Mayo Clinic and here from The Nutrition Source at Harvard.
What does this have to do with non-celiac gluten sensitivity? A gluten-free diet can potentially be low in fiber. As mentioned, white rice is a common substitute for wheat in the diet, and is also a common ingredient in gluten-free products such as breads, crackers, cereals, and snack foods. That often leads to a very low fiber intake. Most Americans already eat less than half of the recommended amount of fiber daily, so taking away whole wheat and whole grain products in your diet could make the problem worse.
Of course, fiber is not found just in whole wheat products, so the solution is easy. Fiber is found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. A plant-based diet filled with these food groups can contain the 20-30 grams of fiber you need per day. Try these great high fiber foods!
Sometimes it helps to have a tangible example. Here’s what a day might look like with adequate fiber:
As always, make sure your oats, nuts, and seeds are gluten-free. Then, start to add fiber-rich foods slowly, one serving at a time, until you are eating fiber at every meal. Be sure to increase your water intake as well, drinking about ½ cup with each meal and 8 cups per day.
Gluten-free and high fiber can both be a manageable part of your life!
As you continue to avoid gluten, read labels, and monitor your gluten-related symptoms, eating can get overwhelming. How about taking a break from thinking about food and your illness? Self-care is a somewhat new buzzword for initiating deliberate care of yourself, whether to reduce stress or reduce negative symptoms of fatigue or pain. It is important for both physical and mental health!
These are my favorite areas of self-care.
Physical activity: I have my smart watch set to notify me when it is ten minutes before the hour, every hour. Whatever I am doing, I get up and stretch, walk around the block or the house, go up and down the stairs a few times, and/or do a few calisthenics at my desk. I even have an RBG calendar on my office wall that shows activities I can do if I run out of ideas :)
Exercise: In addition to bits of physical activity throughout the day, I make sure I get at least 30 minutes daily of uninterrupted higher intensity exercise, such as a brisk walk, bike ride, hike, time on an elliptical, etc. This reduces the stress hormone cortisol and helps fight chronic diseases. You do not have to start training for a marathon; just find something you enjoy that raises your heart rate a bit.
Stress management: Physical activity and exercise are major stress busters. Other great habits are meditation (which I am terrible at) and yoga (which I love), as well as journaling, reading, listening to music, and spending time in nature. Surely there is something you can do for 10 minutes a day that is just for you.
Sleep: You’ve heard the advice: get eight hours of sleep every night. While the optimal sleep time varies, I know I feel better with eight hours, and I have to fight the urge to stay up late to enjoy a book or movie or NCIS episode on TV. It’s worth it to set a regular bedtime, make sure it’s dark and cool in your room, and avoid blue lights/screens for the half hour before.
Mindfulness: Mindful eating, especially, is a habit that can leave you feeling more fulfilled and nourished than speed eating while working at your computer or watching TV. Eat meals at the table with a placemat and even a candle.
Social support: A friend, partner, family member, neighbor, or online community can help you feel connected. Reach out to others, and cultivate only the relationships that feel positive.
Spiritual self-care: Remember your spiritual side, which needs nurturing along with your body and brain. Spiritual values may include religion, the environment, social justice and peace, or believing in anything else that is greater than yourself.
I often combine these habits, such as walking my dog (exercise) through the woods (stress management) while reflecting (spiritual) or inviting my partner along (social). Do I always follow my own recommendations? Maybe not, but it’s an ongoing effort!
Today, give yourself the care and compassion you give others; you deserve it.
Have you heard of “cross-contamination”? It is a term often used to refer to gluten-free food coming into contact with gluten. For example, oats are naturally gluten-free but may contain gluten if they have been cross-contaminated, or touched by, gluten, either in processing or packaging. Experts recommend we now use the term “cross-contact” instead, because cross-contamination is also used in the world of food safety and food service; it refers to food being exposed to bacteria or other microorganisms that could result in illness when eaten. If we use that definition, it makes it sound like we can cook / kill the contaminant, right? So let’s not confuse things. We cannot get rid of gluten with cooking, so I will try to only use the term “cross-contact”.
If you have celiac disease, any exposure to gluten can make you sick, causing an autoimmune response even if you do not feel it. It is critical that you avoid all gluten, all the time. Beyond Celiac has designed an infographic to help you think about potential gluten sources not just in food but in toys, lotions, and kitchen equipment: Hot Spots
If you have a gluten-related disorder, such as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you may experience the same symptoms as someone with celiac or you may have fewer or more symptoms of varying degrees of severity. It is very individual. That said, the jury is still out about the degree of cross-contact to cause you concern. For many of us who do not have celiac disease, we are able to tolerate small amounts of cross-contact without harm. The rest of this blog is for gluten-related disorders, not celiac disease.
When you are first diagnosed, it is important to follow an elimination diet and reintroduction of foods to determine your sensitivities, as you know from reading my previous blogs. In this blog, we will consider cross-contact in food processing and packaging, stores and markets, restaurants, and at home.
FOOD PROCESSING AND PACKAGING
Continue to read ingredient lists on food packages and continue to avoid wheat, barley, rye and anything derived from them! Remember, too, that refining and processing equipment may be shared with wheat and other gluten-containing foods. The FDA gluten-free labeling rule is voluntary so it is our responsibility to read ingredients and call the manufacturer if we are not sure.
GROCERY STORES AND MARKETS
As discussed in previous articles, bulk bins and deli items are potential sources of cross-contact and you should proceed with caution. You could do your research and ask a lot of questions, but I just avoid both for now.
When eating out, I check the restaurant’s website to view the menu ahead of time. If it isn’t available, or you forget, take your time in reviewing your choices and ask the server to check with the chef if you want to make sure gluten-free items are kept separate from gluten-containing items. I avoid buffets, as utensils, fingers or other food may accidentally come in contact with foods that are naturally gluten-free. Be careful with fried foods, too; many restaurants (including fast food) use the same fryers to cook French fries and breaded chicken, so you would likely get gluten with your potatoes. This reference may help you decide what to choose at fast food establishments: GF Fast Food.
Unless you keep a completely gluten-free household, you may come into contact with gluten in your home. Common causes of concern include the toaster, toaster oven, convection oven, utensils, pots and pans, griddle, cutting board, and even dishcloths and sponges.
In your toaster and toaster oven where food comes in direct contact with cooking surfaces, and in convection ovens, where a fan blows food particles including gluten that may have been in the oven previously, your gluten-free foods may receive gluten transfer. Traditional advice recommends sharing toaster ovens and convection ovens only if your food is covered; I do not worry about this will discuss further in a minute.
Significant gluten transfer can also occur with utensils, dishes and cookware. Do not use the same knife, for example, to cut or butter GF and wheat bread, and do not use the same serving spoon to scoop up GF foods and those with gluten. Do not share a knife between condiments, either; peanut butter, mayonnaise and other spreads need their own utensils - and double dipping needs to be avoided. Same with sharing dishes and cutting boards - don't. As for cookware, foods cooked in a fryer that also cooks gluten-containing foods can cause enough gluten transfer to be a problem, as can griddles that cook pancakes and waffles. Be sure to wash all dishware and cookware between uses.
Lastly, you may need separate dishcloths and sponges to clean gluten-free dishes and cookware, and always use fresh water to rinse. This category of cleaning items is eliminated if you use the dishwasher, and actually not a problem for most people with gluten-disorders who do not have celiac. While I am careful not to share utensils and cutting boards with gluten and GF foods, I have never had an issue with dishcloths or sponges.
For more information, enjoy this guide to reducing cross-contact here.
So, does all cross-contact matter? For me personally, and for many of my friends and clients, the small amount of gluten in a toaster or convection oven does not cause us any discomfort. Nuts processed in a facility that processed wheat, however, caused problems. With a careful food diary, we were able to track symptoms to their sources. (Remember, if you have celiac, you must follow the strictest guidelines). New research published in the journal Gastroenterology in January 2020 supports this; it showed that gluten exposure in the kitchen varies. For example, they found gluten transfer in toasters to be low and that typical dishwashing removes gluten so that separate pots are not needed. You can read more here and here.
While you learn more about cross-contact and get in tune with your body, stay well, my friends, and remember to eat mindfully and joyfully.
What does a dietitian, nutritionist, and health professional do when she discovers she has to avoid gluten? I mean, avoid it to prevent painful symptoms, not to follow a trend. Find out here and get insider tips on diagnosis, management, and navigating a life-long journey.