5 Tips to do Gluten-Free Easily (and Healthfully!)
It’s probably not surprising to you that gluten-free is big business. The gluten-free market continues to grow, and it seems like everyday your favorite brands create gluten-free versions of everything, expanding the offerings for all of us.
If you live with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, these new foods are a great way to revisit old favorites without digestive discomfort, and if you’re just exploring the idea of gluten-free living, there are a lot of options!
But it’s important to note that gluten-free doesn’t always mean healthy. As the amount of gluten-free products in the marketplace has risen, the number of questionable ingredients in our gluten-free supply chain has increased too. Many gluten-free products, especially baked goods, are made with additives, starches and fillers, used to replace the work of gluten found naturally in wheat flour.
Learning how to read your gluten-free labels is the key to doing gluten-free healthfully.
Here are some tips for how to ensure that you’re getting healthy gluten-free foods into your diet!
1. Choose Whole Grains as much as Possible
Unless you’re sensitive and cross-react to gluten-free grains, ingredients like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, teff and others are a great way to get all your protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals from grains without the gluten. Making gluten-free whole grains a part of your meal ensures you get the whole food, with nutritional benefits intact. Read the labels to see whole grains or whole-grain flour as one of the main ingredients.
2. Learn to Read your Food Labels
So many companies are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon that you need to be careful about which products are offering truly gluten-free foods and truly natural foods. The smart marketing folks behind soda, snacks and cookies are trying hard to make you think gluten-free equals healthy. Be sure to read the label for fat, sodium, sugar, and calorie content, but also look for nutrient density. If the food seems high in calories and fat, but low in nutrition, skip it.
3. Avoid Starches
You will find starches on the label of many gluten-free food products, especially baked goods like cookies, crackers, and breads. Starches, including potato, corn, or tapioca starch, are not bad themselves, but should be used in moderation as they offers very little nutritionally. Often you will see starch as one of the main ingredients in packaged gluten-free products, which means that the product is not as nutrient dense as it could be if it used whole grains and flours. If they are used in packaged goods, it should be low on the list of ingredients to ensure that the good stuff comes first.
4. Watch the Sugar
Many gluten-free packaged goods are loaded with sugar. This is partly due to texture, as sugar provides baked goods with shape and substance, but it’s also because some gluten-free flours (notably, chickpea flour) can taste slightly unpleasant. But it also seems that excess sugar is used to make up for the fact that the ingredients (like starches, mentioned above) have no flavor, and the sugar is used to replace the natural sweetness of wheat flour.
5. Make it Homemade
If you’re the DIY type, making gluten-free foods at home is good for many reasons. Firstly, it means you don’t have to worry about cross-contamination with gluten, so you’re eating very safely. But it also means that you’re more likely to use whole food ingredients and use less of the starches and sugars mentioned above. Most homemade baked goods require a few types of flours, maybe even a starch, but you can pick and choose which recipes sound the most delicious, and the most healthful, for your family.
Whole grains image from Deposit Photos