Gluten-free products are everywhere. Proponents of eating such foods believe they can benefit people with conditions ranging from autism spectrum disorder to obesity. While there is insufficient proof that eschewing gluten is beneficial for large segments of the population, doing so is a life-saver for the 300,000 Americans with celiac disease and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Wheat, barley, and rye all contain the protein gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder (in which the immune system mistakenly attacks one’s tissues) which results in intestinal damage when the patient ingests the substance. Even though people with gluten sensitivity do not have the same difficulty, eating foods containing the protein brings on the same symptoms: diarrhea, bloating, and pain. For these individuals, the plethora of gluten-free products on store shelves is a blessing—although an expensive one. (A word of caution: reading labels is must. Substances like malt—from barley—and hydrolyzed vegetable protein are hidden sources. Even products such as yogurt, cheese spread, and frozen fruits and vegetables may contain gluten. Fortunately, it is possible to reap the benefits of such a regimen without breaking the bank.
Check Out the Produce Section
Potatoes are the unsung heroes of any diet plan. Not only do they provide the same amount of starch as gluten-free bread for a tiny fraction of the cost, spuds are a quality source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, and protein.
Salad veggies add color, variety, and taste to a possibly lackluster gluten-free diet. Greens like kale and romaine lettuce (stay away from prepackaged ones to avoid cross-contamination and a higher price tag) are only the beginning. Peppers and tomatoes (if nightshades are not a problem), cucumbers, carrots, and zucchini add zest to any salad.
Sweet potatoes and winter squash are colorful powerhouses of vitamin A. To satisfy pasta cravings without paying a bundle for gluten-free varieties, pop some spaghetti squash in the oven. After baking, scrape it with a fork and mix with oil and your favorite salad veggies.
Apples, pears, berries, peaches, oranges, and avocados all pack a nutritional punch and please the taste buds at the same time. Add a handful of nuts for a satisfying snack that beats a granola bar every time.
If one is nearby, a farmer’s market is a storehouse of produce that is less likely to be contaminated with gluten, even though supermarket veggies and fruits are low-risk. Another perk: it’s possible to buy in bulk for greater savings.
Cereal and More
Breakfast cereal can be part of a gluten-free regimen even if multi-grain products are taboo. Rice, corn, and buckwheat cereal are free of the offending protein (just check the label to be sure) and economical, too.
Speaking of rice and buckwheat, they make great side dishes. Add turmeric or ginger and carrots to water (with a little oil to prevent sticking) to the former. Sauteed onions are delicious additions to the latter.
Bake It Yourself
Even if you haven’t baked a thing in your life, easy-to-follow recipes abound. While gluten-free flour costs more than the off-limits wheat variety, baking saves a bundle over high-priced ready-makes cakes and cookies. Rice and buckwheat flour are more economical than almond and coconut—and even easier on the wallet if purchased on large quantities online. (For a special occasion or taste treat, a little coconut flour adds a flavorful touch.) One basic recipe can become many desserts—mix in apples, bananas, blueberries, or any other fruit and ginger, nutmeg, chocolate, and/or cinnamon for variety.
Meat, Fish, and Dairy
Breaded chicken and fish are not allowed, but that does not mean bland main dishes. Shishkabob with favorite vegetables, chicken spiced with turmeric, sage, rosemary, and dill, salmon topped with honey or maple syrup and ginger, and grilled meats and fish (just check out any sauce for hidden gluten or use spices instead) are palate-pleasing choices. Many supermarkets carry these products in bulk for a lower price. Make large quantities and freeze for future meals (saving time as well as money) or divide the package and thaw only what you need.
Gluten-free does not have to mean expensive, tasteless meals or long hours in the kitchen. By following a few basic guidelines, you can have your cake and eat it too. Here’s to your health.