The Gluten Free Diet: Nutritional and Cooking Advice

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Even though cooking gluten free food is often just as simple and straight-forward as cooking gluten-filled food, (actually, gluten free baking is pretty different; I’ll cover that in Section 7) we still need to cover nutrition differences and some other important items.

Just because you are now on a gluten free diet DOES NOT give you permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and expect to be healthier/lose weight/etc. A gluten free pizza is just as unhealthy as a regular pizza! The key points I want to to instill in this section are:

  1. To make sure everyone realizes being on a gluten free diet is not a free pass for eating gluten free junk all the time.
  2. To go cover the possible vitamin and mineral deficiencies one could have when starting a gluten free diet.
  3. To help you cook awesome gluten free food, but still healthy and nutritious! (OK, every recipe I have is not healthy, but balance is key in life, right?!)

When I first went on a gluten free diet, I went a little crazy trying all the gluten free items I could get my paws on. After a while, it finally sunk in that even though I felt better than I did before I went on the diet because my health issues went away, I was eating horribly. I gained about 10 pounds in the first 3 months before I settled down and got into a cycle of eating healthy gluten free food with the occasional treat. The reason I am telling you this is simple: people would complain to me all the time that they “aren’t losing any weight on the gluten free diet. I thought this was supposed to be healthy!” I would shake my head and say that the diet really should make you healthier, but there are ways to make it awfully unhealthy, too.

After 3 years of being on this diet, I have a pretty good perspective on it. Outside of avoiding all those health issues from before, being gluten free keeps me away all those convenient foods that are terrible for your health. You know what I’m talking about – McDonald’s, corn dogs at the state fair, a slice of pizza at the gas station, microwave meals. I can’t eat that stuff and it almost always results in me eating something healthier as an alternative.

Lately, there have been articles all over the place trying to decipher if the gluten free diet is just a fad diet or if it’s for real. I have mentioned this in passing once or twice already in this course. Well, for most of us, it is absolutely necessary to be on gluten free diet to stay in good health. The people who say they are gluten free “95% of the time” or some crazy number really kill the public perception of the seriousness of our diet because it seems, to them, that we can just pick and choose when we are gluten free and when we are not. How is the public supposed to know that people who are on the gluten free diet because they have to be will get extremely sick if they have even a little bit of gluten?

For the people who don’t treat the gluten free diet seriously, it is exactly that: a fad diet. A fad diet that they will try out, probably stray from at some point, and move on to another different diet. If I didn’t have major sensitivities to gluten, would I be on a gluten free diet? No, I really don’t think I would be. But now that I am, I really view it as a blessing in disguise. When I pass a McDonald’s or Wendy’s, instead of thinking “Should I get a double cheeseburger? They are only $1, after all!”, I don’t even consider stopping. I just drive past and think about what fantastic gluten free meal I plan on cooking that night.

Vitamin Absorption

If you have recently discovered you have celiac disease/gluten sensitivity/gluten intolerance and have been suffering from some health issues for a period of time, it is very possible your body is deficient in a number of vitamins.

When I first discovered my gluten sensitivity, my vitamin D levels were pretty low. The villi, which are small finger-like projections on the small intestine, are responsible for absorbing vital nutrients from partially-digested food. When someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance/sensitivity has been eating gluten-filled foods, the villi can get damaged and your body will have reduced vitamin absorption as a result. Over time, as you cut gluten out of your diet, the villi will heal and return mostly back to normal, but possibly not all the way. It also takes time for the body to heal, so even though you are on a gluten free diet, it might take awhile for your body to feel fresh and invigorated (that sounds like something from an Old Spice commercial!) again. Some gluten free foods popular in my house that are high in vitamin D are salmon, tuna, and eggs (the yolk is where most vitamins/minerals are located in the egg), so if your vitamin D levels are low, load up on them!

Some other vitamin and nutrient levels you might want your doctor to check out are:

  • Iron
  • Folate
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Thiamin
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin

Many people think that they are missing out on important vitamins or minerals by being on a gluten free diet. This is not true. As a matter of fact, you should probably be getting even more of the vitamins and minerals and less of the crap: saturated fat, sugar, and excess salt. If you are concerned about the fiber loss from giving up your whole wheat toast and whole wheat cereal, eat more fruits and leafy green vegetables, buy whole grain gluten free toast, and eat more gluten free grains like quinoa and buckwheat. The fiber from fruits and vegetables is the kind you want; fiber from breakfast cereals can make you feel bloated and sluggish.

My daily vitamin regime consists of a multi-vitamin, Vitamin D, and Fish Oil. I live in Chicago, where winters are long and cold, so I don’t get as much sun as someone living in Miami or Southern Cal. Therefore, supplementing with Vitamin D ensures my levels do not get too low when I am out of the sun for months. Fish Oil is important for Omega 3 fatty acids, as well as being an anti-inflammatory. I am not recommending everyone go out and take the same vitamins as me, I am just letting you know what I take and what works well for me.

A Couple Differences Between Normal Cooking and Gluten Free Cooking

Breadcrumbs

Cooking with gluten free breadcrumbs is a little different than regular breadcrumbs. I have found that gluten free breadcrumbs don’t require as long in the oven as their regular counterpart. For example, if the recipe calls for breadcrumbs on top of the dish and 25 minutes in the oven, gluten free breadcrumbs will often be done in about 20 minutes. Before I knew this, I had a casserole come out with blackened breadcrumbs because I left them in too long. There are tons of different types and brands of gluten free breadcrumbs though, so just be sure to constantly check the oven when your food is in the oven so that it doesn’t get burnt.

Pasta

It’s been a while since I made regular pasta, but I remember it taking 10-15 minutes to cook depending on which type of noodle I was making. Gluten free pasta has cooking times that vary widely based on the ingredients used to make the noodles. For example, the quinoa pasta I use cooks in 6-9 minutes, but I have also used brown rice pasta that take 16 minutes or so. I have found the quinoa pasta is the best tasting and closest consistency to regular pasta out there.

Move to Section 7: Gluten Free Baking: The Flours