There was a time when I would eat pasta and pizza (often both!) everyday. I was living in Italy at the time so this wouldn’t happen everywhere, but it was normal for me to eat these types of foods everyday and just put up with my digestive issues.
A few years later, I was diagnosed with a wheat and gluten intolerance, which became a real eye opener for me.
It made me really aware of what I was eating and how I had become so disconnected from food and its effect on my body. I had ignored the warning signs of bloating and stomach pains, continuing to eat what was easy.
It was recommended that I cut out wheat and gluten for 3 months and then I should start to reintroduce them back into my diet. I had such a tough time during these 3 months – I really didn’t know what to cook since pasta and bread were such a big part of my diet (especially when I was a student!). After the initial struggle I did feel a lot healthier and my symptoms were reduced so I continued to eat a mainly gluten-free diet.
As I delved into a gluten-free lifestyle I started to research food options and look at what was available at supermarkets. Initially I was really shocked by how expensive and limited “gluten-free” branded options can be. That said, over time (having been mainly gluten-free since 2012) I have picked up some tips that make buying and cooking gluten-free more affordable.
With our hectic lives and a culture of wanting instant results and always needing to be entertained and stimulated, I believe there has been a loss of connection with the food we eat. How often do you eat at your desk? Eat in front of the TV or while looking at your phone? I think this need to be connected at all times has affected our eating habits and has helped us become disconnected with the food we eat, which in turn has distracted us from acknowledging how it reacts with our bodies.
Really being in the moment and being mindful of the eating process, your tastes and senses, might feel odd these days but I urge you to give it a go! Put that phone, book, newspaper away for 10 minutes and become totally immersed with eating your meal. Really notice tastes, textures, touch and how your body is feeling. I know it sounds a bit silly but mindful eating is actually a really hard process to practice, but if we do it every so often we might become more aware of how certain foods affect our bodies.
Maybe you will start to notice an upset stomach every time you drink milk or bloating after you eat pasta – your body is giving you signs and you should acknowledge them. If you are willing to take the time to get to know food again and acknowledge how certain foods react in your body I know you will start to make healthier choices when it comes to food.
This simple guide to gluten-free living will highlight some staple ingredients that can make everyday gluten-free cooking a whole lot easier and cheaper, you just need to know what to look out for and where to shop.
So whether you have been diagnosed with a wheat or gluten intolerance (more info on the difference below), your children suffer from intolerances or coeliac disease, or you simply want to give your body a little break, here are some tips that I hope will help you become aware and more connected with what you eat.
SIMPLE GUIDE TO GLUTEN-FREE LIVING
Wheat free vs. gluten-free:
Aren’t these the same? It can be a confusing subject and although these are often used interchangeably they are actually different.
Firstly, gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains – it’s the glue that gives bread dough that elastic like texture! So even though gluten is a part of wheat, “wheat free” products may not be gluten-free (they might contain other grains such as rye or barley that contain gluten), but “gluten-free” products are often wheat free.
Secondly, a gluten-free diet is more restrictive because gluten can be found in other grains so if you have a gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease you would not be able to eat any grains that contain gluten. If it is just wheat you need to avoid you can still eat other gluten containing grains and thus have more food options.
If you need to avoid gluten then you need to make sure you’re still getting the right balance of essential vitamins and minerals from gluten-free grains, proteins and vegetables. A trained dietitian can help you with creating a meal plan.
Gluten free basics: Food for thought
Rice: Hooray for this gluten-free hero! It’s gluten-free, filling and comes in many varieties. Opt for black or brown rice, which is nutritious as it contains essential vitamins and minerals including thiamin, niacin and magnesium. Serve as a side with meat or fish or get creative and serve in salads, stir fries, Indian biriyani or rice pudding.
Rice noodles or vermicelli: A cheap option if you are missing pasta and don’t want to pay higher prices for a gluten-free option. Coming in varying widths you can get rice noodles that make a great fettuccine substitute. Think curry laksa, pad thai, rice noodle salads. Just make sure you don’t overcook them to avoid a gloppy mess. You can buy rice noodles at supermarkets and Asian grocers.
Potatoes and sweet potato: Speak for themselves really. A perfect accompany to meals. Mash it, roast it, bake it.
Rice crackers: In New Zealand and Australia rice crackers from brands such as Sakata are widely available in supermarkets. They are often gluten-free and with whole grain options make great snacks or are perfect for dinner parties where cheese and crackers are involved. If these types of crackers aren’t available in your country then you might find rice wafer cakes which are basically puffed rice crackers.
Corn thins and popcorn: Similar to rice wafers, corn thins are round crackers made from puffed corn. Try popcorn as a savoury snack and mix with your favourite spices.
Nuts and seeds: Not only do they make a great morning or afternoon snack, but nuts are also a great source of protein and vitamins. Macadamia nuts are rich in B vitamins, which can help to reduce cravings. Just one Brazil nut contains the full recommended daily intake of selenium, which helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds offer a dose of healthy fats. Opt for raw, unsalted nuts – this will help them remain as a snack and you won’t continue to eat the whole bag!
Fancier gluten free grains / seeds:
Quinoa: Pronounced “keen wah” this “ancient grain” has gained a lot of media coverage over the last few years and rightly so. Though often refereed to as a grain it is in fact a seed that is high in protein and fibre and contains calcium, magnesium, Vitamins B and E plus other essential minerals. Serve in salads, as a side to meat and fish or even as a breakfast cereal. Quinoa can be bought at supermarkets (look out for it in the bulk bins).
Buckwheat: Don’t be fooled by it’s name – it contains no wheat. It is high in fibre, protein and essential minerals zinc, copper, and potassium. It’s nutty flavour makes it great in salads and breakfast cereals. You can buy this in the health / organic section of supermarkets.
Explore outside the gluten-free aisle!
Don’t be fooled by branding! Supermarkets often stock gluten-free options along side normal foods are these are often cheaper than their gluten-free aisle counterparts.
Big brands will often have a gluten-free option and these will be stocked with their normal range so have a look around and see what you can find. For example gluten-free pasta stocked with normal pasta in the same brand is cheaper than other brands in the gluten-free aisle.
Read ingredients lists and be aware of what is naturally gluten-free. Just because products scream “gluten-free” in bold writing doesn’t mean there are aren’t other similar products that are naturally gluten-free and possibly cheaper. Again check ingredients lists.
Asian supermarkets: You can buy rice and tapioca flour for much cheaper that at a supermarket and they will often stock a good range of rice noodles.
Organic shops: Although they are often expensive, shops like Commonsense Organics are great for buying gluten-free flours such as rice, coconut and potato flour as you can buy them out of bulk bins for a much cheaper price compared to supermarkets, scoop, weigh and only buy how much you need.
For me, it is no longer a struggle to eat gluten-free and I have stuck to this diet because I feel a lot better for it. I think it is important to maintain a balanced diet and not become obsessive about food. As I mentioned in my about page if I’m out at a restaurant and there are dishes I really want to try that aren’t gluten-free then I will try them!
Bottom line is I love food, all food! I love to try new dishes while also being aware and more connected with food and how it affects my body. This means that while I might occasionally eat bread or pizza I know my limits and what will bring on my digestive issues.
Gluten free cooking has inspired me to create simple recipes and dishes that explore what is possible and I hope I can inspire you to get cooking and create your own staple dishes.
While I am an expert in gluten-free cooking I am not a trained dietitian so please always seek professional advice before changing your diet. Food allergy tests are available from your doctor or you can get advice from a trained dietitian who can advise you on tests and also help you to create a personal meal plan.