14 Convenient Wheat Free and Gluten Free Foods
If you don’t eat gluten or wheat then you are part of a very large club. It seems that more and more people are going grain and gluten free, and for a variety of reasons. For some people it is critical to their health for NO gluten not to pass their lips, while others may be avoiding wheat unnecessarily, without really knowing if their body is better off or not.
The original wheat avoiders are those with celiac disease who simply cannot tolerate a crumb of any gluten-containing food. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and related grains such as rye, barely and oats. Gluten truly is toxic to people with celiac disease as it damages the lining of the small intestine and must be avoided at all costs for short-term digestive comfort and long-term health.
Wheat can also cause digestive symptoms if you don’t have coeliac disease. If you are following a new eating style then you also may be avoiding wheat, and this may or may not be necessary. I was speaking with the owner of a cake business recently and he mentioned the increasing sales of his flourless cake range. Upon asking his customers why they are choosing the flourless, the frequent answer is ‘because it is healthier’. But is it really healthier for everybody? Many people do need to avoid wheat products but how do YOU know if you should avoid wheat and gluten?
– Celiac disease
No gluten allowed, full stop.
– Gluten sensitivity/intolerance or Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Many people describe a range of gastrointestinal symptoms that improve when they stop eating gluten, so the natural inclination is to think this is a ‘gluten sensitivity’. There are a wide range of factors that can cause gut symptoms, including stress which is sometimes overlooked.
Research has shown that gluten may not be the main culprit when it comes to Irritable Bowel type symptoms, but it could be the malabsorption of fermentable sugars (FODMAPs), some of which are present in wheat-based foods. It is worth investigating a little further if you have gastrointestinal symptoms, see your doctor and specialist/s if required to ensure you are making dietary choices that are appropriate for your individual circumstances.
The other popular reason that people avoid wheat is because the latest diet they are following tells them to! Whether it be Paleo, Low Carb Diet Plan, Atkins, Keto…..many fad diets recommend a reduction in carbohydrate, which is often very successful for weight loss, but unfortunately some diets also imply that ‘wheat is toxic’. Yes, toxic to someone with celiac disease, but not for most people. Personally, I am all for reducing carbohydrate as I think most people eat too much, but if you have a healthy digestive system then you should have absolutely no trouble digesting wheat.
Some people DO just feel better avoiding wheat. If you cut out wheat you are not just avoiding nutritious carbohydrate foods like wholegrains – you will also omit cakes, biscuits, savoury snacks, pastries and many other processed, high sugar and low-nutrient foods. So it makes sense you would feel better and probably lose weight eating less of the latter.
Bread seems to get terribly bullied when it comes to grain bashing. It is always the first food to be discarded when there is a change to wheat-free. But it may not be the rye/spelt/wholegrain slice that is contributing to digestive symptoms. It may just be the amount….think big thick sandwiches (the ones you buy at sandwich shops are often equivalent to about 4 pieces of standard bread) and overflowing bowls of pasta……..eat a bit less at each sitting, and slowly, and your digestive symptoms could likely improve.
Be aware that sometimes a change to wheat and gluten-free products can lead to weight gain rather than weight loss because you see it as a “FREE” food. Not to mention you may suffer from constipation if your fiber intake is reduced. Some of the gluten-free substitutes are low in fiber and can be higher in fat, and therefore are not as filling as whole grain/wheat options. This is important to consider if you are eating gluten-free and trying to lose weight.
If you DO need to avoid wheat, and you workout regularly, it can be a real challenge to make sure you are eating carbohydrate rich foods that are nutrient-dense (rather than living on processed gluten-free bread, rice crackers and jelly beans for carbohydrates). Here are some super nutritious wheat and gluten-free foods that will give you carbs to power your training and have you recovering like a champ, without the gastrointestinal issues.
- POTATO (SWEET OR WHITE) – For some reason potatoes have gone out of favor in recent years, but as far as a natural source of carbohydrate, you can’t go wrong with nutritious potatoes. Often a sweet potato is recommended over white, usually because of its lower glycemic index and vitamin content, but white potato with a higher glycemic index is terrific for post-exercise meals, and is fine when combined with other vegetables. Remember, although potato is higher carbohydrate than other vegetables, it is still a lot lower in carbohydrate than rice, pasta, and many other grains (for example, the carbohydrate content of white potato is ~12.5g/100g cooked, sweet potato ~19g/100g cooked, brown rice ~30g/100g cooked).
- CORN – Corn is another sneaky source of carbohydrate since we tend to think of it as a vegetable but corn is starchy and it is packed with nutrients and fiber and a similar carbohydrate content to white potato at ~13g/100g cooked. Corn is great in salads, soups, main meals, corn tortillas, polenta or a cob of corn as a snack.
- QUINOA – Probably the most over-promoted and over-estimated food in the world. Quinoa is a great gluten-free ‘seed’. Quinoa is amazing for it’s vitamin and mineral content (which is similar to oats in terms of iron, calcium and magnesium content), amino acid profile and taste, I do love the taste. Quinoa has great value for vegetarians and athletes due to the higher protein and nutrient content compared to standard rice, pasta and noodles. Quinoa has a wide range of amino acids and often promoted as a complete protein.
- RICE – Super-rich in carbohydrate with different colors and varieties for almost any meal. Many rice mixes are available these days (such as rice with lentils or quinoa) to boost the fiber and nutrient content. You should avoid flavored mixes that add pasta and added artificial flavors. There is nothing wrong with white rice too, especially if you get lots of fiber and nutrition from other foods. If you are looking for optimal nutrition value though, go for the less processed varieties like Jasmine and Basmati & Long Grain! Not everything you eat has to be wholegrain or brown all the time!
- OATS – Oats are still controversial for people with celiac disease and but most of the time uncontaminated oats are considered safe. The issue is complex and relates to contamination risks during processing and also a component in oats called avenins that some people can react to. For those avoiding wheat for reasons other than celiac disease, enjoy oats regularly. Oats are a good source of fiber, trace minerals and even plant-based protein. Like all whole grains, oats even contain some healthy fatty acids since they retain their entire germ, endosperm and bran, which is where not only nutrients are stored, but also small amounts of essential fats.
- RYE/SPELT BREAD (not suitable for celiac) – If you have celiac disease you need to avoid rye flour and all bread needs to be of the gluten-free variety. But if you are trying to reduce gluten for other reasons then choosing a bread with a high proportion of rye vs wheat, or a spelt slice, can be a tasty source of carbohydrates.
- GLUTEN-FREE PASTA – Pasta is a quick and easy carbohydrate option for active people. Gluten-free pasta has improved over the years, and you can now find a wide range of varieties in most supermarkets. I like Brown Rice Pasta. If it’s a while since you have tried gluten-free pasta, give some a try, combine with lean protein and vegetables or salad for a balanced meal.
- MILLET – I have tried most of the gluten-free breads out there, and this one continues to stand out: Food For Life Millet Bread… it’s gluten-free and vegan, and sold at Whole Foods (sometimes in the freezer section.) Your gluten-free bread tastes best when toasted, with perhaps some almond butter and jelly. Try millet as a side dish with savory dishes in the place of rice, or mixed together with quinoa or rice or made into porridge for breakfast. p.s. Millet is a grain similar to quinoa.
- AMARANTH – This is not a regular staple in my cupboard, but amaranth is a nutritious pseudo-cereal (not officially a grain, but is used in similar ways and has a similar nutrition profile to other grains). Amaranth contains a range of minerals (such as calcium and iron), and has one of the best amino acid profiles of plant-based proteins. Amaranth is commonly seen in dry cereals, but can also be cooked and used in dishes such as sides and soup. In some countries it is popped and eaten like popcorn.
- POPCORN – Speaking of popcorn….it won’t quite do the job for recovery needs, due to its carbohydrate content being so low, you would need to eat buckets worth. But its low carbohydrate and energy density (1 small packet of popcorn only weighs 13g, with only 6g carbohydrate and ~55 calories) makes this a terrific wholegrain snack for active people who may be trying lose weight. A great alternative to potato chips or other savory snacks, which are often a popular choice when eating gluten-free. Make sure you go for the plain varieties, not the sugar/caramel coated options.
- BEANS/LEGUMES – Black beans, kidney beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, the list goes on! A great natural source of protein, beans and legumes are gluten-free and here to stay.
- HUMMUS – As stated above chickpeas (a bean) are gluten-free, so stock up on hummus. Dip sliced red bell peppers or carrots into Sabra Luscious Lemon Hummus… Perfect snack, you have no idea!
- NUTS/SEEDS- Almonds and Cashews are perfect in desserts and snack bags. Sunflower seeds are ideal in salads and I think we all know the fiber benefits of flax seed. Whatever it may be, your favorite nut is gluten-free!
- BUCKWHEAT FLOUR- Perhaps gluten-free’s most secret ingredient, buckwheat flour can be used to replace wheat flour in baking and cooking. It has a delicious hearty taste; try it out next time when making waffles or banana bread if you haven’t already.
So what else can you eat?
The following grains, the flours made from them, these binders and other carbohydrates are gluten-free:
These are just a few nutritious and convenient options to help fuel your training and recovery. If you are confused about whether or not you should be avoiding gluten and/or wheat or if you already eat gluten-free and not sure if you are quite getting the balance right, then it might be worth sitting down with your Primary Doctor and disgust your concerns with them.
Hidden sources of gluten include:
Artificial coffee creamer, Pasta side dishes, Soy sauce, Bouillon cubes, French Fries,Salad dressing, Brown rice syrup, Gravies, Seitan, Candy, Imitation seafood, Self-basting turkey, Chewing gum Hot dogs, Certain ground spices ,Chips, Certain veined cheeses, Cold cuts, Ketchup, Tomato sauces, Mustard, Mayonnaise, Vegetable cooking spray, Fish Sticks, Matzo, Flavored instant coffee,
Rice mixes, Flavored teas, Flavored rice