Saturday, February 22, 2014

1:51 PM
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The dietary focus of my Fitness Project this month is to eat gluten free (GF).

Or "Gluten Freakish" as my husband called it as I bit into my dense, chewy and not very tasty brown rice tortilla last night, while they slathered butter on soft, warm pugliese bread. I can also attest that Trader Joe's GF brownies are definitely worth avoiding, while their GF granola is the bomb. In general I have found that the food substitutes are generally not worth it (especially since the substitutes tend to be for junk food anyways), while a diet rich in fruits, veggies, and brown rice, tastes good, feels good and is pretty easy to accommodate.

The reality of it is though, the beauty of not having a true gluten allergy is that even when you are going "Gluten Free" for a month a wee cheat now and then is okay, and label-reading isn't that intense, and when you are in Fresno for work and it is too much to ask of a restaurant to be both vegetarian and gluten free you can choose to address the lesser of two hurdles. Also, sushi is good.

On the flip side, the beauty of having a serious allergy is that you become a GF expert and learn the ins and outs of labels, menus, recipes, nutrition, and become a dedicated member of the very active GF blogosphere. I happen to have a colleague who has a serious gluten allergy, and is therefore a wealth of information on the subject. She kindly provided the following information to guide me on my GF path this month, which I am pleased to share below:

Gluten Free on a Shoestring
This blog is primarily GF baking recipes, with a smattering of paleo and “no bake” recipes. It’s focused on baked goods, but not much in the way of real meals.

Gluten Free Goddess
This one has many more meals as well as the obligatory GF dessert recipes. You might find this one the most useful. The blogger started out gluten free, then had to go dairy free, and is now vegan as well. I’ve made a number of her vegan soups, and will often browse her recipes for ideas.

Oh She Glows
This one is ostensibly a vegan blog, but many of her recipes are gluten free as well (or easily adapted). I found this one pretty recently when I was looking for a vegan mac & cheese type substitute. I made a pumpkin puree, nutritional yeast, and almond milk-based cheez sauce that turned out pretty good. Not a true substitute for the real thing, but pretty tasty.

Trader Joe’s list 
TJ’s periodically updates a list of all of the products with “no gluten ingredients used”. Often the product packages will have warnings that they may include traces of wheat – just something to be aware of if you were cooking for someone with a problem with gluten. This is a handy way to plan your shopping list ahead of time rather than spending hours scrutinizing labels in the store.

More often than not, if there’s something I have in mind that I want to make, I find that if I just google “gluten free” or “paleo” and the name of the dish, I’ll find decent recipes. I tend to make big batches of “one pot” type meals like soups and stir frys and eat them all week. It’s just easier than cooking from scratch every day.

There are GF substitutes for just about anything you can think of, though they’re typically much more expensive and depending on what it is, likely not as healthy. Most GF breads are terrible (flavorless and generally lacking in nutrition) – the only one I’d actually recommend is the multi-grain/seedy sandwich bread from Zest Bakery in San Carlos. If you want a pasta, the brown rice or quinoa and corn pastas from Trader Joes are good and relatively inexpensive. There are some considerations to cooking GF pastas: 1)way more starch is released into the water so you need to increase the amount of water you use and rinse it really well after it’s cooked; 2) they don’t swell as much as wheat pasta, so it’s easy to make less than you’re used to eating, also they’re usually more calorically dense so you don’t want to eat as much as you would a regular pasta; 3) they get super mushy/fall apart if they’re overcooked. All of San-J brand sauces are gluten free, if you’re looking for soy sauce or other Asian sauces – good for GF, not for paleo.

Gluten can hide in almost anything premade/processed. If you’re really trying to challenge yourself to avoid it, ingredients in foods and pills/vitamins including natural flavors, artificial flavors, caramel color, modified food starch, and pregelatinized food starch should all be scrutinized. Prescription drugs are not required to state what inactive ingredients they contain, so you need to contact the manufacturer with a batch number to verify that they’re gluten free and then cross your fingers. Any foods that have a disclaimer saying they may contain trace amounts of wheat or are processed on the same equipment as wheat are problematic fir those who are extremely sensitive. 

The best resource I found for the complete reference on how to go GF was here. Generally, my experience with being GF-ish this month is that while faking it is pretty easy, to truly go GF would still be quite the challenge, especially socially and while travelling. It is also amazing how ubiquitous gluten is, even in some of the least expected places, see below:
18 Sneaky Foods that are surprisingly not GF
Sneaky Gluten

Overall I have felt great, although not measurably different than my usual high-energy self. I did find this style of eating MUCH easier to accommodate than the Intermittent Fasting I did last month, which is probably no surprise to those of you who know my appetite. All this work though is just continuing to reinforce for me that a life-long practice of eating clean, balanced and gimmick-free is the way to go (if you can accommodate that physically, i.e., no allergies).

To learn more about my Fitness Project, please contact me at,, or connect with me on Facebook.


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