Tips for Eating Healthy While Gluten Freeby Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
If you are one of the 1 in 100 people living with celiac disease worldwide, then you know that negotiating the maze of gluten-free products can be daunting. While a gluten-free packaged product might be safe to consume for those with CD, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.
Finding gluten-free foods that are also good for you is key in maintaining a healthy weight, preventing diseases related to poor nutrition or obesity, and just plain feeling good. Check out these tips for choosing the right gluten-free foods.
Read labels carefully
If you have celiac disease, you might think you are a label-reading star — and you probably are when it comes to spotting gluten. However, are you also checking your packaged foods for their fiber content, added sugar, saturated fat, or salt? Many gluten-free foods will add things like sugar, salt, and sometimes fat to make the packaged food more flavorful once the gluten is removed. They are also notoriously low in fiber.
To be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should aim to consume at least 25 milligrams of fiber each day, reduce sodium to less than 2,300 mg, limit saturated fat, and limit added sugars as much as possible.
Choose whole foods
One way to limit the label reading frustration is to avoid packaged foods all together. Let’s be honest — when you look at everything added to most packaged foods, the ingredients read more like science projects than the keys to nutritious meals. Sticking with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, poultry or fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, brown rice, quinoa, gluten-free oats, or other gluten-free grains can provide the nutrition you need without the additives that you don’t.
Avoid fast foods
Not only can it be very hard to find fast food that is not contaminated with gluten, but it is also hard to find healthy foods in most fast food restaurants. To control your CD symptoms and improve your health, be prepared with nutritious foods to avoid the lure of the fast food restaurants. Bringing a packed lunch with healthy foods and having healthy snacks like fruit, yogurt, or almonds on hand can help you pass by those unhealthy choices.
The first thing many of my clients say is that they don’t have time to make all of their meals from scratch. That is where a good meal prep day can be key. If you pick one day per week to grocery shop and cook, you can have healthy meals for the week.
For example, you can cook up quinoa, brown rice, fish, chicken, and four veggies to combine in various ways throughout the week. I like to pick one protein, two veggies, and a grain to heat up later, along with grabbing whole fruit, Greek yogurt, or almonds for snacks. It’s easier than it sounds, will save you money on food, keeps your CD in check (because you know exactly what you are consuming), and it gives you a healthy, balanced diet.
The bottom line
“Gluten free” is not always synonymous with healthy eating, but you can eat healthy foods while maintaining a gluten-free diet with just a little extra organization and label reading.