If you are one of the roughly 3 million Americans with celiac disease (CD), 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. You should aim to consume at least 25g of fiber throughout the day and reduce sodium to less than 2,400mg, total fat to less than 65g (with less than 20g being saturated), and limit the added sugar to as little 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 they are more like science projects as opposed 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, it is also hard to find healthy foods in most fast food restaurants. In order 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 meals and having healthy snacks like fruit, yogurt, or almonds on hand can help you to 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.
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 organization and label reading.
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.