Sunday, February 28, 2016

How to Go Gluten-Free

Over the years I've had many friends, parents, and co-workers mention that they have to go gluten-free. And since I've been gluten-free for about 6 years I always want to jump in and share my advice and tips but since I don't have a dedicated post about it, my info has always felt scattered. So today I'm going to try and clear through the confusion and simplify the journey to living a gluten-free life.

Several years ago I had a food sensitivity test where my blood was taken and tested on over 100 foods to see what I would react with and gluten (as well as nearly all forms of dairy and coffee) came back as the foods I was most sensitive to. So out it went from my diet. I say it so simply here, but the actual removal of it from my diet was much more difficult. Click here to learn more about the test I had done, and click here to learn more about what food sensitivities are.

Here I am shortly after receiving the news of needing to go gluten-free after I did my initial pantry search for any and all items containing gluten and out they went (I gave them to friends and family members who could tolerate gluten).  But that was the easy part. The more difficult part came from trying to replace those foods I had eaten for years but served me or my digestive system very well.

Here I am saying my final good-bye to gluten back in 2009
as I cleaned out our pantry with all the food I thought was healthy...
unfortunately it wasn't healthy for me anymore.
So whether you have a gluten-sensisitivty, Celiac's Disease, or are just wondering if a short break from gluten could do your body some good, you've come to the right place. I'm going to share with you some tips on how to go gluten-free as well as some of my favorite gluten-free swaps.

Starting with the basics, you first need to know what it is you can have and what you can't on a gluten-free diet, so here's the list.

Ingredients that contain gluten: (If you see this on the ingredient list...stay away from it):
  • whole wheat
  • enriched bleached white flour
  • kamut
  • spelt
  • rye
  • triticale
  • malted barley (beer)
  • oats (because of cross contamination)
  • couscous
  • soy sauce
  • modified food starch (questionable)
Just a warning, if something says it's is wheat-free, it does not mean it is gluten-free it just means it does not contain wheat. To avoid all the items in the list above, you'll want to find only items that state they are gluten-free.  Which pretty much cuts out traditional foods like: bread, bagels, cupcakes, croutons, white and wheat pasta, crackers, some chips, graham crackers, flour tortilla shells, muffins, breadcrumbs or any other breaded food item, soy sauce, and some soups and sauces, just to name a few.

Ingredients that are gluten-free: (So...what's left?):
  • corn
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • tapioca
  • amaranth
  • arrowroot
  • millet
  • quinoa
  • sorghum
  • sweet potatoes
  • teff
  • beans
  • buckwheat (even though the name doesn't seem like it would). 
So now that we know the list let me warn you of a few precautions. In your home you'll want to set up some gluten-free ground rules so that those gluten-free family members can eat and prepare food more safely. Counter to what you might think, it doesn't take much for someone that's gluten-free to be "gluten-ed". You may think they would have to eat an entire piece of wheat bread to feel the effect, but it can be something as little as a crumb of gluten bread or a sprinkle of wheat flour that could  lead to hours of stomach pain, diarrhea, and other uncomfortable digestive symptoms. So although it's impossible to avoid it completely, here's some steps you can take to reduce your risk of being "gluten-ed" especially in your own home.

These tips will apply if you have a member/members of your family that are gluten-free as well as those who eat gluten. If you're whole house is gluten-free, well, you're lucky and disregard these tips!

How to Make Your Home Gluten-Free Friendly...
1.  Try to keep gluten-free food away from gluten-food as much as possible. In my house we have separate toasters, one is gluten-free one is not.

My designated GF toaster.

And it's a good idea to get separate condiments like butter, peanut butter, and jelly that way the knife that's spreading the condiments does not put gluten bread crumbs back into the condiment. Be sure to label the condiments so others know which is cluten-contaiminated and which is gluten-free. Another alternative is to just have the gluten-eating person scoop out their food (butter/jelly etc.) onto a small plate and then spread it from there that way their knife does not touch the condiment a second time.

Here you can see some butter on a  small plate to be used to
spread it without contaminating the butter tub with gluten.

2. Cook gluten foods away from gluten-free foods. Use separate pans, pots, and baking sheets so the gluten items do not come in contact with the gluten-free times. Also while you're cooking make sure to use different spoons or spatulas. You don't want to stir the gluten item and then risk putting it right into the gluten-free item. One tip we do is for things like grilled cheese sandwiches, we cook our gluten-free ones first on the pan and then my husband cooks his gluten sandwich, that way we don't risk any contaminating of the surface.

3. Avoid eating out especially in the beginning. Restaurants are very tricky, unless they state that they are allergy-friendly and that they cook gluten-free food in a gluten-free space, you can bet your "gluten-free food" may come in contact with gluten in some form at the restaurant. The best tip I can give is to do your research before going out to eat. Most restaurants list ingredients and allergens online so that's a good way to narrow down what you can and can't eat. But even then you'll still want to notify your waiter when you order that you have a "gluten allergy" (I find they understand this best) and that you need it to avoid being around other gluten products if possible.

Now that we know some ground rules, then comes the more difficult part, shopping for the gluten-free items. This can be a time of stress and confusion as you try to read the backs of food boxes and search to make sure it is a "safe" food. But I saw it as a fun time to try new foods and almost like a challenge, can I find something that tastes like what I used to eat or maybe even taste better? But before you head out to the store, here's a few tips.

Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping Tips:
1. Just because it's gluten-free doesn't mean it's healthy. Just a simple stroll down the aisles in the gluten-free section of my favorite health food store leads me to find gluten-free versions of foods like pop-tarts, Oreos, donuts, cakes and cookies. But don't think that just because it's gluten-free it's healthier in some way. These items are still "sometimes" foods as I call them, because they contain a lot of sugar and a long ingredient list. Now don't get me wrong, it's nice to have a treat "sometimes" but don't see being gluten-free as an excuse to need these foods, especially if it was something you didn't usually eat before.

Oreos are can  be fun, but just because they are gluten-free doesn't mean they
need to be in your grocery cart.

Keep walking, keep walking...pretend you did not just see frosted "pop tarts"! 

Instead look for gluten-free alternatives to your basic healthy staples, like pasta, breads, cereals, and crackers, aka "anytime foods".

2. Be weary of sauces, soups, and spice packets like for gravy or other meals like this sloppy joe packet as they sometimes contain wheat flour...beware. You wouldn't think this sloppy joe packet would be a gluten-offender but it is. Pay close attention to any type of spice mix, sauce, or pre-made meal, there's a pretty good chance they probably contain some type of gluten.

3. You may find in all your shopping that sometimes it's cheaper and healthier to make your own gluten-free food, especially for baked goods like pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc. Similar to the first tip, I got suckered into thinking that the brand of gluten-free pancakes on the shelf was a better choice for me because it was certified gluten-free, but guess what, I can make my own gluten-free pancakes at my house for much cheaper and with less ingredients and even less sugar. So try your hand at baking (maybe not at first) and see what you can skip buying at the store and make at home instead.

4. If you choose to try your hand at gluten-free baking, you'll need to start a collection of a few gluten-free flours. Unlike wheat-based flours, where you pretty much only need one to get the job done in all your recipes, you will usually need several in most gluten-free recipes to re-create the "gluten-like" texture.

Some of my favorites include: brown rice flour, millet flour, tapioca flour/starch, gluten-free all purpose flour, sorghum flour, potato starch, guar gum/xanthan gum. All of which you can see in  my "gluten-free baking cabinet" shown above.  Lately I've also been trying Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour, and it's been working pretty well.

The gluten-free baking flour section of my local health food store.

Now that we know some of the ground rules and shopping tips here are my favorite swaps, keep in mind I'm vegan as you can read about in this post, so most of these will be gluten-free and vegan alternatives. Also for some, I will share my favorite recipes, as opposed to products available. Just a note, some products do contain egg whites, I'll make note of that later...

My Favorite Gluten-Free Swaps...

Bread: Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Whole Grain Bread *does contain egg whites*

It's the softest, most gluten-like bread I've had. Very yummy.

Tortillas: Trader Joe's Corn Tortillas or Rudi's Plain Tortillas

English muffins:  Food for Life Gluten-Free English Muffins

Perfect topped with some vegan butter and strawberry fruit spread.

Muffins and Biscuits: I used to buy Udi's Gluten-Free Muffins, but then I got tired of paying for them and for all the sugar they contained, so I started making my own. This helped me save money, cut down on sugar, and control all the ingredients. Win-win.

I like these "Pumpkin Chia Muffins" (I add 1/2 cups of
chocolate chips to the recipe and only use 1/2 cup of granulated
sugar, Lakanto in the recipe).

Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins

See my recipe for these "Sweet Potato Biscuits" coming up in next week's video. 
Pancakes: My Gluten-Free, Vegan Pancakes

Cereal: My favorite: Quinoa Chia Crunch

My girls' favorite is anything type of Envriokids cereal.

Another one I like is: Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal Nice and simple, I like to add a little Lakanto sugar on top.

Pasta: My all-time favorite gluten-free noodle is the brand Tinkyada

Never mind this throw-back from my "Say No to GMOs" video!

But Trader Joe's Organic Brown Rice and Quinoa Noodles are also a common staple in my home.

Pizza Crust: I used to make buy my pizza crust at the store (Udi's Gluten-Free Pizza Crusts) but as I did with other items mentioned above, I got tired of paying for it and decided to make my own.

Now I use and love this homemade recipe from Minimalist Baker for the "Best Damn Vegan Pizza".

Snack Bars: I love the short ingredient list of Larabars, my girls love to have one for breakfast or a snack.

Pretzels: Gratify Gluten-Free Pretzels

Graham Crackers: S'moreables Graham Style Crackers

Chips: Bearitos Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips

We also like these Trader Joe's Organic Corn Tortilla Chips.

Cookies:  My favorite store-bought cookie are: Lucy's Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

But most of the time I'd rather save some money and make a soft batch of My Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies...I mean who doesn't want an excuse to eat a little cookie dough?

Ice Cream Cones: Let's Do Gluten Free Ice Cream Cones

Soy Sauce: Bragg's Liquid Aminos

Oatmeal: You could use any type of Certified Gluten-free oats oatmeal brands out there, but personally I can't tolerate oats even if they are gluten-free so instead I use these Ancient Harvest Hot Cereal Flakes to make my own "quinoa oatmeal." Click here to get the recipe.

My oat-free quinoa oatmeal.
Bread crumbs: Ian's bread crumbs

Grains: There are still many types of grains left for you to cook with, here are some of my favorites:

Quinoa: Quinoa is such a great super-grain that's packed with protein. One surprising way I like it is in burritos...

Rice: Rice is another staple in our house and it serves as a great base for veggies with a vegan cheese.

Millet: While not the most commonly used grain, millet can take the place of rice or quinoa in any dish as well. It's a fluffy and smaller than rice.

Well there you have it, how and why I went gluten-free, as well as some of my favorite gluten-free swaps. If you have other favorites to add to the list or other tips for those that are transitioning to a gluten-free diet, post them below. Or if you have any questions for me, post them there too. 
Happy gluten-free eating!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

How to Go Vegan

One part of my diet that makes me feel good inside and out is the fact that I am vegan.

I remember years before going vegan I would hear something in reference to being vegan and think, "That sounds nice and I would do it for the animals, but I have to get my calcium and protein." So with the dairy and meat I stayed. Years later when reading a pregnancy book as we were gearing up to start trying and I was a researching madwoman, I came across a book that caught my eye, Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman. I thought it was just going to be about staying trim and healthy during pregnancy, but as it turns out it was actually about going vegan.

Something about the timing of reading the book before wanting to create a new life (my future baby) and ending life (by eating meat) just wasn't resonating with me anymore. After only being a few chapters in and reading about slaughterhouses, I made the decision then and there that I was no longer going to be eating meat. I wanted nothing to do with the meat and dairy industry and although I was just one person, I knew that I could be one less person contributing to demand for meat and dairy. That book and the many vegan books that followed were truly life-changing in how it's like a light went on in my head and all the sudden my dietary choices lined up with my values and the nurturing love I've always had for all forms of life both human and animals.

Although there were struggles along the way in trying to find replacements and alternatives to have instead of the food I had grown up eating like milk, cheese and meat it was a sacrifice I was willing to  take in order to improve the well-being of animals as well as my own health. Today I'm going to share with you some of the tips I've found to make the transition to a vegan diet easier as well as my favorite vegan swaps.

Tips on Transitioning
One way you can transition to a vegan diet is to go cold turkey and just drop all animal-based items from your diet. Or you could switch them over one at a time. I had a food sensitivity test shortly before going vegan that showed I had a sensitivity to gluten and dairy, so with dairy already out of my diet the swaps were a little easier. I just did one item at a time, such as when one product would run out, I would find a vegan alternative like dairy butter for vegan butter. And later, vegan chicken-like products in place of actual chicken.

Processed Vs. Whole Foods
When I first went vegan there was no where near the selection there is today for meat replacements, dairy replacements, and of course cookie dough replacements (important right?!). But truly sometimes I have to make sure I am staying balanced in my diet. If I do too many processed items in my day like a vegan meat replacement at each meal, or vegan cheese at every dinner, I start to not feel so great. I feel best when I have the more processed items sparingly. Vegan parmesan one night, you bet. The next night maybe I'll have a homemade cheese from cashews to balance it out. Or if we have a vegan chicken alternative one night, the next night we'll just have pasta with veggies.

I think these more processed vegan foods are excellent when you are first starting out on a vegan diet because they feel more familiar and taste similar (minus the dead animal part). But as you go deeper into a vegan diet you may find that you don't need them as much and that you can feel full, nourished and satisfied with beans, lentils, or just veggies. For me it's all about balance. I'm thankful for all the vegan alternatives out there they sure made my transition much easier, but I feel best when I balance them out with whole-food alternatives.

To Soy or Not to Soy
One of the most common questions I get about going vegan is the concern of soy in a vegan diet. Obviously you could go vegan and overload on so much soy that it would probably not be too healthy for you, just as it would it you went crazy on any other one ingredient. But for me I try to keep my soy to a minimum and I only use more whole forms of it. So instead of having soy yogurt, soy milk, soy butter and soy ice cream I find all the soy-free versions I can of these items and save my soy content to true soy items like tofu and tempeh. Even then I try to only have one of them once or twice a week...that's it. So try it out and see what balance works for you.

Now that you know some of my vegan tips, let's get started with that list of my favorite vegan swaps:

Here's the list... Butter: Earth Balance Buttery Spread, I like this soy-free version.

Milk: Trader Joe's Organic Rice Drink Original, although there are tons of non-dairy milks on the market these days I always come back to rice milk. It's neutral tasting and goes well with pretty much everything. It's also carrageenan-free.

Rice milk not your thing? There's tons out there, give it a go and see what you like!
Cheese: Daiya Cheddar and Mozzarella Shreds, these taste and melt very much like regular cheese. We use them for nachos, cheesy toast, pizzas, and casseroles. I use the products that are carrageenan-free.

They even have a Cheddar Style Slices product that has been taking our
vegan grilled cheese to the next level...(the product linked does contain carrageenan,
but the one in the picture does not, kind of confusing)

Case in point...yum!

Cream Cheese: Daiya Plain Cream Cheese Style Spread, while not a common item I use it serves as a nice topping for toast or as a base in a vegan cheese for pasta.

Sour Cream: "Homemade Vegan Sour Cream" from cashews based on the recipe at "Oh She Glows" blog. This recipe just has cashews, water, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt and it works great for all your sour cream needs, minus the usual dairy!

Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip: Just Mayo, gluten-free, vegan, egg-free topping.

My personal favorite is actually the Chipotle Just Mayo, it's a bit spicy but
very delicious!
I like to mix it with ketchup and dip my homemade fries in it!
Parmesan Cheese: Go Veggie Grated Parmesan Style Topping, while more processed, this is a great topping for pastas or veggies.

One of my favorite dishes as a kid was plain noodles with parmesan cheese
so this Go Veggie Parmesan helps me re-create it (minus the dairy).
Yogurt: Almond Dream or Coconut Dream Yogurt, my girls love yogurt and these are my favorite soy-free yogurts that are carrageenan-free and somewhat low in sugar.

Ice Cream: SO Delicious Coconut Milk Vanilla Bean, simple ingredient list, creamy texture a blank slate to top with fruit or chocolate chips.

Eggs: Egg Replacer, measure this out to take the place of traditional eggs in your baking recipes. Sometimes I also just a combo of applesauce to take the place of eggs or ground flax seeds. 

Veggie Burgers: To me there are two types of veggie burgers, veggie burgers that are like real meat and veggie burgers that are more veggie-like. 

In the past my husband, who is vegetarian, used to use burgers like this Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime or Boca Flame Grilled Burger.  

But since discovering GMOs, we've swapped those out for semi-healthier options like: Beyond Meat's Beast Burger.

On the more veggie side of things, you know those burgers I was referring to earlier that are not burger or meat like at all but instead more veggie-full, there are: Hilary's World Best Veggie Burger (and other varieties).

Or Sunshine Burgers that combine gluten-free grains and veggies to make a veggie burger as well.

Personally we've found a nice middle ground with some Wildwood Organic Gluten-Free Veggie Burgers that are made from sprouted soy beans. 

Perfect with a little BBQ sauce and ketchup!

Chicken: Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips, well I totally did a double take on the package when I first tasted these strips because I was for sure I had accidentally eaten meat. Luckily I was wrong and they were totally vegan, whew!  We use these for all of our gluten-free, vegan chicken-like needs.

While pregnant, I craved these with BBQ sauce daily!

If you can have gluten, my hubby likes these Gardein
Crispy Tenders as a chicken replacement too.
Sliced Meat: Tofurky, while I can't eat this since it has gluten, my husband enjoys this vegan version of sliced lunch meat on sandwiches for lunch.

Ground Beef: Tempeh, this is actually fermented soy beans and although it doesn't look too tasty right out of the package, once you chop it up in the food processor and sauté it, it can take on the texture of ground beef.

I like to add it to nachos.

As well as spaghetti sauce.
Another ground beef alternative is TVP, which stands for Textured Vegetable Protein. This is a more processed meat alternative made from "defatted soy flakes" but once you add warm water to it, it will create a meat-like crumble texture.

My favorite way to use it was as a stir-in with spaghetti sauce to increase
the protein. 

Another pre-made alternative to ground beef is Beefy Crumbles by Beyond Meat.
Tofu: Now tofu does not resemble any form of meat, but it is a great meat replacement that my vegan family has come to love. I like it because it has a short ingredient list and I can get it organic and no-GMO. 
Nasoya is my favorite brand of tofu, and I make sure to get Extra Firm.

This tofu shirt is one of my favorites too from Solid Threads.
The key to making tofu is to press it first to get the water out of it and then bake it or sauté it on the stove.  Here's some of my favorite tofu recipes...

Marshmallows: Dandies Mini-Vegan Marshmallows, now marshmallows aren't really one of my favorite foods, but with two young kids in the house, they make for a great little treat. These do contain carrageenan, so if you are avoiding that you'll want to skip these.

Protein Powder: Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Chocolate, this is my go-to protein powder of choice that I have with my morning smoothie each day to give me a little boost of protein after my workout.

I usually make enough for Mila and I. 

This is a new favorite of mine too called Pacha Protein,
it contains raw, vegan, no-GMO protein as well
as greens like E-3 Live, among others. It has a slight
cinnamon flavor, yum!
So there you have it, my favorite vegan swaps as well as some tips on how to go vegan. What would you add to the list? Share below, or post if you have any questions for me. Happy Vegan Eating!

Spreading the vegan love to the next generation...
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