The Gluten-Free Junk Food Trap

Chocolate chip cookie

This is the last in our celiac blog series for Celiac Awareness Month. Don’t forget to Enter to win our giveaway – a prize package including your favorite flavor Zing bars and a Zing T-shirt. Simply “like” our Facebook page to enter. Winner will be drawn on June 1st. 

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease (CD) or have been gluten-free (GF) for a while, you may have noticed that eating GF is trendy now.  All the celebs are doing it and, with the “coming out” of Ms. Hasselbeck of The View, everybody has jumped on the bandwagon.  Cookies, cakes, breads, cupcakes, scones, crackers, or chips: you name it, you can find a delicious GF version ready to delight your taste buds and put a dent in your pocketbook.

But just because it’s gluten-free, does that mean you should eat it?

After a celiac or gluten-sensitivity diagnosis, most of us experience a vague panic that we can never eat real food again—and then we start scouring the grocery store, purchasing products we would never have noticed as wheat-eaters.  How often did you really purchase chips and packaged cookies in your pre-GF life?  The answer is probably not that often, but now since you’re GF, that package of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies seems like the only thing standing between you and starvation. 

Not so.  Instead, try these five simple tips to eat well on a GF diet:

Eat whole foods

Regardless if you’re gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, vegetarian, low-carb or can eat the whole kit and caboodle, you need to focus on whole foods.  Vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and a little fruit give you the vitamins, minerals and energy you need to stay healthy.  Try grilled chicken and asparagus over quinoa pilaf for a simple weeknight meal (with almost no clean up).  Or eat carrots and celery with your hummus instead of always relying on rice crackers.

Be choosy about packaged food 

I don’t want my wheat-chomping patients to purchase many of the packaged foods out there with questionable ingredient lists… and the same goes for my GF patients.  GF Hamburger Helper?  Fuggedaboutit!  Sure, we all need a snack bar to carry with us for a quick bite on the go and, as a rule, save packaged food for when it makes sense. Read the ingredients label and make sure the ingredients are all natural.

Focus on fiber

You can’t help but purchase some GF carbs in a package, like pasta, bread and some cereals.  So for these staple carbs, always try to purchase the higher-fiber whole grain versions: for instance, choose products made from brown rice flour over ones made from white rice flour.

Flip each package over and see how much fiber is in a serving.  Is it less than a gram?  Three grams?  Five grams?  Your goal should be to eat at least 25 grams of fiber per day to keep your gut healthy and help keep you full, and whole grains will help you get there.  Quinoa, amaranth, millet, and GF oats are all great options to use in place of bread or plain pasta.

Plan ahead

Picture this: you’re out running errands and suddenly it’s lunch time and you’re starving!  You forgot to restock your emergency snack supply in your purse and you’re nowhere near a natural foods market.  What do you do?  Hit a fast food place and hope they have something you can eat?  Don’t eat at all? 

There are no good options in a situation like this; the reality is that we all make bad choices when we’re hungry, so we all need to plan ahead.  Pack a few Zing bars or a lunch.  If you want to eat out, decide ahead of time what you’re going to purchase so you aren’t seduced by the french fries and milkshake.  Being proactive in your food choices will allow you to take control of your health.

Cook!

Wheat-free or wheat-lovin’, we all need to cook more than we do, and if you’re eating food you prepare yourself it’s guaranteed to be healthier and gluten-free.  Many restaurants rely on low-quality fats, sugars and salt to make their products taste good, and the less you eat of them, the better off you’ll be.  It doesn’t have to be fancy—a nice stir-fry or grilled fish with salad will do—and any food preparation you do yourself puts you back in charge of your wellbeing. 

When you eat gluten-free, it’s easy to turn to low-nutrient, high-carb foods (hello cookies!) than relying on natural foods.  With a little planning and preparation you can avoid junk food on a gluten-free diet, just think ahead and focus on real food!

Happy eating!

Photo by Grant Cockrane and courtesy of Free Digital Photos

Autumn Hoverter RDAutumn Hoverter MS, RD, CD is adjunct faculty at Bastyr University and owns FoodWise Nutrition, located in Seattle, WA.  She blogs at FoodWise Nutrition Blog.

 

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