Gluten-Free Eating: How and Where to Shop

I have been eating gluten-free for a few years now. I am by no means an expert, but I do feel that I have some tricks and tips up my sleeve and love to share, so here we go!

First, a little background.

Why am I gluten-free?

A few years ago, I suffered an extremely harsh bout of food poisoning, which ruined my gut villi and lining, making me extremely sensitive to gluten. I react to gluten like a Celiac, so I avoid it all even though my diagnosis came back as “extreme gluten intolerance”.  Looking back on my medical records, my doctor wonders if I always had a gluten sensitivity: my energy levels, bloat and IBS in the past could have been caused by gluten! It is sometimes hard to catch. If you are wondering whether you could be gluten-intolerant, try going gluten-free and see how you feel- if it helps, there is no harm in cutting out gluten (in my humble opinion).

What do you eat?

I get asked this ALL the time. I know, it’s hard to imagine a world without toast for breakfast.

It’s so easy to fall into the processed food trap. There are so many gluten-free options now. A few short years ago, you had to search out specialty shops for gluten-free food or flours to create your own….but now there are huge gluten-free sections at every Canadian grocery store.

I urge you to try and stay away from the processed gluten-free food. It usually has a whole bunch of weird things to keep it shelf-stable and a bunch of sugar to make it taste good.  Every once in awhile, I will buy hotdog buns or bread, but that’s very rare.  I don’t want to jeopardize the health of my gut any longer, and I think any added chemicals and sugar will only make it worse.

Instead, stick to the outside aisles where there is meat and produce. If you don’t think you will eat fresh fruit and veg before it goes bad, buy frozen! I will share my fave frozen fruit and veg in a separate post, but some of it is as good as fresh. Experiment and enjoy.

Lettuce makes a great bun, nuts make a great flour substitute or topping on almost everything, and root veg are very filling. I eat a lot of veggies and meat (hormone and antibiotic free). If I am craving bread, I eat potatoes. Check Pinterest for recipes and try them out. I have some faves which I will share here later on.

Initially, grocery shopping will feel daunting and expensive, but once you stock your kitchen with a few staple ingredients it is just a matter of refilling those staples occasionally and buying “filler” ingredients to round out a meal.

Where do you shop?

Gluten-free is not a weird thing anymore- more and more of us are being forced into the gluten-free lifestyle and this is a good thing. Restaurants have taken notice and no longer sneer at you when you ask to see the gluten free options, grocery stores have dedicated gluten free areas, and even food trucks write gluten free on their menus. It is no longer a niche market but an accepted choice. The gluten-free people in the world is growing and being marketed to! YAY. This means you can basically shop anywhere!

Now, because it is trendy, certain companies are buying in to it- they will mark packages “gluten-free” and upping their prices. Do your research. Some things are naturally gluten-free (like quinoa) and don’t need to be marked. Now, if you are Celiac, maybe you want to ensure that it is made in a gluten-free facility and will buy the marked package of quinoa, but my understanding is that quinoa is made overseas, in its own facility and therefore will naturally be gluten-free. Oats, however, need to be marked gluten-free. There is a lot of cross-contamination otherwise and I have had some pretty nasty symptoms from non-gluten-free oats.

After researching a bit, pick your favourite store! I like Co-op for produce, since it seems to last longer, and Superstore or Co-op for meat since I buy antibiotic and hormone free meat to protect my gut from any bad influences. (My gut is like a fussy baby, I swear.)

I find Safeway, Superstore and Co-op all have a decent gluten-free selection of food. I don’t like Superstore’s frozen veg since it doesn’t seem the same quality as Safeway or Co-op and isn’t worth the lower prices, but it is personal preference. Look for Bob’s Red Mill products at all of these stores- I find rice flour, almond flour and flax seed come in handy!

At any of these stores, they either have a gluten-free area or their gluten-free options are in with the rest. Shop frozen, canned and fresh at all of these stores- the possibilities are endless.

Stocking your kitchen

Which brings me to stocking your kitchen. At first, I was lost. Gone was my breakfast of cereal and toast, gone were my lunchtimes of sandwiches, gone were my suppers of pasta and pizza.

Things have come a long way in a few years. Now, you can buy gluten-free bread, pizza shells and pastas. You can go nuts with gluten-free carbs. Don’t!! Please consider this as a time to change your mindset and approach to food. Although you will be gluten-free you won’t be getting better. You will still feel bloated and sluggish. Now is the time to change your eating for the better. Avoiding carbs when gluten-free seems daunting at first, but I promise you it becomes easy.

There are a few staple ingredients to consider. Before you went gluten-free, gluten was doing a number on your stomach and your gut. You want to repair this. The best way to do this is “eat the rainbow”. Cheesy, yes, and maybe said too often, but it is a popular saying because it is true. It is the best way to feel better and repair any damage gluten did before you realized your body hates it.

Other easy ways to add fruit and veg into your diet are soups, stews and stir-fries!

Here are my go-to ingredients:

Nuts are your friend. 

Before becoming gluten-free, I was not a fan of nuts. As I ate less carbs and sugars, my taste-buds changed and I slowly became addicted to them. I became more adventurous when I became gluten-free and my options narrowed, I think.

Nuts are great. My faves are almonds, walnuts and pecans. I am warming up to sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanuts. Sometimes the bulk section is cheaper and sometimes the plastic bags on the shelf are cheaper. (Side note- It hurts me a little to be adding more plastic to the environment, so if I buy the plastic bags of nuts, I always reuse (they make good sandwich bags for the husband or kids) and then recycle.) I have heard Bulk Barn is comparable in price or cheaper during sales, plus you can bring in your own container, so I will check there next.

The great thing about nuts is that they are filling and good for you. They make a salad or soup more satisfying, add a crunch to stews and are great on yogurt with berries for breakfast. I also add them to smoothies if I want a fast breakfast that will keep me full, longer.

They also make a great snack!! I used to add chocolate chips or raisins but now I find that most nuts are sweet on their own- especially almonds. Almonds are a great thing to pack in your purse as a fast pick-me-up when your energy is lagging. I always have a small container with me.

Nuts make a great flour substitute. My food processor grinds mine up into a fine flour that I can use to make breakfast muffins, breads or crust. Almonds and walnuts seem to work the best for this but I have used peanuts, pecans (but that’s expensive) and -once, accidentally- my husband’s stash of cashews. You can also make homemade butters out of nuts, but I get lazy and buy mine. If you are interested, Google it and let me know if you find some keeper recipes! Keep nuts on hand, always.

Eat the rainbow.

Fortunately, I have always loved fruits and vegetables.  But if you don’t, start exploring and find out which ones you love. Personally, I think you should ignore the hype on what’s good for you and what’s trendy. Fruit and veg are naturally gluten-free so just focus on the tastes you love and go crazy. Enjoy what you like, try to eat one new fruit or vegetable each week and explore different ways to cook them.

The easiest breakfast in the world is a smoothie and you can go wild tossing stuff in until it tastes good, which is my method, or you can look up recipes. Hemsley and Hemsley and Jeannette Hyde have some of my favourites but Pinterest is a smoothie recipe gold mine. I have a wonderful single serve blender that I can take along with me if I run out of time and I’m running out the door.

Other easy ways to add fruit and veg into your diet are soups, stews and stir-fries! I love just tossing stuff into those and tasting as I go, but you can find a lot of wonderful recipes online.  If you have a slow-cooker, you can toss ingredients in before bed, store it in the fridge and turn it on in the morning. That evening you come home to a soup or stew which is lovely after a day at work and great for our busy lives! Plus, it will be gluten-free, gut-friendly and full of real food.

My pitfall is eating the same veggies over and over and over- I get stuck on a hamster wheel of banana, tomato, spinach and squash. It’s important for your gut bacteria to keep switching it up. Keep that in mind when you are shopping. If you’re not sure you will use a new veg right away, buy frozen. I do this with broccoli! I tend to buy fresh broccoli and forget that it’s there so it goes bad. Now, I buy frozen. It is easier to prepare (no chopping!) and tastes as great as the fresh stuff. Brown rice and broccoli with spices is a great quick meal, if you make the rice in a big batch beforehand and add frozen broccoli that day. Sprinkle some heated walnuts on top and it’s very filling and yummy!

Squash is quickly made in the microwave- just heat on high for 10 minutes and peel it while still warm- and can be eaten with a salad. There are so many easy and quick ways to add fruit and veggies to every meal that it makes mealtime without gluten easy. Keep tamari sauce on hand and have a well-stocked spice cabinet and off you go. You won’t even miss bread, I promise. (For example, I now prefer lettuce wrapped burgers over buns and I believe eventually you will, too!)

Meat and Eggs. 

If you are vegan or vegetarian, substitute this title with “chickpeas and black beans” and think of your fave go-to recipes for that (yum, hummus and veggie chili!). If you’re not, read on.

I hope you love eggs! One of my biggest go-to is eggs. An egg scramble makes a good breakfast and two fried eggs with tomato slices and a few mushrooms between reminds me of a sandwich. A favourite of mine is cold quiche for lunch or an over-easy egg on top of spinach salad for breakfast or lunch. When I first became gluten-free, I ate so many eggs that my kid put “eggs” as my fave food on his preschool “About My Mom” paper! I was at a loss on what to eat, so I ate a lot of eggs for breakfast. Eggs are still one of my fave breakfasts since it only takes a minute to scramble a couple with spinach and mushrooms or whatever leftover veggies I have from the night before. (Today it was carrots and cold potatoes with wilted spinach).

I love meat but I save that for dinnertime and we try to limit it to three times a week. I love a well cooked piece of pork with a huge salad, or meatballs on top of spinach and arugula instead of pasta. Arugula is SO good with meat since it has a peppery bite to it. My other favourite thing is to roast a chicken on Sunday! It’s really easy…all of these years I thought it was a THING, but it is easier than I imagined. Roasting a chicken is just as easy as frying up some chicken breasts, but tastier, and you can make soup broth after (also really easy).  My favourite is rosemary and lemon roast chicken, where you basically rub it with salt and pepper, chop rosemary and add it in olive oil so it sticks to the chicken, rub that on top, shove some lemons inside and pop it in the oven for an hour and a half. (For an example of the many recipes on Google, go HERE).

Afterward, you can make gut healing broth and use that for a future soup, stew, or to drink. YUM. Use your almonds to make a gluten-free bread from scratch or check out Hemsley and Hemsley’s flax seed buns and you could make a chicken sandwich for lunch the next day.

It is no longer a niche market but an accepted choice. The gluten-free people in the world is growing and being marketed to!

Dairy.

When you are gluten-free you will probably find dairy bugs you now, too. It sucks, but, if this is also the case for you, get used to the taste of non-dairy milk. I like to bounce between almond and soy.

I find that cheese bothers me, except hard cheese like parmesan, so I avoid cheese. If you can get used to the taste, Bob’s Red Mill nutritional yeast is a great substitute for cheese in omelettes or as a “cheese” sauce on broccoli. (No, not getting paid to say this- I wish!). It is also surprisingly good on popcorn.

The only dairy that doesn’t seem to bug me is plain yogurt and kefir. Kefir is also really good for your gut and a great snack between meals.

Let’s talk dessert. 

I love dessert as a treat and I used to love cookies and cakes, a LOT. In fact, I still miss a proper donut or chewy cookie.

Cookies are great made with gluten-free flour (my fave brand for this is Robin Hood), but if you are trying to wean yourself off of treats, nature to the rescue.

Apples are great with a bit of nut butter as a dessert or sweet snack. You can make your own, but I don’t. I just make sure I buy the nut butter without added sugar. If you are craving a huge hit of sugar, Medjool dates with a bit of nut butter slathered inside is amazing. Try to limit yourself to 2 or 3 since they are basically nature’s candy! Or try putting an almond where the pit used to be and eating the dates that way- it reminds me of peanut M&M’s! And we all know the banana with peanut butter on it trick.

If you are allergic to nuts, plain Medjool dates are great, or you can make a quick baked apple with THIS RECIPE, sans the added nuts. And berries are nature’s dessert all by themselves.

I hope this list helps you navigate the world of gluten-free a little more effortlessly.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments. 

 

Keep reading…..

The Three Best Gluten-Free Alternatives!

Gut Health Help: Article Roundup.

A Quick & Super-Yummy Pork Chop Recipe for Busy Days.

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