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Every time something good happens, it’s compared to the invention of sliced bread. Could you imagine a life without bread? Or muffins, croissants, or birthday cake?

It’s nice to see more gluten-free options at restaurants and grocery stores, especially for people who have celiac disease. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that affects about 1% of the population and virtually destroys the intestinal tract.

Many people who aren’t “celiac” are also leading a gluten—or at least wheat—free lifestyle to lose weight or avoid bloating, since nutritionists blame bread as the bane of many diets. Avoiding gluten may make people more energetic and less depressed.

I attempted to follow a gluten-free diet to dig deeper into this trend. 

Gluten Free vs. Wheat Free

Firstly, being gluten free is much more restrictive than being wheat free. Those on the former diet can’t eat wheat because it has the gluten protein, but also can’t eat other gluten-containing grains like barley or rye. 

When it comes to buying grocery items that are gluten free, I’ve never understood why they’re so darn expensive. Why am I paying more when they are taking out the gluten? And when you check out the ingredient listings, they’re pretty high in calories, non? If you are trying to shed some pounds, a slice of gluten-free bread could count as your entire breakfast!

Moreover, gluten-free products are made with refined, unenriched grains and starches, meaning they’re low in fiber, iron, folate, riboflavin, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc. If I wanted to eat something that is high in calories and low in nutrients, it would be a burger and fries with chicken wings. (If you have celiac, please forgive me.) I will mention, however, that I’m a huge fan of Mary’s Crackers, which are gluten free. They’re delicious and that’s coming from me, a cracker connoisseur.

That being said, I understand why some people want to cut the carbs and wheat to eat a little cleaner, or at least to feel like they are. Sure, whole-grain bread in moderation isn’t bad for you, though it’s hard to stop at just one slice. Here’s a little guide on how to be gluten free.

quinoa fried rice.jpgFirst step: Quinoa

Quinoa is your new best friend. It’s a high-protein seed that is prepared like whole grains such as rice. The best part is that it’s faster to make, which is great after a long day at work. If you prefer rice, you can enjoy that too. I recommend getting brown or wild over white. 

I’m a fan of taking cooked quinoa and sautéing it with meat or seafood and some vegetables to make a style of stir-fry. This Quinoa “Fried Rice” recipe by Damn Delicious is just so damn delicious (no pun intended). It isn’t like fried food you get at the mall’s food court—it’s much healthier.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1 zucchini, chopped
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 carrots, peeled and grated
3 cups cooked quinoa
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 green onions, sliced
Sriracha, for serving

 

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add eggs and fry until cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side, flipping only once. Let cool before dicing into small pieces.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring often, until onions have become translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
Add mushrooms, broccoli and zucchini. Cook, stirring constantly, until vegetables are tender, about 3-4 minutes.
Add corn, peas, carrots and quinoa. Cook, stirring constantly, until heated through, about 1-2 minutes.
Add ginger and soy sauce, and gently toss to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, until heated through, about 2 minutes.
Stir in green onions and eggs.
Serve immediately, drizzled with Sriracha, if desired

quinoa breakfast.jpgI’m throwing in another recipe because I’m super excited to make this Apple Banana Quinoa Breakfast Cups from Pums and Irons. When you go gluten free, it’s hard to find breakfast foods that doesn’t consists of eggs. Don’t get me wrong, I love eggs, but I get bored if I eat it every day. Plus, I’m lazy in the morning and like to grab something quick (and healthy) in the morning.

Ingredients:

½ cup applesauce
1 cup mashed banana (about 3 bananas)
1 banana for slicing
1 cup cooked quinoa (about ½ cup dry)
2 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
½ cup almond milk
¼ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 apple, peeled and chopped

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a muffin tin (I use olive oil).
Cook the quinoa. Bring ¾ up water to a boil, pour in ½ cup dry quinoa, reduce to a simmer until fluffy—about 12 minutes.
Mix applesauce, mashed banana, almond milk, honey and vanilla in a bowl.
Mix dry ingredients (quinoa, oats, cinnamon) in a separate bowl. Slowly stir the wet into the dry until fully combined.
Peel core and chop up an apple. Mix the apple chunks into the bowl.
Fill each of the muffin cups to the top with the quinoa mixture. Add a banana slice or two to the top of each.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Let cool for 5 minutes, then enjoy one warm!

Second Step: Get reacquainted with fruits and vegetables

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Fruits and vegetables will also become your friends. Fall in love with seasonal produce and talk about all the antioxidants your body will be absorbing. You can also “cheat” by eating starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes.

There may or may not be a whole lot of truth to the belief that colourful fruits and vegetables are more nutritious, but they do make for a beautiful dish. A salad is much more appealing (in my opinion) when there are a wide variety of colourful vegetables as well as some chopped fruits and nuts. 

But when it comes to salad dressing, do be aware of the store-bought items as most contain lots of sugar and perhaps gluten. Check out this Quinoa Salad with Almonds, Feta and Summer Vegetables recipe from NutHealth. And to be safe, make your own dressing such as this Basil Chive Vinagrette.

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
3 ounces cubed feta cheese
½ cup sliced almonds, roasted
½ pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small zucchini, trimmed and diced
2 scallions, diced

 

Directions

Place quinoa in a medium pot and rinse with water.
Strain out water; add broth and turn heat to high.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered until liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
Cool and toss gently with feta, almonds, vegetables and vinaigrette.
Serve.

Don’t Skip the Protein

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Stock up on protein. There are plenty of gluten-free options like chicken, meat, eggs, and seafood. You can also educate yourself on new sauces, spices, and herbs in which to marinate your protein, though be aware that some of them contain gluten (as will some spice mixes so read the ingredients!). For vegetarians, tofu and edamame are gluten free. And remember the Quinoa: it has lots of protein!

Chicken is a staple in my diet but it’s good to add interesting twists on how to prepare it. Here is a great recipe from Kayln’s Kitchen to make Baked Chicken stuffed with Pesto and Cheese

Ingredients:

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T of your favorite commercial pesto
2 T low-fat sour cream
2 T grated mozzarella cheese
(I used heaping tablespoons of pesto, sour cream and cheese)
2 eggs, beaten (or if they’re large eggs one will probably be enough)
3 T finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 T almond flour (or almond meal, but almond flour is better for this because it’s more finely ground)
black pepper to taste

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.  Spray a small casserole dish with non-stick spray. Trim any visible fat from chicken breasts, then put them one at a time inside a heavy plastic bag and pound with meat mallet until the chicken is as thin as you can get it.  Don’t worry too much about the shape or whether there are some loose pieces, you can tuck them in when you roll up the chicken.

In a small bowl mix together the basil pesto, sour cream, and grated mozzarella.  Use a rubber scraper to spread a thin layer of this mixture over each chicken breast, stopping about 1/2 inch from the edge of the chicken (so it doesn’t run out so much as it cooks.)   Roll up the chicken breasts and secure them with a couple of toothpicks.  (I roll them so the finished piece is as thin as I can get it so they will cook quickly.

Prepare two bowls, one with the beaten egg and the other with the grated Parmesan-almond flour mixture, seasoned with black pepper to taste.  Dip each chicken breast roll first into the egg mixture and then into the Parmesan-almond flour mixture, patting it on so the chicken breast roll is well-coated with the mixture. 

Put chicken breasts into the casserole dish and bake until the chicken is firm and lightly browned.  (Start checking after about 25-30 minutes; total baking time will be 30-35 minutes.)  

Plain dairy is gluten free, but flavoured products may not be. Remember to double check the label before you buy anything. You never know where that gluten may be hiding.

Do you have experience going gluten-free? Please share your tips in the comments. 

Here are some kitchen items available at Best Buy that you will need to make the above recipes.

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Make your quinoa in a rice cooker and it will come out fluffy and delicious
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Breakfast cups start with a good muffin pan
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Gluten free chicken recipes are easy in a cast iron cocette