If you?re looking to improve your overall health and well-being, improving your diet is the most important place to start. Even if you?re already gluten-free, there are plenty of ways within the gluten-free diet to make better choices that will move you further along on your journey to wellness. If you?re new to the gluten-free diet, the sooner you learn to make the best choices the better off you?ll be.
When deciding to make a change like this I always recommend starting with a kitchen cleanse. Look through your cupboards and fridge and get rid of the things that no longer serve you in this healthier way of life. A fresh start can be really motivating. I know it can be difficult to throw food away ? I hate to waste. If you have non-perishable items to get rid of I recommend donating them to a local food bank. What cannot be saved is a small sacrifice to make in the name of good health ? just go for it!
What follows is a basic starter guide meant to help you identify what needs to go in the trash and what items should have a new home in your healthier kitchen!
Sugar and Simple Carbs
About two years ago, I was working to cut high fructose corn syrup out of my diet and I was blown away by how many everyday products contain it. It made me realize how much added sugar – meaning not naturally occurring like in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) – we are consuming on a daily basis that we?re not even aware of. I?m all for indulging in the occasional sugary treat, it?s all about balance! But on an everyday basis, it?s best to limit this. I think you?ll be surprised to learn that added sugar is sneaky and it goes by many different names ? in fact it has over 50 different aliases that appear on food labels! When you really take a hard look at the products in your pantry, I think you?ll be shocked too.
Regardless of the name of the added sugar, it all has the same negative effect on the body in high quantities, including weight gain. Simple carbohydrates like white bread, white flours and white rice break down into sugars in the body, so you?ll want to avoid those when possible as well.
When you?re looking at food labels, look for how many grams of sugar there are per serving. A serving may be much smaller than you think! A good visual to help you understand how much added sugar you?re eating is to relate grams to teaspoons. Four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. So for every four grams of sugar you eat, you are literally eating a spoon of it! Those are all empty calories that offer no nutrition for your body.
Aside from the obvious culprits like candy, soda, baked goods and sugary juices ? a lot of sugar hides in breakfast foods, processed or frozen foods, and condiments.
What to Ditch
Sugary cereals, flavored yogurts, frosted breakfast bars, frozen baked goods, high sugar dressings, white rice, white breads, white flours and white starch pastas.
What to Stock Up On
Gluten-free oatmeal like Bob?s Redmill Quick Cooking Gluten-Free Oats. Ready in just a few minutes, you can top it with a scoop of almond butter, cinnamon and fresh fruit for a fiber rich, energizing breakfast. If you can tolerate dairy, I recommend Siggi?s yogurt. Their yogurt is low in sugar and made using milk from farmers who do not use growth hormones such as rBGH. Try their plain flavor and top it with fresh fruit or chopped nuts. If you need a grab and go breakfast, I like Larabars because they are all gluten-free and made using very simple whole foods like nuts, ground dates and banana with their fiber intact. If you often eat cereal for breakfast, try Rice Chex and top your bowl with fresh fruit and cinnamon or a few drops of vanilla extract. Invest in a good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar to use as the base for homemade salad dressings and marinades.
Stick with whole grains like brown rice, and choose whole grain flours, breads and pastas. I like Canyon Bakehouse?s 7 grain gluten-free bread and Food for Life?s line of Sprouted for Life gluten-free breads. When I buy pasta, I like to see very few ingredients like brown rice, or a mix of brown rice, quinoa and corn. I like the Jovival and Lundberg brands. For baking flours, I choose Bob?s Red Mill brown rice, almond and buckwheat flours.
Pick up any bag of chips, roasted nuts, condiment or snack food and you?re likely to see a variety of oils in the ingredients list. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about which oils are healthy and which aren?t. Choosing healthy oil is all about striking the right balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, western diets often contain too much omega-6 (mostly found in packaged foods and refined plant oils) and not enough omega 3 (found in wild fish and some unrefined plant oils), which can lead to inflammation in the body.
When choosing oil, it?s also important to keep in mind how the oil was processed. Cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oils are best because they?re extracted by machine as opposed to a chemical extraction process. Cold-pressed oils also retain all the flavor and nutrients that are altered and destroyed by heat. Speaking of heat, the smoke point of oil (the temperature at which an oil begins to break down) is also important. Oils with higher smoke points are better for high heat cooking methods and oils with a low smoke point are better for cold preparations like salad dressings.
What to Ditch
Absolutely anything containing trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils. These are the absolute worst oils you can put in your body. Partial hydrogenation is the forced chemical addition of hydrogen into certain omega-6 oils to make them artificially hard at room temperature. Think peanut butter that never separates. Our bodies can?t process these oils so they linger in our systems and increase our risk of cardiovascular disease. Ditch grapeseed oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil and corn oil. These oils all have unhealthy ratios of omega-6 fatty acids.
What to Stock Up On
Olive oil. It?s rich in polyphenols, which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Choose extra virgin for salad dressings and virgin or pure for saut?ing, baking or roasting.
>> FLAXSEED OIL has a very high level of omega-3s, which can have cardio protective effects. You must store this oil in the fridge as it spoils quickly if left out. It should only be used in cold preparations, not for cooking.
>> CANOLA OIL is high in omega-3s and has a very high smoke point so it?s great for all around cooking. Non-organic canola oil is usually genetically modified and processed using a chemical solvent, so choose organic if you prefer to avoid this.
>> AVOCADO OIL is another oil with a very high smoke point and it?s full of vitamin E, which is great for the skin. The downside is that it can be pricey.
Aside from replacing the oils you use to cook with, pay close attention to the packaged foods in your home when deciding what to dispose of. Replace nuts roasted in unhealthy oils with raw nuts for snacking. Replace unhealthy nut butters with nut butters that contain just the roasted or raw nuts themselves. I like Artisana Organics, Whole Food?s 365 Organic nut butters and Crazy Richard?s nut butters.
When stocking up on packaged snacks, always check the oils used and opt for snacks with minimal, easy to understand ingredients. For example, if I need to buy chips, I like Boulder Canyon?s olive oil kettle chips made with just potatoes, olive oil and sea salt.
Salt intake is essential in order to keep our bodies functioning optimally. It plays a critical role in muscle function and fluid balance. The problem is, most of us are eating way too much salt. The average American is eating 50 percent more than the recommended daily amount of sodium! Diets high in sodium increase blood pressure and over time, can lead to kidney damage and other health issues. Packaged foods, frozen meals and sauces are the main offenders so it?s important to get in the habit of checking the per-serving amount of sodium in the foods you?re buying.
What to Ditch
Processed meats. If meat like bacon or ham can keep well in the fridge for many days or even weeks, that?s a good sign that it?s chock full of preserving sodium. Take a look through your sauces, flavorings, condiments, stocks, canned soups and seasonings. For example, one tablespoon of soy sauce will cost you around 880 mg or 36 percent of your daily allowance of sodium! Rummage through your snacks and part with highly salted chips and crackers. Take a peek in your freezer as well. Microwavable dinners, pizzas and prepared frozen foods are notorious for having high sodium content.
What to Stock Up On
Fresh cuts of meat and fresh vegetables you season yourself with herbs and a high quality sea salt. Choose low sodium, gluten-free brands of soup stock and sauces. I like Pacific?s line of gluten-free low sodium broths. Use low sodium gluten-free tamari from San-J in place of full sodium varieties. If you?re shopping for something like tomato sauce, compare the brands available to you and choose the lowest sodium option. For snacks, try air popped popcorn, unsalted nuts, unsalted tortilla chips you lightly salt yourself or lightly salted or reduced sodium crackers.
By Emily Freedner, a certified health coach and holistic health practitioner