5 Tips to Avoid the Pitfalls of Processed Gluten-Free Food and Weight Gain
[If you've gained unwanted weight on the gluten-free diet, you're not alone. Sometimes, it's because your body is finally absorbing nutrients. Sometimes, it's because you're eating too much gluten-free junk. We asked Erin Elberson Lyon of Gluten-Free Fitness to share her tips on keeping your weight in check while maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle.]
Ah, the siren song of the gluten-free label.
After being newly diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there’s nothing quite so comforting as walking down the aisle of your favorite grocery or health food store and seeing “gluten-free” on a package of crackers.
Or a package of cookies.
Or a cake.
Or a loaf of bread.
Learning you have to follow a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life can be an overwhelming moment. You start thinking of what you can’t eat, of all the things you’ll miss, and then you walk into the store and see all this wonderful food labeled gluten-free! Maybe it will be OK.
So, you walk through the aisles and fill your cart up with boxes and bags of all shapes, sizes and varieties. You never really ate crackers before, but these say gluten-free, so better buy them! And look – cupcakes! Better buy those, too. You know, just in case Armageddon comes to fruition and access to gluten-free food is eliminated. And, well, you deserve it. Because you are “suffering” with celiac disease.
Many of us with a medical diagnosis that limits our food choices have been in that thought pattern. I know I have. The joy of seeing things that are safe to eat overcomes all rational thought of if this item would be something you would have eaten before. Or, if the item is a nutritionally sound choice at all. I have bought mixes of things I would never have dreamed of eating prior to being diagnosed with celiac.
But I bought them. Because I could. And they were safe.
As time went on, I learned to look beyond the gluten-free label and look at actual nutritional value. To examine if the food I was putting into my mouth was taking me toward or further away from my health and athletic goals. Many times packaged and processed gluten-free food is rich in simple carbohydrate and starches. It also may have a higher fat content than its “gluten-y” counterpart. These are not necessarily bad things all the time, but certainly something to take into consideration. If you would not ordinarily have cookies after every meal, having them now because they are gluten-free is not something I can recommend. Having this abundance of packaged and minimally nutritious food can contribute to the weight gain that some people experience, gluten-free or not.
Happily, there has been an increased movement toward higher nutrition in pre-packaged foods over the past few years, and now there are some quite good choices out there.
There’s the key. Make an educated, informed choice. Don’t just grab because it says gluten-free.
Here are 5 quick tips to help you avoid the pitfalls of processed gluten-free food and potentially associated weight gain:
1. Learn how to read nutritional facts and ingredient labels.
Ideally, we’d all eat whole foods and fruits for snacks all the time, but let’s be real. Sometimes you’re going to have gluten-free pasta, and you want to make an informed choice.
2. Make the majority of your diet whole, unprocessed (without a label) foods.
Many foods are naturally gluten-free (YAY!) and so need no gluten-free label. Think fresh meats, eggs, dairy, poultry, fish, veggies, fruits, potatoes, nuts, seeds, and oils. There is a bounty of delicious, nutritious naturally gluten-free food out there, and these foods give you a lot of nutritional bang for your caloric buck. There are naturally gluten-free grains such as quinoa and rice as well, just be aware of potential cross-contamination in processing. If in doubt, don’t eat it until you do some research.
3. Learn how to cook.
I’m not saying you need to be Betty Crocker over here. But learning how to make a few simple dishes and feed yourself (and your family, if appropriate) can go a long way to increasing your ability to use those whole, naturally gluten-free foods in tasty ways. Preparing food at home lets you control the quality of your ingredients, as well as how those ingredients are prepared. And as a bonus, you can reduce your chances of getting cross-contaminated when you prepare your own food and eat at home. Plus, it’s cheaper. Here’s my suggestion of dishes to learn:
- Roast or crock pot cook a whole chicken. The possibilities are endless for what you can use that meat and bones for.
- Meatloaf/meatballs. Seriously. It’s still good. Just use almond meal instead of breadcrumbs.
- Grill steaks, chicken, tofu, etc.
- A good marinara sauce. You can add protein of your choice like meat or chicken sausage and serve over spaghetti squash. Delish.
- Chili (check your seasonings for hidden gluten)
- Tacos with corn tortillas, lettuce cups, or as a salad.
Those dishes can easily take you through quite a few meals, and are easy to learn. Cooking can actually be fun once you give it a shot.
4. Move your body.
Most people do not get enough activity, and it has nothing to do with having celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Exercise/physical activity is important. Period. You don’t have to run a marathon, but you do have to move.
5. When you pick up a package of gluten-free food, ask yourself if it is something you truly, genuinely want to eat.
That you want to eat it for the food that it is, and not just because it is “safe” or you are “entitled.” If so, then eat it and enjoy. If not…reconsider that choice. Perhaps an apple?
While this is far from an all inclusive list, I hope this helps get you started on the path to making choices that go beyond just a gluten-free label.
Eat well and be well!
- Erin Elberson Lyon