Gluten: The Good, The Bad & The Itchy

If you’re interested in the food world you’ve probably heard at least something about gluten-free eating. My introduction to this topic was brought about somewhat abruptly by a diagnosis of gluten-intolerance in February of 2009. My post-collegiate diet primarily consisted of processed and pre-made food and suddenly I was being told that I couldn’t eat those foods anymore.

At all.

Gluten is a protein composite that can be found in wheat and cereals, in addition to being an additive in a huge variety of other foods where it is commonly used as a thickening agent (ketchup, beer, salad dressings, soy sauce…). Gluten intolerance is a condition where the body cannot digest gluten. The recent increase in diagnoses of gluten-intolerance is thought to be the result of over consumption, essentially the American diet is so heavily saturated with gluten in this day in age that our bodies are starting to reject it.

A great summary on this subject can be found on The Fitnessista – Reader’s Request: Gluten Freedom.

There are varying levels of intolerance to gluten and the symptoms can range from an upset stomach to malnutrition. The most severe form is Celiac Disease, where the body’s inability to process gluten causes the villi of the intestines to atrophy and sufferers cannot consume any gluten. The form of gluten-intolerance that I have is called DH or Duhring’s Disease and I get mild to severe eczema following the consumption of gluten.

After I was diagnosed and thrown into the gluten-free world with a long – And I mean LONG – List of foods I couldn’t consume I was stunned to find not only a community dedicated to this lifestyle, but also a small group of people voluntarily eating this way.

Why would someone give up bread and pasta if they didn’t have to?

I must have asked myself that question a dozen times my first week without gluten. I was hungry. I was cranky. I was devastated that this was going to be my life from now on. I even, gasp, had to learn to cook. And then a funny thing happened. I started to… I started to feel better. My eczema went away. My frequent nausea and random stomach pains went away. My headaches went away.

I was officially a convert!

I researched mercilessly online, I bought cook books, I purchased my first set of knives, I started to learn my way around the kitchen, and I also discovered the wonderful wide world of food blogging. This was a hugely developmental stage of my life. I went from eating like a college student (i.e. forgetting everything my mother ever taught me about nutrition) to learning to cook, cutting out gluten, transitioning (slooooowly) to veganism, experimenting with raw foods, and most importantly, rediscovering the art of listening to my body.

Before I continue to sing the praises of a life without gluten and give you a peek into my cupboards, let me remind you that prior to making any major changes in your diet you should speak with a professional. There are right and wrong ways to go about any changes in your diet and speaking with a nutritionist, doctor, dietician, RN, or naturopath can help put you on the right path so that you stay healthy through your transition. I am a firm believer that there are very few blanket nutritional rules out there, every single body is different and needs different things to perform optimally. I’m just sharing my experiences and my insights, and they will not be applicable to everyone.

Now for the good stuff.

Yes, if you go gluten-free, the breadbasket at restaurants will taunt you for the rest of your life, Italian restaurants will become a dim memory, and you will have to explain your needs to every waiter or waitress you encounter. That being said, discovering that there’s more to life than white flour will give you a greater appreciation for food than you can imagine. Prior to my diagnosis I’d never tried the nutty deliciousness that is quinoa, I’d never considered the possibility of brown rice, seaweed or spinach pasta, and I’d never even heard of amaranth, millet, or tempeh. Not only am I healthier now, I am better educated and more knowledgeable. Can’t argue with that combination!

So what do I eat when I have good old-fashioned cravings?

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  • Pizza – I am a pizza girl through and through, and have spent many a night dreaming about cheesy, delicious pies and waxing nostalgic about my favorite pizza place (Za’s, if you’re curious). Luckily I have managed to find ways to circumvent this craving over the last two years. First, I love me some mini pizzas as a snack, which I discuss here. Second, I discovered Amy’s Non-Dairy Rice Crust Cheeze Pizzas. Score! And finally, I learned to make amazing socca flatbread pizzas. I started experimenting with socca after reading the Socca Tribute by the twins over at Pure 2 Raw and have been a devotee of the garbanzo bean flour delicacies ever since (Gluten-Free Vegan Pizza). Coat with hummus and cover with sautéed veggies and you have yourself an amazing, albeit unorthodox, pizza masterpiece.
  • Pasta – All of my usual shops carry a variety of different types of gluten-free pasta choices. Trader Joe’s has brown rice pasta in multiple styles. And both Whole Foods and Real Foods carry quinoa pasta, brown rice pasta, spinach pasta, and other specialty types like kelp. I also invested in a spiralizer which allows you to make spaghetti-like pasta out of squash and zucchini. Gluten-free + a serving of vegetables, that’s a win-win situation, so check out my Vegan Mac n’ Cheese recipe.
  • Bread – I’m not much for sandwiches (they make me uncomfortably full so I usually stick to wraps) but on the occasion when bread makes an appearance in my life (ahem, stuffing) I always reach for Food For Life’s Brown Rice Bread.
  • Baking – I swear by Bob’s Red Mill flours and grains. The Real Food’s in Russian Hill has a great selection and I always run over to browse the choices whenever I have a baking project in the works.

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While going gluten-free in order to manage a medical condition is obviously a necessity, there are those who voluntarily limit or exclude gluten from their diets. The Paleo Diet encourages its devotees to avoid gluten grains, citing them as potential factors in modern societies with high incidences of Celiac, Type 1 Diabetes, MS, arthritis, and other diseases. Even fad diets like Atkins tout the benefits of eliminating bread from the diet.

In addition to discussing your choice with a doctor or other health professional, I would caution those who exclude gluten from their diets for weight-loss purposes to avoid subsisting on processed and pre-made gluten-free foods as much of the nutritional value of these foods has been striped out. Your diet should focus on the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains and plant-based protein sources like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, nuts, beans, tempeh, soy and tofu, and meat and low milk-fat or goat milk dairy products (as applicable to your lifestyle).

Tell me – Have you ever gone gluten-free?

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Plant Based Protein

The goal of this post is to address a question that I receive frequently when people find out that I don’t eat meat: “How do you get enough protein?”

Plant Based Proteins Vegan Gluten-Free Vegetarian Paleo-Friendly

{A Food Centric Life – Guide to Plant-Based Protein}

While I am personally of the camp that believes Americans consume too much of the wrong kinds of protein, I will avoid lecturing on the topic and instead provide you with suggestions for some healthy, easily digestible, protein-rich foods that don’t center around animal products.

For comparison’s sake I’ve included a few common animal products in the plant based protein chart below as well. All of these statistics are based on a 100 gram serving size:

Food Protein (g) Cholesterol mg Total Fat (g) Iron (mg) Fiber (g) Energy kcal
Turkey: roasted 29.90 69.00 7.41 1.35 0.00 157.00
Ground beef: broiled (75% lean) 25.56 89.00 18.72 2.37 0.00 278.00
Tuna: in water, drained 25.51 30.00 0.82 1.53 0.00 116.00
Chicken: roasted w/out skin 23.97 76.00 13.39 1.26 0.00 223.00
Egg, hard-boiled 12.58 373.00 10.61 1.19 0.00 155.00
Food Protein (g) Cholesterol mg Total Fat (g) Iron (mg) Fiber (g) Energy kcal
Kidney beans 23.58 0.00 0.83 8.20 24.90 333.00
Almonds: raw 21.22 0.00 49.42 3.72 12.20 575.00
Almond butter: w/ salt 20.96 0.00 55.50 3.49 10.30 614.00
Sunflower seeds: dry roasted w/out salt 19.33 0.00 49.80 3.80 11.10 582.00
Chickpeas 19.30 0.00 6.04 6.24 17.40 364.00
Flaxseed 18.29 0.00 42.16 5.73 27.30 534.00
Cashews: raw 18.22 0.00 43.85 6.68 3.30 553.00
Tempeh: cooked 18.19 0.00 11.38 2.13 10.00 196.00
Oats 16.89 0.00 6.90 4.72 10.60 389.00
Lentils: boiled w/out salt 9.02 0.00 0.38 3.33 7.90 116.00
Black beans: boiled w/out salt 8.86 0.00 0.54 2.10 8.70 132.00
Hummus: commercial 7.90 0.00 21.13 2.44 6.00 166.00
Tofu: Silken, firm 6.90 0.00 2.73 1.03 1.00 62.00
Quinoa: cooked 4.40 0.00 1.92 1.49 2.80 120.00
Kale: raw 3.30 0.00 0.70 1.70 2.00 50.00
Sweet potato: baked w/skin & no salt 2.01 0.00 0.15 0.69 3.30 90.00
Avocado: raw, California 1.96 0.00 15.41 0.61 6.80 167.00

I’d like to call your attention to a few noticeable discrepancies in the nutritional values of the first and second groups of foods.

First, you will see that plant-based foods contain no cholesterol while animal-based foods do. Cholesterol is necessary for a variety of bodily functions, including the production of hormones and cell membranes. Luckily for us, healthy livers produce enough cholesterol so that these functions can be carried out. It should be noted however that the high intake of dietary cholesterol (i.e. the cholesterol in the first group of foods) can lead to heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Second, the animal products listed above contain no dietary fiber, which keeps your GI Tract running smoothly and is necessary to maintain a healthy diet. This is a great post from Gena at Choosing Raw on intestinal distress, treating IBS, and the differences between soluble and insoluble fiber. It’s graphic but incredibly educational if you’re interested in how dietary fiber affects your body.

Third, notice the difference in the amounts of iron in these foods. Our bodies need iron to help with oxygen transportation and the regulation and differentiation of cell growth. If any of you have ever taken an iron supplement you know how incredibly hard it is on the body to digest iron in that format, so eating iron-rich foods is by far the superior way to get the required amounts in your diet.

The act of digesting food puts stress on your system – It takes effort for your body to break down the foods you consume so that the nutrients can be readily absorbed by the body. Simply put, plant-based foods require that you waste expend less energy to digest them, meaning the you: (1) Stress your body less, and (2) Have more energy to utilize after digestion. Even taking just a weekend off from the consumption of animal products can give your system a much-needed rest.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic I highly recommend that you pick up Brendan Braizer’s Thrive Diet. While the title of this book contains the word “diet” that is somewhat misleading. Mr. Braizer was a professional triathlete and spent 15 years studying how the foods he consumed affected his life and his athletic performance, ultimately determining that a plant-based, high raw diet resulted in the optimum results.

This isn’t a diet that you go on to fit into your skinny jeans, this is a lifestyle change that you commit to so that you’ll never need a cup of coffee in the morning to wake up or a dose of sugar in the afternoon to keep your eyelids from drooping.

Please note that I am not a healthcare professional and that my comments, suggestions and thoughts are based on personal research and experience only. Prior to making any drastic changes to your diet you should consult a physician, especially if you suffer from illnesses or allergies which may be affected by nutrition.

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Can’t Quit You Baby

 

No matter how healthy our daily food choices are, there will always be things that we can’t bring ourselves to say “no” to. For many people I know the treats they can’t deny themselves revolve around sugar, they crave chocolate, candy or sweets. For me its salty all the way, if you put potato chips or French fries in front of me you better watch your fingers!

One of the biggest issues with giving in to your cravings is the landslide effect. After one piece or one handful you think “why not have a little more?” and before you know it you’ve consumed 5 servings. From there it’s incredibly easy to just write the day off and indulge all of your cravings.

We’ve all done this. Some of us more than others (read: me).

When I read magazine articles or surf online on the topics of eating and snacking, experts always tout the moderation method. Buying 100 calorie snack packs or having “just one” piece of dark chocolate etc. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been satisfied by small processed snacks masquerading as healthy food and I’ve certainly never consumed just one piece of anything.

Ever.

I want my snacks to be satisfying and filling, and I want them to provide my body with real nutrients. My solution? Fake it! I’ve come up with alternatives to my favorite crave-worthy snacks. Some are portable and easy to keep at the office or in your bag/car, while others I save for weekends or when I have a full kitchen at my mercy.

Tote-able salty/savory snacks: Mixed nuts, trail mix, Raw Revolution bars (Spirulina & cashew), veggies or crackers w/ mini Sabra hummus tubs

Quick, but cooked salty/savory snacks

  • Mini Pizzas: Buy pre-made polenta logs (or make your own if you’re feeling like a rock star), slice into thin pieces, bake for 10 minutes at 350 on each side, add some cheese and a tomato slice or salsa & broil for 3 minutes. Voila! Delicious mini pizzas with a fraction of the fat and calories of a slice of pizza. And depending on the brand of polenta that you use these can easily be made vegan and gluten-free, just use soy cheese or daiya.

  • Wraps: Tortilla + spread + toppings. Easy peasy. (These are a great alternative to sandwiches and can be easily made gluten-free with the use of brown rice tortillas.) First start with your favorite tortilla, good options to try are whole wheat, spinach or sprouted brands, or lettuce, collard greens or kale. Second, add a spread of some sort, I prefer hummus or “cheese” sauce, but you could easily use marinara, curry, creamy salad dressing, nut cheese etc. Finally, add whatever toppings you’re in the mood for. I like a little crunch so raw veggies are my go-to, but you could add cheese, roasted or sautéed veggies, quinoa, rice… The list goes on! If you’re interested in trying a delicious raw wrap, here’s an excellent recipe from Gena at Choosing Raw – Zucchini Wraps.

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  • Quesadilla: Tortilla + toppings. Couldn’t be easier! Pile on anything that sounds yummy, from the traditional to the inventive: cheese, rice, beans, meat or sliced seitan/tofu, crumbled tempeh, sautéed veggies, cubed roasted veggies… So many choices, so few tortillas!

Tote-able sweet snacks: Homemade trail mix with carob/chocolate chips or granola, dried fruit, Larabars (coconut!), apples w/ nut butter

Quick, but “cooked” sweet snacks:

  • Chia Seed Pudding: The consistency is similar to tapioca, but this pudding will really stay with you. For hours. Great for a mid-morning snack or a pre-workout pick-me-up. Mix 3/4 cup of raw chia seeds with 2 cups of liquid (almond milk, coconut water, water…)  and allow to sit for roughly 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The natural flavor of chia seeds isn’t potent so you can add any flavors you’re craving. My favorite recipes are: (1) Mix in nut butter (I’m loving sunflower seed butter right now) and cinnamon to taste and top with a sliced banana. So. Good. (2) Add Stevia or agave nectar and lemon juice to taste. This is tangy and refreshing, and quite similar to the way the Tarahumara consumed their chia seeds.

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  • Smoothies: See Smoothie Love for some ideas of smoothies you can make.
  • Soft Serve: A lot of vegan/raw recipes for soft serve and pudding treats rely on avocados for their creamy texture. Unfortunately I’m not a fan of avocados, so when I’m looking to up the creaminess of a dessert, I reach for bananas. 2 frozen bananas + blender. Done. This is seriously quick and seriously delicious, you can even top with chocolate sauce! However, if you’d like to try an avocado-based pudding, please take a look at this recipe to give you a starting point.

So tell me, what is the snack that you just cannot say no to? Take my lead and try to make a healthy, whole food version to satisfy those cravings and let me know what you come up with!

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Blogger Confessions {II}

  • Some mornings I wake up and wonder what I’m doing with my life. Then I realize that it’s 3:45am and that’s how everyone feels at that hour.
  • I have the attention span of a baby kangaroo. On PCP. In a toy factory.
  • My favorite store on the planet is Zara.
  • While I don’t follow astrology, I do believe that I encompass many of the traditional Scorpio characteristics.
  • I look forward to family gatherings like a little kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to come down the chimney. Laughter, wine and hilarity inevitably ensue.

Related Reading: Blogger Confessions

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Smoothie Love

My first meal at least five days a week is a smoothie. It’s a great way to get easily digestible whole foods first thing in the morning and is an especially nutritious way to hydrate after a sweaty AM workout.

As the early morning workers at my office can attest, my smoothies are either green, or not. “Not” encompassing a wide range of colors, from purple to a delightful dirty snow/sludge color, depending on what I add to my own personal Frankenstein’s Monster of a drink.

I never follow a recipe and my ingredients are usually based on my mood and what’s in the immediate vicinity. Below are a variation of my green and my “not” smoothie.

Green Smoothie:

  • 3 cups of spinach
  • Coconut water as needed
  • 1 scoop of Sun Warrior protein – Vanilla flavor (ridiculously expensive, but after extensive personal research I’ve found that this works best for me, you can obviously substitute the protein powder of your choice)
  • 1 tsp Maca
  • 1 apple (I’m on a Pink Lady kick, even the name is cute!)
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Cinnamon
  • Ice cubes

“Not” Smoothie:

  • 1 banana or apple
  • 2-3 cups of fresh or frozen mixed berries
  • 1 scoop of Sun Warrior protein
  • Water as needed (I like the natural tanginess of the berries so I use plain water, but if you prefer a sweeter smoothie feel free to substitute coconut water or aloe vera juice)
  • Dash of cinnamon & maca
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • Ginger
  • Ice cubes

Breakdown of properties in these ingredients:

Spinach: As with many leafy greens, spinach is high in antioxidants, Vitamin A, B2, B6, C, E, K, magnesium, manganese, folate, iron, calcium, folic acid, potassium, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Spinach is most easily absorbed by the body when consumed simultaneously with a good source of Vitamin C, such as lemon juice or berries. If you’re not a spinach convert, try adding a few leaves of romaine lettuce, collard greens or kale.

Coconut Water: Coconut water provides simple sugars, electrolytes and minerals, naturally replenishing your body’s hydration. It’s tasty, refreshing and perfect after a workout. If you don’t love the taste, popular brands O.N.E., Vita and Zico offer flavors like passionfruit and pineapple.  [Note: Coconut water and coconut milk are two VERY different beverages. Coconut water is found inside a coconut, while coconut milk is produced by pressing liquid out of ground coconut meat, which means that it is much higher in fat and calories.]

Maca: Touted as a “superfood” maca is a Peruvian root, usually ground and sold as a powder. Maca contains amino acids, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, iron and Vitamins B1, B2, B12, C & E. Maca affects the endocrine functions of the body and the benefits can range from hormone stabilization to digestion to sexual function and fertility.

Cinnamon: Not only is this spice tasty, it has been used to combat colds, nausea, menstrual pain and digestive distress in eastern medicine for years. It’s also believed to help with circulation and have anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties. Chemically cinnamon contains calcium, iron, fiber and Vitamins C & K.

Apples: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” Well… It can’t hurt, right? Apples are high in antioxidants and fiber and studies show that they may help reduce the risk of various forms of cancer (like prostate, lung & colon).

Berries: Different berries have different nutritional benefits, but across the board they’re high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. They’re thought to be beneficial in the fighting of different types of cancer, boost cardiovascular functions and improve vision.

Bananas: In additional to adding great taste and texture to smoothies, bananas add a healthy dose of Vitamins B6, C, manganese and potassium. Similar to the health benefits listed above for apples and berries, bananas contain vitamins and minerals which may help the body ward off various types of cancer.

Chia Seeds: Yes, as in Chia Pets. Consumption of this Aztec superfood is on the rise in the United States with books like Born To Run advertising the unique  properties and amazing benefits. Chia seeds contain protein, phosphorus, manganese, calcium, potassium and sodium, similar to other seeds, but are completely atypical in their reaction to water. Add them to any liquid and leave for 20+ minutes and you’ll return to find a glass full of a gelatinous substance not unlike tapioca. Now imagine adding dry seeds to your stomach. That’s what the ancients are said to have done, subsisting on teaspoons of chia seeds for days at a time. There are some other great recipes that include chia seeds, which I’ll touch on at a later time.

Ginger: To be honest, I can’t stand ginger. But given its rock star benefits, I needed to find a way to get a little ginger in my life. And luckily for me, the tart berries and spices in this smoothie make the ginger barely detectable. Ginger has been used as a natural remedy for a host of ailments, including: ovarian cancer treatment, colon cancer prevention, heartburn, menstrual cramps, inflammation, migraines and relieving digestive/stomach conditions like morning and motion sickness.

Benefits of smoothies:

  • By blending the fruits & vegetables you’re breaking down the tough outer cells of the plants and making the nutrients more easily accessible to your body, reducing the amount of work your body wastes on digestion
  • Tasty way to hydrate your body first thing in the morning, especially if gulping down water isn’t your favorite AM activity
  • If you’re not a fan of breakfast, this is a great way to get in multiple servings of fruits & vegetables in a quick and painless way
  • Like soup, you can add whatever ingredients you have available: nut butter, strawberries, spirulina, almond milk, frozen veggies, carrots, celery, cashews… Clean out your fridge!
  • If you don’t love greens and have trouble getting your daily recommended amount, you can add them to a smoothie and just get it over with!

Now go forth MCLV readers, power up your blender,s and make me proud!

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