Quite often, when you are eating a gluten-free diet (either because of medical reasons or by choice), you struggle to find ways to replace the typical gluten-containing foods: bread and pasta. While many gluten-free substitutes exist on the market today (and that’s great compared to years ago), it’s all-around healthier to eat whole foods instead of processed carbohydrates.
As someone that does eat gluten-free, I know full well that a loaf of gluten-free bread is smaller, way more expensive, and full of preservatives. Gluten-free foods often have a higher sugar content, and people forget that just because they are gluten-free does not mean they are low in calories, sugar or fat.
Rather than spending a lot of money on gluten-free versions of the gluten-filled original, why not get creative with other carbohydrates? Vegetables are undeniably healthier and can certainly fill the void that the gluten-containing carbohydrates left behind.
Let’s be honest: most of the gluten-free substitutes don’t taste like the original. Those of us eating gluten-free use substitutes with the hope of it being like we remember it being. But since it’s not, why not change it entirely?
By using vegetables, you can change the meal (since it’s going to be altered anyway) and add in vitamins, nutrients, and feel good about what you’re putting in your body. Here are five common foods where a gluten-containing carbohydrate can be replaced by vegetables (or a vegetable can just make the meal):
When the word “sandwich” is mentioned, the first image that comes to mind is usually two pieces of bread with some kind of filling. Is bread required in order to call something a sandwich? I don’t think it has to be. What happens if we replace the bread with a vegetable? Plenty of restaurants offer lettuce wraps or cabbage wraps. That is certainly an option, and depending on what kind of fillings you have, you won’t even miss the bread.
You can also get creative when making wraps or sandwiches. If you are feeling adventurous in the kitchen, you can experiment with different ingredients to make your own grain-free wraps or tortillas. Just because tortillas are typically made with wheat doesn’t mean they have to be. Cauliflower can certainly be used to make your own vegetable-based tortillas if you are willing to put in the effort.
Other options for sandwiches or wraps include using thinly sliced eggplant or zucchini instead of a wrap. A gluten-free filler could be hummus, black beans, cheese, or other vegetables. Try hummus collard wraps or raw zucchini wraps.
A heaping dish of pasta, drowning in tomato sauce and cheese… it’s a carb-lovers dream. However, if you’re adding that many toppings to your pasta, does it really have to be a gluten-free pasta? Many of these varieties do taste close to the real thing, but again, if it’s not the real thing, why not get some added nutrients in your dinner.
The nutritional benefits are so great, it’s hard not to recommend this option. In addition, if you peel a zucchini before spiralizing it, you just might convince your family that it is real pasta and not a vegetable version!
Still not convinced? Try the carrot beet angel hair pasta with spicy pine nut and pistachio pesto for a flavor profile that will attempt to win over ay doubters. Try using sweet potato noodles and add some coconut curried veggies for an Asian-inspired theme. Or just go all out and use purple cauliflower to pair with coconut curry and carrot noodles for a bright and vibrant looking dish to go with the big flavors.
Last, if you are heading to a party and want to bring a main course that you know is healthy and gluten-free, try a lasagna where eggplant and zucchini are used instead of gluten-containing noodles.
Let’s face it: pasta is usually just a platform in which a yummy sauce can be placed. Focus on the sauce and use a vegetable for the platform to increase the nutritional benefits.
While this is not necessarily a substitute for a carbohydrate, it is a way of incorporating a vegetable into a meal instead of a carbohydrate. Again, rather than bread or pasta, find a vegetable (peppers, sweet potatoes, eggplant, or others) and use it as an edible vessel.
For some ideas on what kind of vegetables to stuff, check out this article. In order to avoid carbohydrates in stuffing the vegetable, look to use cauliflower rice instead of regular rice. Or, you can stuff a vegetable with a variation of a chili, such as this chipotle sweet potato and black bean chili.
When going on a gluten-free diet, one of the hardest things to give up is pizza. The gluten-free varieties are very expensive and fall apart. Instead of dealing with soggy crust, make your own! The most commonly used vegetable to make a crust is cauliflower, such as this cauliflower crust pizza.
Another way to make a pizza is to simply grease a cookie sheet, slice a zucchini lengthwise and use that as the pizza “crust.” Top the zucchini with the pizza toppings of your choice and bake in an oven. The zucchini will hold its shape and while it’s no match for a thick deep-dish pizza… neither are the gluten-free crusts you’ll find in the grocery store.
When you want a snack, your mind and body know that fruits and vegetables are the best thing for you. However, sometimes you just can’t get yourself to eat carrot sticks or a banana for the third day in a row. If you’re eating gluten-free, regular pretzels, chips and crackers are not options for you. In addition, if you were craving French fries, most restaurants don’t have a dedicated gluten-free fryer, so these aren’t an option either.
The answer is actually simple: make your own fries! You can bake them, instead of frying them, for a healthier option, and you can use other vegetables besides potatoes. For examples, you can have jicama fries, avocado fries, sweet potato fries, turnip fries, green bean fries, rutabaga fries, eggplant fries, chickpea fries, and more!
If it’s a crunch that you’re craving, try using the ever-versatile cauliflower to make crisps to get that texture that you are missing, without the salt and fat. For other finger food ideas, check out these ideas that would work for great appetizers to bring to any party.
Gluten-Free Doesn’t Mean Giving Up
Now, I know the gluten-free lifestyle is challenging at times. However, with all of the different ways to incorporate vegetables into your diet instead of using the fake gluten-free versions of the items that you were used to, eating healthy is easy. Sometimes it just comes down to being creative about what you are eating and looking at food in different ways.
Just because you’ve always eaten zucchini sliced and steamed doesn’t mean that it can’t be turned into pasta or a pizza crust. Just because you’ve always had potato fries straight from the deep fryer doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment with green beans and flax seeds. For additional ways to cut out carbohydrates, check out this article.
Lead image source: Portobello Burgers With Collard Greens and Guacamole