May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month, which is a great time to not only educate about the condition, but to also provide lifestyle tips to help those that must implement a gluten-free lifestyle into their routines in a healthy way. Celiac disease is not a gluten allergy; it is a genetic autoimmune disease of which the tell-tale symptom is a true inability to digest gluten. This leads to a nutritional debt and damage to the lining of the intestines alongside other aspects of health.
Though gluten has the potential to be deadly for celiac patients, the symptoms for celiac usually start out as those similar to an intolerance of gluten (extreme digestion problems, skin rashes, chronic fatigue) except they escalate dramatically and wreak havoc on the immune system. This makes the individual with the condition deathly ill. Or, they may have a debilitating “episode”— as many call it—where they encounter gluten unwillingly and are rendered disabled until the sickness symptoms pass (vomiting, diarrhea, extreme pain, rashes, fatigue, with potentially more serious results). Celiac occurs in 1 out of every 133 Americans; it is the number one autoimmune disease out of the increasing amounts that occur within our society.
Gluten-Free Foods and the Food Industry
The food industry has begun producing more gluten-free options for those that aren’t just celiac, but also for those looking to avoid gluten for allergy or intolerance problems. Gluten can trigger a different reaction for many people, even if they don’t test positive for celiac. Many people with skin conditions, such as eczema, may also avoid gluten if they find it triggers a breakout. So while gluten may not cause a deathly reaction for everyone, (like those with celiac), it is one of the top allergenic foods avoided today, alongside dairy, peanuts, and soy.
For all gluten-free eaters— celiac or not— it’s easy to get caught up in buying tons of foods labeled gluten-free. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of stocking up on snacks, breads, cereals, and even ice creams and breakfast bars that don’t contain any gluten whatsoever? We usually miss foods more when we know we have to avoid them because they don’t serve us well. Food producers know this, making multitudes of gluten-free products every year hoping to give people what they miss from their old favorite foods. But these foods are usually very processed, unhealthy, and you get very little servings for your money, not to mention less-than-filling results. Some products can also be labeled gluten-free, yet still be contaminated with gluten because labeling laws allow for a small percentage of gluten to occur in packaged foods and still be labeled gluten-free.
How to Eat Naturally Gluten-Free and Save Money
While it’s nice to have gluten-free options on the shelves that replace old favorites, we should also learn how to eat naturally gluten-free foods that don’t even come with contamination risks. This won’t only be healthier for us, but also help save us money. Gluten-free products are often higher than the traditional options, and many are also more refined and contain additives.
So if you’re looking to eat gluten-free on a budget, here are five take-aways to remember:
1. Implement Root Veggies for Healthy Carbs
Instead of buying gluten-free breads, pastries, and noodles, go for root vegetables. These foods are lower in refined carbs, they’re higher in quality fibers that fill you up faster and lower the glycemic spike, and they contain vitamins and minerals that refined, gluten-free options don’t. Bake sweet potatoes, chop and roast them, spiralize them into noodles, and use these as a go-to side in place of gluten-free products. Sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, winter squash, pumpkin, carrots, beets, and onions all make amazing sides, lunches, and dinners. You can store them all week in the fridge if you bake them in huge batches and portion them out. They’re also cheap and make multiple servings for cents a piece.
2. Buy Pseudograins in Bulk Instead of Gluten-Free Grains
Seeds like quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, and buckwheat are all known as seeds known as pseudograins that cook up just like grains do, but with more nutrients and easier digestibility. What about oats and other gluten-free grains, you ask? Interestingly enough, it’s not just wheat, barley and rye that pose a problem for gluten-free eaters or those with an autoimmune disease. There are four types of gluten proteins known as gliadins, and most gluten laboratory tests only test for one type (alpha-gliadin). Other gliadin proteins are found naturally in grains like oats and corn, therefore it’s important to see how you react to these grains before just buying gluten-free grain options. These other grains often cause the same reaction as gluten for those with celiac or those who are highly sensitive. (Grain sensitivity is one reason why many gluten-free eaters are also grain-free eaters.) Some grains may not cause a reaction, or they may—each person affected reacts differently. However, what everyone can do is stick to pseduograins, which are actually seeds. These include quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, and some also consider chia a pseudograin since it bulks up nicely like grains and is higher in fiber. Buy all of these in bulk to save money, and consume them in place of trendy gluten-free packaged grains.
3. Don’t Leave out the Veggies!
It’s easy to look at all the amazing gluten-free products out there and plan your meals off those (cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, gluten-free pasta for dinner) but that can also cause an issue: a natural reduction in the veggies you eat. Vegetables support the body’s nutritional needs like no other foods can. This is important for everyone, but especially those with nutrient absorption problems like celiac. Try to base most of your meals off fresh vegetables (and fruits) if you can. These satisfy you more, are better for you, and can be just as tasty when you learn to prepare them in new ways. Have veggie scramble for breakfast or a green smoothie, make a veggie bowl for lunch or a salad, and have a side of veggies at dinner just to seal the deal. And don’t forget those root veggies above … a baked sweet potato is the perfect canvas for some broccoli, salsa, and sauteed onions with roasted garlic, while a batch of carrot fries or roasted strips of winter squash also make for a nice salad topper at lunch.
4. Make Your Own Gluten-Free Treats With Healthier, Protein-Rich Flours
Buy grain-free flours like coconut flour or quinoa flour so you can make your own gluten-free treats instead of buying processed options (which are normally made with cheaper flours such as potato starch and brown rice flour that are overly priced). Coconut flour, quinoa flour, hemp protein powder, almond flour, and other grain-free flours will provide more servings over time, and they’re also much healthier for you (more protein and less starch!), not to mention easy to use. Vegans can avoid the eggs in most gluten-free bread recipes by using 1 tablespoon of ground chia seeds to three tablespoons of warm water, and adding a teaspoon of baking soda to ensure they rise properly and don’t fall flat. You can also use ground flax as a 1:1 substitute to flour and add baking soda to make gluten-free, egg-free goodies rise too. Most gluten-free products are made of refined white rice flours, cornstarch, and baking soda. Don’t waste your money on those when you can make better versions at home.
5. Plan out Your Meals and Snacks
It doesn’t sound exciting but can truly help you save money. Plan out 2-3 days of simple gluten-free living without products. Rally up some breakfasts, snacks, lunches, dinners, and desserts you’d like to make. Map out a day of eating and go for it. You’ll see that it’s much easier when you have an idea in your head of how simple gluten-free eating will go. Then, next time at the store when those gluten-free products jump out at you, you’ll think “Well, I really don’t need to make room for that, I already have a plan.” Trust us, it works!
Eating gluten-free on a budget is similar to eating a normal healthy vegan diet on a budget: by keeping things simple and real-food based and being strategic with your budget, you’ll make eat bite and dollar go a long way. And, best of all, you’ll likely become much healthier during the process too.
If you’re a gluten-free eater, how do you save money?
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