How to go gluten-free without breaking the bank
Note: Most of these strategies can apply to eating healthier for cheaper in general. However, just because something’s gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Going gluten-free can be an opportunity to re-evaluate your idea of food.
1) Imagine a world without bread
The standard North-American diet can be very bread-centred. (eg. wraps, sandwiches, bread and butter). And, many gluten-free products like breads and pastas are expensive, and are just as processed as products containing gluten.
What would you enjoy eating if you couldn’t eat bread? Soups, stews, smoothies, bacon and eggs, stirfrys with rice, homemade seasonings or sauces, using leaf lettuce as a “bun” for your burger or rice paper wraps instead of a pita. Get creative! Don’t worry, if this one sounds overwhelming, it’s just one strategy. Feel free to take it or leave it.
2) Explore gluten-free grains and starches
There are many gluten-free grains and starches including quinoa, millet, rice, flax, corn, buckwheat or kasha, sorghum, teff, tapioca, chickpeas, gluten-free oats, amaranth, potato, sweet potato, peas, beans and legumes. And, they’re readily available at most grocery stores. Caution, bulk food products can often be contaminated with gluten.
As a side note: if you are gluten-free you need to make sure you’re getting enough fiber; especially soluble fiber. Many gluten-free foods are made with refined flours and starches which are low in fiber.
Foods with high amounts of soluble fiber include: blueberries, pears, okra, eggplant, mushrooms, ground flaxseed, and psyllium. As a bonus, these foods also help us feel full and balance our blood sugar. For more information on fiber and the gluten-free diet visit Eat Right Ontario.
3) Make your own.
When it comes to items like dressings, sauces and seasonings sometimes it can be easier to make your own. Many ketchups, mustards, soy sauces, salad dressings and barbeque sauces contain gluten. And gluten-containing grains can be used as filler in many spice mixes. Consider using ingredients like lemon or lime juice, hot peppers, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, or fresh or dried herbs and spices for flavour. Distilled vinegar is also usually OK, unless gluten-containing additives have been added back in afterwards.
If you enjoy baking, get a gluten-free flour recipe that’s not overly heavy, and contains a binding agent like xanthan gum or guar gum. This can be key to keep your baking light and fluffy and to provide elasticity so it has the proper texture and doesn’t turn in to a dry crumbly brick.
Also, in general, focus on foods that are closer to nature, less processed, or those that have fewer ingredients.
4) Focus on vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, proteins, and gluten-free whole grains.
There’s more to life than bread. You may find that being gluten free allows you to make healthier choices when you’re out for a meal or social function. Remember that whole grains typically take 10-30 minutes to cook.
5) Plan or make it a habit to make food preparation easier.
Try using a slow cooker overnight or while you’re at work. Link putting ingredients into the slow cooker with something that you already do on a daily basis. Experiment with prepping food in larger batches, and storing food in grab and go containers. Cut up veggies and fruits ahead of time for snacking, especially for when you come home hungry. Carry some nuts or balanced snacks with you in case you’re out for longer than you thought you’d be. Start with a few staple recipes that you enjoy and branch out from there. Ask friends or family members for their favourite healthy recipes, or look for resources online.
There are often easy substitutions that can be made in a recipe to make it gluten-free, or gluten-free recipes available online of your favourite dishes.
6) Quality over quantity.
Sometimes we eat lower quality foods more mindlessly and in higher quantities. Take the time to enjoy the experience of eating. Sometimes higher quality foods can be more nourishing and more satisfying. Consider the idea of food that is rich in nutrients. It’s not just about the calories.
Consider what the food you’re eating offers you in terms of nutritional value. For example, many vegetables have lots of nutrients but don’t have a lot of calories. Whereas many conventional snack foods or sugary beverages have lots of calories but don’t offer much nutrition. When in doubt choose foods that are closer to nature, less processed, or with fewer ingredients.
Gluten-containing grains are often used as fillers, binders and thickening agents in many food products.
7) Prioritize your health.
Yes, higher quality food may be more expensive. But fast food and processed or packaged food can be expensive as well. The food we eat helps us build and maintain a healthy mind and a healthy body. Is there room in your budget to move some money from a habit that’s harming your health to habits like higher quality food that will help you maintain your health? Can you figure out a way to be resourceful when it comes to securing higher quality food?