More and more people are moving to a gluten-free diet. In fact, around eleven per cent of Australians follow a gluten-free diet by choice, with a further thirty per cent of people actively reducing their gluten intake.
But when you decide to make a change, where do you start? Jamie Burnett sat down with nutritionist Genevieve Knutson and asked for some practical advice when looking at a gluten free lifestyle.
HOW CHALLENGING IS IT FOR PEOPLE TO MOVE TO A GF DIET?
This really depends on the person. In some cases, those who have been diagnosed with Coeliac disease can find transitioning to a GF diet quite easy because they feel so much better for it. However, in most cases, it can be a very difficult transition. I can say that from personal experience as I had to give up gluten for my own health reasons about eight years ago.
There can be a number of hurdles that people need to overcome when moving to a GF diet including;
- The number of decisions that need to be made when going GF
- Understanding that food is so much more than just providing nourishment for our bodies and minds
- Deciding what is going to happen within the household around food choices for each family member
- Understanding and overcoming feelings around food
- Understanding and overcoming others’ attitudes with your lifestyle
WHERE CAN PEOPLE START?
My biggest tip is to keep it simple and focus on the things that you CAN eat, not what you can’t. I realise you may be asking what you can eat if you are removing all of the foods that contain gluten. I admit, I was wondering the same thing at first!
Thankfully, there are still numerous foods that we can eat and are much healthier for us. Animal protein, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, legumes and healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds, are all fabulous choices. When you start thinking of your plate in a different way, it actually becomes quite easy to think of foods to eat and have plenty of choice.
For example, if half your plate is vegetables, just over a quarter protein and the rest some healthy fat, then you have numerous options! You may have fish with broccoli, cauliflower and sweet potato topped in butter one night; Steak with mushrooms, capsicum and asparagus cooked in olive oil the next; And a chickpea curry over cauliflower rice the next.
The options really are limitless when you break it down into food groups – which is pretty exciting! You will likely find yourself trying foods that you haven’t eaten before, which is pretty cool too.
WHAT ARE SOME SIMPLE AND PRACTICAL TIPS FOR LIVING GF?
Make it easy. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself and think that you need to meal prep and cook every single one of your meals and snacks from scratch. That is both mentally and physically exhausting. There are a lot of great companies out there that want to make your GF life as easy as possible. Check out some of the premade meal services that are available in your area. I personally tend to look at Paleo sites and meal companies simply because they are GF by default, but also tend to create meals that have healthy proteins and fats and a lots of vegetables, rather than just switching something out to a GF pasta, bread or pizza base.
Enlist the help of your family and friends. It will make the journey easier for you. They care about you and want the best for you, so it is highly likely that they will jump in and support you without hesitation.
Practice an attitude of gratitude. That is, focus on and be grateful for all of the food options that you CAN have, be thankful that there are so many GF options available – and also be grateful for the improvements that will come in your physical and mental wellbeing by shifting your diet.
Start to get excited! You will have so many new foods to try and different food combinations that you may not have thought of previously that are actually really delicious and satisfying.
In saying that, please give yourself a bit of grace along the way. Making the transition is a process and there are going to be hiccups along the way. That is to be expected! Progress is never linear. It is up down and back around again, but it is still progress. Every little change is a step in the right direction so seek progress, not perfection. We are human and therefore not capable of being perfect – and that’s okay! Do the best that you can and ask for help when you need it. You got this!
WHAT ARE SOME FOOD SUBSTITUTES?
In order to instil confidence within yourself and increase your success, you want to make simple swaps, especially at the start. My first suggestion is to find the one food that you think you will miss or struggle with the most and find a replacement for that ASAP. For me that was bread – so I researched different bread recipes that suited my other nutritional needs, printed out the recipes, wrote down what I would need to buy to make them, then went shopping and made my first batch the day before I decided to cut gluten out completely – just so that I was prepared both mentally and literally.
One of the easiest stepping stones in this journey is to go and buy premade GF options. You can find GF bread in pretty much every shop nowadays, Woolies and Coles included. Most bakeries, coffee shops and cafes will have at least one GF baked good option. Start there.
Once you are good with that, then you can start looking at some of the other alternatives and ways that you can make your own GF options. There are GF flours available – again, just in normal supermarkets – and you can also look at alternative flours, such as coconut and almond flour. Those are two of my favourite as they are packed with healthy fats to feel your brain and body – and coconut is one of the most fibre rich foods available.
Also think back to what we just discussed. Create a plate that isn’t made up of gluten containing carbohydrates. Instead look at vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. For example, you may choose to do zucchini or sweet potato noodles instead of GF pasta or noodles for pasta or stir fry dishes. You can either easily make your own with a spiral slicer or julienne peeler – or to make it even easier, you can get the pre-done ones at the supermarket. Super simple and far more nutritious.
For dessert you may even grab some berries with double cream or coconut cream and dark chocolate. Understand that it doesn’t always need to be a refined carbohydrate source for meals and snacks.
Swap out a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit or some vegetable sticks with hummus or guacamole for a mid-afternoon snack rather than crackers. Truly, when you start seeing the other foods available, you won’t be starved for choice.
Matso's Ginger Beer is Gluten Free, while Matso's Hard Lemon is a low-gluten option.
You can read more about nutritionist Genevieve Knuston here