If you’re living gluten free, it’s more important than ever to know how to live a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few simple, actionable tips to get you started.
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Today I want to share an important aspect of a gluten free lifestyle: Your Health.
When my husband was diagnosed with multiple food allergies over 7 years ago, we were so focused on surviving that we didn’t think too much about healthy living. While cutting out wheat, barley, oats, and soy helped his body heal and improved his overall health, he still didn’t feel well.
We began searching for answers and determined that as we eliminated the foods he was allergic too, we were also cutting out a lot of the foods that had previously provided the majority of his nutrition. He was lacking iron, B vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients that he needed to feel well. It was time for a change.
As I had just done when he was diagnosed, I researched, went shopping, and got to work. It’s been a journey but over the past few years his health, and the health of our entire family, has vastly improved.
I want to share what we’ve learned in the hope it will help some of you. When you’re done reading, I would love for you to leave a comment with things that you’ve done to improve your health! We can all learn from each other.
In combination with this post, I partnered with my friend Kristy Jo Hunt to create a podcast, feel free to have a listen!
How To Live A Healthy Lifestyle When You’re Gluten Free:
1. Increase Iron Intake and Absorption
Almost all wheat-based products (think flour, cereals, crackers) are fortified with iron and B vitamins. Compare that with gluten free products, and you’ll see a stark contrast in nutrition on the label.
This actually becomes a non-issue when you start eating the way you should have been eating before – consuming real and natural foods that are packed with nutrition instead of pre-packaged foods.
While learning to eat gluten free was definitely a difficult journey, I’m grateful for the opportunity it gave our family to look at what we were putting into our bodies and improve the nutrition we’re getting every day. Here’s a few facts that will help you consume and absorb more iron:
- There are 2 types of iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in animal sources and is better absorbed by your body. That means you can eat foods that contain heme iron and your body will readily absorb the iron that you’re consuming, making those foods the best option as long (as you’re not vegan obviously).
- To increase your body’s absorption of either type of iron, avoid consuming caffeine or calcium along with those foods and instead pair them with a source of vitamin C such as citrus, broccoli or strawberries. You can also pair nonheme iron with heme iron to increase the absorption.
- Foods high in iron (in order from most iron to least iron):
- Heme: Chicken liver, oysters, clams, beef, sardines
- Nonheme: beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, baked potatoes. various nuts and seeds (check out the labels), spinach, molasses,
It is also important to note that, especially if you have celiac disease, your body might not be absorbing the iron and other vitamins/minerals that it needs. If you feel like you might be iron or vitamin deficient, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
2. Shop the Edges
All grocery stores are arranged with fresh products along the outside edges. Namely, produce, meats, and dairy/dairy substitute items. GOOD NEWS! Most of these items are naturally gluten free! One grocery strategy that has helped my family eat healthier is to start the shopping trip by filling my cart with things from those edges.
I start in the produce department by putting veggies into the cart, then fruits. The interesting thing that happens is you will find yourself putting more produce in your cart than you would had you stopped in that section at the end of your trip. I often need to grab a few other items but as the cart has been filled with lots of produce and some protein, those “extra” items become fillers and we’re left with a lot of veggies to eat when we get home.
3. Limit Pre-Packaged Foods
Take my advice from #2, then go home and create meals and snacks using those real, fresh ingredients. Instead of Hamburger Helper, make cabbage casserole, a simple stir fry, or zoodles. Think about making your own granola, having eggs, hot cooked cereal, or avocado toast instead of cereal for breakfast, and eating fruits and veggies for snacks.
All this being said, pre-packaged gluten free foods definitely have a place in your life and can be welcome comfort foods when you’re feeling limited with what you eat.
Luckily, there are increasingly more options for safe, great-tasting, (and sometimes even healthy) foods that are great for on-the-go or just a welcome treat. Here’s a few of my favorites:
- Plentils from Enjoy Life Foods
- Mountain Mambo Nut Free Trail Mix from Enjoy Life Foods
- Smartfood Delight Popcorn
- Cashew Clusters from Kirkland
- Sweet Potato Crackers from RW Garcia
- Boar’s Head Hummus (we buy at Smith’s)
- Roasted Pumpkin Seeds from Go Raw!
4. Make Healthy Swaps
- Spinach or kale instead of lettuce. Add sliced strawberries or pumpkin seeds to help with iron absorption.
- Plain Greek Yogurt instead of sweetened yogurt. Greek yogurt has much more protein and you can add stevia or monk fruit to sweeten without adding calories. This is my go-to breakfast! I love to add fresh raspberries or chopped cranberries along with a little monk fruit and top with oat free granola. You can really get creative and leaves you feeling more full than regular yogurt.
- Real ingredients instead of processed foods. You’re reading every label anyway, now’s a great time to check out the ingredients! Look for a short list of real ingredients. One of my favorite real-food brands is Primal Foods. They even have salad dressings that are made with avocado oil.
- Quinoa instead of rice. Quinoa is all the rage these days, and for good reason. It has a much higher nutrition profile than rice and can easily be substituted. It’s a good source of iron, fiber, protein, and other vitamins/minerals. You can cook it just as you do rice on your stovetop or rice maker. It takes some people a while to adjust to the texture, so when you cook it, try subbing 1/4 of your rice for quinoa, then bumping up that ratio over time until it’s just quinoa. Quinoa tastes great as a side dish, served with a sauce, as a salad or sprinkled on a salad, in a quinoa bowl, and even in cake.
- Whole grain flours instead of rice flour and starch. There are a lot of rice-based gluten free flours that work incredibly well as a substitute for wheat flour, but finding ways to add in some whole grains when you can is always a good idea. My recipe for homemade flour mix has rice flour and starch, but also includes sorghum flour (nutrition comparable to whole wheat flour) and brown rice flour. It works great in sandwich bread or the crescent roll recipe I just mentioned. Another great option we recently discovered is an entirely whole grain, starch-free flour blend from Tree Street Grains. Vivian’s Live Again also sells a whole grain muffin mix that we love.
5. Get Moving
Living with a chronic condition such as Celiac Disease, another autoimmune disease, food allergies or any other condition that limits your diet can be stressful! You likely find yourself worrying about cross contamination, and trying to find safe places to dine, among other things. It’s an adjustment to your normal way of life and though it gets easier along the way, there will always be an added element of stress.
One thing that has helped us immensely is starting an exercise routine. You can find anything that works for you. My husband gets up early every morning and does a crazy amount of push ups and pull ups, or makes a trip to the gym. I love going to exercise classes at our local community center, walking with friends, and hitting up the gym. It’s been a big stress reliever for him, and for me as I’m often the one providing the meals and planning vacations, family parties, and dining.
My advice is to find something, anything that you enjoy and that pushes your limits a little so your body has a chance to get rid of that stress and tension that’s a part of your life now.
6. Drink Up!
If you’re wondering how to live a healthy lifestyle, this is one of the most important things you can do!
Drinking enough water is critical to help your body function correctly. As a rule of thumb, you should be downing half your body weight in ounces over the course of a day. So, if you weigh 150 lbs, you should be drinking at least 75 ounces of water.
If it is hard for you to consume that much water, try adding a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, some fresh fruit or cucumbers, or even a no-calorie drink stick (I love True Lemon)
- We live in a world of so much opportunity, you can truly find anything if you look for it. The things you choose to see, spend time on, and think about will affect your emotional and physical health more than you realize. Choose to look for the good – follow positive and uplifting social media accounts, friends you build you up, and limit your time on news websites or apps.
- Life is hard. It just is. Living a gluten free life is often hard. But you can choose to focus on what you can eat and do instead of what you can’t. You can choose to help others who are going through similar challenges.