There are many reasons for going grain free these days. Whether you have recently discovered that you have Celiac’s disease, you have been prescribed a grain free diet to isolate a potential autoimmune disorder, or you have chosen to explore the health benefits of avoiding grain, doing so can be a big lifestyle change.
Luckily, the gluten and grain free market is growing at a rapid face. According to the Financial Times, the global gluten-free retail market has expanded. In 2011, it was a $1.7 billion global market. By 2016 it had doubled, coming in at $3.5 billion, with market analysts predicting that it will reach $4.7 billion by 2020.
Yet, even with an increased number of options both at restaurants and in the grocery aisle, it can still be hard to figure out exactly what to eat on a grain free diet. That’s why we’re putting together this tip sheet on how to go fully grain free. Included are some of our favorite refrigerator stocking tips, grain replacement strategies, as well as tips for grain free drink and dessert choices.
If you’re still wondering how to go grain free, you’ve come to the right place.
Is a Grain Free Diet Healthier?
The answer to this question is complicated. If you suffer from Celiac’s or a similar gluten intolerance, then yes, going grain-free is essential to feeling healthy. Others have noted that grain-free diets reduce inflammation and help people feel less sluggish.
However, others find that going grain free makes them feel jittery and even constipated.
To understand the benefits and side-effects of being grain free, it’s important to understand the difference between whole grains and processed grains. Processed grains are full of simple carbs, meaning they give you a burst of energy but then leave you feeling drained soon after. Unprocessed whole grains are full of fiber, which can help keep you regular while also being slower to digest, allowing you to feel fuller longer.
If you aren’t sure if a grain-free diet is what you need, you might want to consider converting to only whole grains first. If you feel better and see results from the lifestyle change, then maybe you were overeating simple carbs. However, if after making this switch you still feel poorly, maybe you need to take the final step into living grain free.
Read the Labels
Obviously, if you’re going grain free, you’re going to have to stop eating bread and drinking beer. But other common foods might also have hidden grains or gluten contained within them.
Pickles, for example, may use malt vinegar — which contains gluten — in the pickling process. Instant gravy packets also contain gluten and flour. Hot dogs — and not just the bun — may use grain in the mixture. Wheat is also a key ingredient in soy sauce. Even frozen vegetables may have grains in their frozen sauces.
The key is to read the label and search for wheat ingredients. You may be surprised to learn that something you thought was grain-free might not actually be.
What Can You Eat on a Grain Free Diet?
Sometimes people feel anxiety over switching to grain free foods because they don’t realize just how many great fresh foods are still available. An excellent way to get over this anxiety is to spend some time thinking about all the wonderful things you can eat even after going grain free.
Vegetables are a great place to start, as they are both low in carbs and fat. Knowing that you are planning to go grain free can give you the opportunity to explore the full range of vegetables available in most grocery store produce sections. As many grocery stores stock exotic vegetables, this could be a great time for a culinary excursion.
Fruits are also obviously a great choice, although the amount of sugar in many fruits means that replacing grain with fruit can represent replacing one carb with another. So make sure that you are moderating the number of fruits that you add to your diet.
One of the biggest complaints made by those who are replacing grains in their diet is that they feel hungry earlier after eating. Grains are filling, but luckily so are proteins. Adding proteins to your diet — whether from meat or legumes — is an excellent way to stay full even after going grain free.
The key to success is to not think as much about what is missing from your diet as thinking about what you are adding instead. Such a big diet and lifestyle change can be daunting, but you can also approach it as a new adventure.
Grill or Roast Meats Ahead of Time
One of the reasons grains are so popular in our diets is because they are often easy to prepare quickly. For those of us that have busy schedules, the idea of quickly boiling pasta and heating up a sauce from a jar becomes increasingly appealing.
With a little pre-planning, you can actually make preparing grain free options just as easy. The key is to roast or grill meat over the weekend that you can then keep in the refrigerator and add to salads or a burrito bowl. It will drastically cut down on preparation time while still giving you some filling protein to go with your veggies.
Romain is the New Tortilla
There is an incredible convenience in the handheld meal, whether it’s a sandwich or a burrito. However, in both cases, the wrap or bread is a grain product.
So if you love to eat wrapped meats and cheeses on the go, consider using greens such as romaine or iceberg lettuce in place of a tortilla. You can approach your wrap in much the same way.
The Crock Pot is Your Friend
As we mentioned before, sometimes preparing grain free foods takes time that you just don’t have.
Instead of trying to speed up the preparation process, slow it down. By using a crock pot, you can cook your food all day while you are at work. You’ll come home to a great meal without having to do much beyond spooning your food onto the plate.
The other nice thing about the crock pot is it allows you to cook large quantities, allowing you to reheat leftovers later in the week.
Plus, it’s pretty hard to mess up a crock pot recipe. Because everything is slow cooked, the flavors meld and the meat remains moist, and you can use more affordable cuts without worrying about them getting too tough. How many times have you invested in an expensive cut of meat only to overcook it? With a crock pot, you don’t have to worry.
Stock Up on Grain Free Baking Ingredients
If you can’t let go of the idea of eating baked goods, you need to invest in grain free baking ingredients.
Almond flour is a great place to start. It can be used in a lot of different baked goods and is also good in dishes like meatloaf. Coconut flour and flax seed meal are also good flour replacements.
You should also look for more natural and unrefined sweeteners, like raw honey and maple sugar. For those trying to watch what they eat, baking is a double-whammy because it combines refined flours, which are bad carbs, with refined sugars.
If you have the ingredients for healthful grain-free baking on hand, you’ll be able to make those baked goods you miss without having to sacrifice your commitment to the grain-free lifestyle.
Substitute Your Noodles
Are you a pasta lover? Are your favorite dishes a combination of savory sauces and Italian specialties like spaghetti and linguini?
In the past, those going for a purely grain-free diet just had to grin and bear it. Lately, however, more cooks have been experimenting with replacing noodles with plant-based alternatives.
There are a couple of approaches you can take. One of the most popular noodle alternatives is the spaghetti squash. This squash is very fibrous, so you can scrape it out after you bake it and the meat will pull apart like noodles. Just add pesto or red sauce and you’ll have a very satisfying substitution.
You can also use a slicer to make noodles out of other vegetable ingredients, such as zucchini or sweet potato. If you aren’t comfortable or don’t want to invest in another kitchen gadget, a lot of grocery stores are starting to sell vegetables in noodle form, removing yet another step from your preparation.
Substitute the Bun with Portobello Mushroom Caps
Vegetarians have long use Portobello mushroom caps as a burger alternative. However, if you are okay with meat but want to get rid of the buns, you can invert that equation and replace the buns with caps instead. If you have a Panini press, you can even add the sandwich to the press to make the flavors meld together.
Give Cauliflower Rice a Try
Rice is another grain that can be hard to quit. Depending on your preferred cuisine, stir fries or burrito bowls are often constructed on a bed of rice.
Luckily, shredded cauliflower is a great alternative that replicates both the flavor and texture of rice. Plus, it’s super easy to make if you have a food processor. Just throw some cauliflower florets in a food processor and pulse it until it is the consistency of rice. Or, like vegetable noodles, many grocery stores sell cauliflower rice right next to the full cauliflower heads in the produce aisle.
Replace Sandwiches with Salads
Have you ever noticed that most sandwiches have all the ingredients of a salad slapped between two pieces of bread? With that in mind, it’s easy to convert your favorite sandwiches into equally delicious salads. Fancy a BLT? Add chopped tomato and bacon bits to a salad. Prefer a ham and Swiss with mustard? Add ham and Swiss cheese cubes to a salad with a little homemade honey mustard dressing.
Try Flourless Muffins
One of the nice things about muffin tins is you don’t have to use them to cook traditional muffins. The dished pans allow you to bake other things in the same shape, which makes replacing a favorite baked good a snap.
A particularly good muffin replacement combines sweet potatoes with bananas in a blender with some almond butter, maple syrup, cinnamon and an egg.
Quiches are a favorite breakfast dish, combining the fluffiness of an omelet with a flaky crust. However, there are a lot of ways to make a crustless quiche that is just as delicious.
For those who want a crispier shell to the bottom of their quiche, you can use parmesan cheese.
Those layers of cheese, sauce and pasta can be hard to resist. But if you want to cut into those thick layers without the grains, consider using zucchini slices instead of pasta.
Make Good Dessert Choices
At the end of the day, sometimes you can’t resist your sweet tooth. If that sounds like you, then you need to make sure that you do have some grain-free desserts on hand so that you don’t break your diet to satisfy your needs.
For those who love chocolate, it’s a good idea to keep a bar of high-quality dark chocolate on hand. Not only is dark chocolate better than its sugar-laden milk counterparts, but it is also less likely to have hidden grains contained within its list of ingredients.
You can also make tasty chocolate almond flour poppers. Or blend almonds and dates in a blender and shape them into balls. That way, you’ll have a tasty treat that will make you feel like you’re cheating on your diet without actually giving in to your dessert urges.
Become a Wine Drinker
Drinking to excess is never a good idea, so we’re not recommending that you take up a lot of extra drinking as part of your health approach. However, if you do enjoy an adult beverage or two with your dinner, it’s time to switch from beer to wine.
Not only is wine grain free but it’s also rich in antioxidants. Plus a glass of red wine a day has proven to reduce cholesterol. If you’ve ever wondered what the big deal is with wine, now is a great time to find out!
Find a Restaurant That Understands Grain-Free Living
While going grain free will require revitalizing your pantry, it’s always good to know that you have a restaurant or two that you can trust if you decide that you just need to go out to eat.
Here at Yalla Mediterranean, we specialize in fresh ingredients simply prepared. We specialize in Mediterranean fare, which is a cuisine renowned for being well-suited for a wide variety of diets, whether vegetarian or grain free.
All our ingredients are sourced with painstaking effort to ensure that they are fresh and as local as possible. And we take your dietary needs seriously, meaning you can trust that our grain-free options are truly grain free without hidden ingredients.
Contact us today or stop by any of our locations in both Northern and Southern California. We are always excited to show our diners just how fresh and exciting grain-free food can be.