Eating Real Food While Remaining Gluten Free

Chard and Kale on display.

Gluten-free grocery shopping involves reading a lot of labels with laser-like intensity. And, frankly, it only took me a few minutes to discover that much of the food on store shelves was filled with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, much less spell. That was when I started focusing on buying foods with simple, clear, understandable ingredients.

(The exception being, sigh, the occasional gluten-free bread or cracker item.)

The thing about eating real foods is they are, by and large, gluten free. Fruits, vegetables, dairy and eggs, meats, gluten-free grains. Depending on how you buy these foods, they can be quite economical. In my opinion, they taste much better than highly processed foods. I believe my taste buds have evolved since I eliminated gluten, and packaged foods, even though they’re gluten free, tend to taste like they’re designed to mask the flavor of the food.

I’ve discovered there is an actual movement devoted to Real Food, and while my personal journey is headed in that direction, I’m focusing here on real foods that make it easier to live gluten free while eating like a gourmet…a gourmet with a full-time job and lots of responsibilities.

  • Keep It Simple: When buying foods, look for short, clear ingredients lists. Why should potato chips be anything more than potatoes, oil, and salt? Maybe some pepper. Some of the Real Foods sites I’ve checked out suggest limiting the ingredients list to 5 items or less. Being gluten-free, I can get behind that suggestion because after five ingredients, I worry I have to pull out my cheat sheet of potentially gluten-containing additives and ingredients!
  • Buy Whole Foods: In the beginning, I loved the concept of bagged salads, but soon noticed the lettuce tasted weird compared to unbagged salads. Likewise with pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Yes, it’s okay to cheat sometimes, but I suspect you’ll be like me and find the extra minutes you spend cutting an apple are worth it in flavor.
  • Avoid Boxes and Bags: I purchase relatively few prepared foods, preferring to make things myself (which leads to weekend cook-a-thons). Foods that are designed to sit on a shelf or in the pantry for long periods of time tend to have ingredients to keep them from spoiling. Those are the ingredients I avoid as much as possible.
  • Learn to Make Modified Versions of Highly Processed Foods: One example of this, for me, is onion dip. Once I read the ingredients on a container of commercial dip, I vowed to start making this party favorite myself.
  • Shop the Perimeter: Whether you’re buying gluten-free foods or just looking for real foods, the outer edges of your store (with an exception of the bread aisle!) are where you’ll find the foods that aren’t highly processed.
  • Experiment: Every week, I have a box of organic vegetables delivered, and there are weeks when I get items I usually avoid (eggplant, anyone?). Those are the ingredients that usually end up inspiring me. Try working with ingredients you don’t normally use and see what happens!
  • Don’t Forget Frozen Veggies: I prefer frozen vegetables to canned. Canned tend to get watery, thus losing flavor. Vegetables like peas are frozen quickly, retaining much of their flavor. And they’re an inexpensive way to purchase out-of-season veggies.
  • Reconsider “Lite” and Non-Fat Foods: I admit to falling into the low-calorie food trap more than I should. Fat is an important part of our diets, and a better way to cut calories is to reduce the amount of fat in a dish by using less rather than using a product that may have healthy ingredients removed (or unhealthy ingredients added).
  • Create a Roster of Easy Gluten-Free Meals: Temptation to by highly-processed food comes when cooking a meal from scratch seems too complicated. This is when I fall back on a short list of easy, fast meals. From pasta to burgers, I have items that I can put on the table fast (and often faster than something from a box!).

It’s interesting to explore how much my diet has changed since I went gluten free. Before, I thought I ate much healthier than I really did. Today, I know I’m eating better and smarter than ever before. How has being gluten free changed your approach to food (beyond, ahem, the obvious)?

For more reading on this topic, check out this article from And here’s another focusing on the NAG Diet (Natural, Alive, Good Quality).

Tip of the Week

When buying produce, focus on fruits and vegetables that are naturally in season for your area. The quality is much better and the prices are far more reasonable than foods that must be imported from other regions.

Menu of the Week

Banh Mi sandwiches are extremely popular thanks to the mix of sweet, sour, and spicy ingredients. Since crusty French rolls are outside my diet, I like to use those same flavors to make weeknight chicken. Pickled vegetables form a base for the chicken. On the side, serve Vietnamese fried rice, using fish sauce, rice vinegar, and a bit of sugar in place of the traditional soy sauce.

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