10 Healthy Foods for the Grain-Free Kitchen

bananas

Organic bananas

I consider bananas a staple in my grain-free diet. Not only are they filling and under 100 calories, but bananas pack a nutritional punch with B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, fiber, even a gram of protein. If you have milk in the house (cow’s, coconut, almond, whatever) – perfect smoothie by itself or as a base. I specify organic bananas because they are usually only 10-15 cents more per pound than regular.

Carrots

Organic carrots

Carrots are versatile, filling, delicious, and one cup provides your entire RDA of vitamin A. Carrots also give you carbohydrates, particularly helpful if you’re going for a grain-free but not low-carb diet. Carrots give you lots of soluble and insoluble fiber as well, helping to eliminate the need for those “healthy fiber-filled whole grains”. Carrots are also a good organic buy because they are very close in price to – sometimes even cheaper than – regular carrots.

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Sunflower seeds

I love sunflower seeds because they are a perfect grain-free replacement for croutons on a big, yummy salad. Sunflower seeds are rich in iron, fiber, magnesium and B6 – you just want to limit them to a handful as there are 200 calories in a mere ¼ cup, and they can contain a lot of sodium if not raw and/or unsalted.

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Eggs

What really needs to be said here? Eggs are awesome. Fried, poached, omelets, quiche, hard-boiled, deviled, not to mention that in grain-free baked goods eggs are often a vital binder. For help sorting out what kind are best for you, Lisa at 100 Days of Real Food has a handy chart explaining egg labels and exactly what they mean.

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Olive oil

Ahhh olive oil! I love it. Nearly anything can be sauteed to delicious perfection in it, and it has a high heat tolerance for frying as well. Homemade salad dressing just begs for a good olive oil. On top of the taste benefits, olive oil contains MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids, considered healthy for their cholesterol-lowering effects), antioxidants, and can even be used in skin and hair care.

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Kale

I used to stay away from kale because being a very mediocre cook, kale intimidated me to no end. Then I heard about kale chips, and I had to try making them. Super easy, delicious, even kids like them! Sauteed in balsamic vinegar and garlic, kale makes a yummy side dish. The real bonus with kale is that it’s high in iron, vitamin K, antioxidants, fiber, and it’s anti-inflammatory. Kale is affordable, to boot!

yogurt

Yogurt (Greek and regular)

Plain full-fat yogurt is my go-to for smoothies, or easy breakfast with some fruit and a drizzle of honey. High in protein and of course a great source of gut-healthy active cultures (probiotics, essentially), yogurt is rich and creamy, even a great substitute for that ice cream craving.

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Potatoes (sweet or regular)

Not everyone agrees on eating potatoes on a grain-free diet, and certainly not those trying to cut out all white starches. I find that being able to have a small potato or a few chips really gives me that little bit of satisfaction I sometimes need when missing the bulk of bread products with a soup or meat. Sweet potatoes are a good healthy choice for those who don’t want white starch – they provide you with iron, fiber, folate (superior to artificial “folic acid”), and more than twice the RDA of vitamin A.

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Spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash is a true gift to the grain-free diet. It’s super yummy baked with just (real) butter, or butter and brown sugar, and can even serve as a passable noodle substitute for under your favorite pasta sauce. Spaghetti squash contains multiple nutrients and minerals like selenium, copper, and zinc, but one of the biggest benefits to the grain-free diet is that it only has 42 calories per cup, thus offering an enormous calorie savings over pasta.

nuts

Nuts

While the nut debate rages back and forth in the grain-free and paleo communities, I adhere to a simple philosophy – moderation is key. Our ancestors certainly would have foraged nuts, but they wouldn’t have been getting them by the bucketful as we can in a supermarket. Added to a trail mix with dried fruits, or eaten by the small handful once in a while as a protein pick-me-up, nuts can be a healthy inclusion in the grain-free diet. Eaten with restraint, nuts give you heart-healthy fats, brain-healthy omega-3s, protein, and fiber (gee, that whole “must eat whole grains for the fiber” argument is shrinking by the minute, isn’t it?). Just watch your intake if you use a lot of nut flours in baking, as nuts do contain phytates just like grains do.

What are your favorite grain-free, nutrition-packed foods? Share in the comments.

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What’s for Grain-Free Breakfast?

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A brief word on breakfast

Friends have asked me what I eat for breakfast if I don’t eat cereal, toast, muffins, pancakes or…you get the gist. Truth be told, smoothies are my favorite breakfast and actually have been for a long while – before I ever started eating grain free. So, what’s in my smoothie? Typically a combo of  several of the following:

  • milk (either cow’s – which I’m trying to eliminate, almond, or coconut)
  • coconut water
  • frozen strawberries
  • frozen pineapple (just a few chunks – too many and the smoothie gets too grainy and bitter)
  • banana (ALWAYS banana – in my opinion it’s the one ingredient that eliminates the need for added sugar)
  • raspberries – fresh or frozen
  • greek or regular plain-flavored yogurt
  • a splash of orange juice
  • chia or flax seeds
  • kale or spinach (only occasionally at this point, since my blender doesn’t completely puree the bits – the fruit really does mask the flavor for the most part)
  • peaches or whatever other fruit happens to be in season
  • a drizzle of honey if you prefer a sweeter taste

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What else?

  • yogurt with fruit or preserves and seeds/nuts
  • eggs – boiled, fried, scrambled, poached (I have a microwave poacher that we adore), omelets!!!
  • meat – bacon (I bake mine in the oven – SUPER easy), sausage, ham, buy on sale!
  • fruit and cheese (go all French-like on your breakfast, why not??)
  • apples and peanut butter (I still eat peanuts at this point – use almond or other butter if you don’t)
  • hash browns (I openly admit I get the frozen patties, they’re cheap, easy peasy in the toaster oven, and the kids love ’em – I have other hash brown prep ideas I’ll be sharing in a future post)

Being a major noob in the grain-free kitchen, I haven’t experimented much yet with alternative flours, so here’s a great list of more complex grain-free breakfast recipes on The Home Life and Me blog.

In the end I’m all about simple. The kids usually grab cereal or sometimes even potato chips (shhh). I’m usually up late working, and my stomach is a bit skitchy in the morning, so when I get up I want to cram some quick ‘n easy energy into my body. More often than not that means a smoothie, but I am looking forward to trying out some different recipes especially with the holidays coming.

A friend just loaned me the GAPS cookbook Internal Bliss, so I will be sharing the results of some of those dishes in the coming weeks.

Share your favorite grain-free breakfast with me in the comments!

To Graze or Not to Graze?

photo courtesy CC license via http://www.flickr.com/photos/10126935@N05/
photo courtesy CC license via http://www.flickr.com/photos/10126935@N05/

I can’t talk about my grain-free journey without talking about grazing. Grazing has received a lot of attention over the past several years, both positive and negative. In the past few years the idea of spreading food intake out to several times over the course of the day has taken some hits, with some “experts” even accusing the eating pattern of causing diabetes and rotten teeth!

Despite the sensationalist headline, the real truth of the problem is buried halfway through the linked article:

“Indeed, rather than stabilising blood sugar levels, snacking on sugary, high-carbohydrate foods is more likely to make them fluctuate wildly – which can make you feel more, rather than less hungry”…..”If you eat cake or biscuits, the high sugar content causes you to release too much insulin and your blood sugar ends up lower than it was before you ate, as your body tries to compensate for the sudden sugar intake.”

Well, DUH?! This, in my opinion, is the crux of the grazing issue. People typically don’t grab a piece of cheese or some nuts and an apple, they grab a sugary granola bar, crackers, or a bagel – and the difference in the effect on blood sugar is enormous.

That said, some people may do better on a few larger meals, and the most important thing is to individualize based on your own results and instincts, as fitness guru Jonny Bowden discusses here.

Esteemed pediatrician and author Dr. William Sears also has some thoughts on grazing that are worth the read, including touching on his experience with colon cancer.

Still, in my (albeit limited thus far) experience with eliminating grains, I think we may be barking up the wrong tree. Grazing may very well wreak havoc on blood sugar and weight control – depending upon your food choices. We already know that grains, especially wheat, cause blood sugar to spike.

There’s also the problem of the way our grains are produced now compared to 100+ years ago.

It’s not surprising, then, that apparently eating grains has an equivalent effect on your blood sugar as drinking a can of Pepsi.

So what do I do? My approach is simple: I follow my body’s cues. When I was eating a lot of breads and starches I had constant blood sugar spikes and crashes, followed by cravings, which led me to more starches starting the cycle all over again. Therefore, I couldn’t trust that these hunger attacks and cravings were the result of my body truly needing fuel, it was just a vicious roller coaster created by the ups and downs of the insulin cycle.

photo courtesy CC license via http://www.flickr.com/photos/toofarnorth/
photo courtesy CC license via http://www.flickr.com/photos/toofarnorth/

Since going grain free there are many times I forget to eat, and if I do get hungry it’s very mild, just a little physical reminder saying “hey, let’s grab a slice of cheese or a piece of fruit”. I do get hungry around lunch and dinner times, but I am satisfied by way less food. I would say I eat 6-8 times a day, with two of those usually being small “normal” meals and the rest being snacks or small appetizer type servings of food – almost all “real food”.

Although I don’t restrict myself intentionally with sweets or any food outside of grains, I find that I just don’t really need or want them often. I have not eliminated sugar – it would take a lot of kicking, dragging, and screaming to take away the sugar and cream in my coffee! 🙂

Getting back to the point, I think a grazing pattern, at least for part of the day anyway, is frequently a natural result of kicking grains because the body doesn’t get into that craving cycle. There are other benefits of grazing, but if three squares works for you, by all means carry on! This is just my experience with the grain-free journey so far.  Please share yours in the comments!

Getting to Grain Free

Not interested in weighing each chia seed that passes your lips? Me neither. So over photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/averagejane/counting every carb, calorie, and gram of sugar? Me too.

Trends among foodies and fitness buffs can be dizzying and overwhelming. One minute it’s cool to go into ketosis, the next we’re eating like cavemen. Even the non-diet diets – i.e. “lifestyle changes” – can be mind-numbing to real people who don’t have the time or resources to maintain a field full of organic goats and dandelion greens.

If you hang out online long enough, particularly among hippies and natural living type folk, it’s almost impossible not to be exposed to the concept that grains aren’t all they’re cracked up to be for human consumption. Given my own blood sugar challenges while riding the bread coaster, the logic of this wasn’t lost on me. Besides, I’m all in on doing the polar opposite of what the government says I should (cough – Monsanto and the FDA – cough).

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Before I jump into my reasons for eliminating grains, let me start with full disclosure:

What this blog is:

  • a running account of my everyday journey without grains, including peripheral topics like exercise and general eating habits
  • a place where I will share photos of my visually-imperfect food creations from my mega-vintage (and not in a cool way), regular old semi-sloppy kitchen on my very modest (often paper) dishware
  • a place where I will share my ideas for reasonably healthy food choices that won’t drive you crazy with hard to find ingredients and complex preparation
  • a place for you to share your grain-free eating ideas with me and everyone else

What this blog isn’t:

  • a failsafe guide for gluten intolerant or celiac individuals
  • a paleo diet plan, a low-carb diet plan, a no-sugar diet plan, an all-organic from farms that only grow wheatgrass fertilized with rainbows and unicorn poop diet plan, you get the idea
  • a blog full of fancy, super-clean food porn pictures that look like they came from Food Network

On to the “why”…

One of my daughters has been gluten-free for several months due to severe stomach pain and bloating when she eats wheat. I sort of gradually followed in her footsteps because I feel sluggish when I eat bready food, and a lot of what we were making with the gluten-free baking mixes was actually pretty good.

grainfreeiconAs I read a little more into the potential harms of grains in general, particularly the links between wheat and diabetes and thyroid problems (diabetes runs rampant in my family and I’m already hypothyroid), the idea of giving them up completely grew on me. Concurrently, I’d been experiencing some problems that made going grain free an even more obvious choice.

I’d been having stomach pains late at night for a few weeks. One evening after having a couple slices of frozen store-bought pizza, I had a severe episode, worse than any so far. It felt like I was being stabbed repeatedly in the upper abdomen while someone tightened a giant belt ` around my entire ribcage allll the way around from back to front.

My friendly neighborhood ER gave me some wonderful, wonderful IV morphine and did an ultrasound. They decided I had gallstones and probably gallbladder sludge (doesn’t that sound delish? Makes ya wanna gobble up a big tub of lard, no?).

Backtrack a couple months prior to this attack – I had gone through the horrifying breakup of my long-term relationship. Every woman who’s ever been through it knows what that means. Break out the carbs! And the wine, and the chocolate…and….nothing says “You’ll never have another boyfriend again, fatty!” like crying in the fetal position for weeks with nothing but a full refrigerator and your unwashed hair to console you.

Sooo, once that mammoth gallbladder attack flattened me for two days with a bottle full of Tylenol 3 and regret, I decided I had nothing to lose by getting rid of the rest of the grains.

Now, if you’ve done any browsing of the interwebz trying to find out about this way of eating, you’re probably on information overload. There IS a middle ground, I promise. You don’t have to subsist on sprouts and dehydrated berries or shop exclusively at Whole Foods (unless you want to go totally organic, in which case, go for it!).

Honestly, one of the biggest difficulties is simply explaining to others that you don’t eat any grains, yes there’s a good reason, and no you’re not nuts (you just eat a lot of them!).

Eating to live (as opposed to living to eat) can be simple, believe it or not. I’m still deep in the learning curve though, so don’t take my word for it. Wait, sort of take my word for it, and follow along so we can learn together!

Please share your grain-free tips, experiences, and thoughts in the comments!