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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.