one year gluten free, part two.

IMG_2450In part one I described my first year gluten free. I’ll keep this post practical and tell you generally how I eat these days.

The two single best food decisions I’ve made (possible even better than eliminating gluten) are:

1. Making a green smoothie or vegetable juice for breakfast

and

2. Eating a salad for lunch (read my daily salad post here)

In my humble opinion we as Americans way over-do it on eating grains and starches in general. Think about the typical American day: cereal or toast for breakfast, a granola bar for a snack, sandwich for lunch, pasta or rice or bread with our dinner. Then maybe dessert.

That’s a lot of grains. And by grains I mean flour (wheat or gluten free), oats, rice, quinoa, casseroles, fried foods. I’m not a nutritionist, but I’ve learned that our bodies convert grains to sugar, which causes our blood sugar to spike, then drop. They can result in that dragginess we feel mid-morning and around 1:00 pm. They cause weight gain, bloated-ness, other stomach issues.

I’m not saying grains are evil. Just that the Standard American Diet is way too grain-dependant and since most of us aren’t milling our own wheat, it’s processed grains we’re consuming which are even worse for us. They’re stripped of their nutrients and filled with more sugar (check the package of your loaf of sandwich bread) and preservatives.

I think this is the reason so many people struggle with gluten. Gluten is in everything. Everything processed, that is, because it’s not just used in bread flour, it’s used as a preservative. So some of our digestive systems are rebelling (maybe more of us than we think).

So. I’m not saying I’ve given up grains. But I started to become aware of how much of my diet is grain-dependant, and began making some substitutes. Once I did that I started noticing how dairy-dependant the American diet is, but that’s a post for another time.

Cereal with milk is my absolute favorite breakfast. David teases me because my favorite cereals are in his opinion the super boring ones: plain Cheerios. Wheaties. Rice Chex. I love cereal. The more boring the better.

But back in South Asia when I started becoming aware of my diet, I realized I was feeling sick every day right after breakfast. That’s when I started connecting the foods I was eating to my daily health (it sounds cheesy, but keeping a food journal for a couple weeks really does help show you what makes you feel good and what doesn’t).

So one of the best changes I’ve made is to start my day with fruit and vegetables instead of cereal or toast or oatmeal. I make a green smoothie with almond milk. Or juice vegetables. If I’m in a time crunch and can’t make a smoothie, I eat an apple with almond butter. I typically follow my smoothie breakfast with a handful of almonds to fill my stomach.

I’ve felt so much better since starting this breakfast habit, and every time I travel and let it slide, I notice a difference in my digestion and energy-level. David is not gluten free but he feels the same way and now starts his day with a smoothie.

I try to keep my morning snack grain-free too. I have some fruit or veggies dipped in hummus. Or a handful of nuts.

Then I eat a salad for lunch.

By following this regimen, I can eat a relatively normal dinner with rice or gluten-free pasta, sometimes dessert, a glass of wine, and feel fine. Our dinners include a large portion of veggies and a small portion of meat and are gluten and dairy free for the most part.

I definitely have a sweet tooth, but I’ve taken to eating a few squares of dark chocolate (60% or higher) instead of cookies or ice cream (thanks to my father-in-law for that idea).

Don’t get me wrong, I have my treats. I love brown rice cakes with natural (no sugar added) peanut butter. I almost always keep a loaf of gluten free bread in the freezer because I love extra-crispy slices of toast with eggs fried over-medium, or toast topped with avocado, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of lemon juice.

But I try not to let those snacks be all of what I eat.

I love the way I eat now and really don’t miss the food I used to crave before — the constant stream of cereal and cookies and crackers. Your taste buds really do change and you begin to crave food that both tastes good and makes your body feel good.

I feel inspired to try new things, but I also don’t beat myself up for backsliding every now and then. That’s the most helpful thing I learned from my nutritionist: “Don’t focus on cutting things out of your diet; instead put your energy into adding healthful foods.” David and I keep coming back to that principle when our diet starts to slide.

It all comes down to this: when we eat well, we feel well. It’s worth it.

I’ll be back next week to talk about how my kids like our whole foods diet (spoiler alert: they don’t).

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