Gluten Free on a Budget

Gluten Free on a Budget

Going gluten free can be less expensive than you think, especially when you go gluten free the healthy way.

Many people stop eating gluten, only to replace their former favorite sugary gluten-filled foods with foods that are just as damaging. Many of the expensive, packaged, gluten-free foods that are available in local health food markets and grocery stores are made from corn starch, potato starch or another kind of starch can be as equally counterproductive to making you feeling — and looking — your best as eating gluten.

Here’s the trick: Keep your gluten-free diet as real as possible. What I mean is: Keep it filled with as many unprocessed, real foods as possible and shy away from packaged, gluten-free foods ,which are pricier and definitely will not get you on the health track.

 It's important to know that it's not just gluten, though, that can cause major havoc on your health. I'm pretty passionate about giving grains the heave ho, too, and I have my reasons. Not only have I seen the removal of such grains improve the health of thousands, but also I have my own personal story with the stuff:

Body-Building Days: My first foray into discovering how food, beyond anything else, affects health was while working with a professional trainer who focused on physical fitness and nutrition. I had been entering fitness/bodybuilding contests and enlisted the trainer to help me become more competitive.

The first thing he told me was to do away with wheat and gluten, which was an unconventional idea at that time.  The results? I not only lost body fat and gained energy, but also was able to overcome a few nagging health issues, almost immediately. Needless to say, gluten was not on my radar anymore.

No More Gluten Gave Me Power: When I rid myself of gluten, my body got super lean. I was stronger than ever and what was even better was that my longtime battle with endometriosis (bad cramps every month) vanished. My mother took me to the doctors several times and all they could offer was birth control pills and high doses of Motrin to relieve the pain. And here, the answer was as easy as cutting gluten from my diet. That was my first Ah-ha moment on how food really affects the body in a profound way.

BUT, I went sideways: I took the gluten-free message too far, though, which is a SUPER COMMON PROBLEM! If you are a Doc reading this blog, then know that there is real harm in telling patients to just “go gluten free.”   The message is tangled with confusion.

When I went gluten free, I ate fruit, veggies and lean meats, and yes, I also ate everything gluten free I could get my hands on. As long as the package said gluten free, in my book it was fair game.

Bad move. What I was getting instead was potato starch, cornstarch and any other starch that makes food taste good without evil gluten. The problem is, all of those starches are equally bad for you, or a pretty close second.

Think Grain Free, not Gluten Free: I eventually crashed and burned and yadda yadda … here I am. What I learned was this: Gluten free is a great first step (if you do it without all of the gluten alternatives), but what you really want to jump to is from going from: Gluten free to Grain free. That’s when your cells will experience true health. (Since products with wheat often contain gluten, that is where you often end up going gluten and grain free.)

You can make many great gluten-free dishes in a snap using zucchini (zucchini “noodles” make a mean lasagna), squash (“spaghetti” squash makes a fantastic gluten-free pasta), eggplant (makes a great shell for casseroles), sweet potatoes (incredibly versatile and will fuel you better than any almost any other starch), pumpkin (pumpkin pancakes are tasty winners) and cauliflower (makes great mashed “potatoes” and meat balls. You won’t miss a thing. Promise!

And now back to my other gluten-free tips for the budget-conscious:

- Buy the leanest cuts of meat available when they are on sale;  stock up!

- Purchase meat from small, local farms that may allow discounts if purchased in bulk (you’ll need extra freezer space).   

- Plan, plan plan. Set aside one or two days a week to whip up some meals and dishes that are your family’s favorites. You can also slice veggies, make salsa, hard-boil some eggs, etc., to have them at the ready. Batch-cook food and freeze. Soups, chilies and stews are  often budget-friendly, quick and can be doubled and stored in the freezer. Last-minute, on-the-run trips to the grocery store usually involve hasty decisions and extra spending.  

- Opt for nuts and seeds in bulk. Anything you can buy in bulk is budget-wise, as long as it’s in a heavily shopped market where food has a quick turnover (so you don't get rancid nuts).

- Consider slow-cooked meals, which typically feature a less-expensive cut of meat. Slow-cooking nicely flavors and tenderizes meats and poultry.

- Substitute flours. If you crave muffins, cookies, breads, etc. you can bake gluten- free treats with coconut, almond and tapioca flours and arrowroot powders instead of wheat flour. The challenge: These types of flours are expensive because they’re not abundant in the United States. Overcome the expense by going the homemade route: Buy raw almonds (about $ 6.99 per pound as opposed to 10.99 for almond flour), soak overnight, and grind in a blender or food processor (just make sure you pulse). You can sift the almond flour to remove any chunks, or just use as is. It’s really quite simple. Another option is to buy gluten-free nut flours via the Internet, where sometimes they are  less expensive. For example Now Foods sells some of the least expensive tapioca and almond flour I’ve seen.

The bottom line is, the less processed or refined your gluten free diet is, the less expensive – and healthier — it will be. And use store-bought gluten-free flour as the exception, rather than the rule.

Happy shopping!

Keep thinking big and living bold!