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Saturday, June 8, 2013

The gluten-free life and breakfast

A couple of weeks ago, when I said I hadn't been feeling well, it was food allergy, intolerance, and/or sensitivity-related, and had just gotten the best of me. I had a whopper of a reaction that left me sick for almost a week. I'm still working out what I can and can not eat. 

For the time being, I'm dairy and gluten-free. The dairy part I'm very used to. I've been unable to eat dairy for 25 years. The gluten is a little more difficult. I've been on and off gluten over the years. The western diet is very heavy in foods containing wheat -- pizza, pasta, burritos, cookies, cakes -- all some of my favorite foods. I am hopeful, that at some time, I can re-introduce some of the foods I can't have right now, on a rotation schedule (once every 2 or 3 days).

So, what can you eat when you're dairy and gluten-free? 

I have chosen not to eat all those packaged "gluten-free" products, instead preferring a whole foods diet, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, many of the packaged gluten-free specialty foods are lacking in nutrients. In place of wheat flour, many use potato starch, tapioca flour, white rice flour and added sugar, to achieve the desired texture of their wheat-based counterparts. It's important to remember that gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy. I had a sample of a gluten-free, dairy-free Oreo-type cookie yesterday, at the organic/health-foods store. Sure it won't cause a reaction in my body, but it won't add any nutrients, either.

With a whole foods approach, I can look at a sweet potato and see for myself that there is no lurking ingredient that will do me in. And with home-baking, I know exactly what goes into every item I bake.

Also, eating a lot of packaged gluten-free foods pushes a lot of healthier foods out of the diet. I think I've had a tendency to eat too many grain-based foods in the past, when I could use a larger variety of foods in my diet. I find that I am much more likely to put together a healthy and balanced snack when I don't have the manufactured g-free products in the kitchen.

Some of the gluten-free replacement foods are just awful. I've tried the g-free spaghetti and didn't like the ball of glue it cooked into. The rice flour tortillas were horrible. I'd hate to spend $6 on a loaf of g-free bread only to discover it was just as bad.

And if those reasons weren't enough for me, gluten-free manufactured foods are very expensive. $6 for 4 hamburger buns, or a small loaf of bread. $6 for a box of gluten-free brownie mix. $3 for a 6-count package of some of the worst rice flour tortillas I've ever tasted (yes, I caved and bought a package. I wanted a burrito. These were terrible. I'll stick to corn tortillas from now on.) $5 for 2 cupcakes. $4.50 for a smallish package of gluten-free Oreo-type cookies. I can see buying the burger buns, for a special cook-out. But if we're doing burgers, I think I can also just eat mine animal-style (In-n-Out Burger -- burger and all the fixings wrapped in a lettuce leaf). Otherwise, I'm a good baker, and there are lots of gluten-free recipes online.

Breakfasts on a gluten-free diet

Of the meals in the western diet, breakfast seems to be the one that centers most around either wheat or oats. We're often in a hurry in the mornings, and breakfasts of cold cereal, toast, and pastries are quick to grab and go. The newly gluten-free faces the shelves at the organic/health foods store and is stunned by the prices on those small boxes of g-free cereal and 2-count packages of g-free muffins.

And for some of us, our bodies have been starving of nutrients, in the weeks leading up to a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity. What we're really needing is for our breakfasts to be fully-loaded with nutrients -- fruits, vegetables, and protein.

Here are some of my favorite dairy-free, gluten-free breakfasts, many of which would also work as paleo breakfasts (you may notice there are no eggs here, I've had to minimize those as well for the time being).

Turkey bacon, grilled apple slices, sauteed carrots -- I use one skillet to prepare everything, simple clean-up for me.

Sausage and sweet potato hash browns -- I cook the whole package of sausage at a time and store in the freezer, taking out just what I need at a time and heat in the microwave. For quick sweet potato hashbrowns, I peel an entire sweet potato, then cut off a chunk as needed for breakfast, wrap the rest of the sweet potato and store in the fridge. I dice the sweet potato, then microwave the dices for 1 minute, to pre-cook. Then I saute the dices in a bit of oil in a skillet. It just takes a few minutes until they're golden.

Tapioca "pudding", not very sweet, made with tapioca pearls, almond milk, 1 stevia packet, 1 teaspoon sugar, vanilla extract -- I make a batch and keep in the fridge. Some mornings I want just a couple of spoonfuls before I head out the door to take my daughters to school. Then when I come back I have a proper breakfast. (This is not a terribly nutrient-dense breakfast. Tapioca is a starch, the root of the cassava plant. But I like keeping some cooked not-too-sweet tapioca on hand, as it is one of the few foods that my stomach can handle on a bad day, even better than rice.)

Leftover brown rice, sauteed in butter, with cinnamon, almond slices and raisins -- this is one of my old favorites. I've been eating this for breakfast for 20 years. It goes together quickly and heats while my coffee is brewing (I add the raisins at the very end, so they don't scorch).

Gluten-free banana muffins -- made with millet flour, brown rice flour and xanthan gum. I'll post the recipe next week, along with my gluten-free dark chocolate brownie bites recipe.

Leftover baked potato, re-warmed, with butter, along with some turkey bacon -- bacon can be cooked ahead and frozen, making this an even quicker breakfast.

Gluten-free pumpkin pancakes -- using brown rice flour, millet flour and xanthan gum, again. Another of my old favorites. 25 years ago I was on an elimination diet to determine allergies. Grocery stores didn't have gluten-free bread products. Rice flour pancakes (made with my home-ground brown rice flour done in the blender) were my staple bread. I had them for breakfast and at lunch with peanut butter. Adding pureed fruit or vegetable helps the texture of non-wheat quick breads.

Buckwheat pancakes -- buckwheat is not a wheat, and so can be eaten by the gluten sensitive.

Puffed rice or puffed millet cereal, with sliced bananas, almond slivers and almond milk -- we had a bag each of rice and millet cereal in the pantry. These are bland at best, on their own, but have taste, texture and added nutrients when fruit and nuts are added. The one redeeming thing about these packaged puffed grain cereals is they are simple. Just the grain, often times the whole grain. No surprises. No weird dough conditioners, preservatives or food colorings. My stomach can't take any more surprises this month.

You may notice that many people with gluten sensitivity also tend to eat more paleo (fruits, vegetables, roots, nuts, eggs and meat), and minimize grains in their diets. Some of us find we actually feel best with fewer grains, even the gluten-free grains. So, many of my breakfasts just don't have grains at all. And I feel better if I don't start in on any grains until lunch or later.

I've now been completely gluten and dairy free for 3 weeks. I feel loads better, and have even had a surprise or two. My belly bloat is totally gone. I no longer look pregnant. And a patch of eczema is showing remarkable improvement. I'll have to see if the eczema continues to improve. Eczema can mysteriously clear up, then reappear. So, I'll wait before any definitive pronouncements on that situation.

Next on The gluten-free life, how I grind my own brown rice flour. I read about this, in the one and only book in the public library on food allergies, 25 years ago. There were not a lot of resources for people with food issues back then. Practically no one had heard of Celiac at the time. Major grocery store chains did not sell almond, hemp, rice or soy milk, except as infant formula. Back then, I made my own almond milk, in the blender. The only kind of gluten-free bread I ever saw was this really awful-looking white rice flour bread, and even that was in a health-food store. A lot has changed. There are many options now. But I still like to make this as affordable as possible.

Have a great weekend!


  1. We have Coeliacs in the family so are used to cooking GF free. GF packaged foods are ridiculously expensive over here too and sometimes not all that nice. Our favourite GF breakfast cereal is Mesa Sunrise (corn,flax,quinoa) but your cereal alternatives look great!

    1. Hi Sarah,
      I seem to remember you mentioning that your dad was gluten-free. I'm very glad that there are all these options and information now, especially for the celiac, who really can't "cheat". We don't eat out much, but my sister does, and she was telling me that many restaurants now indicate on their menus if something is GF or not.

      The breakfast cereal sounds good, and would have a fair amount of protein I would guess, with the quinoa.

  2. Glad you are feeling better. When they first diagnosed me with fibromyalgia they had me eat a gluten free diet and I found it did help. I think that is probably why the low carb diet seems to be working so well for me. Hard to do much gluten without

    On a side note, I did find one pasta my whole family loved at the time...enough that they would request it. I still buy it to use in my dishes whenever I have the option.

    1. Hi Shara,
      I read that fibro patients often improve with a g-free diet. When my eczema began to improve I started looking into all the possible health concerns that could improve. It was an extensive list.

      I will look into that pasta. The one I tried a few years ago was rice and amaranth, and it just cooked up into this gelatinous glob that was so unappealing. I found I preferred to just have my pasta sauce on rice, and let the family have regular pasta. But I'll check tinkyada. Thanks!

  3. Glad that you are feeling better, and able to be proactive with dietary changes, without killing your budget. My sil has Crone's and several food intolerances. I do know that she makes her own baked goods, using almond flour. She buys it on the Internet for the best price.

    1. Hi Carol,
      I am really trying to not need to increase our grocery budget by too much with this. I'll have to see. But I think your sil is on the right track with doing all her own baking. Even if the ingredients cost a bit more, it's not the mark-up that I've seen with manufactured g-free products.

      Thanks for the tip on buying almond flour online. I'll compare prices to our organic/health foods/bulk bin store.

  4. I am a grains addict and fortunately don't need to cut back, but having sweet potato hash browns, baked potatoes, sauteed brown rice or pumpkin pancakes all sound delicious and are things I would try!

    1. Hi anexacting,
      I was a bit surprised at how much of my diet had centered around wheat. Having other foods for breakfasts and snacks has been a nice change. The sweet potato hash browns are one of my new favorites. I think I enjoy them more than white potato hash browns.

      I'm still working on how to do this with less time investment, especially with breakfasts, as not being a morning person, cooking early in the day feels to be a chore.

  5. oh ME TOO! I'm going to sit down tomorrow or later when it's quiet and read this one more carefully. I was on a hypo allergenic exclusion diet for three weeks and felt GREAT. Then I had to reintroduce foods one by one and fell off the wagon big time. Now I feel that the three weeks was wasted - except it wasn't, I'm pretty sure about the gluten (boo hoo, I love my home made bread and pizza and and and ...) and potatoes / tomatoes etc. So after I've read your post today, I'm going to do another three weeks but just without the gluten and see how I feel. I'm totally with you too about the packaged gluten-free products, I think they're pretty bad - and of course, there's potato starch in them.

    Can't wait for some quiet time to check back in here.

    Have a good day! You've made mine.

    1. Hi Jessica,
      I've done the exclusion diet before, too. It is hard to stay on for very long, and I always just seem to find myself eating more and more of the things that don't work for me. I am trying very hard this time to stick with it. I've been vigilant with the gluten and dairy this time, not as good with some of the other allergens.

      I have been given 2 recipes for gluten-free yeast bread that I'll be trying out in the next couple of weeks. One was by a woman whose son has been GF since he was 3 years old. She really knows this stuff and is a good baker. The other is from a woman who is celiac and really missed her breads. Her husband is a chef and helped her improve on recipes for breads. If I like either of these recipes, I'll certainly share.

      So you think potatoes and tomatoes are a problem, too. Sweet potatoes are a different family, right? I've found that I really like the sweet potatoes as fries and hashbrowns.

      I was at the organics/health foods/bulk bins store yesterday, reading labels, checking prices. About half of the GF baking blends of flour had potato starch, but the other ones used tapioca starch. I thought it would be nice to have some flour blends so that I could quickly put together biscuits and other quick breads. But I could custom blend my own flours/starches. You could give yourself a bit of convenience by mixing up a GF flour blend, that was tailored to your specific needs.

      Good luck with another exclusion diet. Keep telling yourself that you will feel great again! I look for specific indicators that this is working for me, and that helps me to stay on track.

    2. I look forward to the recipes, I've tried buckwheat pancakes which were weird because they looked *exactly* like normal pancakes but felt completely different. For breakfast I have a rice cereal cooked with fruit and nuts which is quite tasty - in fact, it's mostly nut and fruits with the rice cereal to bind it all into a kind of porridge.

      Yes, sweet potato is in a different family, I eat a lot of them.

      Having a stand-by gluten free mix will be handy I think for those "I need a baked goods" moment ;)

    3. I had a hot cereal this morning that was a blend of corn, brown rice, amaranth and buckwheat. I mixed in half a banana and a handful of almonds and I thought it was every bit as good a breakfast as what the rest of the family was having -- pancakes. I put some maple syrup on my hot cereal and almond milk. I'll be repeating this one. I've wanted to try and make my own brown rice hot cereal, by using my coffee grinder to chop/grind the dry rice. I just haven't gotten to trying it yet.

  6. Lili,
    First off glad you are continuing to feel better.
    I too have issues with certain foods and it seems I just have to continue to modify, it can be frustrating. The menu you have prepared and the photos you share look very appealing and healthy. We eat veggies, veggies and veggies-When I make spaghetti-it really is homemade sauce (veggie) over broccoli-the list goes on and on.
    I hope this continues to work for you and that you stay strong!

    1. Hi Jemma,
      Thank you!
      It's really helpful to hear that others have to deal with food issues, too. It keeps me from feeling the "poor me, I can't have pizza the way I used to". And I like your way of eating "spaghetti" -- pasta sauce over broccoli. That sounds delicious! I feel fortunate that I do enjoy veggies. This would be very tough if I didn't.

  7. I'm so sorry you're dealing with this stuff. Unfortunately, I am no stranger to food allergies and intolerances! My list is extensive and varied, so packaged foods aren't even an option because I can't eat anything that says "spices" or "natural flavorings" on the label... which is about 90% of what's found in a typical grocery store.

    All I can say is that you'll adjust. I remember when I first got diagnosed, I went to the grocery store and came home in tears. I just felt like there was nothing that I could eat! But it gets easier. I haven't had bread in so long that I've sorta forgotten that it's a staple part of most American's diet! And... I also haven't had an anaphylactic reaction in a very long time either!

    Best of luck in your new cooking adventure!

    1. Hi Cat,
      I know what you mean. My first reaction was "what am I going to eat?" Then I looked in the pantry and realized that I actually had a lot of foods right here already that were okay. I think getting past the idea that I "need" grains/breads has helped me a lot.

      You're right, I'll adjust. It's probably a good thing that I've been dairy-free for so long. I can see in my own life that adjustment won't be such a big deal. I also feel fortunate that my reactions are all either rashes/eczema or GI, and not anaphylaxis. And I'm glad that it's just me, and not one of my kids.

  8. How timely, we were just talking today about giving up breads and wheat based products to see if we can lose weight and/or feel better. I like corn flour and could be very happy with it and cornmeal. We eat a large amount of rice. It is still just in the "talk" phase but I am slowly going to wean us off breads.

    1. Hi Cheapchick,
      I have known several people who lost weight and felt better on a GF diet. The ones who lose weight do not buy the GF packaged foods, but instead substitute more veggies where they might have had a wheat product. Like pasta sauce over spaghetti squash instead of noodles, or for pizza, using a grated zucchini "crust" instead of bread dough. And there are those times, like your at a reception with cakes or cookies, when you just go without, or choose something healthier like fruit or cheese or veggies, all due to being on a GF diet. So GF for weight loss is more about limiting what you eat, by eliminating an entire food category (mainly sweets and breads).

      Although, I was reading some research, and there is a theory that wheat has something in it that makes you hungry for more. And if you eliminate the wheat, then your hunger naturally declines a bit.

      Whatever you decide to do, good luck with it.

  9. Darn it! I read this after I got home from work today--and I spent the day working with a PT who has celiac. But it sounds like you are doing your homework. I know she has told me that she has a separate jar of peanut butter because if someone makes a sandwich and the knife touches the bread and crumbs get in the PB, she gets a reaction! I have made dinners for people with celiac and it is a challenge. I have made peanut butter cookies which don't use wheat flour and I like them better than the traditional PB cookies (I would find it hard to live without cookies!).

    My sister has a soy allergy and gets skin rashes--not that I'm trying to complicate your life, but it's something to consider. Soy is added to lots of stuff (although you probably don't eat much because of your whole foods diet).

    Good luck!

    1. Hi Kris,
      I've done the same thing with the peanut butter. I wanted a spoonful the other day, so opened up a new jar just for myself, then tucked it away where it won't get used by anyone else.

      I have been cutting out the soy, too. I used to use a lot of soy milk (now switched to almond milk) and tofu. But soy is a legume and they're on my list to only have every other day, along with peanuts. So, that's interesting about your sister getting rashes from soy. Your sister probably already knows this, but I was surprised to find that my canned tuna fish had soy in it!

      It's easy for me to think sometimes, "well this is a pain". But maybe it's just one of those things that I'll have to plan more for, like other areas of life.

    2. Legume? Does that mean you can't eat dried beans?

    3. Yes, legumes, as in dried beans, soy and peanuts, not as in French for vegetables. I can have legumes, but on a rotation schedule (once every other day or every 3 days). Until I sort everything out, a few foods are on rotation (corn is also a once every few days for me). I feel as though I've had to treat everything I put in my mouth as suspect. But if in the end my tummy can be well, and my rashes and joint aches go away, it will be worth it.

  10. My sister has to watch out for nickel in foods and can't eat food cooked in aluminum cookware. And my favorite soy-added item to use in the kitchen is non-stick cooking spray--again, one of those things you wouldn't necessarily think twice about, normally. I mean, you're cooking from scratch and that just makes it easier and faster to grease your pans, right? But unfortunately it doesn't work for those with soy allergies.

    1. Ack! I just made brownie bites with the cooking spray. I'd better go check the label. The front of the can says canola oil, but I didn't check the ingredients. And with our regular vegetable oil, it was yesterday that I realized that even that has some soy oil in it. I'll be buying a different all-purpose oil tomorrow. Although, hopefully my situation is no where near as serious as your sister's. But soy is on my list of things to remove for the time being. Thanks for the heads-up on the cooking spray.


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