The growing presence of gluten-free foods in supermarkets is a blessing for the 1% of those in the United States who have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that harms the small intestine whenever those affected eat gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats.
What does that mean for people with celiac disease?
Those with celiac disease normally have to avoid all bread, cereal, pizza and pasta, and even salad dressings and seasonings. The same goes for those who don’t have celiac disease but do have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, also known as gluten intolerance. (approximately 18 million Americans). Many foods can often contain hidden gluten or are processed on the same machinery as products with gluten (creating cross-contamination).
The proliferation of gluten-free options has drastically improved the quality of life for those with celiac disease.
But what if you’re not celiac?
Going gluten-free has also become one of the latest diet crazes for people who aren’t allergic or sensitive to gluten. There’s even some evidence that a gluten-free diet can help people with chronic illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome. However, if you don’t suffer from any of these conditions, there’s no scientific evidence that gluten is bad for you.
Even so, a large number of people are embracing gluten-free diets. But is that a smart thing to do? And how do you follow a gluten-free diet, anyway?
Advantages of a Gluten-Free Diet
Just because gluten isn’t bad for you, it can still be a good idea to avoid or limit the amount of gluten in your diet. That’s because many products containing gluten are poor dietary choices for other reasons. (Example: white bread, which is low in nutritional value and high in refined carbs.)
Many other products containing gluten are also high in unhealthy fats, carbs, sugar, calories and preservatives. Some examples include: fast food, processed foods, packaged foods and bakery products.
So, a gluten-free diet can be a smart choice, as long as the foods you’re eliminating are replaced with healthier food options like lean protein, vegetables and fruits, and healthy fats – you know, the types of ingredients you buy at Whole Foods.
Looking Closer at Gluten-Free Meals
Of all the diets that have become popular over the last few years (for example keto, Paleo, vegan), a gluten-free diet may surprisingly be the least restrictive. Nearly all of the dietary staples you’d use to prepare delicious meals, except for bread and pasta, are gluten-free and fine to eat:
- Meat, poultry and fish (unless coated or battered)
- All fruits and veggies
- All “non-flavored” dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt and butter
- Grains like rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and gluten-free oats
- Many starches, including potatoes and corn, and almond, soy, corn and coconut flour
- All vegetable oils, all-natural herbs and spices (not blends), all nuts and seeds
- All beverages except beer and flavored alcohol
Everything from whole-fruit smoothies and sweet potato casseroles, to Thai food (which uses gluten-free rice noodles) and stir-fry dishes are perfectly fine to eat. You’d have to agree that’s one of the biggest “OK to eat” lists you’ll find for any diet!
So, what can’t you eat?
- Wheat-based bread, pasta, pizza
- Almost all baked goods and snack foods
- Couscous, sauces like soy and teriyaki, salad dressings and marinades
Bear in mind, though, that many of these “forbidden” foods are now available in supermarkets in gluten-free form – so even some forms of bread and pasta can be eaten.
Many home cooks won’t find it to be an enormous challenge to switch to a gluten-free diet. The vast majority of recipes can be made “as-is” or with simple swaps. Gluten-free food sections of supermarkets are usually clearly labeled (the foods have USDA/FDA gluten-free labels as well) and well-stocked.
But for those who already find it difficult to find time to shop and make dinner, having to shop for gluten-free ingredients or figure out recipe substitutions may be a bridge too far. For those folks, the best answer is to subscribe to a gluten-free meal delivery service.
Gluten-Free Meal Kit Delivery Services
Companies that deliver complete meal kits to your door have become extremely popular. They allow time-stressed people to avoid frequent grocery shopping, and some even help you avoid lengthy meal prep.
Different meal delivery services cater to different tastes and different diets. Many have created gluten-free plans or added gluten-free recipes to their offerings. Here are some gluten-free meal plan delivery services that may save you time and hassles:
- Sun Basket:
- Offers between two and four gluten-free meals (for either two people or four people) every week on their regular classic and family menus
- All ingredients are organic
- Deliveries include recipe cards and ingredients – full meal prep is required before eating
- Green Chef:
- Offers weekly, gluten-free two-person plans (three dinners for two people) or family plans (two dinners for four people)
- Gluten-free foodservice certified by the Gluten Intolerance Group
- Deliveries include recipes and ingredients, but food still has to be prepared and cooked
- Hello Fresh:
- Offers between 2-4 recipes per week for 2-4 people
- Vegetarian choices can be customized online to theoretically make meals gluten-free
- Provides full ingredient lists so any ingredients with gluten can be swapped out
- Deliveries include ingredients and recipes, but food prep still required
- Home Chef:
- Offers up to 13 recipes each week and some are gluten-free
- Provides complete ingredient list so problematic ingredients can be swapped out
- Deliveries are just recipes and ingredients and it’s a 30-minute prep time for most meals
- Blue Apron
- Offers 2-4 meals per week, but the recipes aren’t all gluten-free
- Ingredient list provided to allow for substitutions, so you can eliminate ingredients with gluten
- Deliveries are ingredients and recipes, but home-prep is required
- Sun Basket: