When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 24 years ago, I took it like a champ. When I was blind-sided by a celiac diagnosis this past September, let’s just say I did not embrace it quite so readily. I knew that type 1 diabetes and celiac are a common autoimmune pairing. We are all learning that celiac disease may present relatively asymptomatically. A persistent burning sensation on my tongue led me to ask and investigate; sure enough Celiac disease. Not having any stomach complaints, abnormal bowel movements, any major deficiencies, or weight loss, everyone was shocked.

Coming to terms with my new reality has not been easy. I wouldn’t even say that I have fully accepted it if I’m being honest. There is still an anger and sadness I get especially in social settings and travel. With 2 young kids at home, (kids love gluten) there’s other considerations, such as a costlier grocery bill, finding replacements for their gluten filled favourites, whether or not to keep my house totally gluten free (GF), and ensuring the nutritional needs of my household are met.

The irony of living with type 1 diabetes and being a dietitian is that I am all too aware of the shortcomings of a GF diet. This goes beyond missing out on that flakey croissant; I’m talking about the nutrient density of my food. While GF diets have been trendy for weight loss, and diet fads like paleo, they are NOT necessarily healthier. Unfortunately for those with celiac disease, non-celiac related gluten sensitivity, and even IBS, a GF diet is often not a choice.

And so, I am now among this GF community. And as I continue on my path of acceptance, and being a professional helping others eat for success, I have no choice but to make the best of this. With that, I am now setting goals to make my home a GF haven and taking the opportunity to experiment with new and exciting products, and recipes that don’t sacrifice taste OR nutrition.

The reality is, GF products tend to be:

  • Lower in fibre and protein
  • Higher in glycemic index
  • Use a concoction of more refined starches and gums (helps texture and structure)
  • Comparatively lower in certain vitamins and minerals ie. folate and iron which are often fortified in packaged grains and cereals.

But don’t fret, there are so many wholesome grains and sources of carbohydrate still available to those following a GF diet. If you stick to whole foods and make an informed choice versus relying on the more processed, convenience foods such as breads, pastas, crackers, snack bars and cereals you won’t be missing a thing!

So how do you make the best of a GF diet and can you make it as nutritious as one with gluten? The answer is most certainly YES. In honour of celiac awareness month, I wanted to share my key tips to making a GF diet tasty and nutritionally complete.

  1. Adding fibres. Just because your store bought packaged items are lower in fibre, doesn’t mean your diet has to be. On average we should be getting between 22-35 g of dietary fibre daily. Fibre is great for heart health, keeping blood sugars stable, keeping you regular, adding satiety to your meal, and proven to lower your risk of colon cancer. A few ways I have incorporated healthy fibres into my GF diet include adding psyllium powder, and GF chia and ground flax seeds to smoothies, salads, yogurt and baked goods. If you’re experimenting with your own homemade breads and bakery items these can be easy add ins. Quick tip: you may need to add more liquid to compensate for the absorptive nature of these fibres.

  2. Read labels. GF or not, I have always encouraged this for my clients whether it’s for weight loss, health, diabetes, or other chronic conditions. Yes, occasionally you’ll opt for the closest replica to your favourite glutinous item. But for items eaten on the regular seek out those with more fibre and protein per serving, and look for the key word ‘whole grain’. This means more of the nutrition is intact. Comparing labels can help you make an informed choice. For bread, local GF producers often have healthier items with fewer preservatives. For more commercial brands, Udi’s millet-chia loaf, and their omega flax and fibre loaf fit the bill for me. In the toaster the taste is good and offer 3g fibre and protein per slice! The price is more reasonable as well. Northern Bakehouse whole grain loaves are also texturally pleasing and offer about 3 g fibre per slice. Better yet, try making your own!

  3. Pick whole foods. Another practice I preach to my GF and non-GF clients alike is to stick to the outer aisles. This is where your whole foods are found and everyone should be practicing this! It’s a cheaper way to shop too. Fruits, veggies, and starchy veg like squash, sweet potatoes, edamame, turnips and fresh corn provide complex carbohydrates to fuel your day. They provide soluble and insoluble fibres and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. The more variety and colour the better. Your minimally processed whole grains like GF certified quinoa, millet, oats, beans and brown rice are also safe and nutritious choices for your family’s plate. Fresh proteins, tofu, eggs, and dairy items are also found here (which are almost always GF), provide loads of nutrition and are minimally processed. I loved the creative use of leftover sweet potatoes in this recipe. A wholesome pancake, great for breakie, pre- workout or as a portable kid friendly snack; they were a hit in my house!

  4. Healthier flours. Sure there will be times that using a GF flour mix is the best and quickest option. But, I have had success with GF oat flour, almond, chickpea, and coconut flours as a base for delicious baked items and feel good about the lower glycemic effects and less refined quality of these options. Making your own baked goods for snacks, and kids’ lunch boxes is a great idea. Batch cook and freeze to save time. Again, I encourage this for both GF and non GF-clients because you can often pack-in more healthful ingredients like fruits, yogurts and applesauce to control the fat and sugar content too. Adding psyllium and GF ground seeds to the mix can further boost the fibre, protein and omega content of your recipe. I’m not known to be a baker, but I make these ones on the regular, minimal ingredients, done in the blender, and the kids love them!


Writer: Debora Sloan (RD)
Debora Sloan Healthy Solutions

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