The Reality of Gluten Free Nutrition

I’ve been eating gluten free for nearly a year now — towards the end of November 2013. In the beginning, I had no idea what in the world I was going to eat. I ate a lot of baked potatoes, Tostitos and carrots and peanut butter. So one year later, you’d think I’d have it all figured out…right?

Let’s find out. I tried to think of the foods that I eat on a regular basis, and this is what I came up with. Not very balanced, huh?

My Gluten Free Food Pyramid

This is what the FDA recommends:

via choosemyplate.gov

via choosemyplate.gov

I don’t pay much attention to how much protein I get. That suggested 2-3 servings per day of meat and beans? I probably get 2-3 servings per week. Whoops.

Since I tend to only notice the lack of energy I get when I’m consistently working out (and because meat is expensive!), protein is often the first thing to go.

So where do I get my protein from and how often do I buy the source? I tend to rely on:

  • eggs (a dozen, whatever’s on sale.) – Usually once every 7-12 days. I don’t always have eggs, but when I do, I tend to eat mostly just eggs.
  • Greek yogurt (plain, 0-2%) – Usually once per week. This is a breakfast staple for me.
  • tofu (firm, usually Nature’s Promise because it goes on sale frequently at Stop & Shop)
  • peanut butter, cashews (I always have several jars of both in my pantry.)
  • cheese (cheddar for my eggs, feta for my salad, mozzarella over pasta…whatever’s on sale — it varies.)
  • meat (usually, grilled chicken, sausage, hamburger patties and bacon. I stock up maybe once every two weeks on these.)
  • legumes (beans, chickpeas)

Just for extra comparison and real life data, I tracked what I ate for a few days, just to see how my perception of what I ate (the first pyramid!) matched up with how I should be eating (the second pyramid!) and how I actually ate.

To be especially accurate, I tried to pick a slew of 3 days where I had just gone grocery shopping (my eating habits, like everyone else’s, get pretty weird when I’m low on groceries, so I wanted an accurate depiction when I had all my options available.) To give you an idea, I knew I was only shopping for 3-6 days, so I spent only $25. My normal grocery bill (I usually shop every 6-12 days, it depends on my exam schedule) ranges from $28 to $45. That higher end is usually when I’m planning to cook or bake something new, so I’m buying some pricier spices and ingredients for the sake of variety. Because my budget is pretty limited, I only do this every other month or so.

Gluten Free Groceries

I think of myself as someone pretty in tune with healthy food and what I eat, but I was actually surprised by what I found.

But let’s start from the beginning — what did $25 of groceries (Stop and Shop in New Paltz, for reference) get me?

$25 of Groceries

What I bought:

  • Chex (plain)
  • Chex (chocolate)
  • Marshmallows, 10 oz
  • Oranges, 3 lbs
  • Strawberries, 1 lb
  • Baby carrots, 2 lbs
  • Nature’s Promise Spring Mix
  • White mushrooms
  • Spaghetti Squash

Things I already had, either in my pantry or from the last time I went grocery shopping:

  • Tostitos
  • Horizon milk cartons, 1%
  • Kerrygold Irish Butter
  • Babybel cheese
  • Asparagus
  • Nestle’s dark chocolate chips
  • Grape tomatoes
  • One serving of red pepper hummus
  • Corn pasta
  • White rice
  • Skippy Natural Peanut Butter, Smooth
  • Nature’s Path Chunky Chocolate granola bars
  • Nature’s Promise Tofu, Firm
  • Coffee

Did you really pay $25 for this? Does this food really last you?

I did, and yes, it has. (Spoiler alert: I also had a $5 off coupon, applied at the end. So my total was really about $30 for what I paid, because of taxes.) Here is a copy of my receipt, just for fun:

IMG_3280

Here is a photo of the haul (I walk back and forth to grocery shop…carrying 6 lbs of produce and cereal boxes is my new workout.) It’s totally normal to take photos of food on your front porch…right?!

My porch likes groceries

 Day 1:

Breakfast: Black coffee, one Nature’s Path Chunky Chocolate granola bar (3 g protein)

Lunch: Vegetarian breakfast sandwich from Russo’s (see detailed review here.)

Dinner: Nature’s Promise Spring Mix, strawberries, two Babybel cheese pieces

Snack: A bowlful of Tostitos, one orange

Salad, balsamic, Babybel and strawberries as seen on @glutenfreehv Instagram

Salad, balsamic, Babybel and strawberries as seen on @glutenfreehv Instagram

Day 2:

Breakfast: Chocolate Chex mix, tea, and Horizon 1% milk

Lunch: Carrots (1/2 lb) and peanut butter (about two servings — four tablespoons)

Dinner: Um…I had a teeny salad, and I think I ate a ridiculous amount of Tostitos while I was studying. Nutrition fail. I also had whatever strawberries were left over, and an orange

Snack: I made chocolate Chex mix treats with a friend. (That’s what I bought the marshmallows and cereal for.) Super yum, seen here through @glutenhv Instagram:

I split the whole batch (!!) of these gluten free goodies of Chex with a friend. Sad to say, but that was my big meal of the day.

I split the whole batch (!!) of these gluten free goodies of Chex with a friend. Sad to say, but that was my big meal of the day.

Day 3:

I REALLY TRIED to eat well. I don’t feel guilty about my food choices from the day prior, but I do enjoy some good roasted veg and this was a nice way to balance it out.

Breakfast: Coffee and an orange

Lunch: Roasted asparagus (the whole bunch, not pictured) and carrots with tofu, mushrooms, butter and garlic pepper on top of corn pasta, seen here from @glutenfreehv Instagram.

Corn Pasta with Vegetables

Dinner: My dinner was not picturesque at all, but it was fairly healthy. I cooked up some tofu and added it and soy sauce to 1/2 of the spaghetti squash I roasted. It’s a “noodle” feel, but packed with more vitamins than pasta or rice noodles. I chopped up some carrots and added it to the mix for more fiber and vitamin A.

Snack: Tea, handful of dark chocolate chips, two oranges

Over 3 days, I ate:

12-14 servings of vegetables

2-3 servings of dairy

7 servings of fruit

3 servings of protein (eggs and tofu)

9-10 servings of grains (Tostitos, corn pasta, oats (granola bars), Chex cereal)

The FDA recommends:

3-5 servings of vegetables per day. I averaged about 4 per day.

2-3 servings of fruit per day. I averaged about 2 per day.

2-3 servings of milk and dairy products per day. I averaged about 1 per day.

2-3 servings of protein (they say: meat and beans) per day. I averaged about 1 per day.

I took the averages of the recommended foods and compared them to my diet in this handy-dandy graph:

The nutrition content of my gluten free diet over a three-day period.

The nutrition content of my gluten free diet over a three-day period.

Looking back, what did I realize?

I think I’m a pretty lazy chef. My intentions are good when grocery shopping (I spent very little money on “extras,” and my snacks are limited to chocolate and cereal), but time gets the better of me. I frequently turn to food that I can eat with one hand (Tostitos, baby carrots and peanut butter) so I can multi-task with my work. I thought I would go over my budget for sure, but the majority of my meals were not very expensive. (The exception would be the cereal, and I would even argue that it’s not that expensive, since I still have a box left.)

I think I eat enough vegetables and fruit (I eat more vegetables than I expected, actually,) but I don’t get nearly enough protein. I knew this was a problem for me, but I had no idea it averaged out to about one serving per day. That’s not nearly enough!

It’s very easy to eat a lot of vegetables, fruit and carbohydrates on a gluten free diet, but meat-centric meals take effort and time I often make excuses for. Common non-gluten free meals with protein (turkey sandwiches, for instance) can be expensive on a gluten free diet (I rarely buy gluten free bread — and only when it’s on sale), and meat cuts in general can be expensive. I admit that some of this is probably due to my inexperience and impatience with cooking meat.

The takeway: My main meals (roasted veg, stir frys) involve very little intensive prep time. I should probably make use of a crock pot to cook meat so I can get more protein in. It’s totally possible to eat a balanced diet while eating gluten free, especially if you base it around whole foods and not processed ones, but it can be awfully easy to get lazy with not cooking meat.

What’s your experience eating gluten free? Do you think you need more (or less?) of any food groups? Do you think the FDA guidelines are a realistic goal to shoot for?

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One thought on “The Reality of Gluten Free Nutrition

  1. Pingback: A Year In Review: 2014 | Go April Go

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