Samantha Tatarsky guides you through the options available to vegans with coeliac disease.
Standing at the threshold of veganism can be intimidating. Suddenly, many of the foods you once enjoyed without thought now do not align with your new lifestyle or dietary change.
You need to consider if the rice you ordered at your favourite restaurant was cooked in bone broth or seasoned with butter. You think twice before ordering the pasta sauce, because there’s a chance of added cheese within the mix. And, of course, desserts you once indulged in are likely to be made with dairy or egg products.
At first, the waters seem incredibly daunting to navigate. Throw into the mix a diagnosis with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, and your waters have become a bit more turbulent and a lot more complex. Not only are all animal products out of the equation, but any foods containing wheat, barely or rye are no longer an option for health purposes.
The food industry has made huge strides in regards to creating vegan alternatives to almost anything you can imagine. With the rise of food allergies and health awareness, supermarkets are stocked with allergy-free aisles, containing various gluten-free food items, as well. Unfortunately, the two are often not crossbred. It’s common to find the vegan option contains gluten and the gluten-free option contains egg or dairy products. So, where does that leave a coeliac vegan?
Coeliac disease vs gluten sensitivity
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting a person’s ability to digest gluten through the small intestine. Consuming gluten as a coeliac causes damage to the small intestine, and can lead to deficiencies in iron, vitamins and minerals, as well as more serious conditions like gall bladder malfunction, pancreatic insufficiency and other major health risks.
It should not be confused with gluten sensitivity, which is not marked by any indicators within blood tests or diagnostic screening. Those diagnosed with gluten sensitivity experience the same symptoms as those with coeliac disease – which diminish after removing gluten from their diet – but do not test positive for coeliac markers in diagnostic testing.
Both diagnoses cause abdominal pain, discomfort and distension, along with diarrhoea or constipation, nausea, headache, brain fog, joint pain and fatigue when consuming gluten-containing foods. But what exactly is gluten?
Hello, My Name Is Gluten
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and is commonly used in cereal, bread and baked goods. It is known for its ability to bind food together, creating an elastic-like effect on dough. Gluten is also used as a thickening agent in various dishes that you might not suspect. Those with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity must be extra cautious around soups, sauces and salad dressings due to the possible presence of wheat flour as a thickening agent.
What’s more, the malt that is used as a sweetener in various food products is derived from barley – a gluten-bearing grain. While many food labels report wheat in the allergen list, malt is not highlighted and therefore can be an accidental oversight for those who are required to avoid gluten.
Wok this way
Asian cuisine has proven to be one of the friendliest for gluten-free, vegan options. Vegetable sushi, rice with vegetables and tofu, buckwheat noodles and vegetables, or vegetable curries and rice are always on hand. Just be sure to bring your own gluten-free soy sauce and check the curry does not contain any wheat flour.
Prep for success
You never know when hunger may strike. Just because the office may not provide both gluten-free and vegan food doesn’t mean you have to stop a vegan lifestyle. Prep ahead with snacks to keep you fuelled during the day.
A few great brands offering snacks that fit into a coeliac vegan diet include NuGo Nutrition (protein bars and cookies), Simple Kneads Bread, Barnana, Siete Foods, Simple Mills, and Lara Bars. To avoid packaged foods, choose veggies with houmous, fruit with nut butter, or a handful of trail mix.
Taters not haters
Vegan options in a steakhouse? Impossible! Actually, quite the contrary. I don’t know many vegans who opt to dine at a steakhouse, but it’s likely that your family or friends may choose to. There’s no reason to skip a social gathering for fear of a lack of meal options.
An easy steakhouse – or any American-style cuisine – option is a baked or sweet potato with roasted veg and a side salad. Check with the chef to ensure the potato is not baked with butter and that the vegetables and salad dressing don’t have added flour or breadcrumbs in the mix.
Eating is a social activity and if you cut out major food groups found in a standard diet, it can feel isolating. Fortunately, chefs are increasingly aware of dietary restrictions and will customise a dish for your needs.
The essentials for building a gluten-free, vegan meal at a restaurant include potatoes, rice, beans, salad, vegetables, nuts and tofu. Every restaurant should have a variation of these core ingredients.
Penne for your thoughts
Italian food is laden with gluten. Think: pasta, pizza and bread-coated vegetables. Even when restaurants offer gluten-free pizza – sans cheese and add on veggies for the vegan version – you must ensure it’s cooked in a separate oven. Cross-contamination for those with coeliac disease is dangerous and even small levels of contact can cause a coeliac to fall ill.
What’s more, I’ve encountered Italian restaurants that offer gluten-free pasta, only to learn it was boiled in the same water as the wheat pasta. Italian food can still be an option, but call ahead to check on the preparation of gluten-free, vegan pasta and pizza. If in doubt, order the garden salad and roasted veggies.
Mexican restaurants are also a great option. A staple dish to order is vegetable fajitas with rice and beans. Be sure to check the rice is not cooked with chicken stock or seasoned with butter and you’re good to go. Pro-tip: bring your own corn tortillas to build yourself some tacos. And don’t forget the beloved guac, even if it’s extra.
Dealing with judgment
If you deviate from the norm, judgment is to be expected. Whether it’s co-workers querying what you had for lunch or family members who don’t understand a coeliac also eliminating animal products, the weight of others’ perceptions can be too heavy to bear. If you resonate with this, ask yourself: Why should a food allergy stop me taking a stand for animal rights?
Remind yourself that their comments are a result of a lack of education or awareness on the topic. Friends and family may not understand how do-able this lifestyle is, and therefore cast judgment out of concern. Be patient and willing to educate. When they see how happy you are on a vegan and gluten-free journey, they’ll probably want to support you too.
Creator of the blog ‘Twenties & Turmoil’, Samantha’s diagnosis with coeliac disease was the catalyst for her wellness journey, learning the importance of veganism for her health, the animals and the environment. Samantha has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is in grad school to become a special education teacher.