Beth Raven guides you through the steps to take when dealing with a double dietary dilemma for those following a gluten-free vegan diet
Thankfully following a vegan diet is now widely accepted and catered for, but what happens when a second dietary requirement is added? Removing gluten from the diet in addition to being vegan, whether it’s for personal preference or for health reasons, can sometimes feel daunting or overwhelming. It needn’t be either, in fact it can be very abundant and enjoyable. I’ll show you how to simplify your dietary requirements while staying healthy
What is a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is one that excludes all foods containing gluten, including:
Why go gluten-free?
Coeliac Disease, Wheat Allergy or Gluten Intolerance and Sensitivity Certain people cannot digest the protein in gluten called ‘gliadin’ as it causes an adverse reaction in their body. These people need to exclude all gluten and even be sure to avoid cross-contamination from things like shared utensils and chopping boards, as even one crumb can make them very sick!
Many people avoid gluten simply because they feel better when they don’t eat it, but please remember to talk to a healthcare professional such as a Nutritional Therapist to make sure you’re maintaining a balanced diet.
Know your food labels
As gluten is in the top 14 allergens, it has to be clearly labelled in bold on food packaging. For a product to state that it’s ‘gluten-free’ on packaging, it has to be suitable for those with coeliac disease, which means it has to contain less than 20ppm (parts per million).
Vegan and gluten-free – What can I eat?
There are plenty of foods to enjoy on a vegan and gluten-free diet so you’ll never feel like you’re missing out.
There are easy swaps such as switching traditional wheat flour for buckwheat flour in a recipe. There are other options too, such as these glutenfree grains and alternatives:
- Oats — are naturally gluten-free, but often contaminated in processing, so choose gluten-free certified oats if coeliac
- Rice (including all types such as brown/wild)
- Tapioca/ Cassava
- Potato flour
- Almond flour
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are completely gluten-free and are a versatile option when following a vegan gluten-free diet, as they can be used in cooking as well as sweet recipes.
TIP: Keep in mind that gluten-free baking requires more moisture than traditional recipes.
Bread and crackers
Why not try making your own glutenfree bread using alternative flours such as chickpea and buckwheat, or buy a mix such as Orgran or Rana’s Artisan Bakery. Oat crackers, such as those by Nairn’s and rice or buckwheat crackers by Amisa, are good options. You can make your own using alternative flour using a selection of seeds.
There are lots of delicious gluten-free and vegan pasta options, so no need to miss your favourite pasta dish. It’s best to stick to pasta found outside of the ‘free-from’ aisle, such as those made from chickpeas, lentil, brown rice, quinoa and mung beans, which are less processed and higher in protein.
The benefits of a vegan and gluten-free diet
Following a vegan and glutenfree diet by focusing on colourful fruits and veg, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, healthy fats and beans and pulses can provide:
- There are no essential nutrients you are missing out on by avoiding gluten-based products.
- Higher intakes of fruits and vegetables can be protective against certain cancers.
- An array of phyto-nutrients (plant chemicals) that help protect you against disease.
- Lower in saturated fat, which can benefit heart health.
- Plenty of fibre for a healthy gut and better blood sugar balance.
- Antioxidants to fight inflammation and reduce risks of disease.
Give the gluten a break
Following a gluten-free diet may not be appropriate for everyone, but even if you don’t choose to remove gluten completely, it can be helpful to reduce your reliance on gluten every day and swap for alternatives like rice cakes and oat crackers.
Wheat is a cheap, high yield and low cost product, so you’ll find wheat flour under different names used as a filler in lots of processed products. This has no health benefits and can be a hidden source of gluten, so be mindful of reading labels carefully.
The structure of gluten means it’s difficult for our bodies to break down, as it requires specialist enzymes and, even then, it’s hard to fully break it down. In addition, evidence suggests that avoiding gluten can be beneficial to digestive health. Several studies have linked consuming gluten to increased intestinal hyper-permeability (leaky gut), which can lead to health issues in the gut and throughout the body.
Tips for navigating any potential challenges
Eating out – a lot of large restaurants are well versed with vegan or glutenfree options, but it can be a challenge to combine the two. Ring ahead to check they can accommodate your needs.
Explain your dietary choices to friends/family. Being both glutenfree and vegan can be hard for some to understand, so try to help them understand your needs/choices.
Cross-contamination – educating others on your dietary needs is imperative when it comes to cross-contamination. Having a separate area to prepare your food and using different utensils is a necessity, especially if you are coeliac. Larger restaurants are likely to have a clear cross contamination policy, but this is not a requirement, so be sure to ask ahead and double-check when ordering.
Many meat alternative products contain gluten. Check burger, sausage and even nut roast labels thoroughly. There are plenty of brands these days that are both vegan and gluten-free, but these are often only available in larger supermarkets or health food stores.
Reliance on the ‘free-from’ section – Supermarket breads and pastas tend to use lots of ingredients to try and mimic gluten bread, such as stabilisers, gums and additives. Look for bread made with as few ingredients as possible or try making your own.
Are there drawbacks?
No, there shouldn’t be as long as you’re following a balanced diet and including a wide range of plant foods with an array of different colours, healthy fats, protein, carbohydrates and an occasional little bit of what you fancy. If you are unsure, consult a healthcare professional for advice.
What about the cost?
If you fill your trolley with ‘free-from’ products, then these will raise the price of your weekly shopping bill. If you fill your trolley with real, whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, then sometimes the cost is very reasonable and can even be lower than a ‘standard’ shop. But don’t deny yourself trying out the latest ‘free-from’ products from time to time as a treat. Some items, such as certified glutenfree oats, alternative flours such as buckwheat or gram four, tofu and dairy-free yoghurt are a little more expensive, but are not a necessity and some of these can be bought in bulk or be made at home to keep the cost down.
Will I miss out on fibre?
Not necessarily – if you stick to a whole food diet, which means focusing on fruit, vegetables, grains, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds as the mainstay of your diet. Avoid refined and processed foods, especially gluten-free pastas and breads that are mostly made up of highly refined starches made from corn and potato and are low in fibre.
Gluten-containing grains, such as wheat, contain fibre, but fruits and veg, beans and pulses, as well as other gluten-free wholegrains, such as oats and buckwheat, provide plenty of fibre.
My top tips
I personally follow a plant-based, gluten-free diet and have done for many years. This is what suits my health and my lifestyle, but we all are unique and so our diets should be individual too.
Follow a whole food plant-based diet with plenty of fruits and veg and don’t rely on gluten-free and meat substitute products.
- Cook from scratch as often as possible so you know exactly what’s going into your food.
- Focus on abundance and not restriction… there are plenty of things you can eat.
- Get family and friends involved and organise cooking session with them.
- Invest in a cookbook you love and compile your favourite ‘go-to’ dishes.
Where to find gluten-free and vegan recipes
Remember that you can experiment in the kitchen and adapt any recipe to suit your needs, being vegan and glutenfree is no different. So get your aprons on and start cooking!
- Deliciously Ella
- Healthy Living James
- The Vegan Society have a selection of gluten-free recipes on their site
- BBC Good Food
- And my Instagram, which is positive_plate_nutrition_
An example of a day’s glutenfree and vegan eating:
Breakfast – Porridge made with gluten-free oats and dairy-free milk, topped with nut butter and berries.
Lunch – Rice or quinoa-stuff ed peppers with onion, garlic, courgette, chopped tomatoes, gluten-free stock, topped with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast or vegan cheese.
Dinner – Red lentil pasta with basil pesto and steamed broccoli, salad with cucumber, lettuce, radish, spring onion, avocado and spinach, dressed in olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
Snacks – A handful of spicy roasted chickpeas, apple slices with a bit of almond butter.
Beth is a Registered Nutritional Therapist based in Somerset.She set up Positive Plate Nutrition and runs her clinic from home, working with clients from across the UK. She has a particular interest in skin, immune health and coeliac disease. www.positiveplatenutrition.com
www.coeliac.org.uk/information-andsupport/ living-gluten-free/the-glutenfree- diet/food-shopping/food-labels