How to eat a gluten free vegan diet, healthfully
Maybe you’ve heard that a gluten free vegan diet is better for your health. Or, that you can’t go plant-based because you have celiac disease. Well, this dietitian has all the tips, advice, and yes – gluten free vegan recipes – you need to decide if eating this way is right for you and how to thrive on a plant-based gluten free diet.
As a dietitian who has been working in gluten free, low FODMAP, and plant-based diets for over a decade now, I’m used to hearing (sometimes overly critical) health professionals talk about how restrictive these ways of eating are. And their fears are not totally unfounded. Many people, particularly in our fear-based diet/wellness culture, sell restriction as the only path to health. What we think of as healthy can often just be diet culture in disguise. And, it can be easy to get so wrapped up in food rules that what starts out as an earnest desire to feel good can end up in disordered thoughts and behaviours around food.
Buuuuuuuut….making the choice to eat a plant-based or vegan diet is NOT restrictive. The world of plant-based foods is all about ABUNDANCE. Particularly now, anything you love can be made out of plants. Anything from a burger to alfredo sauce — even a morning scramble — has a plant-based alternative. So it’s not so much a dietary restriction as a dietary swap.
The story is the same for going gluten free. I’ve been in this game for a while, and let me tell you…eating gluten free in the 2000s was a VERY different experience than it is now. The availability of gluten free foods has literally exploded and there are SO many options out there that make gluten free eating very delicious and nutritious.
- Do you really need to go gluten free?
- Can a plant-based diet be gluten free?
- Benefits and challenges of a gluten free vegan diet
- What to eat when you’re vegan and gluten free
- Vegan foods that contain gluten to watch out for
- One Day Healthy Gluten Free Vegan Meal Plan
Do you really need to go gluten free?
Before we go jumping on the gluten free train, we have to ask ourselves why we’re ditching gluten in the first place. If you’ve just been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance, the reason why is clear. But what if you’ve been told that gluten is just bad for you? Is it legit? Let’s talk.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and all of the grains and products associated with those grains, like wheat-based pastas, soy sauce and spelt. Gluten is unique in that it contains a lot of proline and glutamine amino acid bonds that are hard for your digestive enzymes to fully break down. As such, these partially digested gluten fragments travel on through our gut to be flushed down the toilet. These fragments of gluten DO NOT cause any harm to a healthy gut nor does gluten cause inflammation in a healthy person.
But what about an unhealthy gut? What if you have autoimmunities such as Hashimoto’s or lupus, leaky gut or IBS? There is a lot of controversy in the literature but it is thought that gluten fragments might interact with the gut-based immune system or temporarily increase gut permeability.
Gluten also gets unfairly blamed for our ills when it could be some other factor associated with eating wheat, such as the fructans (IBS trigger) or the form in which we eat it, namely white flour made into a hyper-processed snack. Whole grains are incredibly nutrient-dense and associated with healthy digestion and lower risk of chronic disease so if you’re currently healthy, no need to ditch gluten.
Can a plant-based diet be gluten free?
If you’re already eating a plant-based diet that is largely focused on whole plant foods, going gluten free isn’t really going to be a big deal. Most plant foods like legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free. You just need to enjoy gluten free whole grains, such as gluten free oats, millet, rice, quinoa and buckwheat. You’ll find protein + fibre rich pastas made from chickpeas and you can make hearty breads and crackers out of nourishing whole food ingredients. Many convenient staples such as canned tomatoes, beans and nut butters are gluten free too.
Important note: if you have celiac disease, you’ll have to ensure that you find certified gluten free versions of your favourite staples because cross-contamination can occur in manufacturing or storage. Steer clear of the bulk bins, which typically aren’t gluten free.
Benefits and challenges of a gluten free vegan diet
Unless you need to be gluten free for a health condition or intolerance, it’s important to state that there is no clear benefit to going gluten free. As I said, if you’re healthy, gluten isn’t the enemy! Of course, if gluten is an issue for you, going gluten free is probably going to make your gut feel better but healing does take time.
On the drawbacks, well, gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley and rye are really nutrient-dense so you’ll want to double down on whole foods like gluten free whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to make up for it. It’s worth noting that many gluten free packaged foods like breads and cereals are usually pretty low in fibre — so enjoy high fibre plant foods like berries, ground flax and legumes to keep your digestive system in tip top shape.
What to eat when you’re vegan and gluten free
Going gluten free on a vegan diet is all about eating whole foods and enjoying gluten free swaps.
- Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables like broccoli, apples and carrots
- Nuts, seeds and their butters like almond butter and hemp hearts
- Dried or canned legumes like chickpeas and lentils
- Gluten free whole grains like millet, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat and gluten free oats
- Whole soy foods like tofu, edamame and tempeh*
- Milk alternatives like almond milk, soy milk and certified gluten free oat milk
Vegan foods that contain gluten to watch out for
There are a lot of everyday vegan foods that can also contain gluten. Here are the top items to watch out for:
- Condiments like soy sauce and BBQ sauce. Gluten free and vegan choices exist, just look on the labels!
- Plant-based meat alternatives like sausages, burgers and veggie grounds. Many contain seitan or gluten because it’s high in protein and approximates the texture of meat. However, there are MANY gluten free options so just check the labels. *tempeh and flavoured tofu may also contain gluten but there are GF alternatives
- Pasta, breads, crackers and cereals…GF choices abound!
One-Day Healthy Gluten Free Vegan Meal Plan
Want to see just how nutrient-dense and delicious gluten free vegan eating can be? Here’s a simple one-day meal plan for inspiration:
Breakfast: Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie
Snack: Omega 3 Trek Mix Trail Mix
Dinner: Easy Chickpea Coconut Milk Curry