Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tips for Going Grain-Free

Today's post is not a recipe post.  I get asked for tips and suggestions from people all the time, and I wanted a concise set of tips just for those occasions.  So hopefully this will be helpful, if not for you, then for someone you know!

You may be going grain-free to regulate your blood sugars, eliminate gluten and wheat, because of celiac disease, to lose weight, or just because you believe in a more ancestral diet.  Regardless, it can seem daunting at first, no matter how healthy your lifestyle.  But becoming a GFG doesn’t have to be hard, in fact, it can be quite liberating to say goodbye to so many ridiculous rules set by conventional wisdom.  Enjoy eating bacon, eggs, nuts, and healthy fats.  The days of calorie counting and teeny tiny portions of reduced fat this and low-fat that are gone.  Some people may think a grain-free diet is restrictive and sad, I say it’s nutritional freedom.  But I’ll let you be the judge!  Here are some suggestions for making the transition:

Do a Pantry Inventory
What’s in your pantry and refrigerator?  Take a good look.  Start reading the labels.  You may be shocked to see some of the ghastly “ingredients” in your foods.  But generally, anything with wheat has got to go.  This means many of the convenience foods, pre-packaged foods, and snacks, are dunzo.  Don’t worry, they’ll be replaced with foods just as good.  Actually, once you’ve stopped eating all the garbage, you’ll probably realize how awful that stuff was.  But do yourself a favor, and do a clean sweep of the pantry so you can start fresh.  All purpose flour, oats, rice, breakfast cereal, breads, cookies, crackers, snack cakes, pastas, etc.  Be sure to check your soups and already made sauces for wheat as well. It is up to you how quickly or slowly to phase out these pantry items, depending on what your health necessitates, and your goals.

Assess Your Storage
You should have some good space in your pantry now for GF goodies.  Great!  You’re off to an awesome start.  But freezer space is going to be super important.  What’s in your freezer?  Besides ice and booze that is?  You’ll need plenty of room for lots and lots of frozen meats, veggies, and fruit (for desserts and shakes).  All that space in the pantry will be great for nuts, dried fruits, GF baking items, and other assorted GF snacks, which I’ll get to later.  

Start Making Lists
Start with the basics- what grain-free foods do you already enjoy eating?  Fish?  Chicken?  Burgers?  Carrots?  Eggs?  Bananas?  Chocolate?  Sweet potatoes?  Avocados?  Awesome!  The GF foods you already like are going to be playing a bigger role in your diet.  Make room in your fridge and freezer for these items, and buy in bulk when you can and freeze.  If you have access to a second fridge or freezer, great!  You can get some amazing deals online for ordering large quantities of grass-fed, pastured and organic meats.  Here are some other suggestions for your list:

Pantry Items
  • canned tuna and salmon, or crab
  • smoked oysters
  • olives
  • pickles
  • artichokes
  • roasted red peppers
  • capers
  • every kind of bean
  • quinoa
  • quinoa pastas (there are lots of GF pastas out there now)
  • your favorite nuts
  • fruit leathers
  • lentils
  • organic, GF canned soups
  • canned coconut milk
  • dried fruits, for snacking and baking
  • high % cocoa chocolate
  • oils for cooking, EVOO, coconut oil
  • dried herbs and spices, like oregano, basil, rosemary, sage, poultry seasoning, seasoned salt, garlic and onion powders, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, curry powder


  • Chicken
  • Chicken sausages
  • Grass-fed, organic nitrate free hot dogs
  • nitrate free bacon
  • lettuces and/or salads
  • eggs
  • fresh fruits
  • as many veggies as you can stand!  And lots of frozen veggies too, for those quick weeknight meals.  Spinach, broccoli, and cauli are always on hand in my house.  
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • avocados
  • Nut butters
  • nut milks (almond, coconut)
  • Can you do dairy?  Indulge in full-fat milk, cream, string cheese, shredded cheese, deli cheese, cottage cheese, greek yogurt
  • Turkey sausage
  • deli meats
  • new veggies you haven’t given much thought to, like brussel sprouts, kale, chard, cabbage, eggplants, squash, zucchini, go crazy!  

GF Baking Items

  • sugar substitutes, if you aren’t doing sugar, like stevia, xylitol and erythritol, or the usual suspects, like honey, molasses, and maple syrup.  Many people are now using coconut crystals and palm sugar as well.  
  • Coconut flour
  • Almond flour
  • any other GF flours, like chestnut, chickpea flour, quinoa flakes and quinoa flour, etc.  I primarily bake with coconut flour.  Almond flour is a great stand-in for bread crumbs.
  • GF Baking powder
  • baking soda
  • good quality cocoa powder
  • good quality dark chocolate chips
  • extracts, vanilla, lemon, maple for example
  • liquid stevia (like nunaturals vanilla creme)
  • chopped nuts
  • dried fruits
  • arrowroot and tapioca powders

In the beginning, it seems what to snack on is harder than what to eat for a meal.   Here are some suggestions for ready to eat snacks:
  • deli meat
  • carrots
  • string cheese
  • boiled eggs, or egg muffins
  • GF homemade muffins
  • spinach muffins
  • green apples
  • cucumbers
  • sweet potato chips
  • chickpea poppers
  • dried fruit
  • dehydrated veggie chips (green beans, taro root, beet chips, etc)
  • coconut butter
  • nut butter and celery
  • hummus
  • leftovers!!!

Meal Planning
If you were like me, “meals” weren't even something you did.  I just snacked on carby junk until I was full, and then felt gross and sick.  Get used to the idea of meals, meals that incorporate lots of protein and vegetables.  Just because you’re eating more protein and veggies doesn’t mean you’ll go hungry, or be bored to death.  Especially if you have a good stock of spices and herbs on hand.  But prepare yourself mentally for meals without pasta and bread, or corn or white potatoes.  It’s going to be ok, I promise!  You will not go hungry, you will feel full, and you won’t be hungry again in an hour.  And if you are, there are lots of amazing GF desserts out there too.  Hopefully some of them are right on this blog!  So, to make grocery shopping easier, sit down with your spouse/family and figure out everyone’s schedule for the week.  What nights are you cooking?  On those nights, plan to make extra, so you’ll have leftovers for lunch/snacks. Choose a protein first and then think of a veg to go along with it.  Most of the time I just do a protein and a simple salad.  But other faves in our house are brussel sprout chips, kale chips, green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower.  If you really want/need a starch, make sure to get some sweet potatoes, and beans so you can always add that to your meal.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to make extra, so you have leftovers for lunches and snacks.  In the GF/paleo verse, it’s not uncommon to eat a chicken wing or some stew or beef brisket for breakfast.  Might sound weird to you now, but in time, the thought of a pop tart or bowl of cereal will sound even more ridiculous.  Certain kitchen appliances, if you don’t have them already, will become SUPER handy.  Like, a food processor, high speed blender, stick blender/chopper, and slow cooker!!!  Get a slow cooker PLEASE!  

Duh, we all love the stuff we grew up eating.  But rest assured, there are substitutes for just about everything.  
Pasta- get yourself a julienne peeler and enjoy zucchini pasta.  It’s delish, easy, and a good way to sneak veggies in.  Or experiment with quinoa pasta.  I’ve never had it, but quinoa is good, so i’m sure the pasta is too!
Rice- again, have some quinoa, or lentils, cauliflower rice.  
Pizza- cauliflower pizza.  Go on pinterest.  Or read my blog.  There are recipes everywhere.  You could also play around with different flours, but why bother when cauli pizza is so darn good?
Mashed Potatoes- again, cauliflower for the win. Mashed cauliflower is pretty darn close to the real thing.
Cookies- almond flour makes amazing cookies.  You won’t miss regular old flour at all.  Like coconut?  Finely shredded coconut also makes an amazing base for cookies.  And it is so freaking good for you.  You can also make flourless cookies using nutbutters.  
Cupcakes- coconut flour cupcakes, or cupcakes made with a combination of flours, are just as good as the blood sugar spiking gluten filled ones.  
Cakes/muffins- once again, coconut flour, or a combo of flours, will make an excellent cake, once you get used to baking with it.  It took me awhile, but I figured it out, and if I can, you can!
Crackers- there are nut based GF crackers available in the GF aisle.  You could make your own, but honestly, eat a couple nuts and call it a day!
Sandwich bread- this is a little harder.  There are lots of gluten free breads available now, and from what I hear they are quite good.  My suggestion would be to start transitioning away from breads and sandwiches, at least the ones you are used to.  I prefer using some iceberg instead of bread or a bun, but there are a zillion grain free sandwich bread recipes to try.  Ultimately though, it’s best to get used to eating a different kind of sandwich, where maybe two slices of tomato or cucumber or portabello are your “bread.”  You’ll save yourself time and money, and squeeze in another veg while you’re at it.  
Cereal- cereal for me meant mindless snacking.  But if you really like some filling hot cereal in the morning, or oats, there are awesome grain free porridge and “oatmeal” recipes to try.  
Chips- now, there are so many kinds of veggie chips.  sweet potato chips are great, but there are lots of other kinds.  Root veggies, green beans,  etc.  They also sell kale chips at the grocery store if you don't feel like making them yourself.  They are delish!
Candy- stock up on dried dates.  These make the base for some really good grain free candies.  Blend some dates with some cashews and you’ve got no sugar added caramels.  Beware of most candy, they contain all kinds of horrid ingredients and many have traces of wheat.   Fruit leathers and dried fruits are going to be your new candy.  And trust me, after cutting out so much junk, they will definitely seem like a big indulgence.  And there’s nothing wrong with having some dark chocolate when the mood strikes.  

What questions do you have for me? I've been a GFG now for almost 14 months and at this point, it is totally natural. I do not have trouble eating at restaurants and I do not have trouble feeding my toddler or husband. I find I prefer eating two good sized meals per day, and generally don't snack too much in between. This gives your body, pancreas, and digestive system a chance to rest and regenerate. Digestion is a lengthy and complex process, and requires a lot of "attention" from your body. If you constantly snack and graze throughout the day, you are digesting all the time. You also will always have elevated blood sugars, perhaps not over-elevated, but higher than in a rested, semi-fasted state. Do yourself a favor and start eating well-portioned meals rather than snacking throughout the day. Snacks are all too often high in carbs and/or sugar, and are too easy to overindulge in. Eat to satiety when having a meal, and incorporate enough healthy fats and proteins to tide you over. Most people following a paleo, or modified paleo diet like I do, can go a good 4-5 hours without eating. If this terrifies you, that is a good indication that you've been on a blood sugar roller coaster. Address this now and save yourself a lot of trouble down the line!


  1. Nice tips and lists - thanks for sharing!

  2. I'm so glad I found your blog!! I've been doing about 80% Paleo for about 3 months now, and to be honest I've been in a cooking rut! I haven't found much bloggers who follow a paleo lifestyle, so I was pretty excited to come across you! Hopefully you're recipes will motivated me to keep going!

  3. Hi Ivy and Dawn, I really hope these tips are helpful! Being grain free and/or paleo has helped keep my blood sugars and A1c well within a healthy range, and I am grateful for that. I am so pumped if my recipes are of even the tiniest help to you guys! Many thanks for reading!!!