29 November 2012

Seven tips for gluten-free vegans

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I immediately went from vegan to vegetarian, and soon after to omnivore. At the time, it was just too overwhelming. After a year or two, I found my ethics again and figured out how to live GFV. I struggled at first, but now it’s a basic, unquestioned part of my life. If you want or need to live gluten free vegan, I’m here to help.

Make it from Scratch:  As much as you can, you’ll want to prepare your food at home. Everything you’re used to eating can get a gluten free vegan makeover. Making your own bread with sorghum and rice flour can be liberating. Of course, when you make food at home, you control the ingredients, so you know what you’re eating. You can also prevent cross contamination this way, which is important if you have serious gluten intolerance or celiac.

Take the Shortcuts:  If you’re used to eating out often or buying mostly prepackaged foods, you may not be able to get away with it anymore. That gluten free bread you found probably has eggs, and those Boca patties you used to throw on the grill are pure wheat gluten.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t take any shortcuts! Even regular grocery stores will often carry brown rice pasta, precut veggies, canned beans, packaged hummus, and gluten free crackers. These things can all be life savers on a Tuesday night.

Know where to go: Conveniently, it seems the most gluten free friendly restaurants are also the most vegan friendly. In the San Francisco area, most of the vegetarian restaurants label their menus gluten free, or at least know what gluten free items they have. Check yelp, happy cow and urbanspoon for gluten free and vegan friendly options and try them out. That way when your friends want to go out, you’ll know where to go.

Know how to get by: Say you’re in that awkward situation where you don’t get to pick the restaurant and you’re out with a group. Most of the time, your server can help you make a decent meal if you’re friendly and polite (and hopefully they speak English). Look over the menu and see if there’s anything you think could be modified to suit you. For example, they may have a baked potato with sour cream, but you saw a hummus and pita appetizer. Could you get the hummus on your baked potato?  Could they add some beans to your salad? Sometimes you’ll be really stuck, and have to order a sad iceberg salad (this has probably only happened to me twice.) Keep a bag of almonds with you if you think that might be the case.

Find the Meat: While you can certainly live well without any mock meat in your life, if you’re a person who likes to have it, a few can be found without gluten. Beyond Meat is a new company that so far only sells in the deli section of Whole Foods in selected regions. Their chicken strips are perhaps too realistic for many veggie palates. Soyrizo is another great gluten free option that can add wonderful flavor to scrambles, chili, rice or pasta. Finally, look for Butler’s Soy Curls, which need to be soaked in water or other liquid and then are quite similar to chunks of seitan. Certainly, the best thing to do is base your diet on whole foods, emphasizing produce and legumes, but especially for transitioning vegans, familiar tastes and textures can be fun.

Hit the Books: More and more books and websites are popping up for gluten free vegans all the time. I especially like Alyson Kramer’s Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats and her blog Manifest Vegan Susan O’Brien’s The Gluten Free Vegan has been the bible for GFV types since 2007. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Gluten Free Vegan Cooking provides lots of useful recipes like gluten free sausages and even a gluten free seitan! Check out the blog collective xgfx for lots more info on gluten free vegan living.

What’s Missing? Wheat is a nutritious food, providing valuable protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals from it. If you eliminate it, you need to be conscious that the foods you use to replace it also provide those things. Many gluten free baked goods use large quantities of starch (such as tapioca, potato and corn) to replace half or more of the wheat flour. I like to use bean based rice and pasta where I can, but not everyone digests bean flour well. Of course if you’re vegan, you want to make sure you’re getting a steady stream of B12 in your diet somehow, either with a supplement or plenty of fortified foods like nutritional yeast, fortified plant based milks or cereal.

People are often shocked that I manage to live gluten free vegan, thinking it must be incredibly complicated, time consuming and limiting. I’m here to tell you it’s not. 

Mandy Brown | @msmandypandy
San Francisco, CA Mandy is a vegan celiac actress writer living in San Francisco with her husband and three rescued pets. You can follow her on Twitter @msmandypandy.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/whatshername