Denver, CO (PRWEB) October 03, 2013
"With over 22 million Americans following a vegetarian-inclined diet and 21 million adhering to a gluten-free diet, it is important to know how to combine these two popular lifestyles but continue to eat well," says Fenster, who has been gluten-free for nearly 25 years.
What is gluten and how is it a problem for vegetarian diets? Gluten is a protein in wheat (and related grains such as rye, barley, and spelt) that is safe for most people, but toxic for those with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which gluten inhibits the absorption of nutrients in food and leads to malnutrition. It is also toxic for those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but these people may exhibit a more diverse set of symptoms. "Gluten intolerance has become so common," says Fenster, "that some physicians refer to it as a public health issue." Since there is no cure for gluten intolerance, the only treatment is a lifelong diet devoid of gluten, but being both gluten-free and vegetarian requires more diligence than following either one of these diets alone.
Typical vegetarian fare includes wheat and wheat-related grains—for example, wheat or barley in the form of pasta, seitan, wheatberries, or bulgur. Wheat flour often thickens soups or is baked into breads as well as made into pasta, a typical vegetarian choice. Even soy-based meat alternatives can include some wheat or barley as a binder or added source of protein. "So if you are vegetarian and also want to be gluten-free," says Fenster, "it is important to know how to read labels carefully and choose safe substitutes for all of these gluten-laden foods so you can safely enjoy the same dishes as everyone else."
What are safe, gluten-free replacements for traditional vegetarian fare? Fenster says gluten-free pasta—which is available in many shapes—can replace wheat pasta in most dishes such as Spaghetti & Marinara Sauce or Macaroni & Cheese. Soups can be thickened with pureed cooked potatoes (a natural thickener) or gluten-free flours such as sweet rice flour or cornstarch.
Instead of soy-based meat alternatives, she prefers hearty vegetables such as eggplant, Portobello mushrooms, or potatoes and she also uses crispy fried polenta or wholesome beans and legumes to lend the toothsome chew that meat ordinarily provides and that many vegetarians miss. Tofu is another popular meat replacement as well, but Fenster likes the diversity that vegetables, grains, and legumes provide to assure a more varied diet.
Baked items such as breads, cookies, and cakes are particularly troublesome for gluten-free people—whether they’re vegetarian or not—because these items traditionally use wheat flour as the base. Instead, gluten-free versions can use gluten-free flours made from sorghum, bean, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, teff, and so son.
Whole grains are a nutritious choice for vegetarian diets, but the typical grains of wheatberries and bulgur found in most vegetarian plates can be replaced with gluten-free grains of amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats (look for gluten-free versions), quinoa, sorghum, teff, and wild rice and the results are delicious and wholesome.
"The American Dietetic Association recommends eating 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily, so fiber-rich plants are a good idea whether you’re a vegetarian or not," says Fenster. People who aren’t full-time vegetarians are often called "flexitarians" because they are flexible about when and where they eat meat. For gluten-free flexitarians, "the idea is to let plant-based foods (including whole grains) occupy a larger proportion of your plate, adding your favorite meats as more of a garnish or condiment rather than as the main attraction," says Fenster.
"It is much easier to blend a gluten-free diet with a vegetarian diet if you know what ingredients to use and how to use them," says Fenster, who also offers gluten-free vegetarian recipes on her weekly online cookbook at GfreeCuisine. "Knowing what your choices are makes it so much easier."