The Gluten-Free Vegan Diet: Updated Information, Tips and Products
by Laura Bruno
Early 2004, VegFamily Magazine published some of my thoughts and experiences in “The Gluten-Free Vegan Diet: Easier than it Sounds.” The article offered definitions for celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten-sensitivity, along with information about ingredient substitutions and eating out. Since this article first appeared, I have received so many emails with follow-up questions about gluten, other food allergens, recipe requests and even restaurant recommendations! I enjoy responding to individual emails but recognize that for every person who writes me, many more probably wonder without contacting the author. I decided to write a follow-up article with answers to the most commonly asked questions over the years.
I’m allergic to glutens AND soy. Can I still be vegan?
In a word, yes, but it will take some extra work on your part. With the exception of dehydrated grain “crackers,” raw foodists enjoy an exclusively gluten-free/soy-free vegan diet. In addition to the enzyme-rich nature of raw food, some doctors wonder if the weight loss and cleansing benefits of “going raw” stem from simply eliminating meat, wheat, soy and dairy. Some people, including myself, temporarily embrace a raw vegan diet, only to find their food allergies disappear. (After four months on about 90% raw food, I regained my tolerance for whole wheat, tofu, nuts and soymilk.)
Not everyone wants to “go raw,” though. As a gluten-free/soy-free vegan life feels restrictive enough. Sometimes you just want hot food that seems relatively normal. If you cook it yourself, you control what goes in it; however, health food stores and supermarket chains offer increasingly large selections of appropriate products. With Dr. Andrew Weil advising people to avoid wheat, many supermarkets now have sections marked “gluten-free.” A growing number of products carry “allergy alert” labels indicating WHEAT, SOY, DAIRY, NUTS, and/or EGGS.
If you feel you need extra protein, you can incorporate rice protein powder from sources like Nutribiotics and Rainbow Light. Craving that soy-full blend of all the essential amino acids? Try hemp protein powder! It tastes a bit earthy and gritty on its own but adds nutty flavor, chlorophyll, and Omega-3 to smoothies. Vegan body builders find that hemp protein powder leaves them more energized and less bloated than isolated soy protein. If you choose “vegetable protein powder,” though, do your research: it often contains soy in addition to pea or rice protein.
Can you recommend any recipes or cookbooks?
VegFamily’s own Dina Aronson co-authored one of the most accessible gluten-free cookbooks on the market today. Food Allergy Survival Guide contains over 200 vegan recipes excluding the most common food allergens, like wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, fish, and peanuts. It offers g-f flour recipes to substitute cup for cup in place of traditional flour, in addition to recipes that need no alterations to become allergy-free vegan. I particularly like the information about common presentations of various types of allergies-some surprisingly different symptoms from different triggers. Parents will appreciate tips on how to minimize your child’s chances of developing food allergies.
Any recipes from www.rawganique.com, www.shazzie.com, and any of the wonderful un-cookbooks sold onwww.rawfamily.com, contain mostly or entirely gluten-free ingredients. Vegan Goddess Sarah Kramer’s cookbooks specify “flour” rather than a specific type of flour, so you can substitute a g-f flour recipe from Food Allergy Survival Guide, and stay true to these popular recipes. Vegan Family Favorites by Erin Pavlina offers some g-f recipes, too! In short, you will find no shortage of g-f vegan recipes and cookbooks. Once you start thinking like someone who avoids gluten, your mind will automatically “translate” recipes into your own g-f “language.” When you see “bulghur wheat,” for example, you’ll think “quinoa”; when you see “flour tortilla,” you’ll think “corn.”
Some of my favorite tricks include:
- Making traditional cornbread by using freshly ground dried quinoa in place of the “all purpose flour.”
- Substituting millet for couscous.
- Using a vegetable peeler or Saladacco Spiral Slicer to make “pasta” from zucchini, yams, or yellow squash.
- Toasting cinnamon raisin Grainaissance Mochi Squares as “instant” cinnamon buns. (Add a little powdered sugar/Earth Balance icing for a more authentic tasting treat.)
- Experimenting with different textures and flavors of beans-moving beyond the old standbys of black turtle, pinto and red kidney.
In your article, you mentioned the introduction of a gluten-free, soy-free veggie burger. Is this product available yet?
Yes, the gluten-free, soy-free veggie burger is now available! Hold onto your hat, because you actually have a choice of products.
Sunshine Burgers, Inc. makes three flavors of organic, soy-free, gluten-free vegan burgers: Southwest, BBQ, and Original. The primary binder/protein source is sunflower seed, mixed with brown rice and various beans and veggies, depending on the flavor. The burgers come precooked and frozen, ready to throw on a grill or pan, just like everyone else’s patties. I have found these burgers in many health food stores and natural food sections of major chains throughout the United States’ West Coast. If you cannot find them and would like to contact the company, you can do so by emailing:email@example.com.
Toronto-based Ruth’s Hemp Foods offers two additional options for gluten-free/soy-free (mostly organic) vegan burgers. Ruth’s Omega Burgers come in Smoky Mushroom or Garden Vegetable. Both flavors make use of protein-and-omega3-rich hemp seeds, combined with basmati rice, flax seeds and various vegetables. Ruth’s Hemp Foods, including Omega Burgers, are available throughout much of Canada. Although distributed in vegetarian-dense U.S. zones, Ruth’s Omega Burgers are not yet common fare in American health food stores. Major distributors like Nature’s Best, Select Nutrition, and Mountain People’s do carry Ruth’s Hemp products, so you can probably request them at your local health food store or veg-friendly supermarket.
Other than burgers, which prepared foods do you recommend?
The Cravings Place makes a line of totally dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free and gluten-free products. You can find these products at places like www.glutensolutions.com and www.missroben.com . Miss Roben calls herself the “Allergy Grocer,” offering many products that are free of other allergens as well. You can find another resource for all kinds of gluten-free products atwww.glutenfreemall.com . Many products just happen to be vegan. This totally gluten-free store provides helpful labels, indicating “Kosher,” “Milk-Free” or “Egg-Free.” As a vegan, you will still need to read labels, but at least you won’t have to worry about any hidden glutens!
In general, I am not a big fan of processed foods, which limits my recommendation of personal favorites. A few products deserve special mention, though. I find that Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pastas hold their shape better than most gluten-free pastas. VitaSpelt makes tasty wheat-free pasta for people who can still eat spelt. Follow Your Heart has created amazing vegan and gluten-free cheeses; I especially like the mozzarella. Amy’s offers several gluten-free soups and frozen entrees, with potential allergens clearly labeled. Alternative Baking Company makes a line of strangely addictive 100% vegan, wheat-free (though not gluten-free) cookies. Finally, Arrowhead Mills Wheat Free Brownie Mix is to die for—especially served warm with cherries on top!
How can I be allergic to so many things? Can I do anything to eliminate these sensitivities?
As unfair as it seems, food allergies and sensitivities rarely occur in isolation. They often indicate digestive weakness: not enough stomach acid, Candida overgrowth, or incomplete digestion in the intestines. Undigested particles of food (especially proteins) sometimes make their way into the bloodstream, where your body attacks them as foreign invaders, thereby causing an allergic response.
For people with full-blown celiac disease, the issues with gluten will not disappear; however, completely avoiding glutens for an extended period might resolve other food sensitivities. Temporarily avoiding sugars and any reaction-causing foods will help tame your inflammatory response. Meanwhile, you can try adding things like acidophilus, psyllium husk or flax seed for bowel cleansing, along with chickpea miso, green smoothies and steamed greens with sea salt to strengthen and fortify your body. Hemp seed oil (yes, another hemp product!) contains a favorable ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids, which sometimes lessen allergic reactions. I like to take oil of oregano-a potent anti-fungal agent and immunity builder-to keep Candida in check. I’ve also found Reishi and Pau d’Arco tea helpful. I am neither an herbalist nor a nutritionist, but I have found such changes and additions helpful in my own life. I also worked for an herbalist and at a health food store, where I received much positive feedback on these products from customers, clients and family members.
Multiple food allergies ask us to investigate underlying health issues. They indicate an imbalance in the body. Stress, infection, yeast overgrowth, low HCL, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, congested liver: the causes can be diverse and overlapping. For additional information and ideas, I recommend The Cure is in the Cupboard: How to Use Oregano for Better Health
A gluten-free vegan life does not mean a fun-free or taste-free life. You are part of a growing minority of customers who demand healthy foods without compromising taste or texture. Creativity, persistence and a little research will keep you dining and living well. Bon Appétit!