Since starting my family on a wheat free regime last April, I have learnt so many alternative ways to designing meals without bread and pasta. As a Mum of two, these two foods are a staple of most quick and easy breakfasts, lunch boxes and evening suppers so I knew I had my work cut out to find alternatives for a family who live on toast, cereal, spaghetti and sandwiches (with fruit and vegetables nestled in between somewhere). Not only that but to “sell” the idea of the alternatives to them as well.
The Wheat Free regime works on the basis that wheat laden foods carry a heavy carbohydrate load. These carbohydrates burn quickly sparking glucose to be released into the bloodstream which then triggers the pancreas to release insulin in order to “mop up” the blood sugar (glucose) to bring levels back to normality. What goes up must come down and it is these “peaks” and “troughs” that can create an imbalance. The dip comes within an hour or so of eating that carbohydrate and it is at this point that cravings then set in. So, another carbohydrate is consumed and so the cycle goes on and on. By taking wheat out of the diet (as well as sugary foods) this keeps the body in a balanced state and thereby reducing patterns of cravings, and the grabbing of a carbohydrate fix. Over time, apart from gaining weight, there is potential for the insulin excretory cells of the pancreas to wear out and reduce it’s insulin output or the receptor cells which “mop up” the glucose (insulin resistance) can also wear out, this can lead to Type 2 diabetes. So by reducing foods that “spike” our blood sugar fast we can reduce the “wear and tear” on our body and reduce cravings.
One thing I had noticed at home was the amount of snacking in between meals that went on with both children and my husband. Whilst I have always allowed the children unlimited access to the fruit bowl, most snacks were carbohydrate laden in the form of cereal bars, toast, sandwiches and dried fruit. Whilst fruit is healthy, it is contains high levels of fructose which is a sugar, just not a processed one but many fruits can create these “spikes” in blood sugar too so I started to look into varieties that carried less sugar such as mixed berries, melons, peaches, pineapple, apricots and oranges. We also did away with dried fruits as these are high in fructose.
After we all agreed that it would be an interesting “experiment” to see the benefits of cutting out wheat, I set on a journey of trawling Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter to see what was out there. Social Media offers an array of recipe ideas and techniques to help come up with a variety of meal plans. Armed with my Wheat Belly book and Against all Grain website I read through reams of recipes to find something that my family would all eat at the same time without fuss (yes I too have fallen into the trap of cooking three different dinners to suit everyone).
So to begin, Breakfasts. This area has been the hardest as both children love their cereals and although occasionally I would buy a sugary one as a holiday treat, most days the children are offered Weetabix so these were excluded and replaced with Rice Krispies. I also offered them yoghurt and fruit as an alternative and on weekends we tried a wheat free pancake recipe made with coconut flour which was delicious. For me, I prefer muesli and despite going for a sugar free, salt free wholegrain one this was still out of bounds. I found a fabulous recipe using Chia Seeds, almond milk and cashew nut butter. When you soak overnight a tablespoon of Chia seeds into a Nutri bulleted mix of almond milk and a spoonful of cashew nut butter, the chia seeds expand and become softened and of similar consistency to caviar (without the fishy taste obviously). It works like a bowl of porridge where you can then top it with chopped figs, strawberries, raspberries or a banana. Chia seeds are full of fibre and work brilliantly on sustaining me until lunchtime.
Lunchboxes were the biggest challenge mainly because of the lack of convenience of throwing a sandwich together, grabbing a bag of crisps and a piece of fruit or yoghurt. I found that I needed to be more experimental with the food choices so purchased lots of small tupperware pots which I filled with cucumber and carrot batons, hummus, mozarella cheese balls, ham strips, chicken strips and a variety of berries. My son embraced this with excitement as he enjoyed opening up each pot to discover it’s contents. He also only has lunchboxes twice a week so this was not too complicated but I did need to be organised and ensure these things were on the shopping list every week. My daughter buys her lunch at secondary school and she found it very difficult to find choices that were wheat free. She was reluctant to sit down for lunch where the hot food choices were better than the takeway canteen which only offered sandwiches, pizza, paninis and pasta salads – all wheat laden foods so I started to make up a lunch box option for her too some days and on other days she made an effort with her friends to sit down and eat (which by the way is far healthier for your digestion)a hot choice of soup or meat and vegetables.
I have attempted a wheat free bread recipe which consists mainly of flaxseeds, almond butter and coconut flour and whilst it was delicious, the ingredients made this recipe cost about £8.00 per loaf so not something I would make often.
Dinners required more creativity as we often had cous cous and pasta as a base for our dinner. Occasional, time saving dinners for the children were frozen convenience foods which contain wheat, like fish fingers or pizza. So, I bought more fresh fish and made my own fish cakes. I also made veggie bakes and chicken nuggets all using coconut or chick pea flour. It was a little more time consuming and dinner preparation started a little earlier most days. The children still craved my pasta sauces and I must admit as I usually batch make these and freeze it was annoying that we couldn’t utilise these, until I discovered the Spiralizer!
This nifty little gadget has taken pride of place on my kitchen worktop. A glorified cutting device to some but to me it has injected a sense of interest and variety to all our meals. We can use it to create spirals from brocolli stems, courgettes, carrots, beetroot, potatoes (high in carb but we eat less this way). It sounds so simple but interestingly I have served up courgette noodles with pesto chicken and the whole family love it. Helmsey and Helmsey do a great recipe for the base of this dish.
Give a sliced courgette to the children and they would normally turn their nose up at it, so by offering some fun into the meal design this seems to have a positive affect on everyone to at least try it. Furthermore, the spiralised veggies can also be blitzed to make rice shapes which can equally be used as a base. This alternative to pasta is blood sugar balancing, lower in calories and helps to include everyone’s “five-a-day” easily. Win, win for everyone. Plus, the children are always happy to help if they get a turn on the Spiralizer.
So, two months on, how are we all doing. Well, out of all of us the children have slipped occasionally when at a party or eating out but my husband and I have maintained our “Wheat Free” status. My husband has lost 16 lbs in weight and feels more energised, we have both benefitted from less bloatedness. The children have curbed their frequency of snacking and the moments of cravings have subsided.
I never thought I would ever have an empty bread bin but not a slice of bread has entered this house for these passed few weeks and whilst I do salivate when I pass the baked goods aisle in the supermarket I do now realise that there is a life without wheat.
Karen is a BANT registered Nutritional Therapist who runs her clinic in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. For more details visit Life Practice Nutrition or call for a free 20 minute telephone consultation on 01462 431112