Wheat-Free at the Grocery Store

With a knowledge of what ingredients contain wheat, grains, or gluten, you're ready to focus on ones that should be eating. The grocery store becomes a more manageable proposition when you're wheat-free because the cereal, snack food, condiment, and bread aisles are nary worth a visit.

Suddenly you find yourself spending most of your time shopping the perimeter of the store, where the fresh produce, meats, and dairy reside, and venturing into the middle only occasionally for staples. Natural grocery stores are a bit more expensive, but they have more wheat-free options in the prepackaged food areas (though those options may still contain vegetable oils and/or added sugar).

Don't go to the grocery store hungry, and don't venture down the snack food aisle for old times’ sake. Just like Columbus went looking for Asia and ended up in the Bahamas, you may find yourself headed for the broccoli but end up buying cookies instead.

In time, the temptation to visit your old wheat-filled friends will be gone. For now, eat before you go and stick to the aisles with things on your list. Here, learn what items you should be shopping for on your wheat-free diet.

Select the right fruits and veggies

All fruits and vegetables are wheat-free, so you can eat most of these with abandon. Frozen, canned, and fresh are all viable options, but organic is the best option for optimum health. Frozen vegetables are sometimes even more nutritious than canned or fresh vegetables because they're frozen fresh to lock in the nutrients (whereas that wilted “fresh” kale may be on its last leg). Focus on the following types of vegetables:

  • Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard and mustard greens

  • Brightly colored vegetables such as peppers, carrots, and eggplant

  • Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, radishes, and beets

  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts

  • Onions, cucumbers, celery, and mushrooms (okay, mushrooms are technically a fungus)

Limit your intake of corn and white potatoes; they aren't very nutrient-dense and cause an increase in blood sugar you don't see with other veggies. They're okay on occasion but not as a staple.

As you get used to wheat-free living with an emphasis on eating low-sugar items, you notice your tastes changing. Suddenly, the naturally occurring sugar in fruit more than satisfies your sweet cravings. But that doesn't mean you can chow down on fruit 24/7.

Fruit doesn't contain wheat, of course, but even natural sugars can negatively affect your blood sugar if you eat them in large quantities. The easiest way to determine which fruits have the lowest effect on blood sugar is to categorize them by their glycemic load. This measurement tells you the impact a specific serving size of a food has on blood sugar; the lower the number, the better. Here's how some fruits compare:

  • Low glycemic load: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, oranges, peaches, grapefruit, and watermelon.

  • Medium glycemic load: Prunes and grapes.

  • Medium to high glycemic load: Bananas, dates, and raisins.

Fruit juices fall into the high glycemic category because their sugars are concentrated. It’s recommended to avoid fruit juice altogether.

Opt for the smartest meats and seafood

Stay with the unadulterated versions of meat, chicken, and seafood. Grocery stores carry lots of seasoned and marinated prepackaged meats that inevitably contain wheat, sugar, and/or vegetable oils. Buy the raw stuff and create your own recipes. Even better, buy grass-fed meats to take advantage of their higher amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Great protein options include

  • Red meat such as beef, bison, elk, goat, and venison.

  • Poultry such as chicken, duck, and turkey.

  • Pork such as loins, chops, and ribs and cured cuts such as bacon and sausage.

  • Seafood, including all fish and shellfish. Canned sardines, herring, salmon, and tuna are also excellent options. The best choices are those canned in olive oil or a tomato, chili, or mustard sauce. Avoid those packed in soybean or sunflower oil.

Shop for dairy products

The dairy section can be hit or miss when it comes to acceptable wheat-free foods. Like everything else you buy, read the labels. Something as simple as yogurt can have wheat in the form of starches or mix-ins like granola or cookies. Milk can cause a blood sugar spike for some; choose higher-fat milk products to slow digestion and any blood sugar increases.

Stock your fridge with these items:

  • Butter (real butter, not any type of substitute)

  • Eggs (preferably pastured because of the higher omega-3 levels)

  • High-fat cheese and cottage cheese

  • Plain yogurt (preferably Greek because of its higher protein and lower sugar contents)

  • Sour cream

  • Whole milk (preferably from grass-fed cows)

Avoid most of the mass-produced brands of yogurt (particularly flavored yogurts) because they use added sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup.

Choosing nuts, seeds, and oils

Nuts and seeds are a fantastic snack because they contain an assortment of nutrients; eat them raw, sprouted, or dry roasted. Nut butters are also a great option. When you're ready to grab a handful of nuts or seeds to snack on, reach for these:

  • Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, and walnuts

  • Chia, flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds

Wondering why peanuts aren't on this list? Peanuts are actually legumes. They have very high omega-6 fatty acid levels with practically no omega-3 fatty acids — definitely a food to avoid.

Choose your oils based on how you plan to use them. If you'll cook with it, be aware of its smoke point (how hot it can get before breaking down). You can use the following list as a quick guide:

  • High heat: Almond oil, avocado oil, ghee (clarified butter)

  • Semi-high heat: Butter, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil

  • Low heat: Olive oil

Seed oils (such as canola oil) have no place in your healthy diet.

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