You probably know that variety is an important part of a healthy diet. It is, after all, the proverbial spice of life. But if you are living gluten-free, variety can often be a little too spicy and lead to flare-ups, intolerances, and poor digestion. Now, far be it for someone like me (who has rigid routines for basically everything) to be recommending variety, but that is exactly what I’m doing. Maybe it takes one to know one. Variety is indeed an important part of a healthy diet, and trying and liking new foods is both emotionally and nutritionally fulfilling. We have perhaps the most varied diet of any living thing on the planet, so it would be reasonable to conclude that this may be a factor as to why we are so successful as a species. So let’s play to our strengths. If you are gluten-free, it makes sense that once you find foods that you tolerate well to make those foods staples in your diet and not try anything else. But what are you missing out on? You may not be able to eat wheat, barley, rye, and a few other foods, but what you can eat is everything else.
One easy way to try and incorporate more variety into the diet is through the use of different gluten-free grains and grain alternatives. Wheat, barley, and rye are off the menu, but things like rice, potatoes, corn, oats, quinoa, and arrowroot are all acceptable alternatives. Next time you’re feeling dangerous (like Austin Powers playing blackjack and hitting on 20), maybe give one of these grain alternatives a try. Although all sources of predominantly carbohydrates, each of these gluten-free alternatives is different nutritionally. Some might have more fiber, others more B-vitamins, and others more protein. If you’re eating at least a little bit of a few different sources, you can be confident that your nutritional needs are being met.
Protein sources are another food group where diversity is important. Just like you can’t have an entire football team of quarterbacks or a song with only one note, a diet with little variety will not be effective at delivering optimum nutrition. Again, it is easy to get stuck in a rut of only eating say, chicken breast. It has protein, so it’s all good, right? Well, yes and no. All protein sources will have different blends of amino acids, so in order to make sure that you have plenty of each amino acid in your diet (especially the essential ones that your body cannot make), try and incorporate beef, pork, and fish into your diet as well. Each has other fringe benefits beyond only its protein, such as beef being a good source of iron and fish being a great source of healthy fats.
And when it comes to fruits and vegetables, use the wonderful variety that nature has made available. Sick of broccoli? Try broccolini (a cross between Asian kale and broccoli). Over oranges? Try tangerines, kumquats, minneolas, or grapefruits. Bored with blueberries? Change it up to raspberries, boysenberries, or strawberries. A common recommendation is to “eat the rainbow” (Skittles don’t count). Different colored foods are differently colored literally because they have different compounds in them that reflect light into different wavelengths. So by eating green, yellow, red, orange, and purple foods, you can be sure that you’re consuming a good variety of nutrients.
In conclusion, simply be conscious of the importance of variety. Especially for those living gluten-free, it can be tempting to stick to certain foods with undying loyalty. If you’re going through weeks or months of flare-ups and finally find sanctuary in a particular food, that’s fine. But know that all foods have different blends of micro- (vitamins, minerals) and macro- (protein, fat, carbs, fiber) nutrients, and that a diet rich in variety will be much healthier than one that sticks to only a few specific foods.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube
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