Use this practical advice and information to healthfully eat vegetarian or vegan on the gluten-free diet
Everywhere you look, it seems meat is back. The average American will eat more than 222 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which also expects sales of eggs, cheese and butter to hit all-time highs. Popular diets, including Paleo and keto, lead some to think that a diet based on high consumption of meat could afford even more health benefits.
For others, however, the decision to leave meat and other animal products behind is a personal one and may be rooted in concerns for the welfare and treatment of animals, worries about food safety or religious beliefs. Others believe that a meat-heavy lifestyle isn’t good for long-term health and that a plant-based diet can help prevent chronic disease and improve longevity.
For those who combine a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle with the gluten-free diet, food choices require careful planning to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Also, many processed vegetarian products, such as veggie burgers, often contain gluten, so label reading is critical. In this edition of Not Just Gluten Free, we’ll discuss the potential health benefits of vegetarianism, how to combine the vegetarian diet and gluten-free diet, address nutritional concerns, and navigate challenges in living both gluten free and vegetarian or vegan.
Making the choice
For Renee Euler, MS, RD, LD, who is in private practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the decision to eat a primarily vegetarian diet came when she met her husband. “When I met my future husband, he had been a lacto-ovo vegetarian [a vegetarian who consumes dairy and eats eggs] for almost five years,” she explains. “I had been following a gluten-free diet for celiac disease for about three years. Dating is difficult when following a special dietary therapy, but it worked out well for our relationship. It made us much more sensitive to the needs of others who follow a special diet.”
It wasn’t easy getting started, notes Euler. “At first, we were what I called ‘bad’ vegetarians, mostly relying on highly processed meat substitutes and other products,” she says. “We realized early on, before I became a dietitian, that we needed to improve our vegetarian diet.” Euler and her husband found the solution in the kitchen, preparing one new vegetarian recipe per week utilizing whole food ingredients and exploring other world cuisines. “While we are not vegan, I do appreciate the need or desire to follow a vegan, gluten-free diet, whether for ethical or personal reasons or additional intolerances to dairy or eggs.”
Euler sees many health benefits to cutting out meat for those who are already gluten free. “There is evidence that a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet pattern can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions,” she notes. “Vegetarians tend to consume more fiber, potassium, vitamins C and E, and phytochemicals from their increased intake of fruits and vegetables, which are all thought to be protective against chronic disease.” What’s not in the diet is also notable, says Euler, as vegetarians typically consume less saturated fat and fewer added sugars and processed foods than those who eat meat.
Good nutrition is key
When most people think meat, they think protein. However, with a little planning, vegetarians and vegans can get plenty of protein, too. “Most Americans consume more than enough protein, and we need less than most people think,” says Euler. “The key to getting enough protein is to make sure you include a serving with every meal and snack.” Euler encourages her clients to think of simple ways to include protein, such as stirring almond or peanut butter into gluten-free oatmeal in the morning or having a couple tablespoons of hummus with vegetables for a snack (for more gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan sources of protein, and to learn how to calculate how much protein you need each day, see below).
Click “next” to learn about specific nutrient needs, including vitamin B12, calcium and iron