A growing number of vegans
are also banishing
gluten from their plates.
By Linda Melone
Headaches and fatigue plagued Mary Beth Finch, 34, for years until she went gluten-free. Her sister also had issues with gluten and had made the same switch years ago. “So it wasn’t a huge challenge for me to go gluten-free because I’d watched my sister for years,” says Finch, a PhD candidate and adjunct professor at Northwestern University in Chicago. “I had that mindset already.” Although she does not have celiac disease (the most severe form of gluten intolerance), Finch believes a gluten sensitivity was behind her headaches.
But going vegan in addition to cutting out gluten was another story.
While health problems motivated the switch to a gluten-free lifestyle, Finch says shifting to a vegan diet was a moral decision based on animal cruelty concerns. Her biggest challenge: baked goods. Gluten-free bread typically contains eggs or egg whites to hold it together, which are off-limits on a vegan diet. “I miss bread,” Finch laments.
The Right Mindset
Eliminating gluten and animal products brings to mind the question: What’s left to eat? “You need to get away from thinking about what you can’t eat and look at the myriad of things like fruits, nuts, vegetables, spices, herbs, etcetera, that are all naturally gluten-free and vegan,” says Tess Masters, author of The Blender Girl: 100 Gluten-Free, Vegan Recipes (10 Speed Press), a gluten-free vegan herself. “The biggest challenges are baked goods and dining out, because you can usually find one or the other (gluten-free or vegan), but not both, although this is starting to change as veganism becomes more popular.”
Many people also believe you can’t make things tasty, says Masters. “But you have tons of options with foods such as gluten-free pastas and flours, nut butters, plant-based milks—even quinoa milk is gluten-free. Some cheeses are gluten-free but they may have milk protein, so that can be misleading. You have to read labels.”
Masters herself enjoys many vegetable-based smoothies in her diet and is a fan of soups made from gluten-free stock. “You can ‘cream them up’ by using blanched nuts (grind them in a food processor until they reach a flour-like consistency). I make lots of stews, some using coconut meat and oats,” she says.
Other easy-to-prepare foods Masters keeps on hand include quinoa, millet, tofu, tempeh, legumes, split peas, sprouts, nuts and seeds. “We eat many things every day that are gluten-free and vegan; we just don’t think about them that way,” she says. “Develop a handful of staple recipes, but be sure to get variety. You don’t have to play it safe by eating the same things over and over.”
Eating for Enjoyment
People often think anyone on such a restrictive diet plan should be grateful to eat food that’s just “okay,” says Nicole Hunn, author of Gluten-Free Classic Snacks: 100 Recipes for the Brand-Name Treats You Love (Da Capo Lifelong). “It should be more than okay—it should be enjoyable. A good example are homemade gluten-free, vegan flour tortillas, which freeze beautifully and can be defrosted quickly to make almost anything into a meal.”
As for baked goods, Hunn offers an egg replacement she calls a chia egg—one tablespoon of ground chia seed mixed with three tablespoons warm water. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for about five minutes or until it becomes a gel, similar to raw egg yolk. (Use up to two chia eggs to replace an equal number of eggs in a recipe; Hunn recommends not using this substitute in recipes that call for more than two eggs.)
Although many packaged gluten-free and vegan foods make meal preparation more convenient, Christen Cupples Cooper, MS, RD, doctoral candidate in nutrition at Teachers College, Columbia University, says you should “focus on real foods such as fruits, vegetables and gluten-free whole grains and plant proteins rather than processed foods advertised as ‘gluten free.’” For example, go with a sweet potato versus packaged sweet potato chips.
Variety is also key, says Cooper. “Make sure you’re eating plant proteins in combination with other foods, such as beans with a gluten-free grain and a vegetable.”
Finch “gets creative” with beans, vegetables and soups, and focuses on soy and tofu, along with beans, for protein. “I try to cook dried beans and freeze them ahead of time in portions,” she says. Simple meals include hashes and scrambles, and dishes such as quinoa-stuffed peppers with sundried tomatoes and peas.
Finch likes going to the website Ohsheglows.com, an award-winning food blog, where she finds many vegan and gluten-free recipe ideas. “I was a big cheese eater, so I also miss some cheeses,” Finch says. “Thankfully, more vegan cheeses have been coming out lately, but I still can’t find one that tastes like aged Parmesan.”
Eating gluten-free and meatless requires planning. “In order for this diet to meet nutritional needs it must be very well planned so you don’t end up with a deficiency,” says Lori Zanini, RD, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who strongly recommends consulting with a dietitian first. “Not everyone can afford to go to an all-organic store for everything; vegan burgers can get pricey.”
For instance, eliminating grains requires getting your fiber by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. “Fiber should not be a problem if you do this,” notes Zanini. Calcium may also be in short supply if you eliminate all dairy, so Zanini suggests looking for calcium-fortified foods.
Although flax seed oil contains a good amount of an omega-3 fat called ALA, getting enough omega-3s can be challenging on this diet, specifically DHA (a component of omega-3s), a nutrient “of particular importance for pregnant women,” says Zanini. In general, she advises gluten-free vegans to take a multi-vitamin along with omega-3 and vitamin B-12 (found mostly in grains and shellfish).
Many regional cuisines offer tasty options to people eating gluten-free and vegan. Asian food, for example, includes tofu as a protein staple. “Plus, sushi doesn’t always include fish,” notes Zanini. Hand-rolls wrapped in seaweed with avocado, for example, makes an excellent choice.
Mexican foods feature many naturally gluten-free corn-based recipes, such as corn tortillas, along with rice, beans and guacamole. Ethiopian food uses gluten-free teff flour; this ancient grain is high in calcium and resistant starch, a type of dietary fiber beneficial for weight control and blood sugar management.
Finch enjoys regional favorites such as Japanese vegetable rolls and edamame (young soybeans boiled in their pods). “When in doubt, hummus and veggies are always a good choice,” she says.
The Gluten-Free Vegan Pantry
When cooking at home, the liberal use of spices, herbs and seasonings go far to elevate flavors, as do aromatics such as garlic and onion. Protein isn’t usually an issue, says Zanini. “Quinoa is gluten-free and a complete protein. You also have beans, nuts and seeds as your protein staples.”
Zanini offers the following as a general sample for a day of gluten-free vegan eating:
Breakfast: oatmeal with mixed berries, cinnamon and nuts, and almond milk (“Most oats are naturally gluten-free but make sure by reading the label”)
Lunch: vegetarian chili or gluten-free pasta in a vegetable pasta salad with beans and a dressing of vinegar and olive oil
Dinner: corn tortillas with guacamole and beans, or grilled tofu and collard greens
Snacks: popcorn, celery, hummus, peanut butter, fruits and nuts, some packaged fruit and nut bars
Desserts: fruits, raspberries and coconut yogurt
“Use lots of leafy greens and nonstarchy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, superfoods, nut butters and plant-based milks such as almond, coconut, hemp, soy, cashew and macadamia milks,” suggests Masters. “And pair them with delicious sauces and dressings.”
Other staples include lemons, limes, gluten-free grains and pasta, tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and white beans, frozen edamame, fresh coconut and coconut water, tofu and tempeh, high-quality oils, fresh herbs and spices, applesauce (which can also be used as an egg replacement), xanthan and guar gum, chia seeds, flax and psyllium husk powder.
“It’s the same philosophy when you eliminate anything,” says Masters. “You need to look at it from a place of abundance and at what you can have instead of what you can’t. If you meal plan, are organized and have a staple of about 25 to 50 recipes that are quick and easy, a gluten-free vegan lifestyle is easy and fun.”
4 cups (640g) roughly chopped seedless watermelon, plus 6 cups (960g) diced
2 cups (300g) diced tomato
1 cup (145g) peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
1/2 cup (70g) diced red bell pepper
2 tbsp diced red onion, plus more to taste
3 tbsp finely chopped basil
3 tbsp finely chopped mint
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime
juice, plus more to taste
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp minced green serrano chile, plus more to taste
1/2 tbsp natural salt, plus more to taste
pinch freshly ground black pepper
1. Put the 4 cups of chopped watermelon in a blender and puree on high for 30-60 seconds, until liquefied. Pour into a serving bowl.
2. Add the diced watermelon and all the remaining ingredients. Stir to
combine well. Tweak flavors to taste (you may want more onion, lime juice, chile or salt).
3. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours, but preferably 12 to 24 hours to allow the flavors to fuse and the vibrant red color to develop. Before serving, tweak flavors again (if it’s too spicy, add some lime juice). Put additional lime juice and salt on the table.
Recipe reprinted with permission from The Blender Girl: SuperEasy, Super-Healthy Meals, Snacks, Desserts, and Drinks—100 GlutenFree, Vegan Recipes! by Tess Masters, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. (crownpublishing.com/imprint/ten-speed-press). Photo by Anson Smart © 2014
Creamy Mushroom Stroganoff
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup (75g) diced yellow onion
2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
6 cups (540g) sliced white button and cremini mushrooms
2 cups (480ml) vegetable broth
12 ounces (345g) firm silken tofu or firm regular tofu
3 tbsp wheat-free tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
12 ounces (340g) gluten-free fettuccini or spaghetti
1/4 cup (12g) chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more to garnish
2 tbsp finely chopped chives
1. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the onion for about 5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Reduce the heat to low and add the remaining oil. Add garlic and mushrooms, and sauté for about 15 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Put 1 cup (240ml) of the vegetable broth and the tofu in a blender and puree on high for 30 to 60 seconds, until smooth and creamy. Add about 1 cup (180g) of the mushroom mixture. Pulse a few times to break it up. You want a speckled, grainy consistency, not a puree.
3. Pour the blended tofu-mushroom mixture into the saucepan and stir in the tamari, thyme and pepper. Bring the mixture just to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens.
4. Increase the heat to high and add 1/2 cup (120ml) of the remaining broth. Bring the sauce just to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-high, and simmer for about 10 minutes, until reduced by half. Increase the heat to high again and add the remaining broth. Bring the sauce just to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes more, until creamy. Cover and keep warm.
5. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and add to the mushroom sauce. Add the parsley and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve family-style in a big bowl garnished with the chives and parsley.
Recipe reprinted with permission from The Blender Girl. Photo by Anson Smart © 2014
Chai Rice Pudding
1/4 cup (60ml) plus 3 tbsp pure maple syrup, plus more to taste
2 tbsp water
2 apples, peeled, cored and cubed
1 cup (240ml) canned coconut milk (shake, then pour)
2 tsp natural vanilla extract
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
pinch natural salt
3 cups (450g) cooked short-grain brown rice (soft but not mushy)
1/4 cup (45g) raisins
1 cup (240ml) unsweetened almond milk (strained if homemade)
1/3 cup (40g) chopped raw pistachios
1. In a saucepan over high heat, bring the 1/4 cup (60ml) of maple syrup and the water to a boil (this should take less than a minute). As soon as the mixture bubbles, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the apples. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples caramelize lightly and soften slightly but remain mostly firm.
2. In the meantime put the coconut milk, remaining 3 tbsp of maple syrup, vanilla, ginger, spices and salt in a blender and set on medium-high for about 10 seconds, until combined. Add 1 1/2 cups (225g) of the rice and process on medium-low for a few seconds, until creamy but rustic. (If using a high-speed blender, be careful; you don’t want a completely smooth blend. If using a conventional blender, the mixture will thicken and be difficult to blend.)
3. Add blended mixture and raisins to the cooked apples and stir to combine.
Stir in 1/2 cup (120ml) of the almond milk and the remaining rice. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens slightly. Stir in the remaining almond milk and simmer for 5 minutes more, until it reaches a desired consistency. Tweak the maple syrup to taste.
4. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled; add 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup (60ml) milk if chilled. Sprinkle pistachios on each serving.
Recipe reprinted with permission from The Blender Girl. Photo by Anson Smart © 2014
Comfort Food Redefined
One of the most difficult things about a dietary changeover is the idea of giving up those foods you love the most. “We all crave certain foods. At times, we want a meal or dessert that is quick and easy to fix and at other times, we want something that nourishes us,” says Susan O’Brien, a healthy eating coach and cooking instructor who has authored a series of books on gluten-free eating. One of them, Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food (Da Capo Press), was written in response to O’Brien’s readers looking for ways to transform comfort foods into gluten-free vegan treats, such as the recipes for meatballs and pizza crust shown here.
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4-1 cup chopped raw walnuts
2/3 cup finely chopped onions
2 cups chopped and cleaned mushrooms
1/2 tsp minced garlic (1 clove)
1 tbsp Bragg Liquid Aminos
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp red wine
1/4 cup dried parsley flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire* or tamarind sauce
1/4 cup finely crushed gluten-free cornflakes
1 tsp chia seeds whisked together with 2 tbsp warm water
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
*Most brands contain anchovies.
Pumpkin Pizza Crust
1 tsp chia seeds
1 cup warm water, divided
1 tsp yeast
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 tsp guar gum
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup cooked canned pumpkin
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
From Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food by Susan O’Brien. Reprinted courtesy of
Da Capo Lifelong Books (www.dacapopress.com)