Food labels can be deceiving. You’ve looked at enough of them to generally know what you’re looking at, but it can still be hard.
No wheat – check. No barley – check. No rye – check.
Comparing labels is something you’ve become an expert in because you look at them before you eat everything.
But you may not know how to look at labels past determining if foods are gluten free or not. And gluten free eating and nutritious gluten free eating are a whole different ballgame.
Protein is a prime example – it’s an essential part of your gluten free diet, but the amount on a label doesn’t always tell the full story.
Not all proteins are the same. In fact, there are two different types.
How to Differentiate Complete and Incomplete Proteins
Essential amino acids determine which proteins are complete and which aren’t. Essential amino acids are ones that your body can’t produce. Thus, you need to get them in the food you eat.
Complete proteins have all of the essential amino acids, and incomplete proteins do not. Amino acids help to maintain and build healthy hair, skin, muscle tissue, organs, enzymes, hormones, body fluids, and body cells (in short, everything). Your protein intake, as a result, has a tremendous influence on your bodily functions.
So, when a food label says “9g” or “12g” of protein, whether it’s complete or incomplete is an important consideration.
This is not to say that incomplete proteins are bad. But on their own, they simply aren’t that effective as a source of protein.
The only complete proteins are from animal and soy sources. That means protein from fish, meat, milk, cheese, eggs, and tofu are complete. They’ll help build and grow new muscle and tissue, and will help you in all of the essential functions mentioned above.
The one thing to be weary of is that most of these foods are also high in saturated fat, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. So, be selective about how often you eat things like red meat and cheese. They are only good for you in moderation.
The Best Way to Eat Protein (and 5 Ways to Make it Happen)
Since complete proteins are only good in moderation, how do you sustain a healthy, balanced diet and make protein work for you in the most effective way?
Simple – just add them up. Add and combine different incomplete proteins to create complete proteins.
This is especially a great solution for vegetarians and those allergic to soy, as many celiacs are.
This is fun. Let’s take a look at a few ways to do this:
- Combine gluten free grains with legumes. Gluten free grains can be elusive but they have much higher protein content than their glutinous counterparts. Grains such as quinoa, teff, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, and rice are naturally gluten free. Add these with beans or lentils, and you’ll have a meal of complete, effective protein. Try, for example, this quinoa taco salad from Gluten-Free Goddess.
- Make nuts with legumes. These two combine surprisingly well. You just need to find the right recipe. Check out this Green Bean Salad with Toasted Almonds and Cherry Vinaigrette from Celiac.com.
- Add gluten free grains and dairy. It’s not often that a recipe so delicious comes around that’s also highly nutritious. Macaroni and cheese never got so healthy with all natural ingredients and lots of protein: I love this recipe from Amy at Simply Sugar & Gluten Free.
- Combine dairy and seeds. This combination is quite high in calcium, so it serves multiple purposes. This is as simple as adding sesame or flax seeds to your yogurt.
- Try a meal with legumes and seeds. This isn’t very difficult either. Take a look at this gluten free bean and cashew nut salad.
While protein is important, it’s even more important to understand how to consume it, and how it can best perform for you.
Steak, lean meats, eggs, and cheese are only good for you in moderation. But I highly recommend you include all essential amino acids at almost every meal. You can’t use one complete protein to do this every time.
I hope I can get you to look at protein a bit differently, and get a bit creative with it.
Do you have any gluten free recipes that you love that fit into any of the above categories? Let me know in the comments below!