Surprisingly Good Food Swaps for the Seriously Food Restricted
As if healthy eating while gluten and soy free wasn’t enough of a challenge, I’ve recently gone (temporarily) dairy and nut-free as well on the advice of a lactation consultant who claimed that certain proteins in my diet could possibly be making my breastfed babies gassy and constipated. (Personally, I think it’s genetic. Why wouldn’t a digestively rebellious mommy make digestively rebellious babies?)
Still, a trial elimination diet certainly won’t kill me, and if less gas for the kiddies buys me more sleep at night, I’m all for it. And so all of a sudden, I’ve become the most annoying eater I know. I don’t even want to have lunch with me, and can’t imagine anyone else would want to, either. (Luckily, we don’t get out of the house much so I don’t have to subject others to me at mealtime.)
Of course, every food cloud has a potentially silver lining, and my latest restrictions have forced me to try out some different foods to replace some of the former staples of my diet. And so, I share with you some of the nutritious food swaps I’ve made, all of which I think are actually tasty enough in their own rights to earn a place in any diet that wants for some healthy variety.
Swap #1: Sunbutter for Peanut Butter
Made from ground Sunflower seeds instead of peanuts, Sunbutter resembles peanut butter visually, texture-wise and nutritionally, with an almost identical number of calories and protein and slightly more fiber. While I wouldn’t say it tastes exactly like peanut butter (though if you add a touch more salt, it does get a smidgen closer), if you shmear it on an apple, a rice cake or some gluten-free toast with jam, you most certainly get the peanut butter effect. (Particularly if you cram food down your gullet as fast as I do these days and don’t bother mulling over flavors for too long.) If you’re nut-free but CAN eat dairy, you’re in luck! A product called Sun Cups, which I sampled at the Fancy Food Show this past June, is a sunflower-butter version of the chocolate/peanut butter cup, and delivers a *very* respectable nut-free interpretation of the classic.
Swap #2: Hemp Milk for (Lactose-free) Lowfat milk
For those lactose-free or dairy-free souls who can’t tolerate soy either, rice milk and almond milk tend to be the most popular substitutes. While I have nothing against either of these products– so long as they are calcium-enriched and unsweetened– why not kill two birds with one stone and get some omega-3’s in while you’re at it? (In case you’ve forgotten why omega-3 fats are so important for good health, check out my previous post on flaxseeds for a quickie reminder). The end-products of omega-3 fat metabolism, DHA and EPA, are especially important for breastfeeding moms, by the way, as they are critical components of brain and eye development for the wee ones.
Hemp seeds naturally contain omega-3 fatty acids, so depending on how they are processed to make hemp milk (and hemp milk based products), the end products can also contain a reasonable amount of these essential nutrients as well. According to the leading manufacturer of hemp milk, Living Harvest, their product contains about 50% of the recommended intake of omega-3’s--which should amount to about 800 milligrams, though the exact content is not listed on the nutrition label.
While it’s true that plant-based omega-3’s are less potent than fish oil because they contain the precursors to EPA and DHA which must then be converted in our bodies (as opposed to fish oil which contains the end products EPA and DHA directly), I contend that when it comes to omega-3’s, every little bit counts. As it happens, research seems to suggest that the RATIO of (pro-inflammatory) omega-6 fats to (anti-inflammatory) omega-3 fats in our diets may actually be more important than the amounts themselves. The ideal ratio is reported to be about 4:1. The actual ratio in a typical Western diet is reportedly closer to 20:1. Which leads me to think that getting your omega-3’s from a variety of sources–including hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, fish (or fish oil supplements), canola oil and dark leafy greens— is a great way to skew the ratio more in your favor.
Another factor in hemp milk’s favor is that it’s among the lowest-carb milk substitutes around. Unsweetened hemp milk contains just 1g of carbohydrate total (great for diabetics and eco-Atkins dieters!), and even the sweetened vanilla version can have an almost identical carb content as regular cow’s milk (13g, compared to 12g in cow’s milk, per cup), though this will certainly vary by brand. Would I personally drink unsweetened hemp milk straight? No. But it works great in breakfast cereal, smoothies or in various recipes that call for milk.
Swap #3: Nutritional Yeast for grated or shredded cheese
I’ve been a fan of nutritional yeast as a popcorn topping for a long time now, as it’s a nutritious and low-calorie substitute for Parmesan cheese that gives a strikingly similar salty-nutty-cheesy flavor. But now that actual cheese is off-limits for me, I’ve been much more heavy-handed with the nutritional yeast, using it as a topping for everything from pasta with red sauce to tortilla soup.
The deal with nutritional yeast is that it’s a common strain of yeast (the same one used to brew beer and bake bread) that’s grown on molasses and contains all of the essential amino acids (protein building blocks). Most brands are also fortified with a variety of B-vitamins, including a hefty dose of Vitamin B-12, and marketed as a dietary supplement for vegetarians. (There are no naturally vegetarian sources of B-12, and only a select few vegetarian complete sources protein that contain all of the essential amino acids). It’s worth mentioning that nutritional yeast is inactive. Or stated more simply: it’s dead.
I mention this because yeast tends to elicit misconceptions among some eaters, who think that yeast-containing foods contribute to “yeast overgrowth” in the body, often manifested as a vaginal yeast infection. Not so. If anything, eating too much sugar–which feeds the live yeast that live naturally in the gut–or taking antibiotics, which kill the friendly bacteria which keep yeast in check, are more likely to fuel yeast overgrowth than eating inactive yeast such as that found in bread, beer or nutritional yeast flakes. After all, inactive yeast cannot magically activate itself and colonize your digestive tract after passing through your acidic stomach. And even if it could, yeast can’t travel from your gut to your ladyparts without hitching a ride in your bloodstream; and if it did so, you’d have way bigger problems than a yeast infection: you’d have sepsis.
However, if you have a yeast allergy, which is pretty uncommon and should be diagnosed by a credentialed physician, a yeast-free diet would then be appropriate and beneficial.
Look for nutritional yeast at health food stores, in vitamin stores, or in the dietary supplement section of a progressive grocer like Whole Foods.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.