The very first few months that I was eating a gluten-free dairy-free diet, I was in nutrition school. I was very aware of what I was eating and eating WAYYY more fruits and vegetables than I ever had in my life. Just about every meal was made from scratch. And I had the time to actually do all that.
I was the healthiest I’ve probably ever been in those first few months on a gluten-free dairy-free diet.
Of course, learning of my food intolerances and the need to go gluten and dairy-free wasn’t easy. One of the things that they teach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition is to try all the diet plans that interest you. Feel it all out for yourself and make some decisions based on your body and what it tells you it likes the most.
Since I had such an interest in nutrition and diets, I sort of went off the deep end trying anything and everything I’d heard of. It wasn’t until I tried a vegan diet for a short time that I learned of my absolute necessity of needing to be gluten-free. And boy, was it a doozy of a lesson.
On a vegan diet, I enjoyed how light in my body I felt while eating no meat, dairy, or eggs. But I was also super hungry all the time. I was eating loads of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
But I didn’t know what kinds of protein sources to eat and was overwhelmed with having to cook all the time without being satiated ever.
One of the things that I stumbled upon in my week-long journey of being a vegan was vegan sausages. These seemed like a good answer to my protein problem no meat, but high in protein – great! Except it wasn’t…
The #1 ingredient in the vegan sausages I was eating (and had bought an entire Costco sized package of) was “wheat gluten.” I remember reading the ingredient lists of that package after a very terrible bathroom trip and thinking “Huh, I wonder if I my body can’t tolerate gluten”
It was the start to a long process of food elimination diets and learning the optimal way to eat for MY body.
Here’s the thing: it’s easy to find foods that are “vegan” or “gluten-free” or “dairy-free” or whatever else you’re “free” from, but that doesn’t mean that what you’re eating is HEALTHY.
Keeping in mind that this is the time of year that people are often trying to lose some weight and set goals for their year ahead, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share with you some of my own tips to staying healthy on a gluten-free dairy-free diet.
As I share this with you, know that I’m 100% not perfect. I don’t claim to be, I don’t want to be. And I won’t even pretend for a minute that I follow all of these ideas to a T on any given day. I’m human, I eat sugar, and I use convenience foods to help me feed my family, so I’m not rolling out gluten-free pasta from scratch on a Wednesday night.
But there are some things that you can do to help keep you healthy while on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, and these are the ideas that I try to keep in the back of my mind while I’m making my way through life and especially if I start feeling a little lethargic or like my pants aren’t fitting the way I want them to. This isn’t about being a size 2 or losing weight, but truly just about feeling your best while eating this way.
15 Tips to Stay Healthy on A Gluten-free Dairy-free Diet
1. Eat whole foods as the majority of your diet.
I’m talking fruits, vegetables, meats, beans, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and healthy fats here. Eat as many of these as you can incorporate into your diet throughout your day without being tied to your kitchen and you’re doing yourself a HUGE favor.
I’m not saying don’t eat ANY processed foods – I don’t know anyone who has all the time in the world to cook from scratch for every meal. I just try to do my best to think of the whole foods first and foremost in my diet and supplement around them to get healthy meals to the table.
2. Drink green smoothies or eat salads daily.
I’m a HUGE advocate for green smoothies. They’re such an easy way to get fruits and veggies into your diet that it’s become a no-brainer for me.
Fruits and vegetables are so important to getting the vitamins and minerals you need – and to help you get adequate fiber to help keep things moving through your digestion. I try to drink a green smoothie at least 3 to 4 times a week.
You can make your smoothies as simple or complex as you want. Even in the winter, green smoothies are a great way to get a boost of nutrition. You can do what I do and throw in whatever you have on hand, or find a few recipes and make them on rotation. Just be sure to switch up which greens and fruits you add to make sure you’re getting a variety of vitamins and minerals.
If you’re not a big green smoothie fan or loathe the idea of drinking your vegetables, then think about adding at least one salad a day to your regular routine. The goal here is to get your greens!
The number one food I used to AVOID was eating any kind of leafy green vegetable – and now that I eat them every day, my sugar cravings decreased and my energy soared. Get those greens however you need to and you’ll be a million steps ahead of a lot of people you know.
3. Cut back on sugar.
Easier said than done, right? Boy, do I know it. I think every single year for the past 5 years I’ve told myself I’d eat less sugar. Sometimes I do really well, and other times I feel like I swing back to my old habits of not being able to keep my hands off the stuff.
I’ve talked about my ideas for cutting back on sugar before – and they still stand now (you can check them out here).
The truth about sugar cravings is the less of it you eat, the less of it you crave. If you’re getting all the water, fruits, veggies, and protein you need, your cravings will decrease substantially. I promise.
But if they don’t, check out any habits that you have in place that might be stopping you from cutting back on it… Is it just a habit to eat it after a meal? Do you consistently reach for sugar after lunch or dinner, because that’s just what you do? If so, think about what can you replace that habit for?
In the past few months, I have replaced eating something sweet after lunch with making myself a cup of tea. The ritual was helpful to replace the habit, and I’m now eating less sugar overall.
One last thing to think about when it comes to cutting back on sugar a LOT of gluten-free and dairy-free alternatives are loaded with sugar. Be mindful of the amount in packaged products that you buy and if there’s a less sugar option, choose that one.
4. Make sure you’re getting enough protein.
I can always tell when I’m not getting enough protein while eating gluten and dairy-free, because I get super tired (hangry), start reaching for a lot more snacks than I normally do, and crave sugar by the handfuls.
A lot of people have asked me in the past what the best protein powder options are for a gluten and dairy-free diet, and while I think if you’re really into exercising or having a hard time getting protein, you really don’t need them. They are great for convenience and are definitely better than skipping a meal entirely, but again, I think there are better ways to get the protein you need.
There’s protein in a lot of different foods, and it doesn’t always have to come from meat. Nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans, seafood, and peas are all naturally gluten-free and whole food sources of protein. Pair up protein with a healthy fat and you have a really satisfying meal or snack that will keep you full for quite a while.
My favorite ways to get a quick protein boost are to eat a handful of nuts or seeds or add hemp seeds to a smoothie or my morning oatmeal. If you aim to get a decent serving of protein at each meal, you’ll drastically cut down on your cravings AND wind up eating less overall, because your body is getting what it needs to stay full for longer.
5. Get plenty of fiber.
Fiber is what keeps your digestion flowing. I know people don’t love talking about poop, so I’ll just say “eliminating” instead. What you really need in order to eliminate properly is enough fiber AND water to keep your digestive tract moving like a machine.
When you don’t get enough fiber, you start getting bloated, backed up, or again don’t eliminate properly or regularly.
The very best way to get more fiber is to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains back to my tips in #1 and #2. If you’re getting enough of these foods, you shouldn’t really have to worry about this. And I truly believe that you DON’T need fiber pills, powders, or supplements to help you out here.
BUT if you’re having trouble eliminating or you aren’t regular, you might consider adding chia seeds or ground flax meal and tons of water to your diet until you’re feeling good again. Keep things moving with that water, it makes all the difference!
On the flip side, if you are gassy, bloated, or are eliminating more often than you think you should, then consider trying to pull back on fiber and see how you feel. Often it’s these little tweaks that help us to feel our best.
6. Drink water.
Is this a “duh” tip or what? I know you KNOW you need to be drinking water throughout the day, but most of us just don’t. Even I know that I should be drinking way more water than I make myself.
Especially in the winter when I’d rather be sipping on something warm than cold water. Find a way to make it work for you. Find a way to make it so that you actually drink enough every day.
Crowd out all the extra caffeine and sugary drinks so that water becomes your go-to. You’ll feel better, your skin will be healthier, and your digestion will be amazing.
If you have a hard time getting enough water every day, carry around a water bottle wherever you go. Fill it up a few times a day. Make it a habit. Drink it cold, drink it hot, add lemon, make tea, add some herbs, make ‘fruit-infused’ water. Whatever you have to do to make it happen, do it. It’s worth it. Your body will thank you.
7. Move your body.
Okay, you’re probably realizing these tips aren’t just related to being gluten and dairy-free anymore, huh? When it comes to being healthy whatever the diet you’re on, you have to MOVE in order to feel good.
I’m always always always reminded of this come the fall months and it’s gray and wet and rainy out. I’d so much water stay inside and curl under blankets on the couch than do anything. My happy place is under blankets with my Kindle in hand.
The thing is that even though I hate having to talk myself into getting out for a walk, picking up my kettlebells for literally 10 minutes, or doing 20 minutes of yoga, I never regret it. AND I almost always feel good when I’m done. More focused, more clear-minded, more relaxed, and more happy.
Exercise is the gateway to feeling good all the time. I’m not talking about losing weight here or avoiding gaining weight. Just general feel-good-in-your-skin type of stuff.
So do whatever you have to do to make it happen. Make it fun, set an alarm every day, and do even 5 or 10 minutes of something to just get you started.
8. Cook at home.
When we’re talking about staying healthy on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, the one thing that has to be said is that you’re very likely going to have to and want to cook more at home. When you have restrictions on what you can eat, cooking at home provides a safe place where you know what you’re eating will nourish you and not make you feel even worse.
I found my love of cooking when I was 20, living on my own in a studio apartment in college, and would binge watch Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals (the cooking show, not the talk show) on Food Network while avoiding studying. I started to cook basic things like spaghetti, rice and beans, and from there, just got more and more creative with what I put together.
To this day half the food I make my husband calls “college” food. But just because it doesn’t make sense on the surface doesn’t mean that it’s not good – or good for you.
People can be really intimidated about cooking, but there’s something really freeing about being fearless in the kitchen. I’m not afraid to mess up. I don’t really care about following recipes – unless I’m the one writing them so I can share them out later. The worst thing that can happen? I throw out a bad dish and find something else to eat instead.
When you spend the time cooking – and I don’t mean for hours on end every night of the week – you get to control the quality of ingredients and the amount of certain ingredients you add (sugar, salt, oil, etc). You get to CHOOSE what meals go on your table and how fresh or healthy they are.
I encourage you if you’re not already cooking very much at home that you take this one habit up as soon as possible. Your body needs it. Your soul needs that time to learn to put flavors together and reap the rewards. You’ll never regret a home-cooked meal.
Best of all? You can absolutely make it gluten-free and dairy-free and NEVER have to worry about eating something that you don’t know what’s in it like you would going out to eat at a restaurant, fast food, or grabbing something from the frozen section at your grocery store.
9. Menu plan regularly.
This is one of my very best tips for not only staying healthy, but for sticking with a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. When you plan your meals in advance, you are that much more likely to stick to it. You can buy all the ingredients ahead of time, and because you don’t want to waste the food you’ve bought, you’re more likely to actually use them.
Menu planning doesn’t have to be this big complicated idea. The easiest way to get started is by finding a few recipes you want to eat for that week, writing them down, creating a shopping list, then buying the ingredients. Then as the week goes on, you pick one meal to make each day and TA DA! You’re a master menu planner now.
Of course I know that kind of organization doesn’t come easy for everyone, or frankly, you just don’t have the time to figure out which recipes are worth making or not. Which is why after years of being asked what I feed my family, I created GFDF Weekly.
GFDF Weekly is my menu planning service where I share out 5 new recipes every week plus a combined shopping list. I love this service, because not only do I get to share what I’m making for my family, but I have a reason to keep making new and different recipes for my family. And it keeps me on track too! In the time I have been offering GFDF Weekly, my family has eaten better and more healthfully than we have in years.
10. Keep ingredients on hand for healthy gluten and dairy-free meals.
The easiest way to stay healthy on a gluten and dairy-free diet is to make sure you’re prepared with ingredients that you can actually eat. Better yet, ingredients that can come together to make a variety of different dishes that not only taste good, but won’t make you feel sick.
Even though both my husband and son eat gluten and dairy, I do my best to keep both my fridge and my pantry stocked with healthy foods that are safe for me. Again, lots of whole foods, as well as some much-needed packaged foods to keep me sane and not in the kitchen all the time.
On this topic, I’ll say that it’s important to learn how to read ingredient lists and know how to identify gluten or dairy hiding in packaging. There are a ton of names that these two foods are labeled as on ingredient lists, so you’ll want to learn them and do your best to avoid them as much as possible.
11. Keep healthy snacks on hand.
I’ll tell you that as a beginner going gluten and dairy-free, finding snacks was one of the most intimidating things for me. I felt like all I wanted to do was reach for something easy, but I had to sit there in a store aisle and scan and scan to find out if what I was eating was safe for me or not. I didn’t want to wind up feeling gross just because I ate a handful of smoked almonds.
Over the years, I’ve spent lots of time finding safe snacks for me to enjoy and even rounding them up for you too. These are some of the snacks I try to look out for at the store and keep on hand. And here’s a HUGE list of 101 snack ideas I’ve rounded up. I know it looks like I created this for you, but really, I reference it all the time when I need some inspiration.
12. Meal prep if you’re short on time.
I know some of you are super pressed for time. If I could come to your house and cook you meals to have on hand to take to work or wherever you find yourself, I would. I’d love to be your little food prep fairy, but alas, I’ve got my own food prep to do for myself and my own family.
The thing is that when you are prepared, you’re WAY more likely to stick with your goal. So in this case, you want to stay healthy on your gluten and dairy-free diet? Well, then you’re going to need to plan ahead to have meals and snacks that are healthy ready and waiting for you.
When you spend even a little time getting yourself organized, you can easily and effortlessly grab meals or snacks when you need them, and not be tempted by vending machines at work or going out to eat with coworkers to places you know don’t serve anything gluten-free.
I’m no stranger to meal prep. My husband has a 2 hour commute one way for 3 days a week right now, and frankly, it sucks the life out of him being in the car so much. He’s learned very quickly that when he doesn’t take the time (or if I don’t help out) getting set up the night before with some healthy breakfast options, that he’ll be swinging through the Starbucks line on those mornings.
While there’s nothing wrong with a little coffee, I worry about all the fat and calories in the breakfast sandwiches (remember he’s not GFDF like I am) and how he feels every day at work. We both try to make it a priority for him to have something healthy in his lunch bag so he can do the best he can at the office on those days.
13. Take gut-healing supplements and eat gut-healing foods, in addition to a good multivitamin.
When it comes to living with food intolerances, the one and only way you’ll heal your gut is to actually be consistent with a diet that avoids that foods that your body can’t tolerate. I assume if you’re here and reading this post that this means gluten and dairy for you.
One of the things I try to be mindful of is taking gut-healing supplements and eating gut-healing foods as often as possible. I’ve done a full roundup of both of these on the blog and encourage you to spend some time figuring out ways to get them into your diet as well.
When you add these foods to your diet, you’re setting yourself up to heal your gut lining – and who knows, maybe someday you’ll be able to add gluten or dairy back in with small quantities.
If you’re concerned at all about deficiencies in your diet due to removing gluten or dairy, the top thing you can do is get on a really good multivitamin (this is what I take). The main things that you may be in need of on a gluten and dairy-free diet are: calcium, B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. Of course, all of these vitamins and minerals can be made up for in other foods you eat – spinach, red bell peppers, beans, fish and seafood too. But if you find that you’re really lacking in energy and you don’t know why, these may be a good place to start with supplementation.
14. Take time out for YOU.
I know this is another one of those “I already know that, Rachael” tips, but hear me out. So many of us are going a mile a minute (as I’m typing this I’m watching the clock tick by knowing I need to get my son from preschool in less than 30 minutes), and we’re running this race that we have set up our lives to be.
But we’re not taking even a few minutes a day to destress, have time for self-care, or even freaking go to the bathroom when we need to. We get so busy that we just go on autopilot and don’t actually pay attention to what our bodies are telling us sometimes.
This is so true for me. When I get really busy, the last thing I want to do is spend time on myself. There’s always more to be done! But I’ve learned that when my digestion feels off, when I get a pit in my stomach, or when I start feeling really lethargic that there’s usually something a lot bigger going on that I haven’t been paying attention to.
Taking that time to turn inward, ask myself the questions that need to be asked, journal, or even just sit in quiet without DOING anything brings a lot up to the surface. Sometimes those moments are the most healing, so we can see where we need to relax, let go of the outcome, or simply just breathe.
Stress and digestion and health are all linked up. So yeah, take that 10 minutes to just be with yourself today. Be okay with letting all the gross stuff come up to the surface so you can deal with it, and move on.
15. Know how to get back on track if you “fall off the wagon” of your gluten and dairy-free diet.
None of us are perfect at following any sort of diet or lifestyle plan. I know for sure that I’m not. I eat things that I don’t mean to or that I just want to be a little rebellious about all the time. As much as I love teaching and sharing this diet and lifestyle stuff with you, I’m a big student in it myself. I don’t know everything. And I sure do eat donuts once in a while and then regret it. Or eat cheese on something and maybe don’t feel bad, but still wish I hadn’t eaten it.
The point here is that when you try to stick with any kind of healthy eating plan or specific diet, like a gluten and dairy-free one, it’s BEYOND EASY to beat yourself up for not being perfect. For not eating every single thing right. For thinking you better throw in the towel for the whole day. The whole week. Or the entire next month, because you slipped up and found yourself feeling terrible or in the bathroom.
Please please please don’t do that. Please use every slip up as a learning moment, as an opportunity to say to yourself “Oh man, I just did that and maybe it was or wasn’t worth it, but I know I feel my best when I eat this way.” And then just get back to eating the way that you know makes you feel your best!
It’s not complicated. Just eat the foods that make you feel good. Avoid the ones that don’t. And when you make a mistake, just get back to feeling good again. The healthiest people aren’t healthy all the time, so give yourself some grace.
This very well may be one of the longest blog posts I’ve ever written. Can you tell I have a thing or two to say on the topic??
I hope that you’ve found these tips helpful. It’s with love that I share this, knowing that it can be very difficult to get started and stick with a diet that feels limiting sometimes. Know that I’m here and there are thousands of other women (and men) just like you reading this post and feeling the same way you are. Pick some of these ideas and get to work! You can do this!
I’d love to hear from you in the comments – what’s the ONE thing you’re going to pay more attention to after reading this post? What’s something you can implement right away? Go ahead and pop your answers in the comments below – I can’t wait to hear from you!
If you’d like some support sticking with your gluten-free dairy-free diet, be sure to check out my GFDF Weekly Menu plans and recipes. I love to create and share what I’m making in my kitchen, while providing inspiration and an organized way for you to stick with your GFDF diet.
Click here for more info: https://www.rachaelroehmholdt.com/gfdf-weekly
Get the FREE Gluten-free Dairy-free Shopping List
Get access to the most comprehensive - and healthy! - gluten-free dairy-free shopping list around!
Plus get 5 sample gluten-free dairy-free recipes!