Take a step beyond gluten free with organic, grass-fed meats
One of the first things people learn about the gluten-free diet is that all unprocessed, unmarinated meat is naturally gluten free. Many people leave it at that, never thinking anything more about the type of meat they eat. That’s exactly what Julie Matthews did. “I had this idea that all the animals we were eating for meat grazed on grass in open ranges. Boy, was I misinformed!”
Julie learned that most animals live in crowded, inhumane conditions and are fattened up on foods such as corn and soy to which they are not well adapted. She further learned that raising animals on grass is healthier for the animals and the people who eat them. Julie decided to select pasture-raised meat instead of grain-fed commercial meat whenever possible, and she not only lost eight pounds and felt better physically, but she also felt emotionally better about the food choices she was making.
Compared with feedlot meat, meat from grass-fed cows, bison, lamb, and goats is much more nutritious: It has less total fat, saturated fat, and calories. (Get this: grass-fed beef can have the same amount of fat as skinless chicken breast, wild deer, or elk!) It also contains more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and a number of health-promoting fats—including anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, which has fat-burning properties and may be a potent cancer fighter.
Some studies suggest that opting for grass-fed meat also may lower your risk of acquiring foodborne illnesses, such as infection from Campylobacter and E. coli bacteria.
Using less grain in meat production also helps the environment in numerous ways, says author Jo Robinson in Why Grassfed is Best. It eliminates the fertilizers and herbicides used to grow large amounts of corn that are fed to cattle. It also eliminates the oil and natural gas used in the mowers and combines that harvest the grain and in the vehicles that ship it to feed lots.
Shopping for Grass-Fed Meats
The terms “grass-fed,” “pastured,” and “pasture-raised” are not currently regulated or certified, so keep in mind two important points when shopping. First, organic meat isn’t the same as pasture-raised meat. Animals raised organically may not be given hormones or antibiotics to promote growth, and may eat only organic feed. But that doesn’t mean that they’re raised on organic pasture, unless the meat is labeled both certified organic and grass fed.
Second, all animals are raised on pasture for some or most of their lives, but most of them are “finished” or fattened up on grain. To get all of the benefits attributed to grass-fed meat, look for meat that is both grass fed and grass finished, or labeled 100% grass fed, as well as organic. Sommers, Eel River, and Panorama organic grass-fed meats are three such brands. Mindful Meats, the first Non-GMO Project Verified beef company in the United States, is another. You can also search for local organic grass-fed meat, poultry, egg, and dairy companies in your area at Eatwild.com, which lists a directory of pasture-based farms across the country.
Grass-fed meats are much lower in total fat and cook more quickly than commercial meats, so be careful not to overcook them. For burgers, don’t cook them as long as you normally would (but use a thermometer to check the internal temperature to be safe). For other cuts of meat, add moisture and prevent sticking by cooking them at low temperature in a sauce; adding a good quality fat such as organic pastured butter or extra virgin olive oil; or marinating them overnight to tenderize before cooking.
Greek-Style Grass-Fed Lamb Shanks*
To offset the cost of grass-fed meats, substitute less expensive cuts—such as lamb shanks instead of leg of lamb. This Easter, try making grass-fed lamb shanks fixed southern Greece-style, with lemon juice rather than tomato sauce.
4 grass-fed lamb shanks
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced into slivers
4 Tbs. organic extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 organic lemons, plus more if desired
1 Tbs. oregano
Unrefined sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1 cup water
- Preheat oven to 350°F degrees. Cut ½-inch slits in several places on both sides of shanks. Stuff garlic slivers into slits, lengthening or deepening as needed.
- Add olive oil to bottom of a deep, lidded, 12-inch heavy roasting pan, and heat on medium-high heat. Brown all sides of shanks.
- Pour lemon juice over shanks. Sprinkle with oregano, salt, and pepper on both sides, then pour water in between shanks.
- Cover pan, and bake 30 minutes. Remove from oven, remove cover, and flip shanks. Cover pan, and bake 2 hours more, flipping shanks every 30 minutes. Check meat for tenderness: it should easily pull off the bone and have a wonderful aroma. If it doesn’t, return to oven, 15–30 minutes, until done.
- Remove from oven, taste jus, and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Serve with cooked vegetables and/or brown rice, and spoon jus over both shanks and side dishes.
* Adapted from a recipe developed by Melissa’s mother, Helen Smith.
PER SERVING: 472 cal; 32g pro; 36g total fat (12g sat fat); 3g carb; 120mg chol; 121mg sod; <1g fiber; 1g sugars
Gluten-free Rescue Kit
If you live gluten free—or are on any other type of specialty diet—it pays to keep appropriate nonperishable foods on hand in case of unexpected events
Last October, Hurricane Sandy pummeled the northeastern United States, leaving millions without power and causing widespread evacuations. If a weather disaster happened where you live, would you be prepared with ready-to-eat, gluten-free foods to keep you going?
For most people, the answer is no. When adverse weather conditions or accidents happen, it’s important to have an emergency food kit packed and ready to use at a moment’s notice.
Give yourself peace of mind and get prepared by making up an emergency kit containing non-perishable, super-nutritious, transportable gluten-free foods. Try including the following items:
- Gluten-free jerky, such as Sophia’s Survival Food Beef Jerky Chews or Tanka Buffalo Bites. The concentrated protein in Jerky provides slow-burning fuel that gives the body sustained energy to cope in difficult situations.
- Cans of gluten-free tuna, such as those made by Wild Planet Foods, pack a concentrated dose of protein. But be aware that too many canned goods can get heavy, so limit the amount you put in your kit. And don’t forget to pack a can opener.
- Gluten-free food bars. You can include a variety of bars, but make sure to emphasize ones that contain protein powder, such as Pure Food Bars, SquareBar Organic Nutrition Bars, or Organic Food Bars.
- Bags of gluten-free nuts or seeds, such as Blue Diamond Whole Natural Almonds, Eden Foods Organic Pumpkin Seeds or Pistachios, or Kaia Foods Sprouted Organic Sunflower Seeds. Nuts and seeds are packed with nutrients: They’re not only one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians, they’re also a source of good fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Also consider dried fruit, a go-to sweet treat that can be mixed with nuts and seeds.
- Nut or seed butter in packets. Like the foods from which they’re derived, nut butters and seed butters provide a variety of nutrients, especially good fat to help satiate you, even if you can only eat a spoonful. Big jars of nut and seed butters are too heavy to include in most kits, however. So look for single-serve squeeze packs of nut butter, such as from Artisana and Justin’s Nut Butter.
- Gluten-free crackers, such as Lydia’s Organics Green Crackers or Fiesta Crackers. Chips, bread, and crackers all provide carbohydrates, another important nutrient. But bread is perishable, and chips don’t stand up well in transit, so crackers are the best choice to include in an emergency kit.
Making a Gluten-Free Emergency Kit
Never made up an emergency kit before? Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
- The kit needs to be small, light, and easy to carry. For most people, that would be a knapsack or backpack or small zip-up, over-the-shoulder bag.
- Pack essential foods and some water in the kit, as well as plastic utensils, napkins, a manual can opener, and a paring knife. Also include a small bag of essential vitamins, medications, and first aid supplies. It’s possible that everything in the kit could get wet in an actual emergency, so pack items in airtight waterproof bags.
- Once you’ve made the kit, store it up high in a temperate place close to your most used door—for example, the upper shelf of a coat closet.
- Be sure to check your kit every three to four months. Eat and replace anything that’s been there for several months or is near its expiration date, so that the foods in your emergency kit stay safe and tasty.
Melissa Diane Smith, a nationally known writer and holistic nutritionist who specializes in personalizing the gluten-free diet, offers long-distance telephone counseling and coaching services to clients across the country. She is the author of Going Against the Grain and Gluten Free Throughout the Year: A Two-Year, Month-to-Month Guide for Healthy Eating. To learn about her free newsletter, visit www.againstthegrainnutrition.com. For info about her books, long-distance consultations, nutrition coaching programs, or speaking, visit www.melissadianesmith.com.