Q: I maintain my weight and feel best when I avoid gluten and all grains. I don't miss the taste of bread, but I do miss the convenience of making sandwiches for quick lunches, especially on warmer days. Are there any grain-free substitutes that could help me fix easy-to-make "sandwiches"?
-Tamara R., Sacramento, Calif.
A: The short answer is: Yes! If you bake, try making grain-free tortillas or sliceable bread out of almond flour, ground flaxseeds, and/or coconut flour. If you don't bake-or if you want a quicker alternative—think outside the box and get creative by using vegetables or fruit as alternatives for wraps and buns. These seven produce-based ideas can help you get started.
1. Lettuce wraps. For convenience and versatility, nothing beats using large lettuce leaves, such as romaine or Bibb, as tortilla or bread substitutes. Wrap burgers with them, or make BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato) "sandwiches," taco lettuce wraps, fajita wraps, tuna salad wraps, or lettuce cups with Asian-based fillings.
2. Collard wraps. Collard greens, either raw or lightly steamed, also make nice low-carb wrappers. Be sure to remove the prominent spine on each leaf using a paring knife. Start near the bottom, shave away only the thick part, and be careful not to cut through the leaves. Steam collard greens a few minutes until they're bright and tender, arrange them on a plate, and pat dry with a paper towel before filling. Try collards with red pepper hummus and assorted vegetables, with or without chicken strips.
Steam collards until they're bright and tender, then pat dry before filling.
3. Endive boats. Buy green or red endive bulbs, cut off the base, and use the leaves as super-low-carb boats with the filling of your choice. They can serve as appetizers or light meals. Try them with chicken or tuna salad, or chopped cooked shrimp with diced cucumber, pineapple, cilantro, and lime juice.
4. Cucumber subs. Believe it or not, a cucumber can serve as a refreshing alternative for bread when you're making a sandwich! Cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the middle, and top it with anything for an easy-to-make, open-faced sub.
5. Portobello mushroom caps.
Large portobello mushrooms are the same general size and shape as regular hamburger buns. Just remove the stem, brush the caps with olive oil, place them on a small baking sheet gill side up, and roast for 12 minutes. (Or you can grill them 5-7 minutes per side.) Season with salt and pepper, and set aside to allow mushroom caps to cool slightly, release their juices, and dry a bit before using them as buns for virtually any type of burger.
6. Thick-cut roasted sweet potato buns. To make these smaller, higher-carb-but-delicious "buns," cut sweet potatoes into ½-inch slices and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive or coconut oil, and place in a 400°F oven. Roast sweet potato slices for 5 minutes, then flip them over and roast another 5 minutes. Stack a small broiled turkey burger with sage or a small piece of cooked fish and a few spinach or lettuce leaves on top of each sweet potato slice, and place another roasted sweet potato slice on top. Use a toothpick or skewer to hold each mini-sandwich together.
7. Apple slices. For a lighter alternative to PB&Js, use apple slices as a bread substitute. Slice an apple crosswise, and cut a hole through the center of each slice to make "bagels." Use two apple slices to make a small sandwich with nut or seed butter in between. Kids love these, and they're quick, handy sandwiches for adults too!
Handy Grain-Free Bread Substitutes
Looking for a pre-made, ready-to-use, grain-free wrap or bread? These items don't have the same taste or texture as flour-based tortillas, so you may have to try a few to find one you like. But each of the following products can add convenience and variety to a grain- or gluten-free diet.
Paleo Coconut Wraps
Both Pure Wraps Paleo Coconut Wraps and Julian Bakery Paleo Wraps offer flexible, low-carb wraps made of coconut meat and water. The Pure Wraps are seasoned with Himalayan pink salt, while the Julian Wraps are salt-free. That makes Pure Wraps great for savory fillings such as grilled chicken and spinach, or eggs and avocado; and the Julian Wraps ideal for desserts, such as berries and whipped coconut cream.
Spinach- and Kale-Based Wraps
Green Leaf Foods combines nutrient-dense spinach or kale with apple, onion, coconut nectar, psyllium husk, and quinoa to make soft Raw Wraps. These tortilla substitutes are a great way to get more green veggies in your diet, and they're loaded with vitamins A, C, and K, antioxidants, minerals, fiber, polyphenols, and flavonoids. They go well with a variety of fillings.
Seed-Based Flat Bread
ChocolaTree Organic Oasis uses organic sprouted sunflower seeds, chia seeds, unrefined olive oil, and sea salt to make Raw Onion Bread and Jalapeño Onion Bread. Either can be used to make small, nutrient-dense sandwiches, or can serve as a cracker substitute for dipping in hummus, guacamole, or salsa.