Helping Others with Great Food – and Science
Gluten Free Gigi, Gigi Stewart, restored her health and resolved decades of pain with a diet that is free of gluten, dairy, soy and nuts. A master’s degree in Behavioral Neuroscience with a focus in chronic pain gives her a uniquely scientific approach to food and healing. But Gigi’s site is still accessible and down-to-earth. Watch some of her how-to videos which include pancakes, dairy-free butterscotch chips and sunbutter (I made my first sunbutter after watching), and try some of the long list of recipes. My husband and I enjoyed her “Orange Baked Salmon.” (Photos below.) You can also read about subjects such as iron deficiency anemia and autism.
Gigi is a mom who runs her business and homeschools but still finds time to cook healthy food for her family. Share in some of her wisdom here. (And, if anyone is uncertain about trying a gluten-free diet, read her answer to the last question.)
Living gluten-free means you’ll be spending time in the kitchen, sometimes a lot of time. What’s your favorite short-cut for making gluten-free food?
It sure does! I’m an advocate of cooking at home as much as you can, using whole foods and natural, organic ingredients, especially if you are on a special diet. This gives you maximum control of what is going into your body.
My favorite short-cut for having healthy, delicious gluten-free food available is to spend a few hours on the weekend (or whenever you have the most free time) and cook ahead.
Cooking dry beans in the slow cooker, putting a pot of homemade veggie or chicken stock on the stove, and baking a great loaf of gluten-free bread are things that can be done easily and can feed the family all week long. I have YouTube videos available for beans and stock showing just how simple this can be. I’ve also got a terrific gluten-free bread recipe that is low in fat, high in protein and fiber, and slices like a dream!
If you eat grains like quinoa, millet, or rice, I recommend cooking enough for a couple of meals during the week. If you can tolerate certified gluten-free oats, I even have a great baked oatmeal recipe that I love to make on Sunday morning in a double batch, then store leftovers in individual serving containers for a quick but hearty breakfast on busy mornings. I also have a baked quinoa dish that is fantastic for a healthy breakfast and can be made ahead and stored just like the baked oatmeal.
Prepping veggies in advance is also something I do to save time when I make a meal. I love doing this right after returning from the market. I prep, clean up, and store my veggies (dice an onion, cut a green pepper into strips, slice mushrooms, mince some garlic, wash greens and air dry then roll in a clean kitchen towel, and wash fruits like apples and grapes) then I’m set for a week of fantastic healthy meals with limited prep work.
Special flours and other ingredients cost more than gluten-full foods. Do you have a cost saving tip for eating gluten-free?
I do. As I said, one of my primary goals is to demonstrate how affordable living gluten free can be. My number one tip for saving money on your gluten-free (or any!) diet is to eat seasonally. If it’s growing in gardens in your area, then it will be more affordable at the market. Food in season tends to have a higher nutrient content, too, so you get a little bonus for eating seasonally.
Another great tip is to make more foods yourself. Even if you don’t cook or bake a lot, if you have something you eat often, for example, if you love to have a muffin and coffee for breakfast several days each week, find a great gluten-free muffin recipe and learn to make it. You’ll save a bundle making your own versus buying pre-packaged baked items.
The same goes for foods like cakes, cookies, and crackers. The store-bought varieties are pricey and often full of undesirable ingredients, high in calories, and high in fat. If you love cookies and serve them for dessert or a snack a few times each week, learn to make your favorite varieties gluten free. There are terrific resources out there these days with lots of recipes to try. I have lots of dessert recipes on my site that are so simple to make like Nut Free Sunbutter Cookies with only four ingredients, Dairy Free Fudge, and quick healthy Raw Nut Free Fudge that you just won’t believe! I think my Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes are my kids’ favorite, though! They love to use the Raw Nut Free Fudge as frosting for them!
It’s five o’clock and you’re walking in the door after a hectic day. What’s your go-to meal when it’s time to get a gluten-free dinner on the table in a hurry?
I’ll do something like a frittata or a stir fry where I’m able to use those pre-prepped veggies I mentioned earlier. With a frittata, I can sauté the veggies while I get eggs whipped and ready for the pan. If you can eat eggs, they are a terrific low-cost source of protein. For a stir-fry, again, those pre-prepped veggies come in handy. I get those cooking and heat up a pre-cooked grain in another pan (I do not own a microwave, so it’s all stovetop and oven heating for me!). I add some protein to the meal – again, usually something I pre-cooked like chicken or bison and we’re all set. For dessert, (we always have dessert at my house… always!) I love healthy homemade cookies with what I call “fruit bowl.” Cubed fruits that are in season tossed with a bit of fresh lime juice, a drizzle of honey, and a dash of cinnamon are just fantastic!
How did you discover you were intolerant of all nuts? Have you found a substitute for almond flour, a common flour in gluten-free recipes?
Two months after eliminating all gluten in my diet, I had a reaction to pecans. I tested other nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts, etc.) and had a reaction to all of them, so I avoid all types of nuts, except coconut, to which I have not experienced a reaction. I have encountered quite a few people who experienced similar reactions after going gluten free. The same thing happened to me with soy, as well, which is why I am also soy free.
Regarding almond flour, I never used it in large quantities, so no, I wouldn’t say I found a replacement, per se. I didn’t need one. I use a combination of gluten-free flours from alternative grains and legumes in my recipes. Because one of my primary goals is making gluten-free living accessible to everyone who needs to adhere to a gluten-free diet, I make it a point to use ingredients that are readily available in most areas and that are affordable, which factors into my flour selection and recipe development.
Many recipes call for not only the easily substituted milk or butter but also cream cheese or yogurt. Have you found it difficult to cook and bake without dairy products? Any tips? (I’m gluten, soy and casein-free so thank you!)
When I first went gluten free, I ate dairy, so used products like skim milk and non-fat yogurt in my cooking and baking. I never used a lot of butter in my baking prior to going gluten free, so didn’t afterward. I always tried to be creative replacing fat in recipes (I baked and catered prior to going gluten free, and healthy nutritious foods were what I was known for!), so continued this when I went gluten free. I find coconut milk yogurt is a good substitute for dairy yogurt in baking. It even adds a degree of sweetness to baked goods, so it allows me to reduce the amount of sweetener in baked goods, which is a bonus! It also helps keep gluten free baked goods moist, which is terrific! Cream cheese is a tough one. I have developed a recipe that so far works in most recipes. It is still in the R&D phase of development and needs to be tested in several more applications before I’m able to share it, but it is gluten, dairy, soy, and nut free. The recipe should be published later this year.
Gigi at a GIG Atlanta Lecture
I recently interviewed one of the authors of “The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook” and am fascinated by the fact that dietary changes can make dramatic differences with some autistic children. In your blog, you mention you have a child with Asperger’s syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder). Can you share the dietary changes you’ve made for your child and the differences the changes have made?
Thank you for asking about this. Autism Spectrum Disorders, especially Asperger’s Syndrome, are near and dear to my heart. First, that is because I have a daughter with AS, as you mentioned. However, before her diagnosis, I worked with ASD children and had already received my research training in Behavioral Neuroscience. Although my area of research expertise is in natural products research with a focus in chronic pain and analgesia (alleviation of pain), I am passionate about neuroscience and how foods we eat affect our neurochemistry, and ultimately our total health.
Because of my background in science, I knew adopting a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet was something we should explore for our daughter. We made the transition slowly and carefully. At the time, we already had a gluten free kitchen and my family was supportive of my need to be gluten free, so this part was not so difficult. When we came upon a food my daughter wanted, I simply made it gluten free (chips, crackers, doughnuts, etc.). As you can imagine, that led to a lot of recipe development! Going dairy free for her was more of a challenge. She loves cereal for breakfast and late-night snack, and yogurt has always been a favorite food for her. But, we did it! After the first 3 weeks of a totally gluten-free diet, her father and I noticed she was sleeping so much better and was much more calm than she had been. Her eczema, which she had since birth, went away completely, which was such a blessing! She was able to stop using medication for that, which was fantastic! Severe nasal allergies also improved and she has been able to use much less medication for that, so, again, we feel she has benefitted tremendously from going GFCF.
Of course, I do want to say, I am not an advocate of a “one-size-fits-all” diet. We are all unique individuals with unique needs, and I respect that. I know some parents who have implemented the GFCF diet for their ASD child and have not detected any appreciable differences. I know some ASD children who benefitted from a gluten-free diet, but who still eat dairy and vice versa. Part of what I do in private consultations is to help people find what works for them and what puts them on the path to optimal health and keeps them there. That can, by the way, change over time for each of us.
What would you say to someone who’s fairly certain they have a problem with gluten but hasn’t changed their diet because the thought of living gluten-free is overwhelming?
First, I would say, “I understand. A gluten-free diet is a major lifestyle change; however, it is so worth it and it can be simple, affordable, nutritious, and even fun! I know because I live it every day!”
Second, “I can help.” It is my passion to make gluten-free living a positive experience. I tell people a gluten-free diet is not about restriction. It is about liberation. If you need to be gluten free for health issues, in doing so, you liberate your health and heal your body. It is true freedom! In my case, I experienced a total transformation of health and for the first time in over 25 years, I was free from chronic pain and many other chronic, unexplained health issues I had suffered from since childhood. THAT is liberation!
Thank you Gigi!
My husband and I enjoyed a recipe from her website: Orange Glazed Salmon.
This salmon was so pretty with the orange zest (a gorgeous color combination)that I snapped a picture before baking. Coming from Alaska and having eaten a lot (I mean a lot) of salmon, I’m somewhat of a salmon expert and this was a lovely fresh take on the fish. It was also quick and extremely easy to make. (As to the photo of the cooked salmon, I really need to get some pretty plates to use for the photo shoots.)