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Breakfast Nutrition for a Gluten-Free Diet

Photo: Courtesy of Morgane Perraud

Van Waffle

Research Writer, Celiac Disease Foundation

For those with celiac disease, getting a gluten-free breakfast is difficult. We asked two experts on how best to prepare gluten-free meals.

Getting a nutritious start to the day can be difficult for people with celiac disease because many prepackaged gluten-free breakfast products are relatively low in nutrients and fiber. Fortunately, expert dietitians can inform people with celiac disease about how to plan nutritious breakfasts.

The nutritious breakfast

“If we look at the average North American diet regardless of whether you have celiac or not, most people aren’t getting enough fiber,” says Shelley Case, RD, author of Gluten-Free, The Definitive Resource Guide. “But certainly people with celiac are at a disadvantage because they’re not eating high-fiber foods like wheat bran, whole wheat cereals, and whole grain breads. They have to find ways to incorporate more fiber.”

The same challenge holds true for protein and micronutrients. Most prepackaged gluten-free products are not fortified like regular breakfast cereals. Case says people with celiac disease have to look harder to find breads, buns, bagels, and muffins that are fortified with iron and B vitamins.

Also, many gluten-free products are made with refined flours and starches that are lower in nutrients. Case suggests an easy fix for things like pancake mixes: try supplementing the mix with gluten-free oat flour or nut flour to boost fiber and protein content.

Protein for breakfast

Including a protein source with a meal is more satisfying. However, cereal with a little milk may not provide enough, while non-dairy milks are even lower in protein, Case warns. She suggests adding nuts, or seeds like hemp, chia, or ground flax to cereal or including nut butters, yogurt, or eggs with toast or a muffin.

“I’m a really big fan of eggs,” Case adds. “They’re economical, they’re quick, a good source of protein, quick cooking, and versatile. Cook up a couple eggs or make an omelet and then that’s where you can add more veggies and a little bit of cheese.”

Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, is a nutrition communications and gluten-free lifestyle expert. “Starting the day with a healthy breakfast is just as important for people with celiac disease as everyone else,” she says. “While it doesn’t have to be a grand meal, the first thing you put in your mouth sets the tone for the day, both physically and mentally.”

Begun offers the following ideas for breakfast planning:

Tip 1:  Prioritize protein, fiber, and vegetables at breakfast.

Protein is highly satiating, keeping you feeling full for a long time and potentially preventing cravings later in the day. Fiber is a nutrient commonly lacking in the gluten-free diet so getting it first thing in the morning is important for meeting daily needs. It is also highly satiating, and getting a variety of fibers from different foods is important to maintaining a healthy microbiome, which is critically important for people with celiac disease. Vegetables aren’t prioritized for breakfast in the Western diet, but should be as they contain many of the nutrients commonly missing in the gluten-free diet, particularly fiber, zinc, and magnesium.”

Tip 2:  Explore a variety of whole grains.

“Whole grains are essential for meeting nutrient needs and there are so many gluten-free choices to choose from. Look for millet, quinoa, brown rice, corn, buckwheat, and certified gluten-free oats when choosing hot cereals, making grain bowls, and selecting healthier options for toasts, pancakes, waffles, and the like.” 

Tip 3:  Make large batches of healthy breakfasts to last throughout the week.

“Breakfast is a meal of habit, meaning we tend to eat the same one or two items on most days so it’s important to make these habit meals healthy. In addition, breakfast is often eaten on the run, and on-the-go , gluten-free options are often less than healthful. Prepare a batch of hot cereal in the slow cooker for the whole week. Mix it up with different toppings each day. Make an oatmeal bake. Roast a batch of vegetables to add to omelets and frittatas.”

For children who get their own breakfast, Case says large batches are helpful: “Put items in Ziploc bags and have them in the freezer so that the kids could pop them in the toaster or heat them in the microwave.”

Some alternatives

She suggests offering kids yogurt tubes or drinks. “Yes, they have some sugar but you still get calcium, vitamin D, and protein as opposed to just a glass of juice. I’m not a big fan of juices because they contain more calories for the volume, whereas a piece of fruit is more filling plus you get the fiber.”

Begun says, “Not every teen wants to eat a full breakfast before walking out the door, and that’s okay! The key is making sure their first bite of the day, whether small or large, is nutritious. Think of ways to give them something nutritious that is portable and easy to eat. A trail mix of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits is a great option, and a far better option than the bars on the market. And there’s nothing wrong with a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast, which they can also eat on the run.” In response to COVID-19, Begun says, “I tend to be an optimist and believe the pandemic is actually a good thing for healthier and safer breakfast eating. Working and schooling from home means we aren’t running out the door in the morning, freeing up time to make and eat a healthy meal.”

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