Around 1 percent of the population suffers from Celiac disease, a condition where the protein gluten, found in wheat, fires up the immune system, damaging the small intestine and causing problems with nutrient absorption. The autoimmune disorder results in everything from uncomfortable digestive symptoms, like bloating and diarrhea, to joint pain and infertility, but even those who haven’t been diagnosed with Celiac are opting for gluten-free foods in the name of better health. Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, has said that giving up gluten helped her mellow out, and Miley Cyrus credited her wheat-free lifestyle for better skin and a clearer mind.
Cardiologist William Davis, MD, author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, says it’s a myth that people who aren’t sensitive to gluten can safely consume it. “As long as any type of wheat, ancient or modern, is part of your diet, then be prepared for some sort of compromise in health,” he says. “It might be diabetes at age 40, cataracts at age 56, knee arthritis at 60, rheumatoid arthritis at 65, or dementia at age 70, but wheat will catch up to you in some form. The wheat plant was never appropriate for human consumption.”
Other docs disagree that wheat elimination is necessary for good health, but one thing’s for certain: going gluten-free is a popular move, leaving many dieters with the uncomfortable notion that they’ll never again enjoy the simple pleasure of a lunchtime sandwich.
Luckily, there are some delicious, nutritious ways to get your sammy fix without ingesting wheat. Whether you’re allergic, sensitive, or just plain curious, these gluten-free sandwich swaps have you covered:
When opting for gluten-free bread products, avoid overly processed options by keeping a couple things in mind: “Look for the fewest number of ingredients, and also the most pronounceable ones,” says NYC-based RD Jaclyn London. “The first ingredient in any type of wheat free-grain product should still have the first word as ‘whole.’” Think: whole-grain brown rice or whole oats. London likes Ezekiel Gluten-Free Brown Rice Bread, which is minimally processed and low in sodium, as well as Udi’s Omega Flax and Fiber, or Udi’s Millet and Chia Breads. They’re relatively high in fiber and protein, but also low in calories, so you get more nutritional bang for your buck.
If you want a sandwich-like snack, try stuffing chopped, flat vegetables like cucumbers and bell peppers with traditional fillers like turkey, sliced tomato, and cream cheese. Or grill up some portobello mushrooms to use as makeshift slices of “bread” to house satisfying ingredients like avocado, chicken, and salsa. These bites won’t break your calorie bank, but they’ll fill you up with water and fiber so you’re not reaching for junk food later on.
Swapping bread for a wheat-free tortilla is a nice change of pace, and can also be a nutritional upgrade. Try making your favorite burrito using rice tortillas, like Ezekial’s brown or black options. “They’re an excellent source of protein for a grain product—they boast 4 grams—and they’re also made with chia seeds, which are known for their antioxidant properties,” London says. “Black rice is particularly antioxidant-rich, making it a great choice whether you eat gluten or not.”