The 7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge

Wheat is at ground zero of our current health crisis due to the fallout from its blood sugar spiking carbs but also from the slew of degenerative diseases from the gluten found in it. Both have severe consequences for our cardiovascular, gut, and neurological health, ranging from diabetes, stroke, cancer, mood disorders and autoimmune problems to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. You’re probably at risk for any of this even if you aren’t allergic to gluten since gluten causes other neurological problems unrelated to its allergy issues.

If you have high blood sugar, inflammation, digestive issues, depression or anxiety, brain fog and attention issues, and your meals and snacks revolve around refined carbs full of wheat, you’re probably in need of a wheat and gluten detox before they wreck your health – both physical and mental. Try the 7 Day Gluten Free Challenge and see just how drastically it can improve your health or even optimize it.

Going gluten-free was what turned my health around. During my life with wheat I had horrible acne, digestive issues, mood swings and depression, chronic joint pain and shoulder immobility, insomnia and more. Check out What Happened When I Gave Up Bread and How I Went from the Standard American Diet to a Whole Foods Diet in a Year and Reclaimed My Health. Following a gluten-free, whole foods diet got rid of all, I repeat ALL, of my problems and keeps me healthy and pain-free to this day. I truly believe that this way of living can help anyone and is the best preventative method to stave off ill-health and cognitive disorders.

While most people start freaking out about losing access to pizza, bread and other wheat-laced foods, a gluten-free diet doesn’t have to mean a tasteless life of misery. On the contrary, leaving behind wheat opens the door to so many more amazingly delicious and healthier foods. And it’s not like you can’t bake with other flours or sate your sweet tooth – just do so with moderation for the best health results.

Why not take the 7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge to see what a life without wheat entails and how it can immediately impact your health for the better? You’ll give your diet a needed hit of nutrition and learn new eating skills, recipes and habits that you’ll keep forever. And since it’s only a week, anyone can do it!

What is the 7 Day Gluten-Free  Challenge?

For 7 days eat a diet exclusively of non-wheat foods like meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and other whole grains that don’t have gluten. You’ll exclude gluten-containing foods like wheat, rye, barley, bulgur, cous cous, and spelt. This means no wheat-based breads, pastas, pizzas, baked goods, etc. Gluten-free grains include oats, rice, farrow, and quinoa so you can make or eat products made from them and their flours. For optimum health, you’ll also want to avoid processed foods whenever possible, even if they say gluten-free.

Eating this way will turn the standard American diet on its head. American eating habits on average consist of roughly 63% processed foods, 25% meat, and only 12% fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes (but half of this last category is french fries). This way of eating is horribly unhealthy and we see its consequences in high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and chronic kidney disease, among others. Changing these numbers can only help reverse this terrible health trend. If the American diet is your diet, definitely do the 7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge!

Why Gluten-Free?

Wheat comes with three main problems that damage our bodies and our brains:

Allergen. Gluten produces in its worst form full-blown allergies in the form of celiac disease but many people are gluten sensitive. This allergy or sensitivity leads to various immune responses, from digestive issues to neurological problems.

Gut biome destabilizer. Wheat appears to adversely affect our gut biota and unbalances the bacteria we carry. An unbalanced gut biota leads to issues with our digestive, immune and nervous systems, as well as other metabolism impacts.

Insulin resistance. Wheat is one of the most blood sugar spiking foods. In fact, a slice of wheat bread will spike your blood sugar more than an actual tablespoon of white sugar. High blood sugar leads to insulin resistance, which causes pre-diabetes, diabetes, and is linked to neurological and cognitive problems like Alzheimer’s. Even people whose blood sugar is at the higher end of “normal” blood sugar levels are susceptible to lost brain volume, which is truly terrifying. For a full explanation of gluten’s effect on our bodies and brains, read Grain Brain by neurologist David Perlmutter and Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis.

When you consider how many of our foods are processed and full of processed wheat, you start to see the links with ill-health pretty quickly and want to jump off the wheat train. The gluten-free way of eating comes with these researched health benefits, among others:

  • Decrease in or elimination of inflammation
  • Improved digestion, including problems related to IBS, leaky gut, and diverticulitis
  • Improved mood and lessening of anxiety and stress
  • Improved complexion
  • Lessening of brain fog
  • Improved sleep
  • Fewer headaches and migraines
  • Lowered blood sugar levels if paired with excluding other refined carbs

These benefits can come with a gluten-free life but even better health will result if you follow a whole foods diet along with it.

What are whole foods?

Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, and are free from additives or other artificial substances like added sugars, preservatives, emulsifiers, conditioners and artificial or natural flavors before being consumed.

Examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes and pulses (aka beans), nuts, seeds, tubers, and whole grains. Everything else is not a whole food. See my article What are Whole Foods? to get a good understanding of whole foods.

The benefits of plant-based whole foods are amazing:

  • Cancer prevention
  • Beating heart disease
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Preventing and reversing diabetes
  • Prevention of gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis
  • Asthma prevention
  • Better digestion
  • Most sustainable diet for the planet

For the gluten-free challenge, however, you don’t need to exclude meat, seafood, or dairy. These foods can supplement a whole-foods diet. The five healthiest and longest-living cultures in the world, with the exception of the vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists, all consume a whole foods diet that include seafood and meat.

In the Kitchen

During the Gluten-Free Challenge, whole and gluten-free foods should be your focus for every bite that goes into your mouth.

Whole Foods. While a truly healthy diet would center around whole foods and avoid processed foods for best nutrition, if you’re like most Americans who eat 63% processed food and around 152 pounds of sugar a year, going totally whole foods during your Gluten-Free Challenge might be biting off more than you can chew. Still, if you can make whole foods at least 70% of everything that goes into your mouth and pass on processed foods like boxed meals and kits, frozen meals, most heat and serve meals, junk food and fast food, you will drastically improve the nutritional content of your food and give your body what it needs to function optimally.

Non-Gluten Substitutes. People new to the gluten-free life often find it difficult living without their usual wheat products. If this is you, try eating different gluten-free grains like quinoa, buckwheat, rice, etc. This will satisfy your carb craving to some extent. If you love to bake, substitute you wheat flours with a mix of half and half rice flour and buckwheat flour. The taste is pretty close to white and brown flour respectively so they tend to hit the spot and will help in a pinch. You can usually find all sorts of wheat flour substitutes in the baking goods, gluten-free or organics sections of most grocery stores. Just stay away from “gluten-free” box meals and snacks since these are all processed and not really all that healthy for you.

Why 7 Days?

One week isn’t a large commitment and is easy to plan. Plus you won’t feel overwhelmed by learning a ton of new recipes or feel like you’re completely giving up your eating lifestyle for good – though, hey, if you like the changes and the benefits, please continue!

Seven days are good for dipping your toes into a gluten-free diet, learning new recipes and eating patterns, and can help you transition to eating healthier overall. And besides, who doesn’t enjoy a new challenge to get excited about?

Prepping Mentally

Whenever we try something new or try to change habits, we should remind ourselves of a few things:

Firstly, we’ve been doing things a certain way for a while. When it comes to food, we’ve trained our bodies and minds to like what we’re already doing. When we try new foods, we may go into withdrawal from the removal of our usual foods. That and our gut biomes have adapted to our old eating habits and will undergo a shift when our foods change. Most people don’t realize this and think their body is reacting negatively to the new foods when really, it’s mostly withdrawal symptoms. If you’ve ever tried to give up coffee or colas for a week, you know what I’m taking about! The same is true for sugar, flour, meat, etc. It’s especially true of gluten-containing foods since gluten breaks down into morphine-like chemicals that bind to our brain’s opiate receptors. That’s why we’re all so married to our breads and wheat products. Use this week to learn how addicted your body is to your current way of eating. You might find it eye-opening.

Secondly, we are creatures of habit. Don’t expect to like or love all the food recipes. If you’ve never tried something before, try it with an open mind. Think of this week as a way to experience new foods or find new recipes to incorporate into your meal rotation. See it as a fun exercise, not a drag, and you’ll have better results.

Thirdly, when we take on a food challenge, the experience is usually new. The recipes will take longer to organize and prep simply because you haven’t spent years making them. In time the ingredients and recipes become second nature and you can modify them as easily as your current meal rotations. Expect the learning curve rather than be upset by it. Most of these recipes are quick and easy for beginners.

Fourthly, food is culture. If your family and friends are wheat lovers who have never seen a pasta or bread they didn’t love, you may feel peer pressure over your new food selections or feel tempted to cheat and eat like normal. Remember that this is only a week-long challenge. If others tell you to cheat or give you grief, you can point out gently:

  • Your health issues if you have any
  • Any health issues in your family
  • That you are trying to alleviate or prevent any health issues
  • And that you could really use support since this isn’t easy

Many people if approached this way will be more considerate and helpful, especially if you tell them you don’t expect them to eat like you (some immediate family members will fear any food changes). Accept this and remember that you are the only person who can truly make the changes you want. Respect and love yourself enough to try what you’re wanting to do, no matter what others think.

All this said, we’re human and we get cravings. Don’t beat yourself up if you lapse during the challenge, just continue on with the next meal and be proud for what you do follow. Also, try not to make the challenge impossible by scheduling it around holidays. Only the most willful and possibly masochistic can survive holidays and their associated foods. On the flip side, if you’re trying to give up the excesses of the holidays, by all means, use this challenge as an excuse!

Now onto the nuts and bolts.

How It Works

The 7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge is pretty straight-forward. You’ll be eating gluten-free, whole foods based meals for a week. To do that:

  • Pick a week to do the 7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge.
  • Make room in your fridge and in your mental space for the change.
  • Plan out and organize your meals for the week for best results. Design them with your family or friends for added support and team-building if they’re willing.
  • Make your grocery list.
  • Buy the food.
  • Prepare the meals yourself or for best results, with your family. Healthy food habits are teachable moments, as is food preparation. Children can’t learn healthy food habits if not exposed to them or taught the recipes. Cooking together means time together. Make cooking social.
  • Eat and enjoy – the more the merrier!

7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge Recipe Suggestions

It’s easiest to enjoy the challenge and keep with it if you include meals you already like that are vegan. Love your green bean stir fry or hearty beef stew? Bust them out this week!

Organize around meals such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts. We tend to make the same handful of meals so don’t feel like every single meal for the week must be new and original. That gets expensive and stressful fast because you have to buy a larger variety of food and learn too many new recipes you may not be at all familiar with. Also, why waste any leftovers?

Check out the recommended week-long plan and more general pantry list so you can take the challenge and run with it. Feel free to mix and match however you like to make this challenge your own! Don’t like these suggestions? Check out these 120 Most Delish Gluten-Free Dinners and 50 Amazing Gluten-Free Lunch Ideas for inspiration.

Now onto the week’s meal plan!

7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge Meal Plan

Day 1

Breakfast: yogurt with fruit and nuts

Lunch: Mediterranean chickpea salad

Dinner:  bean and guac tacos (corn tortillas); optional: add beef, chicken, pork, fish or shrimp

Snacks/Dessert: Fruit and nuts; optional: Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies

Day 2

Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and walnuts

Lunch: Avocado and tomato salad

Dinner: Tomato Coconut Cauliflower Curry

Snacks: Yellow squash dippers and hummus

Day 3

Breakfast: Strawberry, banana, spinach, coconut milk smoothie

Lunch: Tomato soup with avocado and cucumber salad

Snack: Dark chocolate or handful of mixed nuts

Dinner: One-Pan Balsamic Chicken and Asparagus

Day 4

Breakfast: eggs scrambled with spinach or spinach omelet, fruit on the side

Lunch: Cauliflower Cashew Lunch Bowl

Dinner: Ginger veggie stir fry; optional stir in: chicken, pork or beef

Snack: Olives and stuffed peppers from the grocery store olive bar – or anything from the olive bar

Dessert: Bananas with chopped nuts drizzled with honey or chocolate

Day 5

Breakfast: Fruit bowl of strawberries and banana

Lunch: White bean salad

Dinner: Roast with potatoes and carrots

Snack: Red pepper hummus with cucumber dippers

Day 6

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (corn tortillas) with scrambled eggs and salsa

Lunch: Lentil soup with avocado and tomato salad

Dinner: Tuscan Butter Salmon

Snack: Pecan-stuffed dates

Day 7

Breakfast: Blueberries and oatmeal

Lunch: Enchilada lunch bowl

Dinner: Chili Hash

Dessert: Baked apples drizzled with honey and nuts

If none of these ideas tickle your fancy, feel free to find ones that do! Curries, stir fries, soups and stews make for hearty eating. Mexican foods like burrito bowls and tacos can easily be made gluten-free, especially by substituting flour tortillas with corn tortillas. Why not give them a try? So many recipe resources exist on the internet to find these and more. My favorite is allrecipes.com.

Pantry List

In order to cook a gluten-free diet, it’s helpful to know how to stock your pantry. This is a general list, so don’t think this is your shopping list for the challenge. These ingredients can make up a fantastic pantry for eating healthy and deliciously:

Bananas

Grapes

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries

Avocados

Dates

Nuts – walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds

Olives

Olive, sesame or coconut oil

White or apple vinegar

Balsamic vinegar

White and red cooking wine

Honey

Canned or dried white beans, chick peas, lentils, black beans

Fresh or canned diced tomatoes

Cucumbers

Yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.

Red onions

Tomatoes

Spinach, kale, greens

Coconut milk

Almond milk, soy milk, and other nut milks

Rice, buckwheat, oats

Quinoa

Meat and seafood

Tofu and tempeh

Veggie mince

Veggie sausages

Gluten-free flours like rice flour, almond flour, buckwheat (not actually wheat), corn meal, coconut flour

Time Savers

While fresh and from scratch is best, let’s face it, not everyone has the time or willingness. Here are time savers and substitutions:

  • Instant oatmeal
  • Canned beans and vegetables: drain and rinse them though
  • Frozen vegetables and fruit
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Canned or frozen fish, seafood, and meats
  • Store-made guacamole, salsa and hummus

A Week of Healthy Eating

And there you have it – everything you need to know to take the 7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge! Hopefully you will enjoy the foods and the benefits they quickly bring in terms of better health, energy levels, mental clarity, sleep and digestion, and a range of others. If you enjoy these foods and their benefits, why not permanently include these and other deliciously healthy meals in your routine?

Good luck with the challenge and happy eating!

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