Guest Post: healthline.com brings you some Gluten-Free Bento Ideas!

Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento holds some sort of meat or fish, a veggie and rice, and is packed in a box-shaped container called a bento box. They are becoming famously popular in the U.S.

Bento boxes also allow you to pack plenty of food without gaps. A 21-ounce box holds a 700-calorie meal, which is a very effective method for counting calories and weight loss. It is also plenty of food for a health-conscious meal.

While the bento box allows you to pack your food in reusable containers, bentos also reduce lunch container waste and allow you to pack a wider variety of food for lunch. Perfect for the workplace, another added benefit is Bento boxes provide you a nice meal planning tool to control the portions you eat. In fact, the Bento rule of thumb is actually 3 parts carbs, 2 parts fruits and vegetables and 1 part protein. And if you’re into a good healthy balance, you won’t include processed foods, snacks or candy in the mix. Rather, adhering to a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and gluten-free foods are optimal.

What exactly is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat that gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and keep its shape. Additionally, it’s a combination of glutenin and gliadin, which is joined with starch in various grains. Gliadin is what enables bread to rise properly while glutenin is the major protein in wheat flour, making up 47% of the total protein content.

When people with Celiac Disease eat foods or use products containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the small intestine. The tiny, finger-like protrusions lining the small intestine are damaged or destroyed. Called villi, they normally allow nutrients from food to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, regardless of the quantity or quality of food eaten.

Some people suffer from gluten intolerance, which is different from Celiac in that it is not an immune mediated response. The symptoms appear after eating wheat or other foods containing gluten, which can cause abdominal cramping, flatulence, diarrhea and bloating. Doctors are still investigating whether gluten intolerance over a long period causes permanent intestinal damage. More commonplace is gluten sensitivity, which affects over 20-million people in the U.S. and is essentially a less severe form of gluten intolerance. The gastrointestinal symptoms are similar to those that affect individuals with Celiac Disease, but gluten sensitivity does not cause damage to the intestinal lining. Even those without any significant intolerance to gluten can experience bloating or a swollen abdomen as a result of ingesting gluten-based foods.

Many concerned with nutrition rave about the benefits of a gluten-free, vegetarian diet, and many people do find that eliminating gluten eases digestive issues. More recently, those who’ve adopted the gluten-free lifestyle report improvements in weight loss, brain function, energy, joint pain and a better general sense of well-being.

And what better way to adopt a healthy eating plan, good nutrition and portion control than to use the bento for preparing and carrying your meals. You probably have enough in your kitchen right now to get started packing bento-style lunches. Really all you need is a shallow Tupperware-type food container with a watertight seal and eating utensils. If you really want to get fancy, you can add a thermos for soups, a sandwich case and even an authentic bento box straight from Japan. Here are a couple of vegetarian, gluten-free food ideas you can pack in your bento box:

● Gluten-free Brown Rice English Muffin- These are great toasted and topped with vegan cream cheese and bagel seeds for a hearty sandwich or veggie burger

● Quinoa Pasta- These noodles are great topped with marinara or pesto or used in a cold pasta salad

● Veggie Burger- They’re easy to heat up in a skillet and also over an open flame out on the grill

● Havarti Cheese- This spicy and creamy vegetarian cheese makes the perfect queso to pair with tortilla chips. You can also add it to your veggie burger for an extra kick

● Tofu Pups- These veggie dogs are easy to pack in a bento. You can also deep fry them in gluten-free corn-dog batter

● Veggies and Beans- vegetables will provide you with all of the protein that you will need. Veggies such as broccoli and spinach are great sources of protein. Beans are also another great source of protein

Whatever you decide to eat, using a bento container and maintaining a gluten-free vegetarian diet are two great ways to control your weight, keep you disciplined and are sure-fire ways for a successful healthy eating strategy.

David Novak is a international syndicated newspaper columnist, appearing in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV around the world. His byline has appeared in GQ, National Geographic, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, USA Today, among others, and he has appeared on The Today Show, the CBS Morning Show and Paul Harvey Radio. David is a specialist at consumer technology, health and fitness, and he also owns a PR firm and a consulting company where he and his staff focus on these industries. He is a regular contributing editor for Healthline. For more information, visit http://www.healthline.com/.

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Just adding: check the ingredients on veggie burgers and tofu pups, because it can be difficult to find varieties that don’t include sources of gluten in their ingredients!

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