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Macaroni and American cheese; deep-dish pizzas with fontina, Parmesan, goat cheese, Pecorino; grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches; calzones with smoked mozzarella; hamburgers with blue cheese; fried chicken with ranch dressing; subs with provolone and various cold cuts; lasagna with béchamel; pie with vanilla ice cream; chocolate cake with whipped cream; chocolate chip cookies and milk; and the list goes on. Most American meals revolve around the dynamic duo of white flour and dairy. What does it mean for our health to abstain from meals composed of the duo? How can we possibly survive in this country without indulging in the fabulous creations of the holy pair of American cuisine?

While many people are discovering they have mild to severe food allergies, and others opt for the meaningful carbs and skip the extra fat in most dairy, regardless of the reason, a lifelong diet that avoids diary and gluten can be one of the keys to nourishing our bodies. How? Just imagine never being able to eat the foods at fast food restaurants, dining out and not enjoying freshly baked bread with whipped butter, passing on fried chicken or calamari, and skipping dessert or only having fresh berries or sorbet. Regardless of the reason, the gluten and dairy free life naturally moves us away from consuming foods that we should generally avoid for lifelong health.

The language of food allergies or diets tends to focus on restriction or not indulging in foods we love. This approach to the language of food infuses our own perceptions of what we eat, and perhaps because of the language of restriction we are more likely to break diets or eat what we know we physically shouldn’t. The truth is, it’s hard to go through life without Burrata or Camembert, but if these ingredients make us sick or compromise our health, we need to begin to imagine the lusciousness of extra virgin olive oil coating our crispy broccoli rather than the smooth melted cheese running down our toasted sourdough. Since I’ve been dairy and gluten free, I haven’t felt restricted in my intake of food, and I’ve never really thought about ‘not getting enough.’

Here’s how to thrive gluten and dairy free.

Use organic extra virgin olive oil like cheese, on almost everything.

A diet rich in olive oil has long been promoted by the medical community for its positive role in the prevention of heart disease and cancer. Besides its health benefits, olive oils provide the same fatty richness to dishes as cheese, without the gut splitting heft. Exploring the world of olive oils can be just as rewarding as tasting the various cheeses that different regions offer. Cold pressed unfiltered Arbequino, Sicilian extra virgin, mission olive oil, extra virgin Frantoio, and the list goes on. Savor the fatty mouth feel that each variety brings. Try different varieties on a wide range of dishes. Drizzle olive oil over rice crackers, on top of soups and gluten free pasta, on meats, over eggs, in between lightly cooked leaves of chard.

Replace cream or butter-heavy sauces with salsas and vegetable purees.

Most dishes that we associate with cream and butter deserve an upgrade. While roasted chicken or fish with beurre blanc, steak with compound butters (anchovy, herb) or beurre rouge, lasagna with béchamel, macaroni n’ cheese, and fettuccini alfredo are all delicious and have become a part of our dinner options for a reason, why not enjoy the feeling of indulgence and remain in optimum health at the same time? By using fresh vegetables, nuts, and herbs with an olive oil base, these dishes can be transformed into healing foods that nourish. Mix parsley, olives, and garlic for a rich sauce that can be applied to gluten-free pastas or roasted or grilled fish, chicken, or steaks. Puree basil with olive oil and lemon zest, and throw in roasted zucchini and chopped pistachio for a bright cheese-free pesto that surpasses alfredo or any cheese sauce in its ability to scrumptiously coat most noodles or proteins from grilled shrimp to poached chicken. In summer or early fall, separately chop fresh tomatoes, roasted almonds, garlic, and basil for a tangy and vibrant Sicilian pesto that can grace pan-roasted salmon, chicken thighs, or grilled sausages and a variety of pastas.

Plan ahead when on the go.

To be able to survive on the gluten and dairy free lifestyle, plan ahead because fast food and sandwich shops generally only sell items packed with gluten and laced with cheese. While it takes some planning to navigate the meal and snack path, often when we do plan meals we are more likely to skip impulsive food buys like chips, fried chicken, and chili cheese dogs. More often than not, if you have already taken the time to prepare healthy snacks and meals for busy, on the go moments, it’s harder to indulge in junk food. While the occasional quarter pound burger with bacon and cheese will not hurt, over the course of a lifetime consistently eating fast food can have a severely negative impact on health.

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