In the heart of Southeast Asia, Singapore is renowned for its diverse culinary landscape. As an island nation that treasures food, it’s evolved to cater to a multitude of dietary preferences.

In recent years, gluten-free and vegan diets have taken the culinary world by storm. From upscale restaurants offering special menus to entire grocery store aisles dedicated to these dietary choices, it’s clear that what we once deemed ‘alternative’ eating is now mainstream.

And if you’re adhering to a gluten-free or vegan lifestyle, there’s no reason for your dietary choices to hold you back in the gym. Let’s embark on a gastronomic journey to help you navigate gluten-free and vegan eating in Singapore while maintaining peak performance.

What Is Gluten-Free Eating?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. For many, it’s a staple of their diet, present in foods like bread, pasta, and cereals. However, a growing number of individuals are reducing or eliminating gluten from their diets for various reasons:

  • Celiac Disease: An autoimmune condition where ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Strict avoidance of gluten is essential for those diagnosed.
  • Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS): Some individuals experience symptoms similar to celiac disease when they consume gluten but don’t test positive for celiac. The exact cause of NCGS remains debated, but many find symptom relief upon eliminating gluten.
  • Wheat Allergy: An allergic reaction to proteins found in wheat (not necessarily gluten). Those affected need to avoid wheat in all forms.
  • Personal Choice: Some people choose gluten-free eating due to perceived health benefits or personal preferences.

What Is Vegan Eating?

Veganism is a dietary and lifestyle choice that excludes all animal products. This means no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey. The reasons people choose veganism vary:

  • Ethical Reasons: Many vegans believe it’s morally wrong to use animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.
  • Environmental Reasons: Animal agriculture is linked to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and water pollution. A vegan diet can significantly reduce one’s ecological footprint.
  • Health Reasons: Some individuals turn to veganism to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, maintain an ideal weight, or address other health concerns.
  • Cultural Or Religious Beliefs: Certain religious or cultural beliefs promote a plant-based diet.

Can You Be Both Gluten-Free And Vegan?

Absolutely! While it may seem limiting, many foods are naturally both gluten-free and vegan, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and most legumes. With the increasing popularity of both diets, numerous products and recipes cater specifically to gluten-free vegans. Quinoa, rice, gluten-free oats, and many other grains and starches serve as excellent bases for a multitude of dishes.

Your Nutritional Blueprint

No matter your lifestyle or activity level, your body requires energy, recovery nutrients, and hydration. The foods we consume play a pivotal role in how efficiently we can train, recover, and progress in our workouts:

  • Carbohydrates: Essential for fuelling high-intensity workouts. Those avoiding gluten can opt for rice, quinoa, or potatoes—staples in many Singaporean dishes.
  • Proteins: Integral for muscle recovery and growth. Vegans can find ample sources in tofu, tempeh, legumes, and lentils, all frequently used in local cuisine.
  • Fats: Needed for hormonal balance and long-term energy. Avocado, nuts, seeds, and coconut are all vegan and gluten-free friendly and are readily available.

Gluten-Free And Vegan Dining In Singapore: Where To Go?

  • Little India: This historic district isn’t just a vegan paradise but also a treasure trove for gluten-free options. Many traditional Indian dishes, like dosa (fermented rice and lentil crepes) or idli (steamed rice cakes), are naturally gluten-free and vegan.
  • Hawker Centres: These food hubs are the pulse of Singapore’s culinary scene. Look out for stalls selling dishes like ‘Rojak’ (a local fruit and vegetable salad) or ‘Popiah’ (spring rolls). Remember to ask for modifications to meet your dietary needs.
  • Tiong Bahru Bakery: While primarily known for its French pastries, they do offer a range of vegan-friendly and gluten-free options. Always ask the staff for assistance in picking out suitable items.
  • Geylang Serai: Home to the Malay community, this area offers plenty of naturally gluten-free and vegan dishes. Dishes like ‘Gado Gado’ (vegetable salad with peanut sauce) can be vegan and gluten-free. ‘Lemang’ (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo) is gluten-free but remember to avoid the accompanying meat rendang!
  • Chinatown:
    – Yi Xin Vegetarian: Located in the heart of Chinatown, this eatery serves a plethora of vegan dishes, many of which can be made gluten-free upon request.
    – Eight Treasures Vegetarian: This restaurant offers a variety of dishes with the essence of Chinese cuisine. It’s a vegetarian place, and they’re open to customizing for vegans and those who need gluten-free options.
  • Orchard Road:
    – Elemen: This is a modern vegetarian restaurant that incorporates a variety of Asian and Western flavours into its dishes. They offer vegan options and can cater to gluten-free needs upon request.

Training And Recovery With Dietary Restrictions

  • Pre-Training Meals: Opt for a blend of carbohydrates and protein around 2-3 hours before your workout. A plate of brown rice with a hearty tofu stir-fry or a lentil curry will keep you energized throughout your drills.
  • Post-Training Recovery: After an intense sparring session in BJJ or a heavy bag workout in Muay Thai, recovery is crucial. Seek out smoothie bars that offer almond or soy milk bases, blending in your choice of gluten-free protein powders.
  • Hydration: In Singapore’s humid climate, staying hydrated is paramount. Coconut water, widely available, is a natural electrolyte replenisher. 

Navigating Local Ingredients

While Singaporean cuisine is diverse and rich, here are some pointers to ensure your dietary needs are met:

  • Sauces & Broths: Many local dishes use soy sauce, which traditionally contains wheat. Ask for tamari or gluten-free soy sauce instead. For vegans, ensure broths are plant-based.
  • Tofu & Tempeh: These are protein-packed and feature in many local dishes. However, ensure that they aren’t cooked in animal-based broths or sauces.
  • Rice: A staple in Singapore and naturally gluten-free. However, make sure that any accompanying sauces or gravies align with your dietary restrictions.
  • Tapioca: Naturally gluten-free. Still, always double-check for cross-contamination or other added ingredients. Most tapioca dishes or snacks are vegan, but some desserts might have dairy or gelatin, so be sure to check carefully. 
  • Coconut Products: Coconut products are naturally gluten-free, and are always used extensively in curries, desserts, and drinks. Be sure to always check for additives, especially in processed goods. For vegans, there might be some desserts that might combine coconut with non-vegan ingredients. 

Benefits Of Gluten-Free And Vegan Eating

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Many people report improved digestion and reduced bloating when eliminating gluten or animal products. Both diets can also help with weight loss, especially when focusing on whole, unprocessed foods.

It also goes without saying that these diets lead to a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. In turn, consuming these can lower your risk of certain diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers.

Challenges And Considerations

However, a vegan diet may lack vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3s, while those on a gluten-free diet might miss out on fiber and certain B vitamins — so it’s important to consult a dietitian and consume supplements when needed to avoid any vitamin deficiencies.

It’s also undeniably more difficult to find suitable options in restaurants, and specialty gluten-free or vegan products can be pricier than their conventional counterparts.

Supplements For An Active Lifestyle

Incorporating dietary supplements can be beneficial, especially if you’re training hard. BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) can aid muscle recovery, while Omega-3 (from algae oil for vegans) can help reduce inflammation. Ensure any supplement you choose aligns with your dietary needs and always consult a nutritionist or coach.

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Text: Evolve MMA