Gluten Free 101
I talk to a lot of people who want to know more about the gluten-free way of life so I decided to write this post, Part 1 of what will be a running series of articles about living gluten-free. This one is simply 10 easy tips for those just starting out on a gluten-free diet. This is for you if you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed or you believe you/they have a problem with gluten so want to give the diet a try. (Note: Remember that once you’ve stopped eating gluten, the blood test or endoscopy will show negative so you can’t have these tests later, they must be done first if you ever want to have them done. Gluten would have to be added back in the diet to test later.)
To be clear, gluten is in wheat, rye and barley. Oats must be certified gluten-free because of possible cross contamination*.
1. Rule One. If you have to become gluten-free, Don’t Panic. If this advice comes too late, go to step 2.
2. You’re wondering if there’s anything left to eat. Am I a mind reader? No, we ALL wondered. Go to your favorite grocery store and browse the produce department. All of those fruits and vegetables are gluten-free. If you’re like my husband and these weren’t your favorite foods to start with (unless the peaches were in a peach cobbler), go to the meat department.
3. Meat is also naturally gluten-free. This department can trip you up, though, because poultry can be injected with gluten-containing ingredients and marinades can be added. Be particularly careful if buying processed meats like bologna and ham. Eggs are naturally gluten-free.
4. Now go check out the dairy department. This is generally safe but you’ll have to read labels more here. Cheese, other than possibly blue cheese, is generally safe. Of course, milk is fine. I have read that some lower fat sour creams can contain gluten. (The brand we see most here in Nashville doesn’t.) When other ingredients are added to dairy products as with flavored yogurts and cheese spreads, you’ll need to be more careful about checking labels, but it can’t be said enough, read all labels! If you don’t eat dairy, there are many non-dairy alternatives including milks such as almond and coconut, coconut yogurt and vegan “cheeses” that can be found in many regular grocery stores today.
5. The freezer section has good and not-so-good choices in it. Frozen veggies, fruit, and plain meat (no seasoning) are generally fine but – yes, I’m going to say it again, read the label. Most mainstream frozen dinners contain gluten. (There are some frozen meals that are gluten-free but these will most likely be specialty brands, not Stouffers or Healthy Choice.) Anything that comes with a sauce or seasoning packet has to be carefully checked out because you’ll often find gluten containing items in them. Canned foods such as soup almost always contain gluten but other canned goods like beans can be fine.
6. Many condiments – mayo, ketchup and mustard – are ok but check to make sure. Some mustard has gluten in it so check it carefully. Vinegar, other than malt vinegar, is considered safe. Plain herbs and spices* are generally fine but be careful of seasoning mixes and packets: look them up online or call the company if you don’t find anything online.
7. Most regular grocery stores now have gluten-free bread in the freezer section. Ours also has good gluten-free waffles. They also have sweets such as muffins and donuts. Just remember that you knew you shouldn’t live on sweets before so it isn’t a good idea now. Take care of yourself, give your body all the nutrients it needs, and don’t overindulge.
8. Snacks may seem challenging. My husband likes bars such as Larabar and Kind Bars which are both gluten-free. Larabar recently added uber bars that are nuttier than their regular bars (and taste less like a date bar.) I like apple slices and nut or seed butter. Other snack ideas include nuts (read the label), fruit, dried fruit, cheese, ants on a log (celery topped with peanut butter and raisins), bread with a nut/seed butter and yogurt (dairy or non-dairy).
9. Go International. Western cultures focus more on wheat and other gluten-filled grains than many other cultures. Make a stir fry over rice (brown or white); spaghetti – many sauces are gluten-free and gluten-free pasta can be quite good (we like Tinkyada); tacos (read the label – some corn tortillas have gluten) and refried beans; or one of the many Indian curry dishes. Don’t forget, there are many delicious gluten-free dishes that are still made with grains or foods that act like grains: try polenta, a wild rice pilaf, a quinoa salad or a gluten-free version of buckwheat pancakes.
10. Check out the growing list of gluten-free products that are available. If you have a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or other similar healthy foods store, also see what they have to offer. If these stores aren’t available to you, shop online. Possible places for an assortment of gluten-free foods are Amazon, celiac.com’s gluten-free mall or iherb (use this code – PEM 300 – to receive $5 off your first order**). If you’d like to bake with almond flour, after trying two others, I’ve found Honeyville’s is my favorite.
One last time, say it out loud with me: Read the label.
Here are a couple of posts from this site with great info for beginners:
Shreve Stockton used her oven for storage and didn’t own plates so she really started from scratch. Then wrote a gluten-free cookbook: http://enjoyingglutenfreelife.com/cookbook-author-shreve-stockton-2/
Shirley from glutenfreeeasily.com has great advice for beginniners. http://enjoyingglutenfreelife.com/shirley-braden-of-gluten-free-easily-gfe/
*We must have a discussion about things that appear gluten-free but can have gluten on/in them. This is called cross contamination and can happen when a food is handled by anyone other than you. It could happen during manufacturing or in a restaurant. Wheat flour hangs in the air for days, so a place that manufactures wheat bread and gluten-free bread side-by-side would most likely have wheat in the “gluten-free” bread. A company that makes gluten-filled seasoning mixes could bottle plain spices on the same line so do research. Chips (or fries) might be made in the same oil as something with gluten. Do the research on the chips and ask the restaurant about the fries. (If anything with gluten is ever in the same oil, it isn’t gluten-free.)
**I will be compensated if you use the iherb code for your order. Someone gave me one for my first order which I appreciated even more after I’d experienced their fast service and knew I’d found a company I would shop at again.
This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.
This is not to be taken as medical advice. I am not a medical professional. You are responsible for your own research and for choosing what you/your family eat and drink.
Photo Credit: USDA