How to Go Gluten-Free
HOW TO GO GLUTEN-FREE
NOTE: Gluten-Free is inherently wheat-free. Wheat contains gluten. So- remember: No gluten equals no wheat.
BUT. "Wheat-Free" does not necessarily equal "gluten-free". Other, non-wheat grains also contain the gluten protein- barley, and rye (and commercially processed oats- due to cross contamination issues; look for a GF symbol on certified oats to make sure the oats are 100% gluten-free).
Here's a gluten-free food list to get you started.
Say yes to fresh, unprocessed produce. If you’re a vegetarian, you're in luck. You already love veggies of all kinds, so go for it. Do your bunny food thing. And don't forget fresh seasonal fruit.
Plain, aged block cheeses are generally safe; start with a wedge of good Parmesan and aged cheddar; both are high in calcium and have zero lactose. When you are ready to branch out, fresh goat cheese is delicious; and tangy, and there are many varieties of real cheese that are safe (check labels for additives, fillers or flavorings- these are possible culprits). And despite the popular myth that blue cheese is not safe, most blue cheeses are gluten-free. Again, watch for added flavorings.
If- like me- your digestion cannot tolerate lactose, casein or whey (the sugar and proteins in dairy food) there are several gluten-free vegan cheese alternatives on the market crafted from rice, almonds, cashews, pea protein or soy. Always check labels for hidden ingredients (some 'lactose-free' cheeses actually contain the milk protein casein).
See my recipe for a Gluten-Free Millet-Buckwheat Wrap.
There are several gluten-free breads available with a wide variety of quality and taste. Some are sawdust awful. Some aren’t half bad. Many new offerings are cropping up. Toasting makes almost any gluten-free bearable. (And when you're ready to bake, I've got gluten-free bread recipes that are delicious.)
However, I wouldn’t jump into gluten-free bread right away.
Give your taste buds time to adjust to the newness of gluten-free flours. They are, indeed, different. They smell different and taste different. The texture is different. It takes about two weeks or so to adjust your wheat craving taste buds to the alternative charms of gluten-free grains.
Be patient. The craving for wheat will pass. I promise.
An important note on oats... Oats have been a controversial topic in the celiac community. Here’s why. Although the protein in oats is not the exact same problematic protein found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt (note: spelt is NOT gluten-free), commercial oats have been found to contain gluten, possibly due to cross contamination in the harvesting, storing and milling process.
The good news is, a few small dedicated farms have begun producing certified gluten-free oats. Bob's Red Mill now has gluten-free certified oats- look for the GF symbol on the label.
Most doctors recommend avoiding oats completely until you have healed your gut inflammation. When you are ready to try some, start slowly. Oats are high in fiber. They can be a tad gassy for some individuals. Try them in small amounts at first, once or twice a week, to give your digestion a chance to adjust to the high fiber.
It is my personal belief that limiting refined sugars and starches, soda, unhealthy saturated trans fats and low nutrient junk food will go a long way toward healing a stressed digestive system.
When food is the cure for what ails you, choosing whole natural foods makes the most sense, after all.
Also problematic for many (celiac or not) are the sugar alcohol based sweeteners (sorbitol, mannitol). They can cause digestive symptoms remarkably similar to a gluten reaction, including pain, bloating, gas and the Big D- diarrhea. Check your toothpaste, gum and breath mints-- what you suspect might be hidden gluten may actually be an artificial sweetener or indigestible FODMAP style carbohydrate wreaking IBS style havoc.
Read my post and discussion on sugar and alternative sweeteners.
Many celiac folks need to avoid coffee, too, especially if heartburn is a symptom (it's a gastric irritant and a known IBS trigger). Try, instead, drinking plain, organic, loose green or black tea, unsmoked yerba mate, or rooibos- read labels and watch for added flavors.
NOTE: Call tea companies to make sure they do not use gluten as a sealant in their tea bags- a problem, still, in 2015.
Be careful with blended teas and herbal teas; some contain barley, malt, or flavors derived from gluten grains. Unfortunately, many herbal teas are now contaminated with pesticides, so please practice due diligence, and research the tea company (don't let their cute packaging fool you into thinking it's 100% chemical/pesticide free).
Bottled red and white wines are most often safe (avoid malted wine coolers) but you should be aware that older wineries may use antique oak barrels sealed with food grade paste (aka wheat). It's best to call the winery and check. For those allergic to casein, egg proteins, or fish, be aware that modern methods of winemaking often include a fining process that utilizes one of these top allergens. From personal experience, I have found that a great many wineries use casein and egg. Look for vegan wines that are fined with a non-animal fining agent. Frey Vineyards uses a natural clay fining agent, and stores wine in stainless steel (note that the Syrah and Port may be aged in oak barrels). There are also gluten-free lagers and bottled hard ciders on the market now.
What about snacks?
I snacked on rice cakes or corn thins with a schmear of organic peanut, almond or cashew butter.
I sliced cheddar cheese and ate it with a handful of grapes.
I got a popcorn maker so that I could choose my cooking oil and seasoning and use non-GMO organic popcorn.
After I got more comfortable with knowing what brands were- and were not- gluten-free, I branched out to non-GMO organic corn tortilla chips. Fab with salsa and guacamole.
And there are even more safe gluten-free snacks available now– from crackers to pretzels and chips- as always read labels (not only for 'gluten-free' status, but for nutritional value- you don't need pro-inflammatory processed junk food messing with your healing process!).
Any gluten-free menu ideas?
Healing Soups, Stews... and Smoothies
Good question. Here’s what I did. So that I wouldn't have to stress about perfecting the art of gluten-free baking right away, I selected a favorite gluten-free ice cream and sorbet for dessert. Fortunately, there are quite a few available. Baking came later-- and is now a pleasure.
With all the recent talk about sugar and inflammation, we suggest enjoying sugary treats in moderation. Gluten-Free Goddess advises consuming no more than 2 tablespoons of sugar a day.
How Not To Feel Overwhelmed
For instance, I looked for a brand and flavor of sorbet I liked. Then, peanut butter, jam, ketchup, mayo, green tea, canned tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You get the idea. All the basics.
I compiled. I saved the list and printed it out for convenience. Over time, I have edited The List and pared it down quite a bit. Shopping has become infinitely easier now that I have my own list of tried and true favorites. Periodically, I re-check labels to make sure my favorites are still gluten-free. [Please note: Even though you may find a certain brand listed on-line as gluten-free, it’s always wise to double check. And even as you develop and maintain your own personal gluten-free list over time, it's a good idea to continue to read labels to make sure the ingredient list has not changed .] When in doubt, call. Most companies have 1-800 customer service numbers listed on food, health and beauty items and many, if not most, actually know what gluten is.
Support is invaluable in this endeavor we call living gluten-free--- especially in the first year. Don't underestimate your need for it. To stay healthy and gluten-free it takes a partner, family member, or friend willing to embrace change, willing to listen and learn. Steve told me that pantry-clearing day, “I’m in this with you, Babela. I’m going gluten free.” Yes, he’s quite a guy. A mensch, even.
And now you know why I fell in love with him in the first place. Well, that, and he could juggle- and... whistle a Crowded House tune perfectly. So here's a shout out to my dear husband. The guy behind the gluten-free goddess. He's been there for me from day one. And honestly, it’s made all the difference.
First- consider the contents of your refrigerator. All shared condiments must be avoided; it's best to purchase your own peanut butter, jam, butter & margarine, mayo- and separate it. You can label it: My GF Stash. Or use a colored sticker system. It does seem extreme, I know. But, Dear Reader, crumbs and residue from gluten containing food can wreak havoc. Trust me.
You may not think so, at first (I admit, didn't believe it), but even the tiniest gluten crumble contains enough of the offending gluten molecule to cause serious trouble and trigger our sensitive immune systems. And we know how tiny molecules are. And how invisible.
So picture those sticky fingers of family- and co-workers- blissfully eating orange oil pizza, or dripping sub sandwiches, and sugary glazed donuts. Fingers that can easily leave gluten residue on fridge handles, computer key boards, phones...you get the idea.
Remember, gluten is a protein– and gluey proteins are next to impossible to eradicate. Because, well. They're sticky. There's a reason, Darling, that wheat is used in wallpaper paste, adhesives, and drywall compound.
I suggest using alcohol wipes in shared spaces to clean off fridge and cabinet handles, steering wheels (I'm sure you don't ever eat in the car, right?), remote controls, computer keyboards and mice, game controllers, you name it.
And after using a grocery cart? Or after shaking hands? I use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Liberal amounts of alcohol sanitizer help to dissolve the sticky gluten protein off fingers, as does a good old fashioned hand washing with soap and water.
Let's get back to the kitchen. Porous materials. Aware of the protein residue problem, I set aside my old cutting boards and breadboards- including a lovely antique round carved breadboard I’d had for twenty years; I hated to part with it, but my health trumped sentiment. Off they went, with all my favorite old wooden spoons, and anything porous that might contain old gluten residue, including our non-stick skillet, and wooden salad bowl.
I also gathered up my old vinyl and plastic spatulas, my bread machine, and our blender with a rubber gasket. We made quite a big donation pile. And what wasn’t donated we sold at a yard sale. Then came the fun part. Replacing. I even gave the kitchen a new coat of paint, just to brighten my spirits and enhance my fresh start- with color.
More label reading. Check the fine print on your vitamins, medications, and cosmetics, mouthwash, and toothpaste.
Although controversial- doctors often sneer at this- I even checked shampoo, soap, hand and body lotions. Some say such minute amounts don't matter- you don't actually eat shampoo, soap, or lotion, after all. But I would argue that some of us use our hands and fingers to eat. And some of us KISS. So why chance it? It's not impossible to find gluten-free beauty products. As always, check labels and call manufacturers because product formulations can change.
Gluten-free pasta? Brownies?
When you’re ready to branch out a bit and your taste buds have adjusted to food without gluten, I am here to tell you there are fabulous breads, killer pasta, pancakes, cupcakes in your future!
When the flavor memory of wheat begins to fade (this takes time by the way, and is why I didn’t recommend rushing out to purchase gluten-free substitutes for pasta, brownies, bread, and cookies; they’ll taste funny- even odd to your wheat saturated taste buds) there are plenty of tasty pastas to twirl, breads to toast, and decadent Dark Chocolate Brownies to melt in your mouth.
But try to give yourself two weeks first. Gluten affects brain chemistry. Experts liken it to opiod addiction. One mother told me her agitated , gluten craving son actually licked the kitchen table during the his first gluten-free week, trying to get a taste of gluten.
Adjustment to living gluten-free usually takes a minimum of two weeks; and it can, in some individuals, take up to a month or two- especially if hidden gluten is consumed, and the craving for it lingers.
Here's the thing. After getting rid of your life-long enemy- that heinous gluten- you're going to feel more energetic, clear, focused and free than you have in a long, long time.
That's what is not only fun about it- but for many of us- sick for years before proper diagnosis- the benefits of living gluten-free might even be called a minor miracle.
So as William Goldman wrote in The Princess Bride, Have fun storming the castle.
And don't forget.
Laughter is good medicine. So go easy on yourself.