A Beginner's Guide to Going Gluten-Free
Let me begin by saying that I am NOT a medical expert, or an expert of any kind. What I am, however, is a woman who has been gluten-free for almost ten years, who has made many horrible mistakes, and who has learned some wonderful lessons.
I get asked quite frequently for advice and recommendations for friends and friends-of-friends starting down a gluten-free path. So here, in as tidy a nutshell as I can manage, is what I have to offer to those who have made the decision to go gluten-free (GF), and are still in that head-spinning "OMGHOWDOIEAT????" phase. It gets easier, I promise.
If you go GF, and decide later that you want medical confirmation, the process is more difficult.
2. Trial and error is an important part of the learning curve. You will make mistakes. You will get “glutened”. It happens. It's okay. There ARE glutenase supplements available that will lessen your symptoms, but I suggest using them only in emergencies – popping a pill so that you can have a Cinnabon isn't exactly an awesome idea.
3. The easy/obvious things to avoid are Wheat, Oats, Barley and Rye.
Corn and rice are not gluten-bearing. Corn is safe ("corn-gluten" is sort of a misnomer, and it isn't the same thing that is causing your symptoms). Rice is safe. Quinoa is safe.
4. READ LABELS. I can't stress this enough. If it's in a bag, box or can, check it.
(I had an accident recently with a bag of corn chips. Seriously.) Your processed food intake will drop dramatically, I promise. 90% of things that you wouldn't think had gluten in them, do.
5. The hard things to avoid: Caramel coloring, soy sauce, “modified food starch”, malt and malt syrups, “shared manufacturing equipment” (depending on your sensitivity), glucose syrup (usually from wheat or barley).
You will eventually learn your own tolerances.
(MOST modified food starch used in the US is corn-based. But unless that is stated on the label, it's not a guarantee.)
6. Things that sound bad, but are actually okay: Glutinous rice, MSG (if you're into that sort of thing), and Buckwheat (yay pancakes!)
7. About Oats: Oats are not naturally gluten-bearing, however the farming and manufacturing process for oats is so deeply tied to the process for wheat, that heavy cross-contamination is just kind of a given. There are certified GF oats available now, but they're much more costly. Oats are also known to carry a protein that *some* celiac patients react to the same way they react to gluten. That's another trial and error thing – just go slow, and see what works for you.
8. Online Resources:
9. Products to try:
10. Baking: This has been the hardest part for me.... I don't even close to have the answers for this – trial and error, all the way. One thing I have learned, when converting a recipe, is to double (roughly) the leavening. Non-wheat flours don't rise the same way, and can use a little extra help.
What I can tell you, is that a big part of it is also adjusting your expectations. If you're dead-set on pancakes that taste EXACTLY like Bisquick, you're only going to be dissapointed. Rice, Teff, Quinoa, Coconut, Millet and Buckwheat Flours, Potato, Arrowroot and Corn Starches – these are all tools in your arsenal. Your cupcakes may be delicious, but dry. Your muffins may be extra dense. Just make sure your Baking Powder is GF (most are), and check your chocolate chips! (Again – Read every label, every time.)
The one thing that has helped me the most on this journey has been coming into it with a sense of adventure, willingness to experiment and a sense of humor. I make most of our food from scratch, use very few processed things, and try not to get too frutrated when things don't come out the way you're used to.
This really is my favorite time of year... While we don't get a lot of fall color here in my hometown, the air still changes, the days cloud over and the nights get crisp, and the moment I can get away with it, there is pumpkin in almost everything that comes out of my kitchen! It's also the beginning of a very busy season for me, though, so doing things ahead makes my life immensely easier and more manageable.
Last winter, I discovered the joy of Baked Oatmeal....which we both fell in love with immediately! It goes together quickly, so it's an easy thing to do in the morning, then let it bake while you go on about your routine... or put it together the night before, and just pop it in the oven in the morning. And the best part? Leftovers! My husband usually takes his breakfast with him to work, and this travels easily and reheats perfectly. (Sadly, I never manage to get a photo before it's gone.....)
Really, you can put anything in it that you want, but since it's October, and because I'm obsessed with pumpkin, this is my current favorite:
Vegan Pumpkin Pie Baked Oatmeal
3 Cups Gluten-free Rolled Oats (if you don't have a gluten issue, any old oats will do!)
1 Cup Soymilk (Or rice, or almond, or hemp..whatever makes you happy)
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil or Vegan Butter, melted
1/2 Cup Sweetener (I like brown rice syrup, you might prefer molasses or brown sugar.)
1/2 Cup Applesauce
1/2-1 Cup Pumpkin Puree (canned or homemade, either works just fine)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
1 1/2 Teaspoons Mixed Spices. (This is up to you! Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Cloves, Allspice, Cardamom....use 1/2 tsp each of your three favorites!)
1/2 Cup Golden Raisins (Totally optional.)
Lightly oil a 9' x 13" casserole dish.
Mix oats and raisins (if using) and spread loosely in casserole.
Combine all other ingredients and whisk to combine thoroughly.
Pour wet mixture over oats as evenly as possible.
Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes. (Or refrigerate overnight and bake in the morning)
I like to drizzle a little almond milk over mine, he prefers a little vegan butter melted over the top... but you really don't need either!
Living la vie Boheme, on an endless quest to adorn the world.