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.
- 1. If at all possible, PLEASE see a doctor and get tested. I'm told that there are financial benefits (ie., tax-deductions for our $6 loaves of bread) to having an actual diagnosis. Aside from that, it's just good to know.
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:
- www.glutenfreegirl.com (fantastic blog about living GF)
- www.glutenfreegoddess.com (Another great recipe resource)
- These are just a few... with the popularity of food blogging, there are literally hundreds of blogs and websites with great recipes. I swear, there is almost nothing I've gone Googling for and not found. Explore, browse, discover.
9. Products to try:
- Udi's GF breads, buns & bagels are the best I've found. (be careful though – Udi's also has a “regular” bakery. Just make sure you're getting the GF stuff.)
- Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta
- Trader Joe's Brown Rice Pasta (comparable to Tinkyada, and much less expensive)
- Temari – there are several brands, but it's a GF soy sauce.
- Bragg's Liquid Aminos – Sounds awful, but it's another good soy-sauce alternative, and actually quite delicious.
- Bob's Red Mill Mighty Tasty GF Hot Cereal – it's like “Cream of Everything BUT Wheat”, and a good alternative to oatmeal while you're transitioning. (Bob's also has a great line of GF products in general.)
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.