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Monday, July 4, 2011

Gluten-Free Living: Making the Transition

Over the last year, through a lot of trial and error and allergy elimination diets, I've realized I have a real problem with gluten.  To be blunt, it makes me feel like crap.  I didn't realize this until after I cut out gluten and then added it back in, that it made me feel so horrible.  I had been living for years feeling horrible all the time, and not even realizing this wasn't normal!

Recently, it seems like a lot more people are finding that they may not have full-blown celiac disease, but a gluten sensitivity.  It may make you feel sluggish, have stomach pain, gas, headaches, or spend half your day in the bathroom.  Making a switch over to a gluten-free lifestyle really hasn't been that difficult for me.  Here are my top tips for making a transition to gluten-free diet:
  1. Become familiar with ingredients that contain gluten. These would include wheat (bulgur, semolina, farro, durum), barley, kamut, spelt, rye, and triticale.
  2. Get rid of any gluten-containing products from your cupboard.  This would be mostly your prepared, packaged foods, such as crackers, cereals, snack bars, breads, bread crumbs, couscous, pasta, flour, cookies, etc.  Keep in mind that many prepared sauces and soups may also have wheat flour in them as a thickener, so be on the lookout for that.  Beer is also commonly made with grains containing gluten, so you may want to stay away from beer, or keep an eye on how it makes you feel if you're only gluten sensitive.
  3. When you eat out, stay away from the bread basket, ask for salads without croutons, and order entrees without breading or pasta.  
  4. If you go out for ice cream, get it in a dish instead of a cone.
  5. Add in new grains to your diet that are gluten-free.  The good news is that there are more grains that are gluten-free than there are ones that contain gluten.  You can choose from amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, teff and tapioca. 
  6. Find out if oats are okay for you.  Oats are on a questionable list for some people, as they can sometimes be contaminated with gluten.  I've found I'm okay with oats, but I don't believe I have celiac disease, just a gluten sensitivity.  You can now find gluten-free oats from some companies, including Bob's Red Mill.  If you're concerned about oats and still want to eat them, look for ones specifically marked as gluten-free.
  7. Re-stock your pantry with gluten-free substitutes.  Here are my favorite replacements:
  • Breads: Udi's Gluten Free breads, soft corn tortillas
  • Crackers: Blue Diamond Almond Thins.  I order them by the case from Amazon.  Any type of rice cracker is safe, too.  We also have corn chips and popping corn around the house if we want a crunchy snack.
  • Cereals: I don't eat boxed cereal anymore.  I tend to make oatmeal or quinoa cereal.
  • Snack bars: LARABAR and KIND Bars (my favorite KIND Bars are the Almond Apricot flavor)
  • Bread crumbs: I often use oats in place of bread crumbs, or I make my own bread crumbs out of gluten-free bread.
  • Pasta: Brown rice pasta and buckwheat pasta.  If you have a Trader Joe's or Whole Foods near you, they carry a good selection of rice pastas.  Spaghetti squash is also very good.
  • A few of my favorite gluten-free grain replacements to eat with meals are quinoa, brown rice or polenta.
  • If you want to continue to bake, stock up your pantry with wheat flour replacements: rice flour, oat flour, arrowroot, potato flour and garbanzo flour are common.  You'll also want to get some xanthan gum to add back the elasticity that will be missing from baked goods without the gluten.
Check out my favorite online resources for recipes and cooking ideas:
Suppliers of gluten-free products:
More and more companies are making gluten-free alternatives, and the availability of more gluten-free grains in stores is becoming increasingly common.

If you have any other questions or suggestions about gluten-free living, please pass them along.  I know more and more people who are cutting gluten out of their diet due to heath reasons, so I'd love to share as much info with everyone as possible!