Has your doctor recently told you to go gluten free? Or maybe your doctor has no idea how to treat your symptoms and you’ve wondered if a gluten-free diet will help. From personal experience, I believe it does make a difference, and for some, it makes a HUGE difference! My post An Open Letter to People Who Think I’m on a Fad Diet (Why I Eat Gluten Free) gives many compelling reasons why the gluten-free lifestyle is a positive health change for many people. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you are curious how it could impact your life, I encourage you to try a gluten-free diet for at least a month.
Ask your practitioner to test you for celiac disease before you change your diet. This is significant for several reasons. If you test positive for celiac, it validates the struggles you’ve had with your health. Some celiacs have told me it was an enormous relief to find a diagnosis. Secondly, you will know with certainty that a gluten-free diet is necessary for the rest of your life. And third, it also helps you deal with the social awkwardness of going gluten free. Then you have something concrete to tell your friends and family. “I have celiac disease and cannot eat gluten.”
If you do not test positive for celiac, I still encourage you to try a gluten-free diet. You may have some level of gluten sensitivity, like in my case. Even though I have the genetic markers for celiac, I don’t think I have celiac. (My original celiac test was inconclusive since I had already been gluten free for a year.) But I KNOW I have sensitivity to gluten, often called non-celiac gluten sensitivity or NCGS. The overwhelming positive changes I felt when going gluten free was enough evidence for me.
Now to the practical! How do you do gluten free? Where do you start?
Some of the tips I offer will apply to the Portland, Oregon area only. But if you are reading this across the country, much of it will still be relevant.
- Most importantly, focus on what you CAN eat. Shift your perspective from what you can’t eat to a positive outlook. Think of all you are learning and how many different foods, especially vegetables, which God has created for us to eat. Enjoy them!
- Eliminate all gluten from your pantry and refrigerator. This includes wheat, barley, rye, contaminated oats, and processed foods that contain gluten. Some people can tolerate gluten-free oats. Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukie is a good source of GF oats from their dedicated gluten-free facility. (Bob’s products are also sold at most major grocery chains.)
- Know the hidden sources of gluten and their names. Read labels like crazy. Celiac.com has a helpful list.
- Attend a gluten-free tour at New Seasons Market. This is a wonderful way to educate yourself about the gluten-free lifestyle and products from one of their nutritionists. It’s free. Just call the store and sign up. I highly recommend it!
- If you like to read, pick up the book Gluten-Free Cooking For Dummies. When we were dating, my husband-to-be dove into this book to learn about my “strange” diet. He found it quite helpful. There are many wonderful books about gluten-free living out there, but they tend to be health and science oriented. This one is practical.
- Shop the perimeter of your local grocery store. Avoid the center aisles where processed foods can sit for weeks and weeks! Find foods that are naturally gluten free, like vegetables, fruit, dairy, eggs, and meat. Better yet, buy from farmers’ markets and local farms. You will be experience better health overall if your groceries are made of real food that can spoil.
- Find good substitutes for bread and pasta. Gluten-free bread used to be tasteless! Fortunately, there are good options now. Franz, Rudi’s, and Udi’s all have very good breads that can be found at most major grocery chains. Costco has a GF version that my brother really enjoys. For pasta, try Ancient Harvest and Tinkyada. Instead of bread or pasta, consider eating winter squashes like acorn, butternut, spaghetti, and kabocha. We enjoy them baked in halves in the oven or cut up in cubes and steamed or fried on the stovetop.
- If you are a baker, learn which gluten-free flours mix well together. At first, shop for gluten-free flour mixes. As you gain more confidence, then you can try mixing your own GF flours. Rice, almond and coconut flours are our go-to favorites. Bob’s Red Mill offers a vast bulk section of gluten-free flours at their store that is less expensive than pre-packaged flour bags. Browse my recipes page to find gluten and grain-free recipes (most are dairy free as well!). You can also search for gluten-free baking recipes online.
- Experiment with other gluten-free grains, like rice, quinoa and buckwheat. Quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) cooks just like rice and buckwheat flakes or grits make delicious hot cereal for breakfast. Buckwheat is not related to wheat, even though it’s in the name!
- Label everything that is gluten-free in your home. I encourage you to create an entirely gluten-free kitchen. It’s just plain easier! But if you live with family members who still crave wheat and are not ready to give it up, then label all of your GF items in the pantry and refrigerator. If you are celiac or highly sensitive to gluten, it’s crucial that you use two of everything to prevent cross-contamination. You will need separate toasters, cutting boards, wooden spoons, hand towels, sponges, and more. For more detailed information, read my helpful post Organizing Tips for Your Gluten-Free Kitchen. If you become overwhelmed, consider my kitchen organizing services! I was a professional organizer long before I was a blogger.
- Discover local gluten-free bakeries and restaurants for a special treat! We are so blessed to live in the Portland-metro area, where an abundance of gluten-free options surround us! Gluten-Free Portland has a list of our wonderful local restaurants.
- For more personal support, attend a Gluten Intolerance Group meeting in your area. The Portland branch meets on the second Saturday of each month from 10am-12noon. My husband and I appreciate the mutual encouragement of the gluten-free community at these meetings. Plus, there are always gluten-free snacks to sample! Learn more on the Portland GIG Facebook page.
Be aware that processed food manufacturers have caught up with demands for gluten-free foods and offer numerous high-sugar, high-starch packaged goods that are not much better than their wheat counterparts. To keep your new gluten-free diet healthy, minimize the amount of gluten-free processed foods you eat and shop for whole foods. The transition may be difficult at first, but it does get easier! The time and effort you spend will pay dividends in your health.
Blessings to you in your gluten-free journey!