If you are just starting the gluten-free diet, or have been on it for a while, but have been struggling with what to eat, this post is for you. There are a plethora of gluten-free specialty products on the store shelves these days, but I firmly believe that starting simple is the way to go.
1. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods. This means shopping the perimeter of the store for the most part. Produce section, meat and/or seafood department and dairy department. If the food is naturally gluten-free, and many in these departments are, you know it is safe for you to consume.
2. Of those foods mentioned in #1, stick with foods you know you like to start. When I started the diet 7+ years ago, I ate brown rice and black beans topped with cheddar cheese as my lunch staple for months. I knew those foods were naturally gluten-free, thus safe for me to eat.
3. Don’t worry about trying to find replacements right now for your gluten-filled favorites. While there are many great tasting gluten-free specialty items out there, if you look immediately for them to replace foods you can no longer have, you may be disappointed. Eating without those replacements for a few weeks or so will go a long way when you are ready to start adding them into your diet.
Once you feel a little more comfortable eating gluten-free, you can move forward.
1. Get a new toaster. Putting gluten-free toast in a toaster that has had gluten-filled bread in it is going to render your gluten-free bread contaminated. Toasters are roughly $15 at Walmart, so well worth the money it will cost you. If you have others in the house still eating gluten, label your toaster with a piece or tape, or do as I did and just write on the outside of it with a Sharpie.
2. Stay clear of soy sauce unless you are sure it is gluten-free. There are several gluten-free brands on the market (La Choy, San-J and Kikkoman now makes a GF version). Additionally, some sauces & marinades may contain soy sauce, so don’t be so sure the grilled chicken you are ordering at a restaurant is gluten-free unless you have double checked.
3. Along the lines of the toaster, get new condiments and label them “gluten-free” if you are sharing them with others. “Double dipping” utensils will quickly contaminate your condiments and could leave gluten crumbs behind.
4. Beware of the ingredient “natural flavorings”, which may contain barley malt (malt flavoring). While wheat does have to be called out on the label, barley does not under the current law. Natural flavorings can be found in many processed foods and drinks on the market. Some of the products that we have been the victims of include pancake syrup (100% maple syrup is the best and gluten-free, as is Aunt Jemima) and Powerade. There are many companies that will clearly label gluten on the label and I tend to be loyal to those companies.
5. Check your medication for gluten. There is an excellent site that is maintained by a local clinical pharmacist called Gluten-Free Drugs. If you are unable to verify your medication, call the manufacturer or your pharmacist and ask. For the record Tums (brand name) and Beano are not gluten-free.
6. In reference to #4, don’t assume you are free & clear on drinks. Unless you are drinking unflavored water, milk, 100% juice, unflavored tea (and even some of these may contain barley, so check), or unflavored coffee you need to verify that what you are drinking is gluten-free.
7. Cross contamination is a real concern when dining out (or even in your own home!). Picking the croutons off of your salad is not sufficient. Make sure to speak with the manager or chef on duty to ask about their methods for preventing the cross contamination of your food. Unless you have worked in a restaurant, you may not be aware of some of the methods used to prepare food. If you have, you know what I am talking about. Veggies can be steamed in pasta water; ingredients that contain gluten may be kept right next to gluten-free ingredients on the line; eggs used for omelets may be thickened with pancake batter to make them fluffier; the same utensils may be used to plate your gluten-free food that just plated that burger or chicken fingers; your “gluten-free” fries or tortilla chips may be fried in a fryer with chicken fingers or onion rings.
8. Check your beauty products. If it goes on your face, it has a potential to be in your mouth. I know that most people don’t willing eat their mascara, but better to be safe than sorry, right?
9. Shampoo, hairspray, lotions, etc should also be checked. While it is true that gluten does not get absorbed through the skin, some people who suffer from dermatitis herpetiformis need to avoid skin contact with gluten as well as consuming gluten. Additionally, if you get hairspray in your mouth, don’t wash the lotion off of your hands, use an antibacterial gel with gluten (ahem…thanks a lot Bath & Body Works), it is best to just make sure they are gluten-free.
10. If you drink alcoholic beverages, check your alcohol. Malt beverages are not gluten-free. This means most wine coolers these days and most beers (though there are plenty of gluten-free beer options) are not gluten-free. Triumph Dining has a nice list of gluten-free alcohol here. Easy choices are wine, Woodchuck or Crispin hard ciders.
11. Always, always read the label! Even now,7+ years into this, I read the label. Companies are notorious for changing suppliers and therefore that once gluten-free product may no longer be gluten-free.
12. Yogurt is not always gluten-free. Plain yogurt is, yes, but not always the flavored yogurt. Dannon is one of those who will only say their plain yogurt is gluten-free. Yoplait labels their gluten-free varieties “gluten-free”.