Let’s just face the truth, going gluten-free is a little stressful and a lot overwhelming. Many people not only have to go gluten-free, but dairy-free, corn-free, egg-free, soy-free… When someone receives that kind of news from their doctor, usually the first thing they experience is panic and they wonder if there is anything they can eat. First, my main piece of advice if you are new to this world, is to take it slow and easy for the first couple of weeks. Chances are, you’ve been feeling terrible for a long time and taking a week or so to get yourself organized and familiar with your new life is not going to kill you. Of course you’ll want to double-check that with your doctor first! So, if you can set aside an hour here and there to get your new diet organized over let’s say, a week’s period of time, you are going to cut down the stress of figuring this whole gluten-free thing out by at least 95%.
If you enjoy cooking and baking, you’re going to be shocked at how many things you’re eating now that you can actually make gluten-free. If your favorite place to be isn’t the kitchen and you’re only proficient at burning water, that’s OK, because there are products out there for you too. You’re not going to starve.
1. Go through all of the food in your fridge, cupboards, and pantry to determine what is OK for you to eat. (Basically, you cannot eat anything with wheat, barley, or rye. Also, you cannot eat oats that are not labeled gluten-free. (Google “gluten-free grains and flours” for more information.) Don’t forget your freezer. Unfortunately, many meat products like turkey bacon, sausage, chicken nuggets, hamburger patties, hot dogs, and lunch meats have gluten. Check the labels, and if in doubt, look it up on the internet. Sometimes when they list “natural ingredients”, that means there’s gluten somewhere in there.
2. Find a grocery store in your area that has a “health food” section. If you’re lucky, they’ll even have a gluten-free section. If you’re in a small town, it may be difficult. You might have to shop via the internet or take a day trip to a larger town to find what you need. Familiarize yourself with some of the things that you might like to try, and keep an eye out for things that you’ll need to replace at home like all purpose flour, pasta, breads, cookies, crackers, certain condiments, etc.
3. Remember, there are TONS of gluten free items in the regular isles as well. It’s becoming more common for manufacturers to label their products gluten-free or at least list the common allergens that are in them. And yes, gluten is becoming a common allergen. Google is another great tool for this. If I’m in doubt, I Google the product name to figure out if I can eat it. For example, Is Hunt’s Ketchup Gluten Free? Tons of people post things about gluten-free items so it’s easy to figure it out quickly.
4. Look up all of your favorite restaurant websites and check to see if they have gluten-free menus or options.
5. Start slowly. There’s still a lot of food that you can eat that didn’t have gluten to begin with, like fruits, vegetables, some meats, etc. Gluten-free and “specialty foods” can be quite pricey so just buy a few things at first and give them a try. I started with the basics – pasta, bread, cereal. Then moved on to bread mixes, different types of flour, xanthan gum, etc. You’ll learn quickly which items you would be willing to buy again and which items you can’t believe people will eat.
6. Once you’ve been on your gluten-free road for a couple of weeks and you understand more about your diet needs and where to find the items you like, you can start experimenting a little. Go to your local bookstore and look through their gluten-free cook books. There are tons of options! (I’m also beginning to review cook books for this blog, so stay tuned.)
7. Spend some time researching gluten-free blogs and recipes on the internet. There are literally thousands upon thousands. If you want to make gluten-free lasagna, Google it! You’ll have 20 different recipes in 3 seconds right at your fingertips. Tweak them to your liking or get really adventurous and make up your own recipes. It’s exciting and amazingly rewarding! Pretty much anything you need to know about living gluten-free and cooking gluten-free is available on the internet and in bookstores.
See, it’s all figured out – no worries! Broken down into manageable steps that don’t involve curse words or tears. Take it slowly, stay calm. This is a new beginning, a fresh start, an opportunity to fill your belly and nourish your body with things that don’t make you sick! Look forward to it, get excited about it! It’s Gluten Free Zen…