In the last week or so, I’ve had several friends talk to me about going gluten-free. About six years ago, I asked my doctor to test me for a wheat allergy after years of digestive problems. She said she really didn’t think that was the issue but went ahead and ran the blood test. Much to her surprise, it came back with an indicator that I may be wheat and/or gluten-intolerant. She recommended I visit a gastroenternologist. The did a scope of my intestines and the results were “suspicious but not conclusive). He told me to go ahead and cut gluten out of my diet and see what happen. Within two-weeks, all the stomach problems I had experienced for several years were gone. I know for others it can take longer to see results – maybe more like a month of being gluten-free.
One of the firsts books I bought was The Gluten-Free Bible by Jax Peters Lowell. It is pretty overwhelming but covers pretty much everything. I never read the whole book but used it as a reference point as I started to eat gluten-free. Basically, I just stopped eating anything with wheat. That meant no pizza, no sandwiches, no pasta, no crackers, no cereal, etc. A few things have changed since I went gluten-free. The FDA now mandates that any products containing any of the eight major food allergens (milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soybeans) must be clearly stated on the label. This certainly helps but wheat-free does not necessarily mean gluten-free. Trader Joe’s puts a label on all gluten-free products and most major grocery stores now have a small gluten-free section (or products that have gluten-free signage throughout the store). It is a lot easier to eat a gluten-free diet now than it was several years ago. Someone said to me the other day, “You were gluten-free before it was cool.”
So, here are my top-five tips for going gluten-free simply (you can get more adventurous after you try it out for a bit):
- The perimeter of the grocery store is your friend. Fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy gluten-free (unless something has been added to them). Rice and potatoes are also okay in their natural state (you have to be careful with mixes though).
- Before eating at a restaurant (including fast-food), search online to see if they have a gluten-free/wheat-free menu or call ahead to see if they can tell you what they can provide. I always hate when they make a big deal about it at the table. Some places have even had the chef come to our table to talk to me. I HATE this. Once at Pei Wei, the server came to the table and said, “Who ordered the allergy meal?” Sounds delicious. So, I prepare ahead of time. If you have no choice about where you are eating, be prepared to eat a very plain salad (Sad but true).
- Don’t cheat. I’ve never really determined if I am gluten-intolerant or if I have celiac disease. The symptoms I have sound more like gluten-intolerance. If I accidentally have something (and this rarely happens), I can tell within twenty-four hours. People ask me all the time if I cheat and I always tell them if just isn’t worth it. That said, I don’t stress out about cross-contamination as much as others may. For example, I know Qdoba states that there is possibility for cross-contamination in the preparation of their wheat-free/gluten-free products. I eat there often and have never had an issue. You have to determine how sensitive you are and if it is a risk you want to take.
- Eat before you go out and/or offer to bring something. I know this sounds kind of annoying but you never know what you might be able to eat when going to a shower, party or other social event at someone’s home. If we are eating a the house of someone who does not know us well, I always tell them ahead of time that I am gluten-free. I offer to bring something, especially if they seem overwhelmed with the idea of cooking within these restrictions.
- Find a gluten-free bakery near you. I am at Sugar Kisses at least once a week. I seem to hear about a new one every month and if you want bread but don’t want to make it yourself, this is probably your best bet. There are a few brands sold in grocery stores with decent options. I like Udi’s products and Whole Food’s (both are usually in the freezer section).