Last week, we talked about my sister, Alison, and her journey (along with my mom’s unexpected join-in) with learning to live gluten-free. Two weekends ago I took her and my mother to the happiest place on earth- no, not Disney World, Whole Foods- to teach them a little bit about learning to be g-free. One of the first things I primed them on was a few personal tips for making the change.
Going Gluten-free: Kristin’s tips
1. Familiarize yourself with the term. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and contaminated oats (in the US, oats have to be specifically labeled “gluten-free” in order to be considered safe, in Canada it is illegal to label oat-containing products as gluten-free). This includes common grain products such as anything made with flour, bulgur-often found in middle eastern dishes, semolina and durum (pasta), cous cous, ancient grains such as spelt (though some people with gluten intolerances can tolerate spelt over wheat, I can not), kamut, triticate and farro. It also includes terms such as malt, einkorn, germ, orzo, bran, emmer, and more. Seitan, a common vegan protein substitute is made from wheat gluten- avoid it at all costs. Common condiments such as teriyaki sauce, some worcestershire sauces and soy sauce (not tamari, which is most often wheat-free) contain wheat.
2. Learn what foods are gluten-free. There is no reason to feel deprived when on a gluten-free diet, it opens us up to a whole new world of delicious grains and legumes, many of which you might not have even heard of or tried! My new favorite is millet, but there are plenty more to choose from! Here are a few: rice (short or long grain brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice and though not as healthy, all forms of white rice) is gluten-free. So is buckwheat (confusing with the name, I know) and buckwheat soba noodles, quinoa- another personal favorite, corn and most corn products (check cornbread mixes and corn tortillas, but please stay away from corn derivitives like HFCS!), sorghum, gluten-free labeled oats, teff, amaranth, tapioca, arrowroot, legumes and legume flours (such as garbanzo flour), coconut, potatoes of all kinds, as well as all fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, oils, tofu and most tempeh, fresh meat, fish and dairy without additives if you roll with that.
3. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, sexy! (We’re not calling anyone stupid around here, after all-you’re reading this! ) What you read above were all the wonderful whole forms of gluten-free products. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, fresh meat and fish or small amounts of soy- these are all gluten free, fresh and wholesome- exactly the kind of food I recommend to all my family, friends, clients and you, my lovely blog readers. By keeping it simple and eating whole foods, you avoid having to read through labels fourteen times, making mistakes with packaged foods and paying for it later (all my allergy-prone friends know what I’m talking about) and in turn you’re also eating a well balanced natural foods diet. Karina has a wonderful starter list of simple gluten-free meals. For a family, a simple roasted free-range chicken with your own oil/butter, garlic, herbs and spices along with some brown rice and a steamed vegetable is a simple, healthful meal. A big quinoa salad with fresh veggies and beans is a great option. A vegetarian stir fry with tempeh and an abundance of vegetables over brown rice also works. Potatoes are one of the most versatile starches there is, and it is totally gluten free. Keep it simple, but don’t be afraid to play!
4. Learn to love being gluten-free. Instead of thinking of it as a burden, think of it as a wonderful new opportunity. You’re doing something great for your body, something that feels good-reward yourself! Go shopping for a variety of fresh colorful gluten-free produce, grab a few bulk bags of quinoa and millet, and maybe treat yourself to some brown rice flour to make some cookies with. After all, once you bake the cookies you get to eat them! You don’t have to be that girl. Don’t refuse dinner dates because you’re afraid of the menu. Check it online or call ahead to find out your options instead of coming unprepared. You’ll likely find most chefs are accomodating and you’ll have a delicious dish to eat when you arrive! Focus on the things you can eat, not the things you can’t.
5. Ease into it. Keep it simple (see above!) and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you have a few flops in the kitchen trying out new gluten free flours or grains, so be it! It happens to the best of us. No really- you should have seen my first gluten-free cookie attempt. Not pretty. Gluten-free living is not the same as living with gluten (duh, Kristin)- it’s going to be harder eating out, saying no to a slice of birthday cake, and learning to love some gluten-free products that just aren’t the same as you’ve always known. It’s ok, everyone goes through this. You’ll learn to be ok with your status as a gluten-free girl (or guy!) because it makes you feel better, and that is the most important thing. And it will be easier! Soon you’ll be a pro at ordering at restaurants, navigating the health food store and baking gluten free cupcakes.
6. Find replacements for your favorites. If you love pasta, you don’t have to go without pasta! I know my sister is a HUGE pasta fan and this worried her a bit- but as soon as she tried a couple of brands of brown rice pasta (I also love quinoa pasta), and my mom learned gluten free pasta takes a little longer to cook than regular after a few ultra al dente experiences (love you mom) she was totally ok with not being able to eat the wheat stuff. Now she even admits the other stuff always made her sick, as much as she loved it! Remember the textures may be a little different than what you’re used to, but you’ll get used to them- promise. And if you still don’t like one particular brand? Try another! We’re lucky gluten-free is becoming more mainstream and there are more and more options arriving on shelves every day. Spend a little extra time searching the health food store, or even scour your local grocery to see what they have in stock.
7. Experiment in the kitchen. Once you’ve kept it simple for a while, play around, have some fun! There are all these new and exciting products to try now I’m sure you passed over in the store many times before (“mill-ettt”… or is it “mill-eh”? Isn’t that bird food?), invent something new. Make food as enjoyable as possible- this is the way you’re going to live, might as well do it in style! Find new comfort dishes and get excited about being g-free.
Do you have any tips on going gluten free?
Please note I am not a doctor or medical professional. What I am is a classically trained chef with University-level nutrition training and a whole lot of personal experience. Please consult with your doctor or nutritionist before deciding to make a large dietary change.