Transitioning to a gluten free diet can often feel scary and overwhelming. Dining out, shopping for food and even finding new recipes can feel especially daunting in the beginning as you learn the dos and don’ts of gluten free living.
If you’re here right now it’s likely because you or a loved one was recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Or perhaps you’re just trying out something new in the pursuit of better health. No matter what reason you’ve found yourself here today I hope to help you navigate and feel confident in your gluten free journey going forward.
So with all that being said, here are a few tips to get you started!
Get a Toaster
First things first: if you’ve just been diagnosed and you have a toaster you most certainly want to get a new one ASAP. There will surely be crumbs all throughout the toaster which will contaminate your new gluten free bread quite easily. At the very least you’ll need to give it a good cleaning before use.
When it comes to actually eating your new gluten free bread, it might take a few purchases before you find your new go-to bread. We’ve eaten a LOT of gluten free bread over the years and some loaves have definitely been better than others. They’re can often taste/feel quite dry and maybe a little bland. I find that the best way to improve the bread is to toast it. Once it’s been toasted gluten free bread is hardly that different from regular gluten free bread.
Head for the Gluten Free Section
Ok so right off the bat I’d like to apologise for how obvious this tip is, but I do think it’s important to keep in mind for anyone who’s either new to living life gluten free or shopping for someone who has to eat gluten free.
Most major grocery stores will have at least one gluten free section where you’ll be able to find many essential, certified gluten free items (bread, pasta, flours etc). Be sure to also check the freezer section as many large grocery stores also have a dedicated free-from section to pursue through.
It might be a good idea to stick primarily to this section, until you get more confident with reading labels and seeking out safe, gluten free food option. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear what food items are safe/unsafe for gluten free eaters as there are no set laws in place when it comes to highlight potential gluten allergens. While you should always be able to clearly find wheat and gluten listed in the label, companies don’t have to say whether or not their gluten free food is processed and manufactured in shared spaces with food that contains gluten. That leads my next tip….
Understand What Cross Contamination is
Gluten cross contamination is when food that is inherently gluten free comes in contact with gluten.
This can easily happen during manufacturing if gluten free food is produced or packaged on a production line that also processes gluten-containing food.
It can also happen easily in cooking if gluten free foods are cooking in the same oil or equipment as non gluten free food. This is the main problem with dining out or sharing a kitchen with gluten-eaters.
Sometimes a small amount of cross contamination is inevitable if you’re dealing with a lot of food. In many places like the US, Canada and Europe it’s been decided that food can contain at most 20 parts of gluten per million (20ppm) and still be considered safe enough for a celiac to eat.
What does 20ppm look like?
Take a slice of bread, chop it up into a million little pieces. 20 of those piece are technically considered to be safe for people with gluten sensitivity. Keep in mind though that it’s always a good idea to avoid even the smallest amount of gluten as it can quickly add up throughout the day.
Always Check (and Double Check!) the Label
Even if you’re lucky enough to shop somewhere with a dedicated gluten free section there will still be many items found throughout the store that aren’t specified as being gluten free. Think spices, condiments, grains etc. It’s important to always remember to check the labels on foods that don’t clearly specify being gluten free – you might be surprised by at just how many place you can find hidden gluten.
Also keep in mind:
- Manufactures often change up recipes and manufacturing practices. Just because something used to be gluten free doesn’t mean it still is.
- Gluten free sections often contain other ‘free-from’ foods. It’s not uncommon to find vegan food that’s dairy free and egg free next to or mixed in with the gluten free food. If you’re not fully paying attention it’s easy to assume you’re picking up something that’s gluten free when it’s not.
Ask Questions – A LOT of Questions
At the end of the day it’s entirely your responsibility to ensure that you stay gluten free. When dining out, whether it’s at restaurants, BBQ’s and family or friend gatherings, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions to waiters and hosts to ensure your what you’re eating is gluten free. Even the most well meaning people can forget about possible cross contamination issues.
The first time my husband and I ate out after he was diagnosed he was given the gluten free menu after letting the waiter know about his diet. Out of an abundance of caution he asked the waiter about how the chips were fried (AKA fries for my fellow Americans). He was concerned that they might have been cooked in the same fryer that was used to cook fried chicken. After asking our waiter, the waiter ran to the kitchen to ask the chef and came back to tell us that they were in fact cooked in the same fryer.
You might feel like a pain asking so many questions, but your health is more important!
Google is your friend.
This is another fairly basic tip, but one to keep in mind. When it comes to grocery shopping, if I’m not sure whether or not something is safe for coeliac consumption – I’ll just pull out my phone and look it up.
Just search “‘x’ brand gluten free”. Often times brands will state somewhere on their website their gluten free policy explaining any potential allergens or cross contamination issues. If there isn’t a clear explanation on the website, chances are someone else possibly in a forum or blog already asked that question and did the work for you.
Learn How to Cook
Alright. This sounds a bit lame and cliche to say, but take your health and your happiness into your own hands!
No doubt, gluten free food has come a long way from its dark early days of vacuumed sealed bread and stale crackers. There are now so many legitimately delicious options when it comes to dining out and shopping for food. That being said, it’s still key that you learn how to cook and prepare food with your new diet restrictions. While options have improved, they’re still limited. You can’t always rely on dining out and you might need to bring your own food to friend and family gatherings. The best way to combat the feeling of missing out on your favourite food is to make it yourself.
As you look for recipes to make in the early gluten free days I recommend keeping a few things in mind:
- Start out with recipes that are already naturally gluten free. Instead of trying to adapt a new recipe, stick with once that you can follow and enjoy exactly as they are supposed to be.
- Look for recipes that focus on whole foods. Usually it will contain a main protein with vegetable or starchy side. Key words like ‘paleo, whole30, low fodmap, low carb’ will almost always be gluten free.
- Recipes that call for breadcrumbs or a lightly battered protein can usually be very easily swapped out for gluten free bread crumbs or flour without much trouble.
- When it comes to baking – look for gluten free recipes. Until you are comfortable making substitutes it’s better to find a recipe that was designed to be gluten free as opposed to a regular gluten recipe that you try to make with gluten free flours. There is often a different balance of fats and moisture needed to make up for all the different grains.
How Long Before You Start Feeling Better?
It’s important to remember to listen to the advice of your doctor and give your body time to heal.
It’s different for everyone, but if you’ve given up gluten due to an intolerance, allergy or Celiac diagnosis you’re likely start seeing some improvement within a few days to a few weeks.
Long term, it can take a months to years of following a gluten free diet before you see more significant improvements to your health. This is especially true if were left undiagnosed for a long time.
If you have any more questions, please let me know in the comments below! I’m more than happy to add to this post as needed.
If you have any tips or things to keep in mind for anyone else who might be transitioning to a gluten free diet I’d love for you to share them below as well!