Lots of people are avoiding gluten these days for lots of reasons: celiac disease, gluten intolerance or sensitivity, inflammation issues, or a realization that going gluten-free seems to improve everyday health. And of course there’s the curious contingent of folks who like to taste what all the fuss is about. For them, accidentally ingesting gluten is no big deal, but for the people who need to avoid it, going gluten-free can be tricky at first. The good news is that a gluten-free lifestyle isn’t nearly as difficult as people think. And it’s unexpectedly tasty, too!
- Relying on pre-made ingredients, convenience foods, and restaurant meals is difficult for gluten-free folks, but if you cook your own food and avoid using processed ingredients, it’s easy to avoid gluten. The ONLY foods that contain gluten are wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives. That said, those derivatives include grain-based products containing semolina, durum, bulgur, couscous, spelt, kamut (all variants of wheat) and oats that have been cross-contaminated with wheat. A full list of safe/not-safe ingredients can be found on the Celiac Support Association’s “Grains & Flours Glossary”: http://www.csaceliacs.org/grains_and_flours_glossary.jsp.
- Obvious potential sources of gluten include baked goods, cereals, multi-grain products, anything thickened with a cream sauce (which is typically made with roux, a sauce based on wheat and butter), beer, soy sauce (look for wheat-free tamari instead), and malted ingredients (typically malted with barley).
- Not-so-obvious sources of gluten include salad dressings, soups, broths, processed meats, vegetables with prepared sauces (Asian sauces in particular tend to include wheat-based soy sauce), and ice cream flavors with ingredients like cookie dough, graham crackers, and brownie chunks. It’s always wise to check for a label stating that a product is gluten-free.
- Remember that while all packaging is required to clearly list wheat since it’s a major allergen, “wheat-free” is not necessarily gluten-free; the item could still contain barley or rye. But wheat-free is a good starting point, and for those who are allergic to wheat but don’t have problems with gluten, deciphering food packaging is much easier than it used to be.
- Nowadays, it’s easy to find gluten-free pastas, baked goods, and breakfast foods. The problem? Most of these products are made with stripped-out starches such as white rice flour, corn starch, potato starch, tapioca starch, and arrowroot starch. Starchy foods send blood sugar levels skyrocketing and can lead to problems of their own, so look for products containing whole-grain and whole-food flours. Better yet, make your own! Most baked goods do just fine in a whole-grain/whole-food, gluten-free form: pancakes, brownies, crepes, muffins, quick breads, waffles, granola, you name it.
Going gluten-free is much easier than you think!
For more tips, tricks, recipes and more check-out my book The Guide to a Gluten-Free Diet, co-authored with David Brownstein, M.D. and/or download my FREE Shopping guide HERE