How to Get Started With a Gluten-Free Diet
Know the Rules of a Gluten-Free Diet
If you just found out from your doctor that you have celiac disease, or you are gluten-intolerant, you may be asking, "What now? What’s the next step?"
One thing is definite—you need to get started on a gluten-free diet. There’s no excuse as some patients report that even small amounts of gluten make them sick for days.
So, how do you do it? First off, you should know the basic rules of the gluten-free diet. Of course, the main rule is to avoid gluten at all times.
Foods You Can't Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet
To avoid eating gluten, you need to know which foods contain gluten. For many who are quite familiar with different food ingredients, this may be easy. But for some who are not, you may need help in identifying them. Here’s a short list of foods containing gluten:
- Avoid foods containing wheat, including triticale, kamut, spelt, durum, cake flour, semolina, couscous, and matza.
- Avoid foods mentioning the use of wheat starch, hydrolyzed wheat protein, and modified wheat starch in the ingredients.
- Avoid foods containing barley as well as malt, malt syrup, malt flavoring, malt vinegar, and malt extract. Watch out, beer-drinkers!
- Avoid foods containing rye, such as rye bread.
Examples of Products That Typically Contain Gluten
Some samples of products which definitely contain wheat, barley, or rye unless labeled as gluten-free include:
- sweet pastries
- gravies and sauces
There are other products which may contain gluten, such as flavorings, soy sauce, and seasoning mixes. It will be very helpful if you read labels carefully.
Watch for Cross-Contamination
It is possible that no gluten ingredients were used in the product, but since it was processed using equipment which also handles wheat products, cross-contamination may have occurred, even in very little amounts. This is usually indicated on the food label.
Now that you know which foods to avoid, you should also know how to substitute them in case you need to use these ingredients in your cooking. This way, you can make gluten-free versions of your favorite dishes.
Here’s a short list of ingredient substitutes you can use for gluten-free cooking. You can either make them yourself from scratch or you can purchase them in specialty stores or order them online.
- Flour for Baking: Use gluten-free flour instead of wheat flour for your baking needs. Some choices include corn flour or cornstarch, rice flour, arrowroot flour, tapioca flour, soy flour, and potato flour. There are also baking flour blends or baking mixes readily available in the market. Just experiment using any of these to find out which is best for your recipe.
- Binders and Thickeners: Instead of using flour as binder or thickener, you can use egg, gelatin, xanthan gum, guar gum, and some gluten-free flour (tapioca starch or cornstarch).
- Breadcrumbs: If you need some breadcrumbs as breading or coating, then just help yourself in crumbling some gluten-free bread or crackers. You can also toast them for extra crunchiness.
- Pasta, Pastries, and Pizza: Many food products naturally made with wheat such as pasta, pastries, and pizza have gluten-free counterparts nowadays. Just look for them in the store or online.
Helpful Tips When Planning a Gluten-Free Diet
You are about to make a big change in your life. You may be doubtful about it, but you are not the only person who ever felt that way. Think that going gluten-free is impossible? Do not lose hope. Below, you will find some helpful tips for people who need to eliminate gluten from every food they eat.
1. You Need a Plan
If you’re not used to planning your day-to-day menu, then it’s time to do something about it. You need to plan ahead what you would be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, include the snacks in your menu plan. Having this thought out in advance will help you make sure that you can buy all the right ingredients when you go shopping.
2. It's Okay to Repeat Meals
This structure of having the same breakfast or lunch for a few days will help make food preparation easy, less stressful, and probably more cost effective.
3. Follow a Nutritionally Balanced Meal Plan
For starters, you need to talk to your doctor or dietitian to know which foods you are allowed and not allowed to eat. Of course, as mentioned above, you need to avoid wheat, barley, and rye and their products (bread and pasta, etc.) as these are the naturally rich sources of gluten.
Included in the foods you are allowed to eat are foods found in nature devoid of gluten, such as meat, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables.
4. See What Products Are Available to You
There are many food products sold in the market today labeled as gluten-free, including breads, pasta, ready-to-eat meals, and snacks. These products were manufactured using substitute ingredients like gluten-free flour (brown rice flour, arrowroot flour, buckwheat flour, or gluten-free flour mixes) and additives like xanthan gum or guar gum to improve flavor and texture and make them comparable to the products originally made using wheat.
Be sure to choose what you buy as many of these so-called gluten-free products are considered junk foods—high in sugar and fat and likewise lacking in vitamins D, minerals (iron), and fiber.
5. Check out the Available Resources
If you have limited ideas to start with a gluten-free diet, you don’t have to worry because there are plenty of available resources. Many are even free.
Doing a quick search online will reveal many websites, blogs and forums that present gluten-free diet plans, with recipes and even shopping lists. You can see some samples from sites such as eatingwell.com and doctoroz.com.
I hope these five tips will be helpful to you and give you a head start as you begin your gluten-free lifestyle.