If you are interested in the topic of eating gluten free, you most likely have no other choice about it. Most people who choose a gluten-free diet (GFD for short) do so because of a specific medical condition called celiac disease.
This condition makes the human body unable to tolerate gluten. This means that wheat, barley, rye, and whatever is made from them are strictly prohibited. Even the smallest crumbs of wheat bread (for example) can cause serious problems. If you are diabetic, you should definitely have a doctor test you for celiac disease, as about 10% of people with type 1 diabetes will also have celiac disease.
Some people choose this diet even if they do not have celiac disease. Many of these people claim that they have experienced various health benefits after eliminating gluten from their diet. Many of them claim to have a gluten sensitivity that has nothing to do with celiac disease. For this reason, researchers have named this new disorder "Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity" or NCGS.
STEP 1 TO BE GLUTEN FREE: REVIEW YOUR CURRENT DIET
The first step is to take a look at your diet and determine what to do. Almost all food products will have the ingredients listed on the package. This is required by law, but if necessary, you can always search for the information online. A damaged label or discarded outer package shouldn't get in the way as long as you have internet access. You are looking for three things in particular: wheat, barley, and rye in any form (including derivatives).
Here you need to buy a notebook and make two lists. One of these lists will contain the foods you can eat, and the other will contain the foods you cannot safely eat. After a while, you will probably memorize the content, but writing it down will help you do it more quickly. Here are a couple of short lists to get you started:
- Fresh eggs
- Fresh Meat / Poultry
- Beans (raw)
- Seeds and nuts
- Most dairy products
- Almost all the breads
- Most desserts
- Pancakes / Waffles
- Some processed meats
STEP 2 TO BE GLUTEN FREE: TAKE A TRIP TO THE GROCERY STORE
Cooking is, to some extent, a matter of creativity. Therefore, you will need to determine what types of materials you can use. Because a gluten-free diet rules out many of the carbohydrate-rich foods most of us are used to, your cooking methods must change accordingly, and substitutes must be found. We'll delve more into substitutes shortly, but for now, just take your notebook to the grocery store.
Go down the aisles and check the ingredients of any product that appeals to you. As you review your ingredients, update your list accordingly, for a better reference point. Again, be sure to research anything you feel unsure about. When doing this, keep in mind that most products will not specifically state that they contain gluten. However, if a product is labeled "gluten-free," you can be pretty sure that it is actually gluten-free. They are forbidden by law to lie in this case, so that label is pretty reliable. As before, look for wheat, barley, rye and everything derived from them. Wheat will be your most common problem by far, as it is used much more than the other two.
STEP 3 TO BE GLUTEN FREE: INFORM FRIENDS AND FAMILY
As with all pack animals, humans often eat together as a social activity. As such, you should probably inform all of your friends and family (or at least those you see regularly) about your GFD. This will help ensure that you are not tempted by gluten-containing foods and that you do not accidentally eat gluten at Christmas dinner or some other occasion. A college environment also presents unique challenges.
For those who live with you, certain precautions will be required to avoid cross contamination. These precautions shouldn't be too troublesome. For example, let's say someone makes a sandwich on the kitchen counter and they leave a few breadcrumbs behind. Then another person with gluten intolerance shows up and prepares the food at the same counter and has a reaction to the crumbs. Any of the family members could have avoided this problem simply by cleaning the counter.
Peer pressure is one of those things that affects us all (although we don't want to admit it). Sticking to a gluten-free diet is much easier if those around you aren't trying to force their ideas on you. Of course, I'm not telling you to interrupt your friends for offering you toast, just being aware that humans are pack animals, and therefore naturally we want to do what the rest of the pack is doing.
STEP 4 TO BE GLUTEN FREE: INVESTIGATE ABOUT SUBSTITUTES
Having adjusted your diet, you can now look for substitutes. It's a good idea to stop using bread products entirely so that you don't even want something that is harmful to you. However, once you have completely divorced yourself from bread, you should start looking for substitutes like rice flour.
Technically, flour can be made from any dry, powdered substance. People have made flour out of so many different things, the list might surprise you. Of course, none of them will work exactly like wheat flour. Still, your options are numerous here.
STEP 5 TO BE GLUTEN FREE: INVESTIGATE THE GRAY AREAS
There are some non-food products that often contain gluten, such as certain cosmetics that use gluten-containing products as fillers. Play dough also contains gluten, making it a risk for gluten-sensitive children. Kids have long been known to eat playdough occasionally, so keep it out of the house if your child can't eat gluten. Some multivitamins also contain gluten, so always check the label.
Medications are another potential source of unwanted gluten. While the vast majority of medications contain little or no gluten, some of them are known to use it as a base for other substances. However, this problem is not particularly difficult to treat, as any good doctor will avoid giving you medications that contain gluten. Just be sure to always inform your doctor about your gluten intolerance, even if you are being treated for a totally unrelated condition.
Fortunately, you can check with your doctor if you think it's necessary. The FDA requires proper labeling of gluten-containing medications so that people with celiac disease or NCGS can avoid them.
CERTAIN FOOD PRODUCTS EXIST IN A GRAY AREA BETWEEN “SAFE” AND “UNSAFE”.
Soup is a good example. While most soups do not contain bread, some of them use wheat as the base. This is something you see mostly in cheaper brands, as wheat is a cheap and readily available filler. This is why some soups are gluten-free and some are not. Another good example would be vinegar. Malted vinegar contains gluten and therefore should be avoided. However, apple cider vinegar and other unmalted vinegar are fine.
When it comes to sweets, be especially careful, as about half of the most popular types contain gluten. When adding candy products to your lists, be sure to include them by the specific product name, as there is a lot of variation.
Soy sauce and oatmeal are different cases. These are examples of foods that do not contain gluten, but are typically processed with foods that do contain gluten. So this is another case where it will vary by brand.
As you can see, a gluten-free lifestyle doesn't have to be a difficult lifestyle. Once you get used to a few simple rules and precautions, it will become second nature and no longer require serious effort. So, let's review the five easy steps:
-Examine your diet, throwing out anything made with wheat, barley or rye. At the same time, prepare your "safe" and "unsafe" lists.
-Take a trip to the grocery store with your notebook and fill out your lists.
-Inform your family and close friends that gluten is dangerous for your health. This is so they can avoid cross contamination and so that you are less tempted to stray from your gluten-free lifestyle.
-Inquire about the different substitutions that can be used in place of your favorite gluten-containing foods.
-Consider and investigate gray areas, such as non-food items that contain gluten and foods that are sometimes just safe.
By following these five easy steps, you can switch to a gluten-free diet with minimal effort and minimal risk. Try not to see your condition as a problem. In a very real way, it's a problem, but it won't benefit you to think this way. Instead, see it as a challenge and an excuse to live a healthier life, something we should all be doing anyway.