Beginner’s Guide to Going Gluten-Free
Congratulations! With the initial shock of a celiac diagnosis, I know you may not feel like celebrating, but this can often be the start of feeling better than you ever have. Let’s walk through the steps of getting started on your new lifestyle.
Step 1: Get the green light before starting.
Make sure all of the medical “stuff” is squared away. That means making sure you’ve been to the gastroenterologist and received all of the necessary tests. Trust me, this removes a lot of hassle later on.
Step 2: Get support!
Ask your health care team about a local support group. If they don’t know of one, Google is your best buddy. It can be a huge help to talk to people who were in your shoes a few months or years ago and lived to tell the tale. There are many online support groups, too.
Step 3: Get your baby toe wet.
There is a ton of information on the internet, but you don’t need me to remind you that there’s a huge quality range of all that info, too. If you’re an online kind of guy or gal, start with these sites:
• Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: www.celiacnow.com
• Center for Celiac Research: www.celiaccenter.org
• Gluten Intolerance Group: www.gluten.net
• National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: www.celiaccentral.org
• University of Chicago’s Celiac Center: www.cureceliacdisease.org
If books are more your speed:
• The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed by Jules Shepherd
• The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Eating by Eve Adamson and Tricia Thompson, MS, RD
• Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic by Peter Green, MD and Rory Jones
Step 4: Get some professional support, too.
• Find an experienced Registered Dietitian or nutrition professional and set up a time to chat. It’s totally appropriate to ask them how long they’ve worked with people with celiac disease. For lists of professionals, visit www.eatright.org and www.gluten.net. These are great places to start. If you cannot find anyone local, there are people such as myself who work with clients via phone or Skype.
• Bring a partner or close friend along to the appointments. Two sets of eyes and ears are better than one. Or try using a recorder to capture the session.
Step 5: Start off with the positives.
Okay, by now you hopefully know what gluten is (spoiler alert: it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and most oats). Remember that many foods are naturally gluten-free. You’re fine with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils, fish, poultry, yogurt, cheese, eggs, and some grains like rice and wild rice. Look at what you normally eat that you can still have. Breakfast can be yogurt and blueberries or an omelet with veggies. Lunch can be a salad with grilled chicken or a hardboiled egg. Snacks can be a handful of nuts or maybe some popcorn. How about some roasted fish and veggies with a sweet potato for dinner? There are many foods that you always ate that are still perfectly safe.
(And remember, most chocolate, ice cream, and wine are gluten-free, so life does indeed go on!)
Make a list of easy gluten-free meals and foods that you know and enjoy. Remember, KISgfS: Keep it Simply Gluten-Free, Silly! This is especially helpful during those first few weeks.
Two great websites for simple, easy gluten-free meals:
• Gluten-Free Easily: www.glutenfreeeasily.com
• Gluten-Free Homemaker: www.glutenfreehomemaker.com
Step 6: Make a game plan.
Decide whether you’re going to have a gluten-free house or designated gluten-free areas. For many families, this is a decision based on time, money, energy, and space. If gluten will remain in the house, everyone needs to agree to take great care to avoid cross contamination. Gluten-free items need to go on higher shelves. Remember, even accidentally consuming small crumbs is enough to keep you fromgetting well.
Step 7: Clear out the pantry.
Get a marker and a few boxes, crank up some tunes, and get sorting. Use one box for gluten-free foods, one box for glutenous foods (marked with big red X), and a third to be labeled, “I’m not really quite sure yet. Help!” Store the glutenous stuff in a different area or give it away to friends or your local food bank. Make a list of the things you need to replace.
When it comes to label reading, you’re looking for six key words: wheat, barley, rye, oats that are not marked gluten-free, malt (flavoring, vinegar, etc.), and Brewer’s yeast. Keep in mind that ingredient labels alone don’t tell you about cross contamination or products without FDA food labels such as bulk meat, poultry, fish or egg products, medications, etc.
A few helpful apps:
• Is That Gluten-Free?
• Gluten-Free Groceries
• My Grocery Master
• The Essential Gluten-Free Grocery Guide from Triumph Dining
• Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping Guide from Cecelia’s Marketplace
While books and apps can be great training wheels and perfect for double checking, you still need to know how to read labels. If you don’t fully understand what you’re looking for, it will be very hard to explain it to other people.
Once you’ve got everything sorted and labeled, wipe down the shelves and get re-organized.
Step 8: Tackle the refrigerator and freezer.
Keep that marker and your cheat sheets handy for this one, too. This is a little trickier, because not only will you have to read labels, but you have to consider cross contamination. Spreads like butter, jam, mayo, and peanut butter may be naturally gluten-free, but once someone has double dipped their gluten-crusted knife in the jam or stuck their pita chip in that tub of hummus, it’s off-limits.
If you’ve decided to keep gluten in the household, make sure the gluten-free foods are visibly marked.
When in doubt, toss it or designate it for someone else.
Step 9: Remove the “cooties” from the premises, or at least quarantine them.
It’s time to clean house. Bid your toaster adieu—there are way too many gluten crumbs hanging out there. Anything you can’t scrub (like a Teflon pan or cast iron skillet) needs to be replaced. So does anything porous, like wooden spoons or cutting boards, or anything with nooks and crannies that are difficult to clean, like colanders.
Clean out all places where crumbs or flour can lurk, like cupboard shelves, silverware drawers, and even your microwave.
Step 10: Restock!
Ideally you’ve kept a list of the staples you’ve tossed from your pantry and fridge. Now it’s time to hit the stores. Choose a quiet time when you won’t be rushed…it’s going to be a long trip, but trust me, you’ll get to be a pro pretty quickly.
Again, stick to the basics for the first few weeks while you get situated. It’s tempting to buy every brand of gluten-free cookie just to make sure you’ve found the very best one, but pace yourself. There’s more than enough time for that.
Step 11: Check your meds and OTC’s.
Medications and OTC (over the counter) drugs don’t fall under the normal labeling laws. A great resource is www.glutenfreedrugs. com, but you are best checking with your doctor, your pharmacist, or the manufacturer because products change frequently, especially generics.
Step 12: Get family members tested for celiac, too.
Celiac disease is a genetically linked condition. Your genes came from somewhere. Encourage your relatives to get testing, especially ones with other autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or lupus. Other prime suspects would be anyone with vague intestinal issues, infertility, skin problems, neurological problems, or children growing slowly.
Step 13: Check your personal products.
This is a hot topic. The major medical centers have confirmed that the amount of gluten found in cosmetics is minimal, except for people with gluten-related skin issues. On the other hand, I have had many clients report problems that disappeared after switching to gluten-free products. So to be on the safe side, do check with the manufacturer for lipsticks, soaps, lotions, and cosmetics, or purchase products labeled gluten-free.
Step 14: Try dining out gluten-free.
Okay, by now you should have a good idea of what’s gluten-free and what’s not, and be connected with nearby resources that can steer you towards safe, tasty, gluten-free eats. Start off with restaurants with a good reputation. These apps give you great information and reviews:
• Dine GF (from www.glutenfreetravelsite.com)
• Find Me Gluten-Free
When you eat out, let the waitstaff know you’re gluten-free and double check with them that they are safely handling your meal. Dining cards, like those from Triumph Dining, can be very helpful. Try to stack the deck in your favor by going at slower times so the waitstaff can focus on your needs.
Step 15: Pat yourself on the back.
Woohoo! You made it! While there’s always more to learn about topics such as gluten-free nutritional balance, getting back into baking, traveling, holidays, and all that good stuff, most of that you can master at your own pace. Starting off with a strong foundation is key!