Written by Bethany Tucker
Making the move to go gluten-free is not just a health decision but a lifestyle change. It doesn’t matter the reason for making the shift – your life is going to be different in small but noticeable ways. Pretending otherwise is setting yourself up for failure. You need a good foundation and a plan for success.
One of the first things you should do to help yourself make the shift is to clean out your kitchen and adjust your grocery list.
We’ll start with the kitchen. I’m going to write this as if you don’t have to take other people into consideration. That’s often not the case though, as eating is often a communal activity. I’ll address this situation specifically at the end of the post, but for now we’ll keep things simple.
Cleaning Out the Pantry
Almost all of us have some food in the pantry or the kitchen cabinets. A lot of that food will have gluten in it. Instead of letting it sit around and tempt you, it’s time to throw it out or donate it. So go get a crate or cardboard box and let’s open the cabinets.
What are you looking for? First off: bread, dried noodles, floor, pancake mixes, cereal, crackers, and any other packaged snacks that are cake or bread based. This includes chips of all kinds – you never know! Check your potato chips and your corn chips. And, definitely give a critical eye to any trail mixes and dried fruit mixes that may have breaded items, candies or even just some sort of dustings for pleasurable taste. If you have rice snacks, don’t assume rice is the only thing they used – check, because some things are rolled in flour. Try not to think about it too much, and just put it in the box.
Let’s move on to your cans. Of course any canned spaghetti and noodles, instant or slow cook or any other obviously wheat-based products will be going into that crate right away. What you might not expect is that many canned soups use gluten as a thickening agent or contain noodles. So, go through any meal type cans and read the labels carefully. Look for baked beans, some pre-made broths, instant hot drinks, energy bars, tempera and any sauces like ketchup.
I highly suggest you go into this part of your personal exploration armed with a list of what I think of as gluten camouflaging terms, such as the latin for wheat and other grains like: tricticum vulgar, tricicum spelta, triticale, hodeum vulgar, and secale cereale. Also be aware of farina, semolina, bulgar, malt, couscous, farina, seitan, and any wheat extracts or anything with wheat in it. The list of extracts and flavorings that can contain gluten is too long for this article. You can find a detailed list in the book the Grain Brain (http://www.amazon.com/Grain-Brain-Surprising-Sugar-Your-Killers/dp/031623480X) by David Permutter, MD. The ones I’ve listed here will definitely get you started!
If you’re the kind of person who buys in bulk, you need to go through your bins as well. Of course any floor, millet, and wheat germ need to go. Barley, rye, and any wheat, no matter the kind, must go as well. Oats, while not necessarily gluten bearing in and of themselves, may be contaminated by being milled in the same factory. Personally, I never take the risk after having a few bad experiences. There are some gluten free oat brands out there but be careful. Whatever you have now probably needs to be dumped in the box and shipped out.
On to the Refrigerator!
Here’s where it gets fun. Open up that fridge door and take a good look at it. First, gather up all your bottles of sauces. Armed with your list of gluten camouflaging terms, go through the ingredients lists. You should literally do this for anything more complicated than lemon juice. Soy sauce usually has gluten, as do syrups. Any barbecue sauce might use gluten for thickening. You’re going to learn very quickly that eating gluten free often means sticking with meals that you can easily identify where everything in it came from. Depending on your situation, you may be able to handle a bit of ketchup once in a while without noticing any ill effects. On the other hand, you may find that the last flavoring in your brand at the bottom listed as natural flavoring may be extracted from rye.
Once you’re through all your bottles, take a look at the rest of the fridge. If you have any cheese, check the labels. Graded cheese is sometimes kept loose with a powder. Make sure the powder does not contain gluten or one of its aliases. If you have left-overs, toss them. Hopefully you’ve already dumped the last sub-sandwich. If you have any sausages then definitely check them, because there’s a high likelihood they have gluten in them. Any chocolate milk or chocolate-based items? Check those ingredients too. I was trying to figure out why my symptoms came back recently and found out that gluten was slipped into my wonderful hot chocolate. Not cool, folks!
And the Freezer!
By now you’re probably getting the idea. If you have any frozen bread, noodle based dinners, etc, dump them out on their ear. Check any ice cream you might have, frozen prepared meats like sausages, hamburger meats, vegetables burgers, and hot dogs, etc, and definitely any deserts. Snicker Bars have gluten in them, as do most if not all licorice ropes and candies. Any frozen pizzas are out, of course. If you have items like frozen prepared potatoes in any variety, check to make sure they were not rolled in a flouring or some sort of dusting type concoction with gluten or any of its other names. Any breaded items are out.
Now that you’ve pulled all the gluten items out of your kitchen, it’s time to get rid of them. If you’re at all like me then you hate wasting food, so check online for your local food bank and drive it down there. Another idea is to find someone else who could use it. Whatever it is, do it as quickly as possible, and just get those items that are no longer food to you out of the house. No sense in looking at them and mourning your new lifestyle when you should be excited about becoming healthier and happier.
The Grocery List
What do you put into your pantry and kitchen now that it’s somewhat empty? This is a big topic and I can’t cover everything on it, so we’re going to hit some major points.
First off, do your research. You’re going to need some recipes for food you like that don’t include gluten. And, you probably need to do this without taking up too much of your regular cooking schedule. To get you started, think meat, vegetables, roots (like potatoes), and fruit. Imagine the layout of a normal grocery store. You start on either the left or right with the produce section, then take a horseshoe loop through the back where the diary and meat are, ending with a loop down towards the checkout. I suggest starting in the produce section. You go in the door, hit this section of the store, skip past the bakery, stop at the meat section, maybe the diary section for eggs and milk and the like, and make very few forays down the aisles. If that’s how you shop, it will make your life easier.
So what exactly are you buying? That’s really up to you. There are many options and you may find that you need to buy from some other stores you didn’t previous shop at.
Rip up your old shopping list and begin new habits. Give it time while you figure out what works. Whatever you do, do not just pick something like potatoes or steaks and try to replace all the many and varied foods and snacks you used to consume with one substitute. In fact, it would be better if you didn’t think in terms of substitution, but rather in terms of what you like and what will give you a balanced, healthy diet.
So you’re standing in front of the store and you need to eat for the day, starting with breakfast. You could hit the fruit sections for bananas and the diary section for yogurt, or have some beacon and eggs to go with your oranges. Then for lunch, you might choose a spinach salad with some pre-cooked chicken topped off with a vinaigrette and a side of dried cranberries and walnuts. Delicious! For dinner you could always do a quick baked potato with butter, a cucumber sliced up and topped with red wine vinegar, pepper and your favorite herb, and maybe a slice of ham or beef heated up fast on the stove top. If you just have to have desert, try a banana smoothie: it’s just a banana, some plain yogurt and maybe a dash of something else to make it interesting, like those cranberries from lunch. If it’s not sweet enough for you, stevia will do the trick.
If you absolutely need “replacements” that are gluten free, there are breads, noodles, and pancake mixes out there. Hint: you can usually use gluten-free pancake mixes to make muffins, birthday cakes and even some cookies. You will have to look for them, but they’re becoming increasingly common. This will allow you to continue to have spaghetti dinners and enjoy your favorite recipes.
Also, rice is definitely your friend. I put spaghetti over rice whenever it’s the big dish of the day at my mother’s house. You can buy a rice cooker and you’ll quickly find it takes almost no time out of your day. Just start your rice the night before or in the morning and let it sit there. It will stay warm and ready to go.
Speaking of rice, I would strongly caution against relying on it to do everything that wheat used to do for you. Depending on your health situation, some people have found they can no longer tolerate rice like they used to. The reason behind that is complex and gets into the base construction of what wheat and rice are, which would be a whole different post. So, spread things around and get used to eating without so much grain. You’ll probably be happier in the long run. Also, try not to beef up on potatoes too much.
Buy some new cook books and definitely makes sure you have some snacks around for when you feel hungry.
If You’re Not Eating Alone
If you’re not eating alone and especially if you’re cooking for others besides yourself, you must set some boundaries. First off, cooking a different meal for each person is not only time consuming, but could be a source of eventual resentment in some families. Try to plan something that everyone can eat or let them cook for themselves if they cannot eat what is served. If you’re the one who can’t eat what’s being served, as in you’re an adult living at home or with roommates, find a way to take responsibility for your meals gracefully.
Many people, as long as it’s a balanced meal, won’t notice right off if they’re not chowing-down on the same pile of gluten-infused noodles as they were before. So, before you start making a big deal about it, just let them eat whatever you’re serving. If you have a lot of teenagers and people on the go, they’re probably going to want their snacks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. For your own sanity, you may just want to put all those items on the same shelf and mentally label it ‘not for me but good for them’, and move on. My husband and I eat gluten free meals together even though he loves his pizza and the occasional hamburger bun. I cook our meals so that we can both eat them and he snacks on what he wants. What has surprised us both, since I moved in with him, is that he is becoming increasingly gluten-free in his habits instead of resenting mine. The fact that I’m smarter, more interested in him and healthier when I keep to my ‘lifestyle’ only encourages him to be happy with the situation.
Another tip: don’t apologize. Apologizing for the fact you’re not serving barbecue drenched, gluten-stuffed sausages on rye bread is going to draw people’s attention to what they’re NOT getting, and people always want what they’re told they CAN’T have. Focus on what you can have!
You’ll have better luck starting off with:
“Darling, we’re having marinated chicken tonight, with your favorite ice cream for dessert.”
Then immediately running down hill with something like:
“Well, since I can’t have gluten anymore, no spaghetti on Tuesday now. I guess we’ll have to have that chili soup again.”
By the way, chili is delicious and some small new potatoes can make a nice replacement side to the bread you might have used before.
People don’t like to be inconvenienced or talk about things that can’t happen. So, if you at all can, shift your shopping habits and continue to have nice stomach filling meals plus something easy on the shelves to eat for snacks. If they’re missing something, they’ll tell you.
If you’re not the one cooking, you’re going to need to get your cook on your side. Honestly though, if they like you enough to cook for you and you’re willing to be up front and have information for them so they don’t have to become experts, you’re going to get better support. Be appreciative, go through the kitchen with them, and be honest. Once family and friends start seeing the improvement in your life, they’re likely to be very much on board with keeping the new, healthier happier you around.