What is gluten?
Gluten is a natural protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some oats; it’s also found in any foods that contain these ingredients. Gluten’s also in some unsuspecting culprits: gravies, salad dressings, lunch meats, sauces and soups, to name a few.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder, and for its suffers, ingesting even a small amount of gluten triggers an attack response that damages the lining of the small intestines, which in turn interferes with nutrient absorption and leads to a wide array of symptoms and issues such as abdominal pain, joint pain, skin rashes, fatigue, unexplained iron deficiency, anemia and osteoporosis. Once definitively diagnosed, strictly avoiding gluten (aka “going gluten-free”) is the only solution that can manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing.
How to go gluten-free:
Prep your kitchen.
If you’re sharing a kitchen with people who eat gluten, it’s important that you take the following steps to ensure you steer clear of foods that may cause you trouble:
- Separate all gluten-containing and gluten-free foods, labelling them clearly and storing them in airtight containers.
- Plan on purchasing in duplicate. Keep separate—and clearly labeled—jars of condiments and spreads like nut butters, mayonnaise, jam and butter.
- Designate gluten-free utensils, cutting boards and other food-prep surfaces and small appliances (e.g. toasters and waffle makers).
Take stock of what you can have.
Of course it can be discouraging to be told a list of foods you can no longer eat. But it’s important to keep in mind all of the foods you can still enjoy, such as:
- Fruits and vegetables. Any unprocessed fruit or vegetable is gluten-free. Potatoes—both white and sweet potatoes—are also gluten-free.
- Dairy. Milk and most cheeses are gluten-free, although blue cheese and some processed cheeses can be made with wheat. Plain yogurt is also gluten-free, as are many blended varieties such as Yoplait Light). Eggs are a great protein-packed option, although to be safe, it’s best to avoid liquid or frozen-egg products.
- Meats, fish, poultry and beans. Fresh fish and seafood, poultry, and lean cuts of pork and beef are great choices—as are dried beans and peas. Check labels on canned and frozen items to be sure they are gluten-free.
- Legumes and nuts. Peanuts and almonds (and their butters!) are a great source of protein. Just like meats and beans, make sure to check the labels to make sure they’re gluten-free.
- Good grains. Gluten-free choices are white, brown and wild rice. Other gluten-free grains include millet, quinoa, corn (think popcorn or corn tortillas), amaranth and buckwheat. Chex has an entire line of gluten-free cereal options that come in a variety of great flavors.
Explore your grocery store.
Now that you’ve prepped your kitchen and taken stock of what foods you can eat, it’s time to do some shopping!
- You might be surprised to know that there are more than 2,000 foods in the United States that are prepared according to special formulas to be gluten-free. Special pasta, cookies, cereals, breads, wraps, crackers, and cake and cookie mixes made with rice, corn, soy or potato flours are available at many grocery and health food stores. Sometimes these foods can even be purchased online.
- Make a list so that you’ll only pick up what you need and avoid impulse buys that might not meet your “safe” criteria. Organize it by each section of the supermarket; you’ll move more quickly through the aisles without backtracking.
- If you’re ever unsure whether or not a product is truly gluten-free, or is manufactured in a facility that may produce gluten-containing foods, bring your cell phone to call the company or manufacturer to double check. And make sure to check out all of the gluten-free apps in iTunes; some allow you to scan barcodes of products while others highlight gluten-free menu options at popular restaurants.