A little less than two years ago, I finally went to a doctor for a problem that had been bothering me for months. I let it go on that long only because my symptoms seemed to get really bad right around the same time I started a new job, so I chalked it up to stress. But after 3 months in, I knew it must be something else.
I should mention that this problem really bothered me in the, ahem, bathroom.
I underwent a few tests at my doctor’s office. Much to my surprise, my blood work came back, and the results were that I was at least a little bit gluten intolerant. My doctor recommended cutting ALL gluten out of my diet to see if that helped. GULP. All gluten? Really? But I had been eating gluten all my life (and loving it!).
So I sucked it up and went gluten-free for 3 weeks, as my doctor suggested. I should mention that I lost about 5 pounds in this 3 weeks, mostly because I was figuring out what I COULD eat, and it seemed that most things were off limits. I was hungry. I was cranky. BUT – my problem was going away. The doctor was right (on a side note, I LOVE my doctor).
Since that fateful day, I have become a gluten-free person. On a very rare occasion, I have succumbed to my gluten craving, but I ALWAYS pay for it the next day (and sometimes the next few days). Being gluten free, as hard as it is, is totally WORTH IT.
*** IMPORTANT NOTE ON THESE TIPS: I DO NOT HAVE CELIAC DISEASE. In other words, I can eat a little gluten and be miserable for the next couple days, but it won’t land me in the ER or have me breaking out in hives. IF YOU DO HAVE CELIAC DISEASE, YOU WILL WANT TO BE MUCH MORE CAUTIOUS THAN ME.
Now, two years in, it’s easier. If you have recently been given a similar diagnosis, I’ll give you my top tips on how to make the switch without being TOO radical. And if you’re someone who wants to go gluten-free for “health reasons”, well I admire that, but I have some tips for you too. If you have not been diagnosed with a gluten allergy, there is NO NEED for you to go gluten-free. Now, that being said, if you want to cut back on products containing white flour, then by all means go for it. But I’m telling you, there are a lot of gluten-containing products that are GOOD for you. Like anything with whole wheat in it – it has FIBER, which can be seriously lacking in a gluten-free diet. Enjoy your gluten. For me, please. =)
So, here are my coping strategies for gluten-free living:
1. Embrace what’s naturally gluten-free. Corn products are your friend – especially corn tortillas. With corn tortillas you can make delicious things like tacos – Blackened Shrimp Tacos, Potato, Poblano and Chorizo Tacos, Steak Tacos with Lime Mayo – oh yum. Taco Tuesday may continue for you, my friend. Also, enchiladas, mexican “lasagnas” and casseroles – go for it.
Rice is your friend. So many yummy things with white rice and brown rice. Rice bowls, rice pudding, fried rice. Do your rice thing.
Potatoes are your friend. Think of anything sort of messy you could have on a bun – sloppy joes, pulled pork, barbeque beef, shredded pulled chicken – put that stuff on a baked potato instead. Or a baked sweet potato. Delicious. Even better – get creative with sweet potatoes like this:
Quinoa is your friend. Quinoa makes a great substitution for couscous, bulgur (heck even rice if you’re tired of it) – basically any loose grain. You can serve it hot. You can serve it cold. You can flavor it during cooking, with broth or juice, or after cooking. It’s got a tender texture and a wonderfully nutty flavor and is high in both protein and fiber. FIBER. You need that on a gluten free diet, trust me. You can even substitute it for oatmeal or other hot cereal in the morning (oh yeah, because regular oatmeal is NOT gluten free). They do make gluten free oatmeal but I find that I don’t even tolerate that very well. =(
2. Corn-based gluten free pasta
I really like the brands they sell at Target and Safeway. Also, they happen to be the cheapest (score!). I’m not a fan of the quinoa and brown rice pastas (except brown rice lasagna, which is pretty good).
UPDATE: Barilla has started making gluten free pastas – I tried the penne in one of my favorite non-gluten free recipes this weekend and it was really good. I found it in my normal grocery store.
But this is more a matter of personal preference. I know some gluten free-ers who will only eat the quinoa pastas. Basically, just experiment – but know that there are some really good gluten-free pastas out there. Your love of pasta can live on.
Chex, praise Chex! Chex makes a ton of gluten-free cereals and they are pretty much the only major brand that does. And they are all tasty! Seriously, breakfast (especially normal everyday non-brunch-y breakfast) is the hardest meal to go gluten-free. And Chex just made it easier for you. Plus they have a lot of good gluten-free recipes too. Go Chex!
Pancakes – mmmm. Waffles – mmmm. Seriously, these are just as good (or better) than the real thing. My family eats this stuff up and my husband has declared that he likes gluten free waffles better than the real thing. Also, they have good recipes too – I’ve used their dumpling technique in my favorite chicken and dumplings recipe and it’s a little more work, but super delicious. Try this stuff.
5. Take-out (or dine in) – Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese
So far, I’ve given you strategies for home cooking. Which is good – we should all be doing more home cooking. But sometimes, you need to grab food on the go, or have a business lunch, or a date with your sweetie, you get my point. Well, I have good news for you. If you like Mexican, Thai, or Vietnamese food – you can continue to eat at least half of what is on the menu. Yippee! With Mexican food, again, corn tortillas are your friend. Just make sure whatever you order is made with corn tortillas and not flour, and you should be fine. Thai food – as long as there is no soy sauce involved, you should be good to go. Most curries are natually gluten free. And JOY of all JOYS – any rice noodle is fine too! Nom nom nom. Pad Thai, the classic favorite, is an excellent gluten free choice. The rice noodle thing is also what makes Vietnamese food a great option. Pho – pretty much any kind – is safe. Just don’t add the hoisin sauce (but hallelujah Sriracha is gluten free)! And the rice noodle salads are a good option too – just again, beware the hoisin.
Because, major bummer alert – soy sauce contains gluten, and a lot of it. Otherwise, Chinese would be a good option (which it is – if you make it at home or you have some kind of wonderful Chinese restaurant that swears up and down that they use Tamari instead of soy). But I steer clear of it, as well as sushi (though sushi is safer, because you add soy at the end and you can request tamari instead of soy. I’m just not a huge sushi fan). Which brings me to:
Soy sauce is in everything. It’s in pretty much all Chinese food. It’s in hoisin sauce (which is why you must avoid it at restaurants). It’s served with your sushi. It’s in teriyaki sauce. You won’t really realize how many foods contain soy sauce until you are forced to cut it out of your diet. Surely you have recipes that contain soy sauce that just wouldn’t be the same without it, or you just like to put it on your rice. Don’t despair! Gluten free soy sauce is easy to find at the grocery store. And if you can’t find it, guess what? Tamari sauce is basically the same thing. Also, it’s only soy sauce that has gluten. You can continue to eat tofu, if that’s your thing.
All the credit goes to my husband for this one. I am not really a baker, though I do it on occasion (mostly around the holidays, and for my kids’ birthdays). So the prospect of gluten free baking, when I’m not all that good of a regular baker, was daunting. I just stayed away.
Randomly, when I was trying different gluten free products, I bought a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour at the grocery store, and put it in my pantry. Well, one day coming back from somewhere, I walk in the house and there is my husband and my kids, making cookies. Super cute. And then I was sad because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat one. Behold my surprise when my husband says, “No, they’re gluten free. It was the only flour I could find.” And guess what? They were delicious – just like regular cookies.
A small caveat: I’ve only used it to make cookies and small amounts to thicken up sauces. I’m not sure how it would do for cakes and breads and such.
I seem to have a few favorite recipes that inevitably call for “cream of something” soup as an ingredient. Well, regular “cream of something” soups are loaded with gluten (and sodium too). But this little guy isn’t! And it tastes just the same. You can keep making your favorite casseroles. =)
9. Red Robin (yum)
This is my kids’ favorite restaurant. I was in a real quandry when I first got my diagnosis – I came along reluctantly with my family to Red Robin and was prepared to just order a salad (again). But guess what? They have gluten free buns! And they are actually pretty good (ask for yours to be extra toasted so it doesn’t fall apart). Plus, they fry the fries in a separate vat of oil so they are gluten free too.
Also, they have your back. I was just dining there last weekend and ordered the Swiss and Mushroom burger on a gluten free bun. Well, a few minutes later the server came by and said the garlic butter they normally used to saute the mushrooms in contained gluten – and did I want them to saute the mushrooms in oil or steam them instead? We gave our server a generous tip that night.
They are all yummy. Seriously. The chocolate chip cookies are just as good as the real thing. The cakes are nice and moist and fluffy. And the brownies are a little denser than what you’re used to but they still taste delicious. I’ve also used the chocolate chip cookie mix to make magic bars and yes, they were still magic. =)
You can find both of these goodies in your frozen food section. My favorite is the pizza. A decent gluten free pizza is hard to come by, and this one is pretty good and the price is right. The white bread is also decent. I don’t really like the multigrain and don’t see any real advantage to it. It doesn’t contain any more fiber than the white bread.
12. Franz Gluten Free breads (in the Pacific NW)
This one is my favorite. I use it to make my favorite sandwiches and they hit the spot. I’ve even made french toast with this bread and it was delish.
13. Fine dining
If you are going to a fancy restaurant and are worried about what in the world you are going to order, don’t be. Fine dining is basically your best option of eating out gluten free. Just tell your server that you are gluten free, and ask if they can modify your order, or ask what they would recommend ordering. I have never been steered wrong at a fancy restaurant, nor have I ever felt deprived. You can still celebrate life’s big moments with a delicious meal away from home. Don’t worry.
14. Treats – Hershey’s chocolate bar (plain), Hershey’s with almonds, Snickers. These are all safe. If you find yourself with a chocolate craving staring down a vending machine, you can choose any of those 3 options safely.
15. Snacks – damn I wish I didn’t know this, but I do, and so I’ll pass it on: Cheetos are gluten free. So are Fritos. So are Doritos (seems like the -os are covered – ha!). So is Pirate’s Booty, and that has a few more redeeming qualities. And most potato chips are gluten free. So if you’re at a Taco Bell on a midnight munchie run, then yes, damnit, you can eat one of those ridiculous Doritos tacos. Most corn chips and tortilla chips are safe too. See what I mean about gluten free not necessarily meaning healthy?
16. I CAN’T BELIEVE I ALMOST FORGOT!! Beverages. Unless it’s a malted milkshake, any non-alcoholic beverages are safe. It’s the alcohol you need to watch out for – and sadly, it is beer that contains gluten. I’ve been told recently of some decent gluten free beers, but I haven’t tried them (yet) – when I do, I’ll update this post. UPDATE: I tried Green’s Discovery Amber Ale on the recommendation of a friend – and it was HEAVEN. I found it at Whole Foods. It’s Belgian so it only comes in those big bottles – and a single bottle was $6. But worth it.
If you are a wino or aspiring wino, drink away. Wine does not have gluten. Neither does hard cider or hard lemonade if you just want something in a (small) bottle. Also, most hard liquors are gluten free – but make sure you check the label.
17. Oh, and speaking of labels, the words you want to watch out for (besides wheat, or wheat flour, etc.) are anything with the word MALT in it, and sometimes “modified food starch” or “modified corn starch” is dangerous. And of course anything containing soy sauce, as I mentioned above.
18. LAST BUT NOT LEAST – If you want some recipe ideas, follow me on Pinterest! I have a board called Gluten Free faves where I have pinned all my “tried them and liked them” recipes. You can find it here: http://www.pinterest.com/ascharler/gluten-free-faves/
I also have a board called Gluten Free Foods where I pin recipes I want to try. Feel free to follow that one too: http://www.pinterest.com/ascharler/gluten-free-foods/
Well, those are all my words of wisdom for now. Becoming gluten free is not so bad, and you can still be a little bad (if you wanna).