Many of us go gluten-free looking to feel better, reduce inflammation, and minimize symptoms of gluten sensitivity like brain fog or digestive issues. Many of our clients specifically ask if they should avoid gluten. We utilize the technology of Nutrition Response Testing to determine if there are food sensitivities that need support.
As with any major new dietary change, it can feel like an overwhelming new way of shopping, cooking, and eating. Hang in there! With a bit of patience and practice, you’ll be feeding your family healthy, simple, and satisfying gluten-free meals in no time.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is the protein in wheat. You’ll notice that some products are labeled wheat-free, and some say gluten-free, but something labeled wheat-free is not always gluten-free. If a packaged food isn’t explicitly labeled gluten-free, always read labels to confirm. Words like wheat, white flour, enriched, Einkorn flour, and sprouted flour all indicate gluten.
Other words for ‘gluten’ include:
- Triticum vulgare (wheat)
- Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
- Hordeum vulgare (barley)
- Secale cereale (rye)
- Triticum spelta (spelt, a form of wheat)
Where Gluten Is…
Because wheat is a common thickening and binding ingredient, gluten can be found in all kinds of unexpected processed foods, like sauces, condiments, candy, beverages, and beer. Assume it’s in most grain-based products like granola and cereal.
Dr. Amy Myers suggests you avoid the “Troublesome Twenty” ingredients at all times to guarantee you’re not eating hidden sources of gluten. For example, we often see ‘natural/artificial flavor/color’ — sometimes even in sparkling water!
Here is a modified list of potentially gluten-containing ingredients from Dr. Myers’ website:
- artificial/natural color/flavor
- baking powder
- citric acid (can be fermented from wheat, corn, molasses, or beets)
- glucose syrup
- modified food starch, food starch, and wheat starch
…And Where Gluten Isn’t
Gluten is naturally free from all produce, meat, and dairy — as well as several grains like rice, quinoa, and buckwheat. Therefore, literally every single grocery store has hundreds of gluten-free options! When shopping for a gluten-free diet, you’ll have the most success sticking to the perimeter of the store and picking naturally gluten-free whole foods from produce, dairy, and deli sections.
How and Where to Shop
Gluten-free options aren’t just limited to natural health food stores anymore; all mainstream stores now have plenty of gluten-free substitutes and packaged treats.
But the healthy and sustainable way to go GF is dependent on choosing real whole foods. If you ever feel limited by the gluten-free diet, it can be helpful to reframe it as everything you can choose from, not what you can’t. A walk around your typical grocery store can be a good reminder of the abundance that fits into a gluten-free diet:
- Every fruit and vegetable
- Non-glutinous grains: rice, buckwheat, quinoa, wild rice, oatmeal (double check the oatmeal is labeled gluten-free, it may have trace gluten from manufacturing)
- Nuts and seeds, as well as nut-based vegan milks and cheeses
- Legumes: beans, chickpeas, hummus, lentils
- Dairy: eggs, milks, cheese, yogurt, kefir
- Meat (watch for added breading or stuffing)
Food co-ops may offer fresh-baked gluten-free bakery items like cookies and muffins.
Double-check ingredients on hot bar and deli items, as recipes and ingredient lists may change day to day. Don’t hesitate to ask staff for more information.
Online grocers like Vitacost and Thrive Market, and boutique flour millers also offer an abundance of gluten-free options.
Buy in bulk. Because you’re not paying for packaging and marketing, bulk beans and grains can offer substantial savings. Most large grocers have bulk sections, including Fresh Thyme, Coborn’s, Cub, and food co-ops. There is a risk of potential cross-contamination when buying bulk, but this is rarely an issue for those of us who are not extremely gluten-sensitive.
Be savvy with big box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. With increasingly more paleo and gluten-friendly options, there is lots of potential here and it’s a nice option to mix and match with.
Buy directly from the farmer. Purchasing eggs, meat, and vegetables in a CSA share or custom arrangement with the farmer is an awesome way to support local agriculture and teach your kids about healthy food systems. This typically is a higher up-front cost, but with an excellent per-unit savings and a worthwhile investment in your health.
A Note About Gluten-Free Packaged Products
There are more gluten-free packaged products than ever before, but they may come at a cost. To replicate the taste and texture of gluten, many of these breads, crackers, and baked good substitutes have sugar as a main ingredient. People choose gluten-free to reduce inflammation, reverse disease, and optimize health. Because sugar is just as inflammatory as gluten, many of us start to feel sick again after a few weeks of initial improvement if relying too heavily on processed gluten-free substitutes.
Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking Tricks
Gluten-free baking: After years of baking our gluten-free goods at home to save money and make memories with my kids, I’ve fully switched over to grain-free baking instead, mostly with coconut or almond flour, tapioca and arrowroot starch for thickeners, and maple syrup or honey for sweetening. I’ve found that grain-free baking yields more consistent results and with better taste and texture than the common gluten-free substitutions. Plus, the results are more nutrient dense and filling.
To thicken soups and sauces: Use tapioca scratch or arrowroot starch as your gluten-free thickening agent. Remove two cups of broth to a smaller bowl, whisk in a few tablespoons of starch until you get the desired consistency, add back into your big soup pot, and repeat as necessary.
It’s Okay If You Mess Up!
We’ve been eating consistently gluten-free for 12 years, so we’ve been practicing for a long time and there are still times when I mess up or make a bad assumption about the ingredients in a food. The gluten-free life is not always easy, and you’re not alone — sometimes there are just mishaps. Beer, baked goods, and snacks from family are common gluten minefields in our family.
Baby Steps To Move in the Right Direction
→ Start by switching your favorite meal of the day to gluten-free.
→ Recreate your favorite recipes with gluten-free options.
→ Give yourself grace. You’re learning a new way of shopping, eating, and relating to food. It will get easier with time!
→ Keep things simple and fresh. Pick your favorite protein source, add some veggies, and throw in a bit of rice or gluten-free pasta. Voila! A delicious and filling meal.
→ Call in extra support. If you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, give us a call. We offer nutrition coaching to help you figure out how to meet you and your family’s nutrition needs with healthy, satisfying meals. Book your discovery call now.
My Favorite Gluten-Free Recipes
Check out our blog archive for all sorts of delicious GF inspiration: