Five Tips for the Gluten Free Beginner

Whether it’s by choice or doctor’s orders, cutting gluten from your diet can be a daunting task. Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, a wheat allergy, or what have you – there is so much conflicting information out there, and navigating it all can be quite overwhelming! After my husband was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2015, I found myself digging deep into the research and splitting hairs on what gluten free really meant. And, like I’ve told friends who haven’t received an official diagnosis, – it doesn’t matter WHY you’re going GF, I will help you navigate the waters!

To put it simply, gluten is contained in wheat, rye, and barley.

Unfortunately, it’s hidden in many other things that many people wouldn’t normally think of – like beer, for example. It is also widely accepted as under 20 parts per million – basically, a piece of gluten the size of a fleck of pepper on a piece of bread makes it no longer gluten free. It’s mind-boggling – so here are a few tips that helped us navigate this new normal:

  • Get a Gluten-Free scanner app for your phone. There are free ones, but I recommend paying for one since it usually expands the database and has more options. I believe the one I have was around five dollars.
  • Scan EVERYTHING in your pantry. Even if you *think* it’s gluten-free, scan it anyway. Gluten is sneaky and can be present in spices, food dyes, and countless other products you wouldn’t dream of (I’m looking at you, soy sauce!).
  • After scanning and getting rid of gluten, COMPLETELY wipe down/disinfect all pantry shelves, countertops, and your fridge. It sounds crazy, but trust me – crumbs are everywhere, and a crumb of gluten can make someone with Celiac sick. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Cross-contamination is REAL. Many people roll their eyes at this, and it’s INCREDIBLY frustrating. In our house, we have a specific jar of peanut butter JUST for my husband. Why? Because the kids eat normal bread, and dipping a knife in peanut butter, spreading it on bread, and putting it back in the jar for more instantly contaminates the jar. It sounds crazy to people who haven’t lived it, but when you’ve watched someone get sick from something so small, you will believe it. Unfortunately, this means you will need a new toaster. The toaster wasn’t even something I’d thought of until I saw someone on a message board asking if people had two toasters. Lo and behold – they DO!
  • All “Gluten-Free” is not created equal. First, there’s “Certified Gluten-Free,” which will be labeled as such. This means not only are there no gluten-containing ingredients, but the items are also produced on a dedicated line with no risk of cross-contamination. “No gluten-containing ingredients” is just that – there’s no gluten in the food, but no data about shared lines and potential cross-contamination. And finally, “May contain traces of wheat, etc.” – pretty self-explanatory, and is usually found in things like spices and some potato chips. For us, we go with Certified Gluten-Free because even the smallest amount of gluten causes intestinal damage to Celiacs.

These are just a few pointers to begin your gluten-free journey. You may find that whole, unprocessed foods – meat, vegetables, rice, beans, etc. – will be your go-to. You may go in the opposite direction and find yourself on the hunt for the best gluten-free version of cookies, bread, and pasta. OR, you may go the way I went and get REALLY into cooking and baking gluten-free, finding joy in surprising your guests when they discover that the brownies and lasagna they just ate are safe for Celiacs.

Whatever path you take, your journey will be only yours, and ever-changing.  You will be frustrated, you will be surprised, you will slip up, and you’ll probably get glutened. More than once. Just keep yourself focused and I promise it will become second nature before you know it!

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Laura is a self-professed "Southern Belle, born and raised in NYC". Raised by musician parents, she developed her love of performing at an early age. A proud alum of The Boston Conservatory at Berklee, she spent her 20s performing in Off-Broadway musicals and touring the world with various bands. After a whirlwind courtship, she married her husband Stephen in 2012, and moved down to NOLA. They soon became proud parents to their now 6-year-old "twin tornadoes" - a pair of identical boys who keep everyone on their toes! They now reside in Madisonville, where she works in outside sales. She doesn't have as much time for music as she used to, but still loves singing and playing the piano any chance she gets. She also enjoys spending weekends at her family's camp in MS, and is determined to "smoke a buck" before her sons do. Her other hobbies include cooking, baking, crafting, reading, and watching reality TV.

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