I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy in January of 2010. Since then, I've learned how to navigate the sea of products, misinformation, and stores to ensure my long-term health. It took some time and patience (and a lot of package reading) but the improvements in my health and outlook have been well worth it.
What is Gluten?
For most Celiac sufferers, it's not just wheat that they need to be worried about but rather something called "gluten". Gluten is the protein in wheat, barley, and rye that makes bread dough bind together and be stretchy.
Of course, it's not just these three bad boys that you need to look out for. There are many foods and ingredients that have hidden gluten in them. It's important that you have a list of gluten-filled ingredients that you can refer to every time you head to the store. You can find such a list here .
When you do head for the store, make sure to take that list with you and use it! Every time you look at a packaged product, compare your list of no-no foods to the ingredients list on the back of the package.
You should never trust the claims on the front of the packages - read the ingredients list and make sure that it is truly gluten-free. Something may say "wheat-free" on the front, but if you read the ingredients, you find that it has another gluten-containing item inside of it to help bind it together.
Also, make sure to check the ingredients every time you buy a product. Manufacturers are constantly improving their products and as such, recipes will change. Ingredients will be added or removed to make the recipe better…and some of those ingredients could have gluten in them.
I know what you're thinking right now – "But gluten-free products are so expensive!" Actually, gluten free can be as expensive or inexpensive as you make it. You don't have to go out today and buy every gluten-free product on the shelf.
Instead, stick to all-natural ingredients – if man made it, don't eat it! This means heading straight for the meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, and fruit departments at your local grocery store and ignoring most of the center aisles. Best of all, these are a lot cheaper than the specialty "gluten free" foods you'll find in health food stores or co-ops.
Don't get me wrong – there are some gluten-free products worth venturing into the center aisles for, like spices, gluten-free products, and household goods – but none of it is required for your existence.
Choice of Stores
Gluten-free products can be found at almost any store in the country, from your local convenience store (fruit, cut veggies, and corn chips) to the high-end health food stores. You just have to be diligent and inventive.
Your first stop on any gluten-free shopping trip should be to your local grocery store. There, you'll find a wide array of naturally gluten-free products like fruits, vegetables, meat, spices, and condiments. There could also be a few of the gluten-free baking ingredients, like xanthan gum, in their aisles – you just have to look!
You might also be surprised at the number of the specialty gluten-free products that you find in the aisles of your local Safeway or Kroger's. These are usually hidden in the "health foods" aisle or tucked in next to the diet foods. If you can't find them, ask the staff. If they don't carry them, speak to the store manager – he or she might be willing to start carrying them for you and other gluten suffers in the neighborhood.
You'll also want to check out your local health food stores or co-ops to see what gluten-free products are available. Though they are usually more expensive, you can almost guarantee that you'll find everything you need in one spot.
Also, check out the food aisles the next time you're at the discount department store. More and more of these chains are starting to carry gluten-free products. I was quite happy when I discovered gluten-free cake and pancake mixes at my local Target. Not only did it save me a trip to the health food store on the other side of town but it saves me money too!
Another place to shop for gluten-free products is your local farmer's market. Not only will you find a lot of naturally grown foods but they can have all sorts of gluten-free ingredients (like millet or quinoa) and baked goods that you can enjoy!
Worst comes to worst, you can always online for your gluten-free products. Just do an online search for "gluten free bread" or "gluten free cookies" to discover out what is out there.