Maybe you got a call from the doctor’s office, or perhaps your body has made it clear that gluten is no longer an option for you. Regardless of the source, you are determined to remove all gluten from your life and head down the path to a healthier you. The concept of living a gluten free life is simple, but the practical concerns take a little more time.
You’ll need to get into the habit of reading the label every time you pick up a can or box. Formulas change, so don’t assume something is safe or you may have an unpleasant surprise one day. Most boxed food is out, as are a lot of soups. You need to learn a new language when it comes to understanding what’s in your food.
The main words are easy: wheat, barley, rye, the permutations take longer to learn.
Malt, could be malted barley. I always assume it is unless it states that it’s corn,
Gluten, usually means wheat gluten, but sometimes they say corn gluten. It’s not the same thing; unless you specifically have a problem with corn, corn gluten is ok.
Made in a factory that also processes wheat. You need to decide if you’ll eat this product or not. I would stay away and try to find what other people have experienced. If no one else has had a reaction to this product, it’s probably ok.
Made on shared equipment. Again, up to you, but a little more concerning than just being in the same factory.
You’ll discover more as you go along, but these should get you started.
You need to clean it, especially if you’ve done baking with wheat flour. Pretend you found a mouse in your silverware drawer. You don’t know where he’s been or how many dishes he’s walked on. Take everything out of the cupboards, wipe them down, wash the dishes and silverware, clean out the drawers, wipe down the frig. Clean all the handles on your kitchen cupboards and doors, appliances too.
Get rid of the toaster, or don’t cook your gluten-free food in it. You’ll never get rid of all the crumbs or gluten that’s been cooked onto the racks. If it’s a toaster oven, you could probably clean it very well and get a new rack, or cook your toast on foil.
Scrub your pots and pans with a soft abrasive cleanser. If you have pans that would be damaged by this, think seriously, very seriously, about getting rid of them and getting new pots and pans. Any scratch, dent or crevice will have gluten in it that you can’t remove. Every time you cook with that pot you’ll be re-contaminating yourself.
If you are unwilling to get new appliances you’ll need to clean them very carefully. Wash not only the parts that touch your food, but also buttons, handles and air vents. Use a toothpick to check for anything stuck in seams and a cotton swab to wipe down tiny areas. The concern here is flour or other food that’s become dried into small places and might get knocked off into your food while using the appliance. Kind of a gross thought for everyone, not just people creating a gluten-free kitchen.
If you’ll be sharing a kitchen with gluten eaters, come up with a labeling system to keep your food and utensils clean. Get your pots and pans in a different color, and buy some colored tape to mark your jars and boxes. You might keep a drawer or a shelf in the frig marked for your food only. Perhaps your own cupboard. If you do most of the cooking this will be easier to arrange. Train your housemates to use a plate when making sandwiches, or designate which countertops are gluten-free. Get your own dishtowel and dishcloth. Put them where they won’t be accidentally used.
Don’t go straight for the gluten substitutes, trust me on this. Make your own meals from whole ingredients. There are plenty of easy options to get you started; potatoes, rice, chicken, beef, fruits and vegetables. Cook it yourself so you know what’s in it.
Processed food is not good for you, even if it says “gluten-free”. Your body needs time to heal and challenging your poor damaged intestine with strange things like ‘sorghum’ is going to cause you problems. Not only that, it doesn’t taste or feel the same. Give yourself some time away from bread before you try the gluten-free variety, otherwise you may just decide it’s nasty. It’s not nasty, it’s just different. Wait until you can approach it as something new, rather than a replacement for something you’re missing.
Yes, you will miss things; food, convenience, eating out, shopping without your reading glasses. Grieve, mourn, scream, and rant, whatever you need to do to help you work through it. It’s ok to be sad, you’ve left behind a lot of things you used you know and you will miss them for a while. It takes time to build new habits and new favorites, but you will get there.
Take active steps to change your lifestyle. This isn’t happening to you, you are actively making choices to improve your life. Once you’ve gotten through the first stages of relearning how to eat, take a stab at remaking things you miss. Craving pizza? You can buy a frozen option, but it’s not that great. Learn to make your own; it will be fun and taste a lot better.
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg.
Mix together, plop onto a cookie sheet, bake at 350. There are your cookies – easy and quick (a little too easy and quick…).
Eating out is another step to take when you’re ready for it. Talk to the chef at your favorite restaurant about how foods are prepared. Ask about cross contamination (there’s another new word for you to learn) and shared fryers. You will be surprised at how many people, especially in good restaurants, are aware of food allergies/intolerances and know how to protect their customers. My favorite story is when I went to a little café in a museum and told the server that I couldn’t eat gluten or soy. He looked at me and said, “Is that all? Let me get the cook.” It was great – two guys in a little kitchen knew all about food.
The last and perhaps the worst hurdle is dinner prepared by family or friends. There is no “one size fits all” answer for this. You need to decide how much you trust the people that will be making your food. Even the best, most conscientious preparer can slip up and double dip a spoon, or set the chicken on a plate with bread. There are very few people whose meals I will eat, I just bring my own food or eat before I go.
It’s a lot, I know, but take it in steps. Accept that you will make mistakes along the way, but eventually all these changes will become habit. Look for support groups, both locally and online (local ones often have free samples). Find people you can talk to, and make cookies to get you through the bad days.