Gluten Free 101

So you need to go gluten free. Cue freakout mode, right? EVERYTHING seemingly has gluten in it! Whether you're doing it because you've recently been diagnosed with a disease like Celiac or Hashimoto's or you simply feel sluggish and are trying an elimination diet, these tips will help you navigate your way to a gluten free life. At first, it is overwhelming, but I promise it will become second nature in no time!

First, what exactly is GLUTEN?

Gluten is the protein found in wheat and other grains like rye, spelt, and kamut. Think flour. White flour, wheat flour, barley flour. Gluten hides under many names however, so be sure to read all ingredient labels carefully. Gluten is in products like soy sauce, baking powder, candy, and many other items you wouldn't expect it. Go here to find a comprehensive list of ingredients to avoid.

1. Easiest step - Eat whole foods that are naturally gluten free. All fresh fruits, all vegetables, all fresh meats (as long as they are not processed or in a package, they should be without gluten), nuts and seeds, legumes, eggs, gluten free grains (rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, corn, etc), unflavored milk, etc. Avoiding processed foods is almost a must, as many processed foods contain gluten.

2. Don't view your world in terms of replacements. Often times, replacing a gluten item is pricey, time consuming, or not all that healthy. That doesn't mean you can't "replace" on occasion but breaking that view that you MUST eat *something* similar to gluten - or else - is a helpful way to ease your transition to a gluten free life. I remember when we first went gluten free, we really missed garlic bread with our pasta! It was more hassle than it was worth to "replace" that garlic bread with gluten free bread, so we simply omitted it. Over time we became used to it and it's no longer a need. Now, when I have the energy to source out a healthy gluten free bread or make my own, it is a special treat that we truly enjoy. Sometimes, you will need (or more importantly, want!) a replacement. Below is a super simple list of some ingredient substitutions.

3. Keep it simple! It is so overwhelming at first. Breathe. Take it one meal at a time. Snack on fruit and veggies. For dinner, have a simple meal with a bit of protein (say chicken), a veggie (asparagus), and brown rice with butter. The simpler you cook, the easier life will be. When you've had some time to adapt, then you can begin to try more complicated things like baking bread or adapting recipes. For now - say it with me - keep it simple.

4. Learn to cook. Spend some time in the kitchen. This will become your biggest asset. It is simply not economical to expect to replace all of the processed food you used to eat with gluten free alternatives. Those gluten alternatives are so wonderful and helpful when you're in a bind, but most of them are not all that healthy (though definitely better than their counterpart) and they cost an arm and a leg. Learn to make things from scratch with simple ingredients. Try my Chicken Lime Soup, Gluten Free Blender Pancakes, Brazilian Cheese Bread, or 5 Ingredient Trail Mix.

5. Be open minded. Pancakes and bread just will not be the same. Tortillas won't be the same. As time goes on, your taste buds will adapt and you'll find the beauty in gluten free life. In fact, I recently had a bit of regular pizza after 18 months of living gluten free myself (and happily, did not have any adverse symptoms! But, I am still going to remain gluten free because I feel better this way). You know what? It honestly did not taste that good to me. It was fine, but I really truly don't miss it. It may take time to get to that point, and maybe you never really will, but I promise you, things will taste better and better.

I don't buy a whole lot of packaged gluten free products, but here are a few that we enjoy on occasion:

Do you have other suggestions for someone who is about to go gluten free? Obviously there are more tips because this is a huge shift, but hopefully this gives you some encouragement and a place to start. For a more in depth look at going gluten free, I recommend this blog post by Gluten Free covers most everything!