I’ve always admired my good friend, Chef Amy. I’ve asked her to send me a little something to post for my readers. I’m sure you will love Amy as much as I do. She is a wealth of knowledge– especially if you are thinking about going Gluten Free!
Enjoy! ~ Chef Gigi
If you don’t know my story, I’ll try telling it briefly. In 2007, when my daughter was diagnosed with what we thought was a gluten sensitivity for her eczema (it was described as “leaky gut”), I didn’t think I had to be 100% strict with her gluten-free diet. There was a lot I didn’t know.
In 2009, when I went gluten-free, it never occurred to me to be tested for celiac disease because my symptoms were mild. This is a decision I now regret but I didn’t know what I know now. A year later, my son was tested for celiac disease and a gluten sensitivity. Because his celiac test came back negative and I thought he only had a sensitivity, I didn’t think I’d have to be strict. Since then, a lot has changed.
I have learned since then that my husband and I both carry genes for celiac disease. I have learned that you don’t have to have severe symptoms to have celiac disease; there can be other indicators that people often ignore. I have learned you can have no symptoms. I have learned during this time that I should have been strict from the beginning. I also learned that I have a cousin with 2 children with celiac disease. Can you picture the check marks going off in my head?
Why tell you this before you get started? I don’t want you to make the same mistakes. Also, if you aren’t strict and you are trying gluten-free to see if it alleviates a symptom, there’s no way to know unless there is no gluten in your diet. I do believe that not everyone has to have celiac disease to benefit from a gluten-free diet. I have met many people who have tested negative multiple times but know that gluten-free is the right choice.
What I’m highly suggesting is that you “go in it to win it”, a phrase I coined after a class one night. Another reason is that if you are intolerant to gluten, it can be doing damage you don’t see or feel. Have I convinced you yet?
Well, here are 5 tips for starting* a gluten-free diet:
*Please, please, before you start. Get tested for celiac disease first!
1. Make a meal plan before you shop and start. This is really your strategy. You can approach this part in two ways. You can try to find the replacements for everything you eat (which you probably have heard is not the healthiest if you start eating sugar-laden gluten-free processed foods) or you might take it as a chance to change what you are eating. For me, eventually, I ate less sandwiches at lunch and more salads. We stopped eating bread at dinner and having pasta 3 times a week. Now we eat more vegetables and protein. This might take a while.
You will need to replace obvious things like bread, pasta, cereals, and crackers. Don’t forget about soy sauce, certain cereals (even rice based ones), spices, salad dressings, and oats (yes, you need to use/buy gluten-free oats). You can download a gluten-free pantry list from my website here (scroll down to download the form). The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) also has a good guide here. Always check because you might be surprised to find wheat, barley or rye in the strangest things.
2. Get ready to cook. It’s going to be expensive and potentially disappointing if you buy everything from pizza, cookies, muffins, to pie; you might not like the quality. The good news is that all of these can be made in your own kitchen. I suppose that’s one reason I wrote The Warm Kitchen (shameless plug, yes). But seriously, it is. I much prefer my own food to almost anything I can buy.
3. You will need to meal plan for parties and events. Don’t leave yourself in the situation where you arrive someplace and then realize there’s nothing you can eat. I went to a party once and ate just a little before going so I wouldn’t be too hungry, assuming (doh!) there would be something I could eat. Every single dish had some type of gluten in it. I snacked on fruit, nuts, and some cheese (out of desperation). It’s probably a good idea to keep a protein bar handy. Think about what you can bring to a party or event. Check with the hostess and don’t be embarrassed. This is serious stuff.
4. Be ready to feel deprived. Gluten-free sounds good on paper to some folks but when the rubber hits the road and you really have to say no to that delicious looking meatball, almost all food at a fair or event, Aunt Mary’s pie, NY pizza…well, you might just be a little bummed out. I’m not telling you this to depress you; I’m sharing how I have felt. My daughter said to me one day “Mama, I wish everyone was gluten-free. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about what we eat.” Out of the mouths of babes. You have to be strong, especially if you have celiac disease or an intolerance. Honestly, some days it can just be a bummer. But eating a piece of gluten bread over how amazing I feel (minute on the lips) won’t make me do it.
5. Check and recheck. My mom had a lot of sayings; “many hands make light work”, “too many cooks spoil the broth”, and yes, “check and recheck”. When it comes to gluten-free dining and products, I can’t reiterate this enough. My daughter is a real detective. She has questioned products like Korean hot sauce, veggie sticks, and marinated chicken. She has a sixth sense in a way. I have found that many restaurants assume they know gluten-free but may not. Many do not know that imitation crab (which you often find in California rolls) is made with wheat. However, there is one imitation crab on the market that is gluten-free. Check and recheck. Plan to make mistakes in the beginning. I mean this more from a mental standpoint. It’s very easy to miss things and you will get mad at yourself. You have to be able to forgive yourself.
Whatever the reason you may be to have to eat gluten-free, I suggest that you take it seriously from the onset. Don’t expect to be perfect but try your best. Eating gluten-free may not always be easy but it’s something that could potentially have a profound effect on your life. Take it one day at a time and as I always say, happy cooking.