Gluten-free (GF) eating has become mainstream in recent years with options widely available in grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. Still, cutting foods out of the diet is often overwhelming. Here are some gluten-free tips for beginners.
So, what exactly is gluten? It’s a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. Some people decide on their own, without any medical diagnosis, that they are “intolerant” to gluten. People who perceive themselves as being intolerant link their symptoms such as nausea, rashes, headaches, depression, exhaustion, and stomach upset to gluten. However, studies have shown that 75% of people who claimed to have a gluten intolerance did not have any symptoms after eating gluten rich food in a blind taste test.
Celiac disease is a serious form of gluten intolerance with testing available to see if a person has it. There is no evidence to suggest that those without a true medical condition, such as celiac disease or an allergy to wheat, for example, will benefit from avoiding gluten. Less than 1% of people have a true medical condition that would make it necessary for them to avoid eating gluten.
Despite what the science says, many parents decide to try a GF lifestyle for their children, but removing children’s favorite foods, such as pizza, bread, cookies, macaroni and cheese, and crackers, is often upsetting to them. Fortunately, the internet is full of gluten-free tips for beginners.
Replacing old favorite foods with acceptable alternatives is one way to handle melt-downs from kids who are resistant to change. Annie’s makes boxed GF macaroni and cheese. Even popular brands like Betty Crocker and Kraft are offering options. Check the freezer section at the grocery store for bread, bagels, pizza, and cookies by brands like Udi’s and Rudi’s.
It is important to carefully read labels on any product purchased, and this is true whether or not someone is trying to avoid gluten. The proteins pop up in unexpected places, like play dough and vitamins. If a person has a diagnosed medical condition that makes it beneficial for him or her to avoid gluten, he or she should check with the manufacturer. They are not required to list products on the label if there are only trace amounts present.
Other gluten-free tips for beginners include making sure separate utensils and careful preparation is being used when handling food to avoid cross-contamination. Ordering a gluten-free slice of pizza is useless if the waitress grabs it for you with the same serving tool she uses for regular slices.
Keep snacks on hand when traveling for when there are uncertain options available. String cheese, fruit, nuts, veggies and hummus, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, lunch meat, grilled chicken, olives, and yogurt are usually safe options.
Many grains are still okay to eat including corn, cornmeal, buckwheat, millet, rice, and quinoa. Gluten-free flours made out of potato, almond, tapioca, or coconut starch are available for making pancakes, bread, cakes, muffins, and other baked goods.
Most people start to feel better about two weeks after completely avoiding gluten if they have a true gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Feeling better is often all the motivation needed to continue with the lifestyle–even for children. If it is a substance the body has trouble digesting, the symptoms return quickly after eating gluten again. Support groups offering gluten-free tips for beginners are widely available in most communities, as well as online.
By Rachael Moshman