It's been exactly 3 years this week since I've been diagnosed with celiac disease, so I guess I consider myself a bit of a veteran when it comes to living gluten free. I thought I'd reflect a bit and offer some helpful tips to those newly diagnosed with either a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Since I also have the pleasure of having a dairy allergy, I've included some tips about going dairy free as well.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet :) These are simply some "best practices" and include great advice and food suggestions I've gotten from others along the way. Take what works for you, and always, consult your doctor about your specific needs. In the past, I have printed out the information below and given it to family members, friends, and babysitters as a quick guide when preparing meals for us or taking care of my son.
What is Gluten anyway?
Gluten is the protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley that “binds” things together. It gives breads, pastas, cookies, crackers, and many other baked goods their texture. It is also used as a thickening agent in soups, salad dressings, marinades, and even soy sauce.
What is considered Dairy?
For me, anything that contains casein, the protein found in milk, is considered a dairy item to be avoided. This includes cow's milk, butter, cheeses, and ice cream. This is not to be confused with lactose intolerance, which is an inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products. Contrary to popular belief, eggs are not considered dairy. They are often located with other dairy items in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores, so people commonly feel they are a dairy item to be avoided as well.
You just found out that you can't eat gluten or dairy. Now what?
- Take a deep breath. If it makes you feel better, shed a few tears to mourn the loss of crusty bread slathered with butter. Then, know that everything will be OK. In fact, it will better than OK because you are going to start healing yourself. Today.
- If everyone in the household is going gluten free, you can donate or discard gluten containing flours, breads, pastries, and snacks. If you are like me and have die-hard gluten eaters in the house, discarding all gluten containing foods is unrealistic. Be sure to reserve a clean "gluten free zone" in your pantry just for you. Set aside a section of your fridge or get your own mini-fridge for dairy free items such as cheeses, mayonnaise, alternative milks, and butters. I took over our beverage fridge, and that has been working great to keep my items separate and free from contamination. I also recommend getting a Sharpie pen to label your peanut butter, condiments, etc. with "GF/DF" so that you and everyone else in the house know what is safe for you!
- Focus on what you CAN eat, and make a list of some of your favorite foods. You would be surprised at what gluten free substitutions you can find nowadays. Dominick's and Jewel in Chicagoland now have gluten free sections. Whole Foods, Woodman's, and Trader Joe's have an extensive selection of gluten and dairy free items. See my tips for getting started with gluten free foods below, but a piece of fresh fruit or sliced veggies are naturally gluten free.
- Get a shiny new toaster, just for you. Make sure everyone knows about this new toaster and not to touch it! You don't want breadcrumbs co-mingling with your gluten free toast and bagels.
- Remember that knowledge is power, but proceed on the Internet with caution. You will see a lot of conflicting information about what does/does not contain gluten, so it is best to go directly to the source. Read labels and contact manufacturers directly with any questions.
- Have snacks handy all of the time, so you won't find yourself hungry and unable to eat somewhere. Almonds with dried figs or raisins, and energy bars (Larabar, The Gluten Free Bar, Think Thin, Kind bars) are all great choices. You want something with carbohydrates and protein to help fill you up.
- Check out your toiletries, makeup, and sunscreens. It depends on your sensitivity, but for some celiacs, skin products with gluten can cause a dermatitis rash. There is also the slight chance of accidentally ingesting the product too. It's better to be safe than sorry and a nice treat to buy some new beauty products! Most Neutrogena and Dove products are gluten free, but check labels. Trader Joe's tea tree shampoos are gluten free and will make your head tingle with delight as you lather up. Bare Minerals is a great line of makeup, pricey but high quality and will last you a while.
Basic Gluten Free and Dairy Free Guidelines
- All fresh fruits and vegetables are gluten free. Fresh eggs are also gluten free and dairy free.
- Fresh meat, poultry, and fish are gluten free. Check any seasonings or sauces that may have been added to meats to ensure there are no gluten ingredients.
- Breads, pasta, crackers, pretzels, baked goods (cookies, doughnuts, muffins, pancakes) are NOT gluten free. There are many gluten free substitutions on the market now. Some better than others. You can also make your own gluten free breads and baked goods either from scratch or using some pre-made, gluten free mixes on the market.
- Ingredients to stay away from: Wheat, Rye, Barley, Malt, and any derivatives of these. Most major brands do call out allergens in their ingredients list, so you can always check that too. Oats are a bit tricky, since they are typically contaminated from being harvested alongside wheat, and there is some debate as to whether they contain proteins that can trigger symptoms similar to gluten sensitivity. Recently, companies have been producing oats that are certified gluten free. Research has also shown that gluten free oats can be tolerated by most celiacs in small amounts (1/2 cup per day), once intestines have had adequate time to begin healing (approximately 6 months).
- Use separate utensils, cutting board, preparation surface, and pots & pans for cooking gluten free food. We prepare gluten containing food in our household as well, so sometimes I will prepare my gluten free food before preparing any gluten containing food.
- Sponges – Be careful! Those can trap gluten if you prepare gluten containing and gluten free items in your household. Replace them often.
- Use separate toaster for gluten free and gluten-containing breads.
- Grill gluten free items on a separate grill, or dedicated area of a grill that has been thoroughly cleaned.
- Wash hands thoroughly between handling gluten free and gluten containing foods.
- Good Substitutions for Milk are: Coconut Milk, Almond Milk, Soy Milk
- Good Substitutions for Butter are: Earth Balance Spread, Canola Oil, Olive Oil, Crisco shortening, Cooking Spray – be careful here. Some sprays are “butter flavor” or “baking spray” and may contain wheat and/or milk.
Common Foods and Brands that are Gluten and Dairy Free
- Chex Cereal (Rice, Corn, Cinnamon, and Honey Nut varieties)
- Bacon (certain brands) – Hormel, Oscar Mayer, Applegate Farms, Wright
- Sausages (certain brands) – Aidell's, Jennie-O (certain varieties), Hillshire Farms (certain varieties)
- Yogurts - Yoplait is gluten free, So Delicious (coconut milk-based), Silk (soy milk-based), and Amande (almond milk-based) brands are both gluten and dairy free
- Van's Waffles - Buckwheat with Blueberry are very good
- Bagels with Toffuti Cream Cheese - Kinnickinnick and Udi's bagels are delicious
- Fresh Salads - Amy's, Annie's and Brianna's brands make excellent salad dressings
- Lunchmeat sandwiches, hot dogs – Hormel, Oscar Mayer, Applegate Farms are gluten free and have varieties that are nitrate/nitrite free as well.
- Eggs (egg salad, hard boiled)
- Soups – Most have wheat in them. Amy's brand makes a few gluten free varieties that are just heat and serve.
- Potatoes - Several varieties of Ore-Ida french fries and hash browns are gluten free. It says it right on the package :)
Safe Sauces/Condiments (Always check labels for most up-to-date ingredients)
- Heinz Ketchup (original says gluten free right on the back)
- French's Classic Yellow Mustard, Dijon Mustard, Honey Mustard
- Lea & Perrin's Original Worcestershire Sauce
- Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue Sauce
- Hershey's Chocolate Flavor Syrup
- Hellman's Original Mayonnaise
- Pasta Sauces: Classico brand says gluten free right on it
- Salsas: All Frontera salsas are gluten free
- La Choy Soy Sauce (regular and less sodium)
- JIF Peanut Butter
- Smucker's Preserves (any variety)
- Tribe brand Hummus, Sabra brand Hummus
- Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth (Less Sodium), Regular
- Pacific Foods
- Kitchen Basics Stock
- Rachael Ray's Stock
- Kraft Jet Puffed Marshmallows
- Clabber Girl Baking Powder
- Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda
- Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Premium Baking Chips (dairy free)
- Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (not dairy free)
Breads to Try: There are a variety of gluten free breads on the market, some better than others. Check out my post, Against the Grain - A Sampling of Great Gluten Free Breads, for some of my favorite gluten free breads to try. As for sweets, here are a few recipes to get you started: chocolate chip biscotti, ghirardelli's chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter bars, carrot cake, rice krispie treats
- Bush's Beans (all varieties)
- Coconut Milk (Taste of Thai, Thai Kitchen brands)
Snacks - check out my Snack Attack post with some of my favorite gluten free snacking options
- Blue Diamond Almond Nut Thins
- Tortilla Chips (El Milagro, Tostitos, Mission, Xoachetl)
- Lay's Potato Chips
- Ruffles Potato Chips
Tips for Eating Out
- Before you go, look online, read reviews from other celiacs, and check out the gluten free menu.
- Lettuce Entertain You has done an excellent job of providing dedicated gluten free menus.
- Call ahead. Speak to the manager or chef (if you can) beforehand about your concerns. I always say I have a gluten "allergy", since that is better understood than going into a 10 minute explanation about my intestinal villi.
- When checking in, reconfirm that you have dietary concerns with your server, don't be afraid to send something back or ask questions. Let them know it is serious!
- Be an advocate for yourself – This should be an enjoyable experience and you have the right to enjoy your meal and not get sick! With that said, I am cautious and I trust my “gut reaction” (no pun intended).
- The Gluten Free explosion has been a double edged sword. There are now more options than ever, but not every establishment truly “gets” it, e.g. brushing croutons off the salad as they are serving it to you, frying gluten and gluten free items together in the same fryers, oil, etc.
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