When I first went gluten free (GF) in 2010, I learned very, very slowly about the GF diet and which items were off limits. If I had a good resource with tips and helpful ideas, I was sure I could have learned so much faster. Here are 10 tips I think will be very informative to people just beginning a gluten free life:
1. Go all in
Don’t be one of those people that says they are going gluten free and still eat gluten some of the time. If you have celiac disease and the doctor tells you to stay away from gluten, you are now gluten free for life – your health depends on it. If you are going gluten free for other reasons like weight loss or similar reasons, don’t cheat on the diet. If you go out to a restaurant and say you are GF and then tell the waiter you can eat just a little bread, the waiter automatically thinks the GF diet is a big joke and it hurts the whole community.
2. Join a gluten free group/make gluten free friends
Having a group of gluten free people that you can talk with and receive guidance from is extremely valuable. My girlfriend is also GF and it makes dining out soooo much easier since we are both ordering gluten free food. If you live in a big city, MeetUp.com will almost certainly have GF groups you can join, meet up for some GF meals, and make new friends at the same time.
3. Always be learning
The gluten free diet is tough at first, but it isn’t rocket science. I am still learning new things on a daily basis. Sometimes I will pick up a food item at the grocery store that I think will be gluten free and it says “Contains wheat” on the label. When first starting out, the learning curve will be huge. It will take you months before you know off the top of your head if an item is gluten free or not. And even though you are almost positive it is, you still double and triple check just to be safe.
4. Learn about cross contamination
Cross contamination is one of the most misunderstood things in the gluten free world. Simply put, cross contamination occurs when gluten finds its way in foods that normally don’t contain it.
For example, let’s say you are making some gluten free toast and decide to use the same toaster that your family uses for regular bread, waffles, and other gluten-filled items. By coming in contact with those bread crumbs, your gluten free bread is no longer gluten free.
Individuals with celiac disease must be diligent about avoiding food that has been in contact with gluten-containing foods.
5. Learn about hidden sources of gluten
When I first went gluten free, there were many items that I thought were 100% always GF that I discovered can actually contain gluten.
Here are some of the most surprising places you could find gluten:
- Steaks and fresh seafood – could be dusted with flour.
- Scrambled eggs/Omelets – some restaurants use pancake batter.
- French Fries – often cooked in a fryer with breaded food items.
- Soy sauce/Teriyaki sauce – fermented wheat is usually an ingredient.
- Soups – many use roux or wheat flour.
- Vegetables – some restaurants will cook them in the same water as pasta.
This doesn’t mean that all of the above items will contain gluten, but it is always best to be cautious and find out if they are gluten free before consuming.
6. Tell all close family and friends immediately
By telling all your close family and friends right away, you avoid sticky situations that could arise in the future. At Thanksgiving when everyone is eating gravy and bread rolls, Aunt Sally won’t be offended when you aren’t eating food she made if she knows you are gluten free. Or you go over to a friend’s house and they wonder why you can’t eat the pizza you guys were supposed to split. It is just easier telling everyone right off the bat than trying to remember if you told a certain person down the road about your new GF diet.
7. Stick with it; it gets easier and you will feel better!
The gluten free diet can be overwhelming at first. I definitely thought it was tough to stick with for the first couple months. Everyday I would think, “Man, I just want to eat some pizza from Papa John’s or mozzarella sticks from Arby’s”. Eventually, I just learned to cook my own gluten free versions of these things and the urge to cheat went away completely.
So, stick with it at the beginning; it will be a little tough, but it gets so much easier over time!
8. Preparation is key!
I have found that the urge to eat something with gluten almost always comes from lack of preparation. For example, assume you are on a long plane ride with no gluten free snacks and the only option is to eat the gluten-filled food the airline is serving. Not a very good situation to be in, is it?
Whenever you aren’t sure of the gluten free food options, bring a plethora of gluten free snacks to eat if you can’t find a good place to get a meal. The last thing I want you to do is grabbing a Subway sandwich because it is the only thing to eat within an hour and you feeling sick for days afterward.
9. Always ask questions
When dining out, it is so important to ask questions. As I mentioned earlier about cross contamination, eating outside your home can be scary when on a gluten free diet.
Make sure you ask the waiter/waitress which food is safe for a gluten free person. If they aren’t sure, have them check with the manager/chef/someone who knows. Tell them to make sure they cook the food on clean equipment with clean utensils if you have celiac disease. It is always better to ask too many questions than too few when it comes to protecting your health!
10. Gluten free food can taste just as good as the food you used to eat.
I can’t even tell you how many times people have asked “What do you even eat?!” when I tell them I’m gluten free. Well folks, homemade gluten free food is often just as good, if not better, than its regular counterpart.
Gluten free food does not have to be plain and boring. Once you settle in to your GF diet, you will see just how easy and delicious it can be.