A Beginner's Guide to Gluten Free

A Beginner\'s Guide to Gluten Free

By Kirsten Berman, Gluten Free Gal

Gluten free today has become a household word, but how many know what it means to be gluten free or how to start living that kind of lifestyle?

Gluten is a complex composite of proteins found in such grains as: wheat, rye, and barley. When a person with the autoimmune Celiac disease (CD) or gluten sensitivities ingests gluten, the immune system attacks the body instead of attacking the gluten.  Because the immune system can strike anywhere, not just the intestinal area, the long list of symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Irritable bowel
  • Thyroid issues
  • Tingling in fingers and toes
  • Vertigo
  • Lack of focus
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Infertility
  • Mental Instability/Bi-polar disorder
  • Rashes
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Depression

Be aware that 80% of people with CD do not have any symptoms or so minimal that they are not attributed to CD.  Undiagnosed Celiac disease can cause major damage and lead to other autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes, hashimoto, thyroid failure, malnourishment leading to anemia and osteoporosis. 

Where is Gluten?

Wheat is an example of a hidden ingredient that is used as filler in foods, medications, cough syrup, beauty products, lip balm, candy, vitamins, toys and even play-doh.  Though most of us do not make it a habit to eat play-doh, for those with kids suffering from a gluten related issue, this might be a possible cause for concern.

Gluten might also be hiding in labels under ‘natural flavorings’, malt, yeast, starch, binder, MSG, caramel color or thickeners.  If you have any questions about ingredients, always contact manufacturer to be sure.

Plan Ahead

Living a gluten free lifestyle requires constant preparation when dealing with food and eating; during the holidays this can be especially stressful and overwhelming on a person.  An important rule of thumb to ease some of that anxiety is, plan ahead.

If traveling to a new city, Google, gluten free+(enter city) and find out as much as you can about the area, call restaurants, check to see if your hotel caters to people with Celiac disease and gluten free sensitivity; if traveling by plane, call airline ahead of time to make special GF meal requests and always bring snacks with you just in case. Feel free to offer to bring food to the party, at there will be one thing there that you know is safe.

For those occasions in which you have no control over, use your best judgment and be aware of cross contamination.  Do not ever assume those preparing or delivering your food have any knowledge of what Celiac-safe or cross contamination means; be direct when asking questions and clear when giving directions.

The Basics of Gluten Free

1. Always Read Labels. The worst thing to do is assume something is gluten free and end up sick. Make sure to read ingredient list completely and if a beginner, read it twice.

 Look for products that are: Certified Gluten Free, made in dedicated gluten free facility and are NOT made in facilities that are shared with wheat products. Watch out for foods like corn and oats if they are not certified GF, cross contamination is a serious issue that is generally overlooked.

2. Eating Out can be frustrating and confusing, especially when you see little ‘GF’s’ all over the menu. Never assume the people handling your food know more about your gluten issues than you do.

There are several steps you can take to make it a safer and happier eating experience:

  • Call ahead to restaurant and talk to the manager or chef
  • Test them on their gluten free knowledge
  • Ask how they handle cross contamination in the kitchen with ovens, pans, utensils
  • Don’t ever assume something is GF because in your mind it ‘normally’ is
  • Don’t ever be embarrassed for being who you are and asking for what you need
  • Check on Yelp or Google for reviews on eateries with GF items
  • Be aware that fried foods are usually cooked in the same oil, the temperature does not cook the gluten out of the food
  • Be aware of your cocktails, bloody mary mix a lot of the time has wheat or barley or malt as an ingredient
  • Pizza places usually use the same pans and share oven space or prepare in a cross contaminated wheat area
  • Do not be afraid to ask necessary gluten free safety questions to waiters, grocers, companies or party hosts

3. Think Ahead and Bring Gluten Free Snacks. There are always occasions where having your own GF snacks will be necessary because nothing GF is available to you.

Keep a special box in your car, office or school filled with GF goodies so you have them when you need them. Hunger can lead to rolling the dice when it comes to food risks or cheating, preparation keeps you out of the danger zone.

4. Shop Smart and Eat Healthy. Stock your refrigerator with fresh produce, meats, nuts and healthy fats. The body needs to heal from any damage that ingesting gluten may have caused it, the more nutrients you feed the body, the better you will feel.

5. Do Your Research. There is a ton of information out there and sometimes deciphering what is true and untrue is overwhelming; it will get easier. There is plenty of support on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and many websites available to you.

Deciding to eat gluten free and truly living a strictly gluten free lifestyle are two completely different paths. There are many variables to eating safely and not getting ‘glutened’ by unknown sources. Be prepared, ask questions and read labels, soon you will be an old pro who is instructing others.