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Going Gluten Free: The Basics

New to gluten free eating? Here are the basics for setting up your kitchen, foods to try, and how to stay safe!

Going Gluten Free: The Basics // One Lovely Life

I’ve been asked by at least a dozen people lately about going gluten free. Maybe you have to go gluten free for medical reasons, or you think you might have an intolerance, or you love and eat with someone who does. If you’ve been a gluten eater (and lover) your whole life, making the change can seem so overwhelming. I’ve been there. Almost 1 year into this journey, I can tell you, you can do it!


There are many wonderful, more experienced cooks, chefs, and bloggers who have been gluten free for years and years. I’m certainly not trying to re-invent the wheel here, but I know it can be overwhelming to sort through everything out there about going gluten free. I hope to provide some of the basics. Read through what I have here, then click on some of the extra resources at the bottom of the post to fill in the gaps.  Here we go!

My Tips for Going Gluten Free

First: Commit.

You are going to have to be vigilant. If you’ve been suffering from symptoms that might be caused by gluten, you aren’t going to know if you’re better if you still eat gluten once a week or once a day. You’re going to have to learn to plan ahead. Check restaurant menus. Pack an emergency GF snack in your purse or desk. Read labels. Check brands. This list alone might make you feel overwhelmed, but after a few weeks, it’ll be second nature. I promise.

Start Fresh.

This does take some time. You’re going to need to make sure your house is safe. That means you can’t share a toaster that also toasts wheat toast. Plastic and wooden bowls, spoons, and cutting boards need to go or be replaced if they’ve ever been used with gluten. They are porous and can trap food particles in them. Metal and glass and silicone are your new friends. They’re nonporous and can be sanitized and cleaned easily. This doesn’t have to cost a fortune–Target, Wal-Mart, and IKEA all sell inexpensive metal bowls and utensils, and inexpensive plastic or wooden cutting boards, if you’re replacing them. If you can’t afford to replace things, scrub them the very best you can. 

You’ll need to keep an eye out for cross-contamination. Just like you need to be vigilant about not eating gluten-containing foods, you need to be sure gluten isn’t mistakenly getting into your foods. With sensitivities and intolerances, even the smallest amount of gluten can cause a reaction. Unfortunately, you’ll need to steer clear of the bulk bins, since they’re a hot spot for cross contamination (someone uses a scoop on something and puts it back in the wrong place, or they fill a bin that used to hold something with gluten in it). Stop using that open jar of peanut butter if you’ve ever used it on wheat bread. Look through your cupboards, pantry, and refrigerator and start fresh. You may need to switch brands of seasoning mix, or salad dressing, or chicken broth. Consider donating anything unopened that you can’t use to a food bank, or see if a friend or family member would take them off your hands.

 

Going Gluten Free: The Basics // One Lovely Life

Become a label reader.

Labeling has gotten much clearer and transparent even in the last year, but you’ll want to be able to double-check that your brands are safe. Especially if you’re avoiding dairy or soy in addition to gluten, I highly recommend buying a shopping guide to help you (we like the gluten/casein free one found here). Gluten can be obvious or hidden, but can be in virtually anything processed. Here are some examples:

  • Broths, bouillon, seasoning packets, malt powder, malt flavoring, malt vinegar, and any product with the words “natural flavoring” in the ingredient list. (not everything with “natural flavoring” has gluten, but you need to make sure before you eat it.)
  • Breads, buns, rolls, crackers, tortillas, pasta, cakes, cookies, pie crusts, pancakes, waffles, muffins, biscuits, etc.
  • Sausages, bacon, lunch meat, pre-marinated or rubbed meats and fish, meat injected with a broth solution.
  • Soy sauce, BBQ sauce, salad dressings, creamy sauces, gravy, or soups (anything you’d thicken with flour)
  • Candy and licorice
  • Play-doh (no, it’s not food, but it can cause a reaction)
  • If you have Celiac disease, you’ll even want to check your lip gloss, lotion, shampoo, and makeup.

 

Going Gluten Free: The Basics // One Lovely Life

Focus on foods that are naturally gluten free.

Fruits, veggies, unprocessed meats, nuts, seeds, and dairy are all naturally gluten free. People look at a gluten free lifestyle and think “it’s so expensive to eat that way.” It can be, but many of the most expensive things are the gluten free processed foods, like pretzels, bread, or animal crackers. You can spend your life trying to track down the cracker that tastes the most like your favorite wheat variety, or you can learn to eat your chicken salad on cucumbers or apple slices. If you focus your diet around the whole, delicious foods that are naturally gluten free, it can be very affordable. There are also a huge variety of safe-to-eat, gluten free grains that are you can have. Which brings me to my next point…

Going Gluten Free: The Basics // One Lovely Life

 

Broaden your grain and starch horizons.

You’re going to learn a lot about a lot of whole grains you may have never even heard of. Rice, wild rice, quinoa, and corn are all safe. So is every variety of potato you can think of. But so are buckwheat (tricky name; it’s not wheat), sorghum, millet, amaranth, and teff. Depending on your level of sensitivity, you may also tolerate certified gluten free oats. We love them!. (Oats themselves don’t contain wheat gluten, but farming and packaging processes often put them in the path of cross contamination.) There are also a great variety of nut flours you can play around with. Thanks to the popularity of the Paleo diet, coconut flour and nut flours are all over the place.

Shop smart. 

Make a list of prices of gluten free items in a few of your local stores (even Target or Wal-mart). This can take a bit of time, but will help you save money. Keep your eye out for sales, and try to stock up on anything you can (bread will freeze, pretzels will keep in the pantry). Costco carries a variety of gluten free items on a rotating basis, so depending on the demand in your area, you might be able to find some great deals there.

Also, consider ordering anything you use or eat regularly in bulk online from places like Amazon. I know I can get a better deal on most of my gluten free oats and flours from Amazon than I can at any of my stores unless they’re having an incredible sale. They have a subscribe & save option to save 5% on products you order regularly. We do this with our oats, and it beats any deal we can find in stores.

Know that it’s going to take some time.

If you’ve been eating gluten forever, and it’s suddenly gone from your diet, know that your body will likely go through some withdrawal symptoms. These will clear up in a week or two. If, during the first few weeks, you don’t feel awesome, that’s actually to be expected while your body more or less detoxes.

I felt somewhat headachy and had major munchies, though we went off gluten and dairy at the same time. A few weeks later, I felt like a fog had lifted. I had more energy, was less sleepy and groggy in the afternoon, and my body just felt lighter. So, if you don’t feel awesome on day three, stick with it. You may need to play with the balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins you’re eating. It will take some time, but you can do it!

A few more references…

Want to know more? Check out this post on gluten free blogs, books, and brands that I recommend. 

7 Comments

  1. When you are decontaminating the gluten from your kitchen don’t over look the utensil holder or anywhere crumbs like to gather. When we went gluten-free 10 years ago for celiac disease getting a new toaster, etc. we thought of but it took several months to realize our utensils were not as safe as we thought. Also, medicine can be a source of gluten as well. This one caused us some problems until we really checked everything. It is much easier now with better labels, but always remember to check medication. It took me almost a year to detox from all the damage I had been doing for years to myself due to eating gluten and not knowing I had celiac disease. Though it took almost a year, I immediately felt better enough to have hope it would work.

  2. This is a GREAT summary of the basics. Thanks for compiling all this information in one place. I didn’t know cross-contamination was such a big deal. You’re a great writer and a great mama!

  3. This is an awesome beginners’ guide going gluten-free. Thank you for your ideas and experience and for being so capable in putting it all into a readable, understandable format.

    You are wonderful.

  4. I’ve been following you for a long time, but we haven’t been gluten free until this week. My 4 year old daughter was just diagnosed with Celiac disease. This blog post is so so helpful and I know your recipes will be too. Thank you!!!

    1. Lucy – That’s so nice of you! I know that transition can feel really overwhelming at first. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions!

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