Contributed by Jessie DeMarco
Discovering you are sensitive, intolerant or allergic to gluten (celiac) can be overwhelming. Doctors, dietitians, and other health practitioners offer lists of foods to avoid, which is the most important first step to begin healing. However, as your kitchen will ultimately become your safest place to dine, it also needs to be transitioned to gluten free. This change is not nearly as difficult as it seems, and can actually help you to better understand and appreciate your new, healthier culinary lifestyle.
Fortunately, large-scale grocery stores carry an ever-growing selection of allergen-friendly foods. And, with a little bit of creativity, experimenting, and trial and error, your transition can be a breeze. Below are some basic do’s and don’ts for transforming your kitchen from gluten-full to fresh, healthier, and gluten-free.
Look through your pantry and refrigerator to find the foods and meals that you already enjoy that are gluten free. Be sure to list condiments, ice creams, and produce. Gluten can be lurking in unexpected ingredients. Check out this link for more details. You may also need to keep a food journal for a week or two if you haven’t already, to help with the process. All of this will be important as you begin to create menus around your new foods. It may also be comforting to know that some of your favorites are already gluten free!
Discard any and all gluten-containing ingredients from your pantry, fridge, and freezer. This can be daunting, but rest assured you will be refilling these areas with foods that will treat your body well, and help you to feel better.
Plan out your meals and make a shopping list before heading to the store. Think about the meals you currently enjoy, and see if you can replace some ingredients with those that are gluten-free. Here are some healthy examples:
– Burgers: substitute the bun with a crisp lettuce leaf. With the right sized lettuce, you can still load it up with toppings!
– Pasta and meatballs: Substitute bean or vegetable noodles, and use gluten-free breadcrumbs in your meatballs. There are many gluten-free breadcrumb brands, and you won’t notice the difference!
– Pizza: Get creative and use cauliflower for a low carb, healthy, and delicious crust! Recipe here.
Head to the appliance isle and get yourself a new toaster! Cross-contamination is usually the most common cause for an unexpected reaction to gluten. You will need to replace your toaster and/or toaster oven, and, in extreme cases, you may want to think about new kitchen utensils, pots and pans. Cross-contamination once or twice may not be too harmful, but prolonged exposure to an allergen can cause serious issues for the most gluten-sensitive folks. Ensuring that your kitchen and cooking equipment is clear of these allergens is the first step to protecting yourself from cross-contamination.
Do not replace everything in your current pantry with a gluten-free alternative! Some gluten-free alternatives, such as pastas, flours, baked goods, breads, waffles, etc. are convenient, but tend to be very high in sugar and sodium, offering little health benefit. In the initial weeks of your transition to gluten-free, it’s best to stick to protein, veggies and fruits, to give your body time to adjust. You can then introduce these convenience items, but do so in moderation. Simply replacing your junk food with rice-based substitutes will not contribute to improving your health. However, if you want an occasional treat, try to choose starchy carbs that are low in sodium, sugar, and saturated fats, and contain good fiber and protein.
Understand that everyone has a different tolerance level for various foods and ingredients. For instance, some people steer clear of white vinegar, while others believe the distillation process removes enough parts per million of gluten for it to be considered gluten free. As you embark on your journey to eating and feeling better, you will learn what your personal tolerance levels are for everything from cross contamination to specific foods and ingredients. It may not always be easy, and it can be frustrating at times, but being sensitive or allergic to gluten is really not so bad. In fact, it’s easier and more delicious than it’s ever been!
DO follow Gluten-Free Connecticut for more gluten-free tips, recipes, and strategies for living your best and most delicious gluten-free life, right here in the Nutmeg state!
About the Author:
Jessie DeMarco is a chef, nutritionist, and owner of Rël Fit Meals. She has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from The University of Saint Joseph, and an associate’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Jessie lives with celiac disease herself, and works with clients to bridge the gap between diagnosis and everyday life, by helping to transition their kitchens, favorite recipes, and lifestyles.