I assume if you’re reading this, you’ve either been recently diagnosed with Celiac disease, are gluten intolerant/sensitive OR you know someone who is – and that’s a difficult thing to hear. You may be feeling completely overwhelmed, even a little depressed.
As one of my son’s friends, who was also just diagnosed, said, “I can’t eat anything anymore.”
Trust me. I understand completely what he meant and how you may be feeling. I once thought and felt that way myself.
For years, as a vegetarian, I was accustomed to being asked, “If you don’t eat meat, what DO you eat?” As if I was living only half a life. And my response was always, “Everything else.” Because my dinner plate wasn’t meat-centered, I had the freedom to eat what I liked. I wasn’t limited to thinking in terms of what meat I was serving and thereby planning everything else around it. I never felt as if I were missing out. It was just a different way of being. And that’s how it is with living gluten-free. Although I assure you, I didn’t always think that way. At first I did feel the way my son’s friend does. As if I was being denied everything I had once enjoyed, while everyone else dug into their food, completely unconcerned.
Those of you who’ve been recently diagnosed may be feeling the same way. And you’re probably saying to yourself, “Okay, so tell me what CAN I eat when everything in my cupboard is potentially off limits?” When suddenly that innocuous can of soup in the cupboard, the salad dressing in your fridge, and the flavored chips on your counter – may be hiding something that has the power to bring you to your knees.
I used to imagine it would be so much easier if the food in my pantry just came with a skull and crossbones, or a big red poison sign on it. Because that’s exactly how my body felt if I ate something I wasn’t supposed to have. I’d been glutened and I didn’t even know it, until it was too late. And I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I simply didn’t know. Dips, canned vegetables, flavored chips, rice mixes, pudding, mixed nuts, granola, beer, seasonings, even some chocolate (no!!! Oh yes!) contained the dreaded ingredients. And the list went on and on!
So…once I felt well enough to crawl back amongst the living, I’d study the labels, looking for what it was that had made me so sick. My eyes would carefully scan the words looking for wheat in the ingredient list. But unfortunately, it didn’t always identify itself as such. Names like: MSG, lecithin, starch hydrolysis, malt syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, maltodexterin, dexterin, triticale, starch, food starch, modified food starch, emulsifiers – were possible (notice I said possible?) sources of wheat or gluten. I didn’t even know what some of these things were. So to me there was no guarantee that they were the culprits. And no guarantee that they weren’t. The source of my cruel attacker remained hidden. Mysterious. Which ones contained wheat or gluten? And would the dastardly substance get me again? Undoubtedly the answer was YES. So I learned to steer clear of anything I couldn’t positively identify as safe. Because you can’t always tell where the crafty critters are hiding.
But all joking aside, it really is important for you to learn what to avoid so I’ve created a list. What Can I Eat and What Do I Avoid?
Yet I will tell you that even when you’re armed with information, there can still be the added challenge that comes if you’re the only one in your home having to eat gluten-free. It means being very diligent about not only what you eat, but how it’s prepared. Back in the day, I knew nothing about cross-contamination, or how important it was to keep countertops, cutting boards, pasta strainers, even toasters, separate and clearly marked – so gluten-filled foods didn’t come in contact with them. I learned that even a few bread crumbs left on the butter or in the jar of peanut butter can make a person feel pretty sick. So separate jars, separate toasters, separate cutting boards became essential. And you don’t want to use the same sponge to wash out your dishes if it’s just scrubbed the pasta bowl. Pretend you’re on CSI and think about where traces of wheat and gluten might turn up, and then do everything you can to avoid that!
When you’re first beginning this new way of life there will be a lot of changes.
But they’re not all bad. I promise. Your kitchen will be very well organized, for one thing. =)
However, more importantly, you’re going to start feeling a whole lot better, and that’s worth it! So let’s get started with the healing by talking about choosing fresh, whole foods and not those that come in packages, boxes, bags, or cans. If you think in terms of shopping around the rim of your grocery store, at least in the beginning, you aren’t as likely to find things containing wheat or gluten. For example, you can safely assume that those carrots or that head of lettuce is free of wheat and gluten. In fact, you can eat any and all fresh vegetables and fruits and know that they’re gluten-free. So too is the fresh fish or the uncooked poultry. So long as it’s not already cooked, stuffed, breaded, or seasoned, you can assume it’s safe to eat. You can also pop into the aisle to pick up some dried beans or quinoa (both of which are naturally gluten-free). And how about some plain rice? Regardless of whether it’s whole-grain brown rice or white rice, it is considered gluten-free. Just check the label for cross-contamination (ie. it’s been processed in a facility that also processes wheat/gluten). And watch out for the rice that comes flavored or seasoned, as they may contain things like barley! A big no-no!
The dairy section becomes a little trickier as that shredded cheese may contain flour sprinkled to prevent caking. Better to shred the cheese yourself, even if it takes a few minutes more. Also, some flavored cheeses and yogurt may need to be looked over, and sometimes cottage cheese contains modified food starch – which may be derived from wheat or corn. This is the time to read a few labels, and it’s a good place to start learning how. I personally began by purchasing only items I could readily identify. If it had any of the sort of names listed above, back on the shelf they went. It just wasn’t worth the risk.
The good news is, the labels are getting easier to read. And the government’s new ruling about gluten-free products mean that as of August 2014, the items labeled as such will be much safer for consumption by those of us who need to know what we’re eating. http://www.celiac.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=249:fdagfrule
Indeed, the whole gluten-free market has really opened up since I first discovered my problem. In fact, some of the stores have set aside an entire aisle or more for gluten-free products which are being marketed specifically for those of us who need it. Some call it a fad, but for those of us with real health issues, it comes as a real blessing!