Whether you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, have a severe gluten allergy or have a family member who has, the changeover can be daunting. Where do you start when going gluten free?
1. MAKE PEACE WITH GOING GLUTEN FREE
It sounds a little cheesy, but it’s important. I fought against my situation for quite a while before I accepted that my lifestyle was going to change drastically forever. Transition time is needed for all of us. I had breakdowns and temper tantrums on and off for about six months.
Being forced into staggering lifestyle changes isn’t easy. But don’t drag it out. In fact, go a step further and try to make peace with it. Look for the positive aspects of your situation that you can embrace. The sooner you’re able to do this (and I know it’s not easy), the sooner you can move forward with your new life.
For example, perhaps it’s a great opportunity to eat healthier, a chance to learn to cook, an excuse to spend less money eating out, a reason to find new food to incorporate into your diet, a rationale to establish a new social circle, etc.
In fact, I’ve found in recent years there are gluten free options that are as good as, or better than, standard shelf items (cookies, frozen pizzas, chips, etc.).
2. EDUCATE YOURSELF
You may be thinking, “I’ll just cheat when it gets too tempting or too overwhelming.” If you have celiac disease this has huge negative impacts on your health that are long-lasting! If you don’t understand this, you need to make an effort to learn and understand the details of your condition.
Likewise, if you have a severe gluten allergy, educate yourself on the health impacts of not eating gluten free. Unfortunately many doctors don’t have an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of celiac disease. So you need to take accountability for your own health and learn everything you can.
Right now you may have zero desire to go gluten free. Education will help you want to go gluten free. It will motivate you to expend energy to make the changes necessary to preserve and improve your health.
3. MAKE THE KITCHEN GLUTEN FREE (IF YOU CAN)
Cross contamination is the monster always lurking under the bed. It can get you at any time and make your life a nightmare. Or it can be subtle and keep you always little sick with continued damage to your intestines. You need to always guard against it.
Personally, I find this the most exhausting part of having celiac disease. It’s also why I rarely eat out, or eat only at dedicated gluten free restaurants (it’s extreme, I know, but I’m just tired of getting sick).
It may be an adjustment for the spouse, the kids, or anyone sharing your house with you, but if you own the house or you’re paying the bills for the apartment, I highly recommend making the entire kitchen gluten free.
This will be huge in helping you maintain your health, figuring out what the cause is when you get sick (because you’ll know it’s not cross-contamination from someone baking regular bread or something along those lines), and attuning yourself to the subtleties of your individual needs with regard to what foods you tolerate well and what foods you don’t (most celiacs have other food sensitivities).
I know it isn’t always possible to have everyone be gluten free. If you have to coexist, establish gluten free shelves in the fridge, cabinets, and pantry. Labeling containers and areas might also be helpful. Also be careful to have your own sponges and dish towels.
4. GET NEW UTENSILS AND APPLIANCES
When going gluten free, you’ll have to spend a bit of money. Any utensils, appliances, or Tupperware with scratches, cracks, crevices, little holes, or permeability need to be replaced. You’ll need a new toaster, colander, cutting boards, blender, coffee maker, can opener, waffle iron, anything wood (spoons, rolling pin), pizza stone, and cast iron skillets.
It’s not necessary to change over pots, pans, silverware, plates, and cups if they are cleaned very well. However, if anything has squared edges (like a loaf pan) where it’s difficult to clean the corners, I recommend replacing it.
5. HAVE ONE KITCHEN COUNTER THAT IS ONLY FOR YOU
When going gluten free, establish safe spaces. My kitchen is mostly gluten free. My husband will purchase soups and other self-contained items that have gluten. Even though the chance of cross-contamination from these is minimal, there’s an understanding that those things are never, ever put on my section of counter. I have a dedicated space that I know is always gluten free. Even so, I always wash it down with gluten free counter cleaner before I use it.
Don’t forget about your spice cabinet! You’ll need to look at each container and verify it’s gluten free. If you’re not sure, toss it.
I recommend dedicated gluten-free condiments that are labeled or squeeze bottles. If you share condiments with gluten eating individuals, implement a single-dipping rule to avoid cross-contamination.
8. LEARN WHAT LABELING MEANS
You’d think this would be the least of your worries when going gluten free—that it would be straight forward, but it’s not. Believe it or not, FDA regulation does not require manufacturers to test for the presence of gluten in their starting ingredients or finished foods that are labeled gluten-free. This is where certification becomes important. Check out my article on gluten free labeling and certification for more information.
9. ITEMS YOU DON’T INGEST
Going gluten free doesn’t stop at food. It applies to anything that goes in your mouth, or anything (like your hands) that could touch something that goes in your mouth. You may also be sensitive enough that skin contact is an issue. Check out my article on hidden gluten for detailed information on products you use daily that you may need to change out.
10. RESTAURANTS AND GOING GLUTEN FREE
You have to be very careful when it comes to eating out. There are a million opportunities for cross-contamination to occur and any slip by the staff can make you sick.
If the entire restaurant is gluten free and staff and/or owners have celiac disease, then you’re golden. I’m fortunate enough to have one of these where I live, and it’s the only place I eat out. But if no one involved in the restaurant has celiac disease, they simply aren’t going to understand all the myriad ways they can accidentally introduce gluten into your food.
If the restaurant has extremely strict processes, you should be relatively safe. But there’s always a chance a server or cook that day may not be diligent or may not follow the established protocol, and could cross-contaminate your food.
So you’re finally wrapping your head around going gluten free and you have to go on a trip! Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more stressful…. Traveling is its own beast and requires some pre-planning to make sure you don’t get sick. Check out my article here for tips on gluten free traveling.