You hadn’t been feeling well, and after doing some research you decide maybe the gluten in your diet is the culprit. Or perhaps you and your doctor have discovered you’re sensitive to gluten — or even have celiac disease, a serious gluten allergy.
And the first thing that crosses your mind is… “What am I going to eat?”
No gluten means no wheat or wheat cousins, including spelt and kamut. It also means no barley or rye, and checking very carefully to see if your morning bowl of oatmeal is certified gluten-free.
“Well, that’s not so complicated,” you think. “I’ll go on an Atkins-type diet: high protein, low carbs.”
Did you know salad dressing can include gluten? Vanilla extract? Soy sauce, canned soup… A bottle of beer? Avoiding gluten means becoming a very careful label reader — and, since the gluten-free alternatives of some of your favorite foods are super-expensive, a savvy shopper as well.
How do you start eating gluten-free — without suffering major sticker shock?
Choose foods that are naturally gluten-free
The first and simplest solution is to embrace fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, which are naturally gluten-free and good for you to boot. If you’ve ever followed the Weight Watchers diet, you know that most fruits and vegetables are “free” — you don’t have to count them in your daily point total. And for good reason: the more unprocessed, natural food you can eat, the better off you’ll be in all kinds of ways, from weight maintenance to heart health.
Craving cheese and crackers? Try soft, spreadable cheese on a celery stick or pepper strip. Want something sweet after supper? Eschew the cookies; nibble on dried fruit. A tasty assortment of mango, apricot, cranberries, cherries, and pineapple will satisfy any sweet tooth.
Rethink your sandwich
Bread is the single food many on gluten-free diets report missing the most. From breakfast toast to a lunchtime sandwich to a crusty demi-baguette at dinner, bread plays a large role in the typical American diet.
How can you enjoy your bread experience — without the bread?
Think about how to safely replicate the sensory experience of a sandwich, or toast, or even a slice of buttered bread. Most sandwich ingredients are just as tasty spread over a bed of lettuce (cold) or bowl of rice (hot) as they are slapped between a couple of bread slices. As for toast, how about spreading your peanut butter and jam on a rice cracker or popcorn cake?
A plain slice of bread and butter is more problematic. If you find a variety of packaged gluten-free bread you really like, it’s worth splurging on a loaf, and saving it for those times when you really, REALLY need a slice of bread. Because gluten-free loaves can become stale fairly quickly, wrap individual one- or two-slice servings in plastic, and freeze until you’re ready to rewarm in the toaster.
If you’re a dedicated baker, you’ll miss the process as much as the product. But gluten-free mixes and flour are two to three times more costly than their standard counterparts. What’s the best (and least expensive) way to keep baking, and still end up with something you can actually eat?
Choose recipes that don’t include flour. Flourless chocolate cake or cookies both base their structure on eggs, not wheat flour. Crisp, light meringues are not only gluten-free, they’re dairy-free and low-fat, as well.
Finally, homemade candy, while it’s not exactly baking, does offer a similar experience: time in the kitchen with something sweet to share at the end. Most candy recipes are gluten-free — think fudge, brittle, or chocolate bark — so you’ll have a wealth of tasty recipes to choose from.
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PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.