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This post is sponsored by Udi’s Gluten-Free.

I recently had a friend ask me for the link to the page where I discuss the TRUE basics of going gluten-free. I’ve rambled a bit about this topic (like my favorite gluten-free food blogs, being gluten-free during the holidays, and how to make dietary changes without going crazy), but I’ve never written out the truly bare-bones advice for those making the leap to gluten-free life. So… here it is!

 

Here are 8 essential things to know if you’re making the shift, too:

 

#1: Know what has gluten in it. This is a BIG ONE. Most people do not really understand what gluten is and what foods contain it. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. There are grains/seeds that are safe to eat (like corn, millet, rice, and quinoa, among others). Generally speaking, unless the product is labeled "gluten-free," you want to avoid conventional version of things like: brad, cake, pies, cookies, cereal (many versions of Chex are okay, though!), crackers, pasta, some flavors of ice cream, and meat substitutes (soy is okay). You also need to avoid things like beer (so sad) and gravy. Gluten lurks in many foods, so be aware that this is not an all-inclusive list.

 

#2: Get rid of all your gluten-containing foods. You’ll be tempted to eat the crackers if they are still in your pantry. If the box is opened, toss it out; if it’s sealed, donate it to a food pantry. Read all the ingredients on all the foods that you already have – gluten lurks in some surprising locations.

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#3: Know how careful you need to be – some people need to be very careful. There is a difference between Celiac disease/an allergy and a gluten sensitivity. I talk about that more in this post. I don’t worry a lot about cross-contamination. I don’t willingly eat gluten, but I also never think twice about cross-contamination at restaurants, etc. However, if you’re Celiac, your reaction may be so severe that you cannot eat out or cannot eat processed food manufactured on shared equipment. Talk to your doctor about this issue.

 

#4: Make a list of foods that you can actually eat. When I went gluten-free, I initially felt like was NOTHING that I could eat. But that’s not true – there are tons of things to eat on a gluten-free diet, and many foods that you eat now are actually naturally gluten-free. Tofu, some types of tempeh, meat and fish, beans, eggs, fruit, yogurt, veggies, nuts, hummus, rice, and quinoa is perfectly safe (but always check labels!).

 

#5: Try some gluten-free specialty products. Gluten-free products really helped me adjust to the lifestyle. I can still have sandwiches thanks to Udi’s. I can still have pasta thanks to brown rice spaghetti (I recently discovered the Trader Joe’s version is actually really good). I can still have tacos thanks to corn tortillas. There are more and more gluten-free products on the market every year, and while some of them are expensive, I have found that the price varies a LOT from store-to-store, and it is possible to buy such treats without breaking the bank – you just have to shop smart. Here’s a list of all my favorite gluten-free goodies.

#6: Learn some swaps. You can’t have beer, but you can have cider or wine. You can’t have bread, but you can have rice cakes, Udi’s bread (or another brand), or wrap your burgers in lettuce leaves. You can’t have burritos, but you can have corn tacos. You can’t coat meat or tofu in breadcrumbs, but you can use oats or crushed Rice Chex. You can’t have pasta, but you can use zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash. You can’t have soy sauce, but you can have tamari sauce. You get the drift! You can still eat versions of your favorite foods, you just have to be a little creative.

 

#7: Find gluten-free friendly restaurants. Many restaurants offer gluten-free menus. Mexican restaurants are traditionally mostly gluten-free, but you always want to double check (are you sensing a theme here? Always double check!). I’ve found that curries at Indian restaurants are often safe, too, but check that the dishes don’t contain flour or soy sauce. I love the Whole Foods hot bar because allergen info is clearly labeled – it’s a great version of "fast food" for someone like me.

 

#8: Know that it gets easier. When you have to give up a major food item like gluten, there is definitely a mourning period. That’s normal and natural. But as time passes, I swear you will end up thinking it’s not as big of a deal as you initially made it out to be. It really does get easier over time. I wrote some suggestions on adjusting to the change here.

 

If you’re gluten-free, too, what do you think is a good "basic" rule that newbies need to know?

 

Learn more about living gluten free! Visit http://udisglutenfree.com/community This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Udi’s Gluten Free. The opinions and text are all mine.

{ 32 comments }

 

Leave a Comment

  • Ali May 13, 2014, 8:53 pm

    I think if you truly have a reaction to gluten, you will absolutely not be tempted to eat those crackers and bread that’s left over and you won’t be going through a mourning period. Once I was diagnosed with Celiac and stopped eating gluten and my physical and neurological symptoms started to ease, nothing in the world would have made me gluten and I was so glad to just be rid of it. Also, there are so many thing out there that you can eat that are not labeled gluten free. Labeling is great, but it’s not a be all, end all. Reading the ingredient and allergy lists are the most important. Also, those gluten free products are often filled with unhealthy fat and sugar just to make it taste better – not the most healthy when you are trying to get to make a health change. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t eat out at a restaurant that doesn’t cater to a GF lifestyle. I think there are so, so many misconceptions about having to live a gluten free lifestyle and it really makes it difficult when you have no other choice.

    I absolutely do not mean to be critical, I think it’s just hard having Celiac and hearing that someone can deal with cross contamination but are still mourning the loss of gluten. It’s a completely different situation and until you’ve lived with the symptoms that come with undiagnosed Celiac, it’s really hard to know what it’s like. For me, eating gluten (even just contamination) doesn’t just mean that I don’t feel good for a day, it means I am sick for months, my brain is a complete fog and I cannot teach (my job and passion), my hands and feet go completely numb, and I am putting myself at risk for intestinal cancer.

    Reply
    • Caitlin May 13, 2014, 9:54 pm

      Well I don’t mourn the loss anymore! But I understand and appreciate what you mean. I’ve heard from so many people in your position that it was EASY to give it up because once they did, they felt so much better…
      Not eating it was so reinforcing. But there are people like me who aren’t symptomatic. Although we’re in the same GF boat, our situation is so different. I’m glad you found relief from your symptoms… I hope you continue told feel okay despite your diagnosis!

      Reply
    • Erin May 14, 2014, 6:54 am

      This has always been really hard for me since going gluten free. I don’t have celiacs – I have an autoimmune thyroid condition. Basically, eating gluten causes my thyroid to destroy itself slowly. But I don’t have to worry about cross contamination and I am not symptomatic. I still do not think you can downplay my having to go gluten free. It’s like if I complained about losing a leg and you told me I was not allowed to complain because you lost two legs. It’s all relative.

      Reply
      • Ali May 14, 2014, 11:05 am

        That’s not what I was saying and I wasn’t talking about your situation. I’m saying that it’s not that hard to commit to a GF lifestyle if you know that it affects you extremely negatively because you are well aware of the consequences. And I’m comparing an autoimmune disease to a food intolerance – it’s not the same thing (and definitely not like saying, “oh, well good thing you didn’t lose two legs!”). One is much more severe than the other (not always). I have no choice, I can’t just say “oh these fries are likely cooked in oil that cooked onion rings, but no worries!” Many, many waiters I’ve come across are so accustomed to serving those eating GF to lose weight or for “health purposes” think it’s fine to just go back to the kitchen and pick out the croutons on my salad because it’s just a little bit of gluten. I have to be extremely careful, which I am fine with, even when that means that I go out and have a drink and nothing else. I’ve already had tumors taken out of my intestine and lost about 8 years of my life to not being able to function in a normal way. Also, I don’t understand how gluten can destroy your thyroid but you’re okay with cross contamination. Gluten in your body, in any amount, will affect whatever condition it is that you are going GF for. Even if you are not symptomatic, I would think that you are still causing damage.

        Reply
        • Erin May 14, 2014, 1:20 pm

          I sympathize with your situation and I understand that you must be bitter. I just wanted to point out that you do not need to critique those who suffer differently than you.

          I also do not think you should judge my medical condition and how I chose to treat it without knowing my lifestyle. Please email me if you would like to see my blood test results and have contact information for my doctor.

          Reply
          • Ali May 14, 2014, 2:22 pm

            No, I really, really don’t want your information. I was asking because I don’t understand. I don’t understand because I have a different condition in which I was told the information as I posted above by my own doctor. I was not judging and I’m not bitter. I’m fighting a losing battle every day and I get tired of people treating it like I’m GF for weight loss. Anyway, I’m not going to waste any more time here – we obviously won’t see eye to eye and that’s perfectly fine. It’s what makes this world a great place to live in. Good luck with your condition.

  • Marie May 13, 2014, 9:13 pm

    Why would you ever get rid of Brad? I love Brad ;) Thanks for all the infos!

    Reply
    • Caitlin May 13, 2014, 9:51 pm

      Haha poor brad.

      Reply
  • Erin May 13, 2014, 9:31 pm

    I love your posts about going gluten free! I think the hardest part for me has been explaining WHY I’ve gone gluten free. Like you, I don’t have celiacs but I do not eat gluten for health reasons. I have an autoimmune throid condition that gluten negatively affects. But that’s a mouthful to tell friends /waiters etc. to explain why I can’t eat certain things! Overall, I definitely agree with your last point that it gets easier. I have been gluten free for about a year and now I really barely notice it anymore – It’s become so routine.

    Reply
    • Susan - Nurse on the Run May 13, 2014, 10:25 pm

      What autoimmune thyroid disease do you have and how does gluten affect it? I’m dealing with some thyroid issues, although it seems that most studies are conflicting regarding the relationship between gluten and thyroid conditions, although both can be autoimmune related.

      My mom was diagnosed with Celiac before people really knew that it was. She ate rice cake sandwiches, and after five years someone finally started making gluten-free bread. We had to mail order it from Washington. I don’t remember eating pizza growing up, and basically all our meals (at least dinner) were gluten free because that’s simply what my mom made. We can eat out at just about any restaurant as long as we check the menu beforehand (Italian never really works out, except some places have gluten free pasta now). But at any rate, it’s so much easier to be gluten free these days, especially since people actually seem to know what gluten is. Just remember that gluten free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy!

      Reply
      • Erin May 14, 2014, 8:49 am

        It’s Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. If you google it, there are a lot of studies that discuss the relationship between the thyroid and gluten (I would try to explain what I understand of it, but I would probably butcher the idea with my limited biology knowledge). I definitely agree that there are conflicting theories out there – My endocrinologist did not discuss any dietary conditions with me. However, from the health coaches I’ve talked to and the research I’ve read, I don’t feel comfortable eating gluten. I likely have some sensitivity to it anyways because I feel a lot better in general (less bloated) not eating gluten. I also agree gluten free does not mean healthy! I think it’s silly that people cut out gluten to lose weight – gluten free bread can often have higher calories and I’ve been living off of potatoes!

        Reply
        • Jessica May 14, 2014, 1:24 pm

          Have you felt better since going gluten free? I have Hashimotos and was considering “trying” it too….I just love breads too much. It’s so hard. Maybe even just cutting back? I’d be curious to know more of your experiences with gluten/Hashimotos.

          Reply
        • Susan - Nurse on the Run May 14, 2014, 11:02 pm

          Are you symptomatic in your hypothyroidism? I got a full set of routine labs a few years ago and was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, although I have no symptoms. (I’m tired a a lot, but I do shift work so that messes me up a lot.) Anyway, we finally did an antibody test a couple months ago and I tested positive for Hashimoto’s. I’ve been tested for Celiac, which was negative.

          Sorry if this sounds snarky, but most of the websites regarding gluten and thyroid issues seem to be from “alternative” medicine sources. (I’ll leave my opinion on “health coaches” out of this.) The science is just so conflicted, and I don’t think people know what the answer is. Have you noticed a difference in your thyroid symptoms on a gluten free diet? Have your labs improved/do you take a smaller dose of Synthroid? (Assuming you take Synthroid…I would imagine you do?) Sorry for all the questions!

          Reply
  • Helen May 13, 2014, 10:38 pm

    We LOVE your Chex-crusted baked tofu nuggets! We aren’t GF but they are SO yummy.

    Reply
  • Ashley N. May 13, 2014, 11:29 pm

    What great timing! I am having blood work done tomorrow to rule out celiac. I am 99% positive I will test negative, but I want to start figuring out if I have a gluten sensitivity. Definitely need to start the path to making my health a priority!

    Reply
  • lauren May 14, 2014, 7:55 am

    I don’t have celiac, but I feel like crap…sore joints, foggy, digestive issues, headaches…when I eat gluten. And even oats sometimes :/ even still, sometimes I don’t follow a perfect diet. Sometimes I am just being lazy, sometimes I figure it won’t hurt. Uhgh. I am getting smarter again. My faves are udi’s chia millet bread, flourless pb cookies, vans crackers, quinoa, and vanilla sunshine cereal. For flours we love sorghum, millet, almond and coconut. I have a shelf in the fridge for my flour collection.

    Reply
    • Kristin June 16, 2014, 4:47 pm

      Are you sure about that Celiac thing? If you were eating a gf diet or significantly reduced gluten diet around the time of getting the blood work done, it can come back with a false negative. Also, 10-20% of those with Celiac don’t test positive with the blood test under any circumstances and may have to go through further testing to determine if they have the disease. I was one of them and it took 20 years for me to be diagnosed from the first time I went to the doc for Celiac symptoms to the a-ha day.

      You have a pretty list of clear Celiac symptoms. I would go back to your doc and ask about further testing to be safe. I don’t want to pester you about your personal health care choices, I just don’t want anyone else to have to suffer for decades because a blood test came back negative.

      -Kristin

      Reply
  • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed May 14, 2014, 9:15 am

    I never really knew I had any reaction to gluten until I started following the paleo diet and stopped eating it. It makes me super bloated and gives me tummy aches. I suppose I don’t *need* to avoid it, but I know I feel better without it.

    I don’t eat any gluten free pasta/bread/grains… I simply just pile extra veggies on my plate to replace that part of my meal. It was an adjustment at first, but now it’s just second nature. If anybody is looking for gluten free recipes, just google “paleo + whatever you’re craving” and ta-da. I highly suggest PaleOMG.com for lots of tasty treats that won’t give you a tummy ache :)

    Reply
  • Heather May 14, 2014, 9:27 am

    Thank you so much for posting this and for everyone’s comments. My family and I have had serious talks about going Gluten Free. I seem to feel better when I don’t eaten Gluten and it seems to help my son with some of my stomach issues. I am taking this as a sign to go ahead and go full force with it. Thank you all so much.

    Reply
  • Elizabeth {Positively Healthy} May 14, 2014, 9:28 am

    Great tips! I have been GF for about 3 years and when I first started out I was scared to death! Haha but taking recipes and swapping out GF items instead made the process better knowing that I can change my diet and the way I feel. I have to be SUPER careful when it comes to gluten so I have a few safe places that I eat at that I know go well with my system!

    Reply
  • Bari May 14, 2014, 9:58 am

    Thanks for the links. I’m trying to go paleo-ish which feels even more restrictive than just gluten free. I think what I miss the most is beer and feeling like I can go out with my friends and not be a total drag because I can’t eat anything they are having. Luckily, my decision isn’t based on allergy or intolerance, although I have noticed some benefits since I stopped the grains. I still allow myself some “cheats” and I’m still using things like soy sauce and occasionally oatmeal or cornstarch. We’ll see how long I last.

    Reply
  • Kelly D May 14, 2014, 11:01 am

    As the parent of a child that lives with Celiac disease, I have to thank you for this post! Bringing awareness to Celiac and Gluten sensitivity is so important right now.

    Reply
  • Cecily May 14, 2014, 12:14 pm

    Awesome post! This is fantastic for people going gluten free.

    As a nutrition student, I definitely have a few tips for anyone interested. First of all, make sure you’re not JUST eating the gluten free processed products. Gluten free products are notoriously higher in fat and sugar to improve the mouthfeel and texture. While this is fine as a treat (everything in moderation!), eating only these products isn’t good for anyone’s health. Gluten free products are usually not fortified as regular breads and pastas are. Basically, this means we’re losing some vitamins and minerals (most importantly B vitamins which give us energy!). Make sure to try to get these elsewhere in your diet, or talk to a dietitian about supplements.

    One last tip is to know WHY you’re going gluten free. If it’s for a health reason, find out what’s happening in your body. [Side note: Celiac disesae damages the small intestine by destroying the cilia that take up nutrients. Gluten intolerance or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity does not actually damage your insides but can have extremely unpleasant symptoms and should be taken seriously. Gluten allergy is an incorrect term; however, wheat allergies are prevalent are caused strictly by wheat (not necessarily barley or rye).] Please, please, please research this diet before you make a switch. If it’s not for a health reason (lookin at you, Paleo diet!), be informed on what you plan to eat and what foods you should and should not be having. Misinformation abounds on all nutrition topics. Good resources include http://www.eatright.org and http://www.celiaccentral.org.

    Good luck on going GF! Learn to love your new lifestyle and your body; even if it can’t process gluten, it sure can do some other amazing things! :)

    Reply
  • Whitney May 14, 2014, 12:19 pm

    I had symptoms of Celiac for almost ten years and was only diagnosed about 9 months ago. I do LOVE how my body feels being gluten free, but I am definitely in the mourning stage. It does not help that I am also pregnant. People always ask what crazy things I’m craving and my “cravings” aren’t that crazy for most people: McDonalds anything, real soft moist donuts, bread sticks, etc. I’ve had more than one emotional break down due to the combination of maintaining a gluten free lifestyle and pregnancy. I just keep remembering how good I feel and know that my baby is getting all of the nutrients he needs now that my intestines had some time to heal up before becoming pregnant. It’s not easy being gluten free, but it is worth it.
    Thanks, Caitlin!

    Reply
  • Kara May 14, 2014, 9:39 pm

    This is perfect timing! I just started an elimination diet to see if some of my funkiness lately has been due to gluten and I’m feeling a little desperate. Breakfasts are easy for me because I could happily eat smoothies and eggs every day. Dinners I plan in advance to be gluten free. But lunches and snacks are killing me! I feel like I’m eating the same things everyday.
    I love your advice to make a list of the things that you can eat. I need to do that today so that I don’t feel so hungry tomorrow (and stop staring creepily at my friends while they eat sandwiches).

    Reply
  • Stephanie @ Whole Health Dork May 15, 2014, 1:54 pm

    I think the biggest thing I would tell people is just because something is gluten-free, that doesn’t make it healthy. Check the ingredients on the gluten-free bread. Most of the brands out there only containe simple carbs. Sure, you’re going to crave bread, so it’s fine to have once in awhile, but simply replacing your staples with the gluten-free version isn’t necessarily healthy.
    Also, gluten hides in unexpected places. For example, wheat is often used in soy sauce, so most of them aren’t gluten-free. Get used to checking labels. If anything, it’s made me eat more healthfully, because once you start reading labels, you realize there’s a whole lot of other stuff in many things that you don’t want to eat either. When in doubt, go with whole foods.

    Reply
  • Erica Chavez May 16, 2014, 1:34 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this article. I really didn’t know what the benefits of being gluten free were. My coworker is gluten free and I always had a hard time understanding why. This was great insight and helpful links.

    Reply
  • Julia May 17, 2014, 9:02 am

    I have celiac disease and the best thing for me was to figure out a few recipes similar to meals that I loved as my “home base” and then go from there. It can be really intimidating since so many g-free recipes on the web and in cookbooks are really involved with a lot of unfamiliar ingredients for the newbie. Start small, and then expand. I’m also a student and on a budget and I find the easiest thing is to eat things that are naturally g-free so I don’t have to worry about an ingredient list and it’s usually healthier (i.e. portabello mushroom pizzas instead of buying a $10 g-free pizza crust).

    Reply
  • Jackie May 29, 2014, 7:43 pm

    Great tips thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • Holly June 16, 2014, 3:03 pm

    I’d just like to clarify that Celiac disease is not an allergy, it’s an autoimmune disorder.

    Reply

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