Celiac in the Suburbs: Going Gluten Free

Sometimes, it feels like going gluten free requires a nutritional certificate and a degree in biochemistry in order to understand what, exactly, you are dealing with.


Trust me, it took me a while to not only get the hang of reading labels and understanding foods, but mostly relearning how to eat…and getting out of denial (“but sandwich bread doesn’t count!”  yes, it does. So does soy sauce, despite my protestations).
I’ve been gluten free for about 8 years officially, and probably a lot longer unofficially.  Because once you reach the point where you actually have a name for all these weird symptoms, you’ll actually have already cut out foods that don’t react well with you.  I cut out macaroni and cheese before I was 20, besides it being one of my favorite foods when I was in college; I had to cut out bread sticks after I passed out after eating a couple while watching a movie with my husband ; and the last bagel I had left me in hives, so that’s gone.  
By the time I actually had the term “Celiac” to explain what was going on, I was already on the path of going gluten free.  I just needed some additional knowledge to help me get there and start recovering.  Unfortunately, this is when it started getting confusing.  I wasn’t raised by nutritionists or chefs, so my ability to pick out food and cook it well was a huge challenge.  Long story short, I was tired of “hidden” gluten labeled under different names, or not named at all, and just started cooking everything from scratch.
But before we get there, let’s start at the beginning. 
The first thing a person needs to know when food shopping is that just about everything pre-made has wheat/gluten in it (this is a bit of a gross overgeneralization, since not everything has gluten…but most do, and it’s much safer to say “everything” than “some things”).  Be prepared to become the crazy person reading labels on everything in the store, because that will become your life.  You’ll start finding gluten in things that really shouldn’t have any wheat in it, and you’ll yell at boxes saying, “why are they putting wheat in rice/salad dressing/yogurt?!”  Which is a good question, for the record.
The answer is because it is not only a filler and a thickener, but it adds some nutrients to foods that don’t have much nutritional value.  It’s a big commercial thing, and it’s cheap.  So start reading labels.  Even a little bit of wheat/gluten will affect you.  Like soy sauce: you are going to have to find a gluten free soy sauce.  Salad dressings: you are going to have to avoid caesar salads like it is death (seriously, my worst reaction was on a freaking caesar salad).  So start checking everything, even if you think you’re sure.  Chocolate, ice cream, cereal (even corn flakes), juice, yogurt, bread (obviously), noodles, rice…if it comes in a bag, a box or a bottle, you have to double check.
The second most important thing a person is going to be battling is their habits. People like to eat what is familiar to them, and when you have to change that drastically, it sucks (frankly). Food and eating is part of our lives and part of our culture, and having to re-learn this is annoying on a day-to-day bit, but it also throws us off our personal heritage enough to bug us.  You are going to both give up and re-learn eating, and for a while it’s a pain in the neck. I’m used to it by now, but for the first few months you’re just constantly reminded of what is forbidden, and that gets old fast. Nothing breaded, nothing fried, no doughnuts, no pizza, no regular noodles, no normal hamburgers, no corndogs, no sandwiches. She can give GF bread a shot, and there are a few brands out there that make really good GF stuff; but she’s going to have to replace these substitutes for what she’s used to. That just takes patience, and I have found it takes about 2 or 3 weeks to really get the hang of it, and a few months to own it.
Once you get to this point, you will find something that might be alarming…and it isn’t:  you will find yourself getting hungry more often, which isn’t a side effect of anything.  You are removing the foods that fill and expand, and hunger is going to be surprising.  It is important to make sure you think of your meals as a balance of foods that nourish and foods that fill.  So, rice and potatoes are very helpful in that area.  Snacks are also very helpful, and I usually recommend high protein snacks like nuts or apples to fill you up and give you some pep during the day. 
And, although you probably already know this, but filling a hungry stomach which is already being deprived of food that it is used to with sugar/junk is just going to make you feel worse.  And cranky.  Avoid this, because it is just a slippery slope.  Fresh food is the best option to good health.
I have been doing 100% gluten free for about 9 years now, and my methods are different than other people’s methods at this point.  My road has been through the forests of gluten free bread, the plastic rice cracker aisle and staring longingly at pizzas, remembering the good old days.  
By now, I make just about everything from scratch, because I got absolutely sick of surprises.  Nothing ruins a night by laying in bed with shallow breathing, heart palpitations, muscle contractions, flushed cheeks and kicking yourself for not seeing the millionth ingredient on the label.
The book I use to make anything gluten free is “The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cooks Comfort Foods” by Bette Hagman.  She has a few other books that I’m going to be getting, but this is THE BEST resource.  You use her recipes for mixes to make everything in the book; so I have 5 big jars in my cupboard with her “potato bread” mix, “sourdough bread” mix, “featherlight” mix.  From these I can make cakes, scones, muffins, bread, rolls, hamburger buns, pot pie dough, etc.  But the biggest thing for me is that even though it costs a little bit to buy all the different flours and starches to make the mixes, they will last you all year.  This is much more economical than buying a $7 bag of french bread mix.  I can’t recommend this highly enough.
As for noodles: rice noodles are horrible.  They are gray and they get soggy and fall apart.  Unless you are covering them with something that will make them taste okay, they’re not really worth it.  You have to try them first, of course, to see this.  However: corn noodles and quinoa noodles are the best.  Corn noodles are great for spaghetti, hands down.  Quinoa noodles are great for anything else, including cold pasta salad.  Both of these hold their shape and taste good.  Feel free to try out stuff on the gluten free aisle, including Amy’s pizza (even though a small one is freaking $12).  It’s okay, but I still haven’t made a pizza that tastes like a pizza.  I’ve made my own crust, and if you add a TON of oil under and on top, it gets a pretty good pizza crust.  
For recipes: my best advice is to start with meals you already cook and just remove the wheat portion.  

Replace bread with corn tortillas or lettuce wraps.  You can use store bought bread, but that will be a one-time thing.  No one can stomach the cement that is store bought GF bread.  Oats are a gray area, because biologically oats don’t grow gluten.  However: they are so thoroughly contaminated from both the field and the processing, that I avoid it completely.  Bob’s Red Mill has gluten free oats that are good though, and you can make oatmeal or whatever from those.  

I think that’s about all I can think of!  Mostly when you’re first starting out I would say, give yourself time to adjust.  It might seem daunting on some days, but once you get used to a new rhythm, you’ll see that it’s really not that complicated.
Good luck 🙂

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