A Beginner’s Guide to Living Gluten-Free

Paula Gardner is co-founder of CeliacCorner.com, an on-line resource for the celiac, gluten-sensitive community.

So you have just been diagnosed with auto-immune celiac disease (CD), a gluten sensitivity (GS), or perhaps an allergy to wheat, and now must eliminate gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The first thing you need to do ‘tout suite’ is learn all you can about your new condition. If recently diagnosed with CD, consider additional tests to check for nutritional deficiencies, lactose intolerance and possible bone loss. CD is genetic so have a dialogue with your family members about getting tested as well. Once eliminating gluten the majority of people diagnosed with CD or GS will begin to regain their health. Give yourself time to heal, but if symptoms persist, knock back on your doctor’s door. Often you need to be your own health advocate and remain proactive in your quest to heal. 

Transitioning from a gluten-filled world to one that is completely free of it, may seem overwhelming. You will soon discover gluten is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e, not just in pizza, pasta, bread and beer (did you know gluten can be found in medications, lipstick, deli meats and soy sauce?). Your new gluten-free lifestyle will be challenging at times, and you must remain ever so diligent, but with proper education and a confident and positive attitude, you will manage just fine!

Below are a few tips for making the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle a healthier and manageable one. Number one on the list is crucial to your success!

1) Embrace your new lifestyle.  It’s okay to mourn the loss of your favorite gluten-filled goodies for a day or two, but if you continue to lament what you can no longer eat, you are setting yourself up for failure (ie. cheating, which is not an option if you want to feel better, right?). Nowadays there is a gluten-free version of most everything.

You got this... You can do this... Yes you can!

2) Research.Research.Research. Educate yourself on all things celiac/gluten sensitivity… what you can and cannot eat… how to properly read labels… which questions you need to ask a restaurant manager/chef/server, and every other topic that will help to keep you safe in this gluten-filled world of ours. Pick up a book, or two, on celiac/gluten sensitivity, written by leading celiac experts.

3) Meet with a registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, knowledgeable about CD/GS, for tips on maintaining a healthy gluten-free lifestyle. (Tip: celiac experts recommend taking a multi-vitamin – discuss with your Dietitian/Nutritionist or other health care professional).

4) Prepare your kitchen to avoid cross-contamination. Many households are not 100% gluten-free, so steps need to be taken in the kitchen to avoid gluten-free food being cross-contaminated by foods with gluten. Condiments, toaster & colanders should not be shared, old worn plastic/wood spatulas need to be replaced, and GF foods kept separate. As an extra precaution, use gluten-free labels where needed! Consider other sources of cross-contamination such as the utensil drawer (crumbs fall in) and the BBQ! 

5) Shopping at the market (an abundance of naturally gluten-free products are waiting for you). Reaching optimum health should be a goal, especially if you are still healing, so choose your gluten-free packaged products wisely. Many GF products offer little or no nutritional value, and contain high amounts of fat, sugar and carbs. There are new healthier, enriched GF products entering the market every day so keep an eye out for them. Oats are not recommended for the newly diagnosed, but once you get the green light and able to tolerate them, choose only certified gluten-free oats (oats are often contaminated with gluten-containing grains in the field). If you are avoiding oats, no problem … check out Larabar’s new line of Renola (Reinventing Granola!) which are not only gluten-free, but also oat-free and yum. 

Download shopping apps to help identify gluten (and other allergens) while at the market. 

Shop Savvy. Find on-line companies offering discounts, browse the aisles of department stores such as Target, Walmart, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and JobLot, they all carry gluten-free products!

6) Join a support group in your area. Even if you do not attend the meetings regularly, consider attending the group’s annual conference or expo, where you will learn the latest on CD/GS medical & research news, meet others living a gluten-free lifestyle, and sample tasty new products entering the GF market. 

The above is a beginning guide for transitioning to a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle. There is still much to learn.

If newly diagnosed with celiac/gluten-sensitivity, also consider:

- Wheat-free does not mean “Gluten-Free”. A wheat-free product may also contain barley (malt flavoring) or rye.

- Just because a restaurant offers a gluten-free menu, it doesn’t mean kitchen staff have been properly trained to avoid cross-contamination (ask questions). 

Try not to look back on your former days of eating gluten. Look forward to experimenting with an array of aromatic gluten-free flours, eating spiralized zucchini and shredded spaghetti squash noodles (topped with your favorite gluten-free sauce) in place of wheat noodles, and perhaps making a pizza crust using cauliflower! 

Most importantly, look forward to feeling better if gluten is not healthy for you. 

Welcome to your new gluten-free lifestyle! 

Additional Resources

- Leading Celiac Research Centers & other helpful resources
- Support Groups
- Tips for gluten-free shopping, includes list of Apps to identify gluten-free foods
- My favorite must-reads
- Recipes

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