With an estimated 6–7% of the US experiencing gluten sensitivity, here's a dozen tips to simplify gluten-free living
Six years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. What started with frustration and sticker shock resulted in the ultimate reward. Within a week of switching to a gluten-free diet, my daughter transformed from a clingy little monster to a vivacious comedian. Eating a strict gluten-free diet is the only remedy for those living with celiac disease. As a mom on a budget who must protect her daughter from a mere bread crumb, I know what I’m doing when it comes to eating gluten-free. Sticking to a completely gluten-free regimen can be tough for a variety of reasons: high cost, reading labels, never-ending cooking, and avoiding cross-contamination. After years of living every day as a gluten-free family, here’s my advice on how to make gluten-free eating as hassle-free and healthy as possible.
1. Eat mostly whole foods and don’t rely on processed gluten-free items to fill your diet. Most pre-packaged gluten-free foods are made with refined carbohydrates that lack fiber. Choosing whole foods and paying attention to eating the recommended 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily helps maintain a healthy gut, heart, and weight. Some of the best sources of fiber include berries, pears, avocados, beans, and seeds.
2. For heart health, it’s important to incorporate whole grains such as quinoa, oats, millet, and brown rice into your diet. When you do pick up gluten-free products, look for dietary fiber. Even packaging stating “whole grains” might only have scant amounts, so read the label. “A good whole grain snack will have a few grams of fiber and limited carbs,” states National City pediatrician Dr. Ahmad Bailony. Choose gluten-free bread with higher fiber content such as Three Bakers 7 Ancient Grains bread which contains 3.5 grams of fiber per slice. Some easy ways to get your share of whole grains include oatmeal, popcorn, buckwheat pancakes, and grain bowls using quinoa or brown rice.
3. Sharing a kitchen with others who eat gluten? Teach housemates to mark the item with a large X using a sharpie marker if a food item is potentially cross-contaminated. This warns gluten-free family members to avoid the item. Some of the biggest culprits: bags of chips when people dip hands in, and peanut butter and jam if kids make their own sandwiches.
4. Use color-coded cooking utensils and keep separate counter spaces reserved just for gluten-free cooking to avoid cross-contamination. Identify one countertop for regular bread and grains and a separate one for gluten-free members of the household. It’s unnecessary to buy completely separate pots and pans, but avoid sharing scratched Teflon pans and wooden cutting boards and spoons where crumbs can hide.
5. Restaurants with gluten-free menu items are not necessarily prepared to serve those with celiac or gluten intolerance. Call ahead and speak to the manager before trying a new restaurant. Ask this question: “What does your team do to ensure gluten-free dishes are kept from cross-contamination?” In my experience, safe restaurants have trained all team members to either direct the question to a manager or chef, or they’ll be able to provide a direct, specific response with no hesitation.
6. When gathering with friends, plan to bring a gluten-free dish to share or bring your own food. This is particularly true for birthday parties where cake is served. I always call the host ahead of time for children’s birthday parties to plan on a treat that is safe and comparable for my child to enjoy.
7. Beware of online sites that inaccurately advertise foods as gluten-free. Federal labeling laws require companies to identify the top 8 allergens including wheat, but there’s no law requiring the online product description to be accurate. This is a “very common and problematic” occurrence, according to Tricia Thompson, Gluten-Free Watchdog. Take the time to read ingredient lists and look at pictures of the product’s label when available. During last year’s lockdown, our family exclusively ordered groceries online for the first time—and we learned this lesson the hard way.
8. Stop avoiding gluten-free baking for fear of dry, crumbly baked goods. Try recipes that incorporate a fruit or veggie such as zucchini or banana bread or apple muffins. Added moisture from the produce hydrates starchy gluten-free flours and eliminates gritty texture.
9. When baking, let your gluten-free batter rest and hydrate for 20 minutes before baking. Many online recipes do not mention this, but it makes a world of difference. For a beginner flour blend, try Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-free Baking Flour. It’s readily available and produces consistent results, eliminating the need to buy expensive ingredients before you’ve figured out your gluten-free baking comfort levels.
10. Seasonal gluten-free items are highly sought after and sell out quickly. Put a reminder on your calendar to do holiday goodie shopping early in the season. Trader Joe’s pumpkin muffin and pancake mix is one example of the best of the bunch.
11. Gluten-free breadcrumbs are super easy to make. Save several bread ends in a freezer bag. Break frozen bread into bits and add to a blender or food processor to blitz into crumbs. Bake at 300° for 15 to 20 minutes until dry. Store in an airtight container.
12. Gluten can only harm the gut if ingested through the mouth. It is not absorbed through the skin so there is no need to pay extortionate prices for gluten-free cosmetics and beauty products unless they will be directly applied to the lips.