Getting Started Gluten-Free

Perhaps you’ve been told by your doctor that you have Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity or allergy. Or, perhaps you’ve made the decision on your own for another reason – you suspect you have Celiacs but it can’t be proven, or you have heard of the health benefits. The question is: when you decide to go gluten-free, where do you start?

The first step is a consultation with your doctor to ensure that this is the right move for you. Once that’s been done, you need to think seriously about whether this is the right choice for you.

It’s a big commitment; even if you’re doing it for health reasons, your system can become more sensitive to gluten and make it hard to return to eating foods with gluten. If you’ve been told by your doctor that it’s a must, then think about how much better you’ll start feeling!

Now it’s time to do some research. I highly recommend the websites for the Canadian Celiac Association, the American Celiac Disease Alliance, and the Celiac Disease Foundation as starting points. The Gluten-Free Diet page from the Canadian Celiac Association in particular has several easy-to-read lists; I printed off the Foods Allowed, Foods to Question, and Foods to Avoid pages and stuck them to my fridge.

You should also pick up some gluten-free reading. I highly recommend Living Gluten-Free For Dummies and Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies, both by Danna Korn. Don’t try to read everything out there. Stick to the basics; otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed.

Now that you know what you’re doing, it’s time to get started. First, purge your kitchen of everything containing gluten. That includes items that say “May contain wheat” or any other gluten-containing ingredient. Read the labels on everything. Throw out anything that doesn’t have a label, including spices. You will also have to throw out any baking products (like sugar or butter) that could have come into contact with bread, flour, or other gluten-containing products.

According to the food industry, things that are processed on equipment also used for gluten-containing items should be OK – but I personally don’t take the chance.

If other family members aren’t doing the diet with you, then just purge things that only you would normally eat, as well as items that you can get gluten-free (like soy sauce).

TIP: Give any non-perishable items to the food bank!

You will also need to wash all cooking implements (preferably in your dishwasher on high heat) and give all surfaces in your kitchen a good scrub. This is to prevent cross-contamination: gluten-free foods being contaminated with gluten.

Now you’re ready to figure out what you can eat. Sit down with pen and paper and make a grocery list. Here are some staples that I like to have on hand. (Remember, though, always read the ingredients!)

  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Rice (any variety)
  • Assortment of nuts
  • Quinoa
  • Yogurt
  • Smoothie mixes (frozen ones from McCain’s are good and natural)
  • Gluten-free cereal (such as Chex)
  • Gluten-free bread (Glutino‘s is my favorite)
  • EnviroKids crispy rice bars
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Pudding
  • Tostitos (any flavor except Multigrain)
  • Cheese slices (deli or processed)
  • Maple Leaf Natural Selections Meats
  • Renee’s dressings and dips

As well, check out these posts for some other ideas:

For many products, it’s just a case of switching brands. For example, as of this writing, President’s Choice and Signal condensed soups do not contain wheat, while Our Compliments and Campbell’s do. Same with many sauces, spices, and condiments. (Usually it’s the more expensive brand that is gluten-free, but that’s not always the case.)

Before you go shopping, you can also check manufacturers’ websites; many have gluten-free product lists.

Now it’s time to go shopping! Give yourself at least two hours and be prepared to spend at least twice as much as you normally do. However, if you have Celiac disease, the extra cost of gluten-free food is tax deductible. Check out the requirements and download a handy template here. Just make sure to keep your receipts!

As well, if you have a smartphone with access to the Internet, take it with you for quick searches on products or particular ingredients. (I use Mike’s iPhone on almost every trip.) Read the label on everything you put in your cart.

Start in the gluten-free or health food section, if your grocery store has one. Remember that organic and vegan labels do not mean gluten-free. These products are often in the gluten-free section in your grocery store so be careful. However, there are lots of great gluten-free products out there! Excellent pasta, bread, and pizza products are available. For baking, I highly suggest using an all-purpose flour substitute like Bob’s Red Mill – it makes it a lot easier!

You should also check out local bakeries to see which (if any) offer gluten-free products. (We have covered a few on the blog here; Crumbs in Truro, Schoolhouse Gourmet in Lunenburg, and Gluten-Free Goodies in New Glasgow are a few of the most popular options here in Nova Scotia.)

Once you get through the check-out, the fun part starts. It’s time to eat all that yummy gluten-free food! Have fun trying new recipes and don’t get discouraged. Some things that you try will not work out. Some products will just be inedible. (I threw out a bag of garbage once that contained a lot of gluten-free stuff that I tried and didn’t like. The raccoons got into it and wouldn’t touch it either!) Find out what you like, what works for you, and keep doing it.

Does this sound like a lot of work? It is. But it’s 100% worth it, and if you do it right, you’ll start feeling better within weeks – and there is nothing better than that.

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  1. #1 by Robin on July 18, 2011 - 9:08 am

    Thanks so much for this, Kim! I don’t feel quite so overwhelmed now. We set our start date as August 1st, so we’re trying to use up or get rid of everything gluten-y by then, as well as use that time to wrap our heads about the idea. Looking forward to trying this out and seeing how we feel.

    • #2 by glutenfree4hfx on July 19, 2011 - 9:04 am

      I’m glad you found the post helpful! Any questions just e-mail or call me – I’m happy to help out!

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