5. You're going to have to get rid of some of your food.
Anytime you're beginning a new diet, new lifestyle, etcetera, is a good time to take stock of what you have been eating, and make some changes. Clean out your fridge, your pantry, and start fresh.
Now, if you were just going on a diet to lose/gain weight, what you kept/tossed would be a little easier. But for the gluten free lifestyle, you're really going to have to learn how to read labels, what to look up on-line, and what to ask companies when you call to verify mysterious ingredeints such as "modified food startch". As Buffy ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer" once said), "Can you vague that up for me?"
The FDA does not have GREAT rules in place for us gluten-free folks, but they are getting better, and companies are becoming more conscientious and aware. If a company would rather maintain "secret" ingredients rather than caring whether or not they kill a consumer, DON'T EAT THEIR PRODUCTS!
There are a number of good websites out there, and I'm going to list a few of them for you. I recommend printing them out and putting them in a 3-ring binder like I have done. If you get one with a flexible cover, it's easy to take with you anywhere.
- Safe Ingrdients
- Unsafe Ingredients
- Ingredients, Safe & Unsafe - The value of this list is it tells you what everything listed is!
- Using Alternative Flours - by Allrecipes Staff
- On Your Plate - Great list of questions/answers. Download the PDFs which are particularly interesting to you, because the site notes that the question list changes as new ones are received!
I'd like to cover just a few foods/ingredients here. I'm not going to go over a lot, because the lists above are really comphrensive, but this will give you a brief idea of what you'll be learning.
Are oats gluten free? Usually. What this means is oats are *naturally* gluten free, but may have been cross contaminated in the field and/or in processing by gluten (often wheat). There are companies which sell certified gluten free oats.
Quaker Oatmeal is out, sorry. Even their plain oatmeal because there is no guarantee it is safe. Just within the last year or so, gluten fre instant oatmeal has shown up on the market. I've seen others come up in search results now, but EcoPlanet is the one I am familiar with; although, I have only tried their Maple & Brown Sugar flavor (and we add a little MORE brown sugar to it!). Unlike Quaker, however, you'll find additional ingredients in it, such as flax seeds. The extra ingredients add to the flavor! However, they also add to the FIBER, which, may help nature take its course a little faster than you're used to with oatmeal which is *just* oatmeal. For me, this dish is a treat for days I'm just planning to hang out at home. I want to stress that this type of reaction (for me) is due to the fiber content, and is NOT a gluten-like reaction.
*Note, there are people who simply cannot handle oats, even if they are 100% gluten free. For those of you who are going to be able to eat GF oats: Trying them too early after going gluten free may also give you a false negative. Your insides have been damaged by gluten and they need to heal. Testing oats out is something you should probably put off for a year or so from going gluten free.
What about milk? This seems like it should be obvious, right? And yes, milk is generally gluten free -- be careful with flavored milks of course. But people do wonder because many gluten intolerant people are also dairy intolerant. Some people simply ARE lactose intolerant and it's not something that going gluten free is going to help. Some people can have goat milk products (different enzymes) but not cow milk products. Some can't have any.
However, some of you may find that after a year or so of being gluten free (if you've eaten gluten for a long, long time, it may take your insides longer to heal), you'll be able to have milk again. (I advise testing this when you are home and not needing to go anywhere.) Why does healing from gluten allow milk? As I told you in a much earlier post, gluten destroys the villi in your intestines. The tips of the villi are what your body digests the dairy with. If the tips are gone, clearly you cannot process dairy. I used to have on/off problems with dairy, but once I gave up gluten and healed, suddenly dairy is fine all the time!
Please note, that everyone is different, and I am not suggesting everyone who can't process dairy go gluten free and then try dairy again. You may just be intolerant of dairy like you are of gluten. You may have a milk allergy.
Vinegar? From my research, all vinegars, except MALT vinegar, are safe. I have two big jugs in my kitchen right now - one white vinegar, the other apple cider vinegar. Both are from Wal-Mart. BOTH say "gluten free" on them. I actually use them for cleaning, but you're obviously going to find vinegar in a lot of foods (pickles and olives, for example).
Some labels will also say "distilled" vinegar. You'll read in many places that even if a product comes from a gluten grain, the distilling process removes the gluten. This is where you have to decide what is / is not safe for you.
Alcohol is a good example. There is gluten free beer. It's usually made from sorghum. Redbridge is pretty tasty - even for me (not a beer fan). My family tasted it and no one could tell it was gluten free. But it's NOT made from gluten-grains.
But a lot of alcohols are. Bailey's Irish Cream used to be one of my favouites for many things (not just drinks), but their website offers the disclaimer that they can't guarantee any of their products are gluten free -- even for anything distilled. I've discovered alcohol companies are extremely difficult to find on the web, and thus, research. Yes, calling is always an option, but I like to have things like this in writing.
If you're a fan of Irish Cream, look for Saint Brendan's Irish Liquour. I haven't tasted the bottle we have yet, so I can't tell you how it compares, but their website DOES state they are gluten free.
Talking with your physician is always a good move. Or, if you're doing an elimination diet on your own, trust what your body tells you! If you're trying a product that appears safe, but you can't confirm if it is/isn't 100% gluten free, do yourself a favor: only try one of these items at any given time, or you'll have no idea what made you sick and what didn't!
Also, right now, a product only needs to have less than 20ppm (parts per million) gluten to be considered gluten free. Think about this though; let's say that you eat something that contains somewhere between 1 and 19ppm gluten. It doesn't bother you because the amount of gluten is trivial, but you're only eating it every now and then. Now, let's take that same product and have you consume it every day, or several times a day. That 1-19ppm is going to build up in your body, and it is no longer a trivial amount. This is something I've seen discussed a lot in Celiac communities. A product was fine and it suddenly made them sick. It wasn't a change of ingredients -- it was a build up of a tiny amount of gluten. This is another area you need to be careful.
One way you can do that is to limit the number of items you eat which are processed on gluten-lines and/or on different lines but in the same facility as gluten-containing-products. Food labels will frequently (although not always) include a disclaimer about this.
Additionally, in your first year or so starting your gluten free diet, try not to eat out unless you absolutely have no choice. This will really help you control what you're putting into your body, while you're trying to heal.
One last note before I move onto tip #6. Does this mean you're going to have a fridge and pantry that looks like a bachelor pad/college student/stereotypical bare larder? It doesn't have to! I am happy to say that while this was my initial experience, the more I've learned, the more food options I've found -- and not all of them are pre-packaged. We must remember that there are many natural foods which are perfectly safe - and should be part of our diet (fruits and veggies, anyone?). Both my fridge and cupboards are *packed* full these days.
I'll try to get some pictures together to share with you soon.
As always, comments and questions are most welcome!