I wouldn’t call my family foodies, but I will say this: We love to eat (and I love to cook) good food. I never thought about being gluten free because we’re already non-dairy because of food sensitivity; I just didn’t want to give up something else.
That changed when my husband decided his energy levels were so bad he wanted allergy shots, assuming his pollen allergies were to blame. I said that before he went through something that extreme (years of weekly shots!) we should try changing our diet.
He grudgingly agreed to try eliminating wheat, as long as I did all the heavy lifting. Since I was the Chief Grocery Shopper and Executive Chef of the house already, it didn’t seem like such a stretch. We agreed we’d check in at 30 days to decide if it was worth making a permanent change.
Because I’m not a registered dietitian or doctor, I caution anyone from using this blog post alone in their decision to be GF. Consult with your health professional before changing your diet, especially if you’d like to find out if you have a legitimate food allergy.
I’m no expert, but I did dive right in, and there are a few observations I made and resources I found that I wanted to share with the Girls4Sport community.
Become a master label reader. Wheat is in everything, from soy sauce to chocolate chips to shampoo. But not all of them! While many labels have allergy information (E.g. Contains: SOY), it’s best to know what you’re looking for.
Obviously words like wheat and gluten are tip-offs, but be on the lookout for malt, rye and barley as well. Also things labeled with “modified food starch” or “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” can contain gluten. When in doubt, look for “gluten-free” on the label. But don’t rely on that first, as products geared toward GF diets tend to be more expensive.
Your grocery store’s bulk section is your friend. Depending on the size and type of store, this can be quite a resource. So many of the recipes I found called for rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, xantham gum and more, I became disheartened by how expensive all of these were on the shelves. And many were in much bigger (or smaller) amounts than I needed.
Enter the bulk section. I found so much of what I needed there, at a cheaper price, and I could buy as much (or as little) as I needed. Here’s a great list of different flours you might want to look for and what you use them for.
My thoughts: go light on the tapioca flour (I find it to have a chemically taste) and make your own almond meal. It’s cheaper and really easy.
Ask for help: Google Recipes to the rescue! Because I’ve spent years cooking without dairy, I went my usual route when I started our GF diet: find a recipe and substitute necessary ingredients. It doesn’t quite work that way.
So I started searching for things I knew we couldn’t live without with the words “gluten free” in front of them. And I found ways to make the things we couldn’t live without: Pancakes. Pizza crust. Beer.
(To be fair, we probably could’ve lived without the beer. Wine is your best bet if you’re looking for something with dinner. Many liquors are made with barley.)
Familiarize yourself with cuisine that is naturally gluten free. As much as I love me some good lasagna, it’s not a good idea to eat it all the time. And that’s kinda what I started realizing when I went GF. Maybe it’s just better to avoid it instead of trying to find a substitute.
Most Mexican recipes use corn tortillas, not flour. Many Asian recipes aren’t made with wheat and are best served with brown rice. Indian, Chinese, Thai, Sri Lankan. My mouth is watering!
Get to know your non-wheat sides. Although I’d ironed out the pancake situation quite early, our weekday breakfast was a huge struggle in the beginning. Enter in quinoa. I’d never thought of eating it for breakfast, but I had some leftover that I heated and mixed with almond milk and dried cranberries. Delish!
Then there is the magic of the potato. One GF friend said, “Potatoes are the gateway drug.” Try yams or sweet potatoes for maximum vitamin intake.
Learning new ways to eat your current foods is easy, especially with Google Recipes.
Find a community. Whether it’s a Facebook group, your book club or a really awesome cooking blog, connect with people you can commiserate with. Living with a limited diet is not always easy and everyone has their own tips on how to survive and thrive. Plus, food is always more fun with friends.
After the 30 days were up, we both decided that being completely gluten free isn’t something that changed our health enough to warrant the sacrifice, but spending those days changing my kitchen habits have stuck with me.
So while we’re not GF, we aren’t eating as much pizza or lasagna as we once did. I’ve also gotten more daring in the kitchen after figuring out that making Indian and Japanese cuisine aren’t tough at all.
I’m really glad we made the changes for the month, because it translated into more awareness about what we were putting into our bodies, which is never a bad thing. Plus, my husband has had more energy lately, so no allergy shots either. Mission accomplished!
Rebecca Watson is a writer, fierce optimist, and food enthusiast.