Beginner’s Guide to Going Gluten Free
So, just discovered you have a sensitivity or allergy? Want to see if you might be gluten or wheat intolerant? Just found out you have a thyroid issue, or your doctor wants you to try going off gluten for the two-week test? Been there, and yeah, it’s super confusing and really intimidating.
My mom had a gluten sensitivity, so I was lucky to have lived a few years in a household that navigated the gluten-free world. It really helped me out when my wheat allergy developed, but I still had to learn a lot as I went, and you don’t need me to tell you that trial and error isn’t a good way to go when health is involved. So here are some basics and tips for if you need to go gluten free.
1. Don’t do it unless you need to. Not only does it make it harder for people who need gluten-free products, people who go gluten free as a fad generally have no health benefit from it, or, at worst, get malnourished from doing it wrong. Not only that, but it’s wicked expensive. (But seriously, it makes it so hard for those of us who need it, because then food service industries see it as just a fad and cut corners, which could literally kill some of us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something labeled “gluten free” and then also read a “made in a facility with wheat” warning. That’s kind of mutually exclusive.) If you are wondering if you have a sensitivity, by all means, try it out. But don’t think that gluten free is inherently healthier, because it’s not.
2. Basic Flour Blend. Yes, GF baking is really hard and it doesn’t taste the same, but I’ve found that a 2:2:1 blend of White Rice:Tapioca:Corn Starch works pretty well. 1tsp of xanthan gum per cup of blend and you’re good to go. (It’s all going to be dense, sorry, no getting around it. Dense and crumbly and dries out easily, but at least it’s a baked good. Makes a tasty pancake and crepe, tho.)
2.5, regarding flour: Don’t scoop directly from the flour into the measuring cup. Pour it (with another scoop if needed) into the measuring cup. GF flour, particularly ‘starch’ flours like tapioca and corn starch, pack down ridiculously, and it will ruin the dry/water ratio.
3. Do not knead bread made with gluten free flour. Kneading is to exercise the gluten and make it rise more. No gluten, no knead. You’ll make it turn into a dense brick.
4. Find a bulk food store and buy your flours there. Good stores for finding bulk barrels are places like WinCo or Sprouts. Pre-mixed flours are expensive, so make your own to save money. (Though if you want to splurge for a dedicated gf bread flour, go ahead, it’s worth it.) Make sure the barrels of gluten free flour are all near each other in one area. If they are spread out in and amongst gluteny flours, don’t touch it. Not everyone will use the proper scoops in the proper barrels. If your GF flours are near each other, who cares if a little rice gets in with a bit of garbanzo. On that note:
5. Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking garbanzo bean flour is a suitable substitute for wheat. You can taste the beans even after it’s cooked. It is an abomination and should only be used for things like falafel.
6. DO NOT EAT RAW GF DOUGHS OR BATTERS. It won’t hurt you or anything, they just nasty as all heck. They taste like feet, sand, and regret. That Betty Crocker GF Cookie Dough may look tempting, but it’s the actual devil in disguise.
7. Learn to read labels. Avoid Wheat (all varieties, including spelt, semolina, kamut, etc), Rye, Triticale, and Barley. Look for the bold warnings at the end of the ingredients list first. But don’t take it at face-value. Scan through that list, too. They don’t always list allergens. EX: Kit-Kat doesn’t list any allergens in bold at the bottom of the list, but a main listed ingredient is wheat flour.
7.5 ALWAYS read the label. Even if it says gluten free, scan that label. Even if you can’t see a way for gluten to be in there, scan that label. Twizzlers have wheat as a main ingredient, and idk about you, but I would never have guessed. A lot of canned foods have added wheat as filler. Not necessarily a bad thing, but bad if you can’t have it.
8. Do your research before eating out. Never trust a verbal statement in a restaurant without a dedicated menu or breakdown being shown to you, or having looked at it beforehand. Ask sit-down restaurants for an allergen menu, or ask if they have a gluten-free menu. As for fast-food, you can find allergen menus online. Personal recommendation: Chic-fil-a is a good, safe place to eat, as long as you let them know when ordering grilled chicken anything that it’s an allergy, not preference.
9. Udi’s Bagels are totally worth the cost. Treat yo self. Same with the muffins.
10. hmu for recipes if you’re stuck, but a generally good way to go is a protein, a veg, and a starch for each meal (except breakfast if you just want something like cereal or yogurt. I get it.). Frozen veggies are a amazing and easy. Beans and chicken are good, cheap protein. Rice, potatoes, and gluten free pastas are my go-to starches. Just mix and match for mealtimes until you find some good recipes. You’ll probably have to start cooking for yourself a lot more, so just buy up lots of veggies you enjoy and freeze the ones you don’t use immediately if you get fresh. Also, snack on fruit. I found when I went GF that I wasn’t as full between meals, so I gained weight at first from eating chips to fill the corners. Fruit has a lot of fiber and will help you stay full.
11. Take a multivitamin, if you don’t already. Wheat flour has a ton of added minerals and vitamins, which is great for keeping down rates of malnutrition. But it also means that if you’re not getting vitamins and minerals from the other parts of your food, you’re going to start getting low on them once you cut out wheat.
12. Eat more fiber. Not to be gross, but a lot of people get constipated when they first go gluten free. The American diet in particular relies heavily on wheat products, which also contain a lot of fiber, so cutting that out cuts out a lot of dietary fiber. Add something like Metamucil if you’re really having trouble, but adding more foods like carrots, leafy greens, corn, beans, and apples can usually get it taken care of.
13. Throw out everything that has gluten as soon as you know you’re going gluten free for good. Don’t learn the hard way that you can cross-contaminate yourself.
14. Get a new toaster. I know you can super-deep clean toasters, but it’s so difficult and you might still leave remnants behind.
15. If you live with anyone who isn’t gluten free, label everything. You do not want to be scrounging at 3am and grab the wrong toaster waffle.
16. Clean your oven and microwave, too. Spilled remnants can still get in the air and bake into your food. Plus it’s always good to have a clean oven.
17. Always ask somebody if you have questions. You can always come ask me, I’m more than happy to help! Seriously, you have no idea how much I love to cook.