Help! I Don’t Know How To Start A Gluten Free Diet!

Ask questionsYou can do this.  It seems a little overwhelming at first, but don’t think about what you cannot have!  Think about all of the wonderful foods you CAN have and it will be much easier.

To do a gluten free trial or to start eating gluten free you need to start with basics.  Do not overwhelm yourself with all of the “possibilities” that there are.  This is where my blog will come in handy.  I’ve tried to put together what I wish I had known when I first started out, that would have made the process SO much easier.

Please realize that this is a guide, there is so much information, I couldn’t possibly begin to list it all here.  So – I’ve picked out what I think is the important stuff you need to know to do a trial or get started.  As you check labels and become more aware of hidden glutens, the easier it will become!

If you find that a gluten free life IS for you, you can start adding more and more items, especially as you know what ingredients to look for on labels.

If you read my story, I started out with a trial where I would go gluten free for three weeks, note my symptoms and then try to eat something with gluten to see if I would have a reaction.   After seeing a difference in the first week alone and then the disappearance of so many more symptoms in the next two weeks I decided that I would not try to eat gluten again.  Ever.  For me, I knew this was the solution.

Eventually you will find that checking labels will become second nature!  Check all labels, all the time.   What a pain!  I know, but sometimes manufacturers change their recipe and something you bought a couple months ago might now be made with gluten!  :(

What is Gluten?  Gluten is the protein part of the grains: wheat, barley, rye, durum, spelt, farro, graham, kamut, and semolina.  Anything product that has any of these ingredients are no no’s.  Labels can be tricky because when you are checking them they will not say “gluten” as an ingredient.  Look for the grains listed above or malt, malt vinegar, brewers yeast, tricticum, bran, or farina, or any variation of those words.

Words like additives, fillers, spices, caramel color, natural flavors and emulsifier should trigger suspicion.  If the packaging does not say gluten free, then take the time to call the company or check their website to confirm before you try it.  Please see my previous post on how to read food labels.  

Many food labels are now clearly marked on the front as “gluten free”, others have allergy warnings listed by the ingredients.  Many labels have the mandated CONTAINS with a listing of potential allergens.  If you see this type marking and it says CONTAINS:  WHEAT then stay away.  If you see this marking and it does not list wheat you might be ok to eat this product….check the rest of the label for the other grains or suspicious words!

I will repeat that each and EVERY label will need to be checked before you purchase something and consume it.  Better safe than sorry.

Lets start with what you have in your cabinet.  This might take a couple hours, but if you do this it will make things easier.  Have a shelf that is designated GLUTEN FREE ONLY.  Go through all of your foods AND spices in your cabinets and refridgerator.  Check all of the labels, if you can’t tell from the label, check online.  GF OVERFLOW is a great website where you can type in the product name and it will tell you if it is or is not gluten free, when they last checked it AND the link or phone number to the manufacturer.

Get yourself a sharpie or permanent marker.  On the label of the items you determine to be gluten free, mark a big GF or NOT GF.  This way when you go into the cabinet (or someone in your home does), you can be sure that the item is gluten free.  For me this process advanced into stickers………..I printed avery address labels on my color printer with big bold GLUTEN FREE in green or NOT GLUTEN FREE in red on them.  Now when my husband or son is making food for me, they don’t have to worry or second guess their label checking skills!!

The following are basic ideas to get you through the first few weeks.  Don’t worry!  Once you get the hang of this you will be able to add many, many more foods.

No fast food.  There is basically nothing that you can eat at McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC or Pizza Hut – they have gluten in their meats, coating on fries, and in various other places you would not expect.  Stay away! If you can, for a couple of weeks try not to eat out until you are more familiar with what you can and cannot have.

What Can I Have?

All fresh, basic meat that has not been processed – beef, pork, chicken, fish, shellfish. Get good meat from the fresh meat section or butcher – not frozen stuff or stuff that has been prepared with seasonings or preservatives.  Watch out for “fake” fishes – like “crab sticks” – they are made with wheat.

All fresh fruits and fresh veggies are gluten-free. If you can, for the first few weeks stick to fresh.  Frozen fruits & veggies or canned should not have additives; but the labels will need to be checked to be sure.  Stay away from pie filling for now, often these have flour added.

Rice is gluten free. For now stay away from the boxed, flavored ones.  Get regular white rice or brown rice and flavor it yourself!  Check the label of wild rice carefully before using.

Most dairy products are gluten free (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, good sour cream, cheese) – Always check the labels of your dairy products because sometimes they have additives.  For example cheap sour cream has wheat!  But Daisy or Dean brands do not.  Do not assume that ice cream and sherbert are gluten free!  You will need to check the labels carefully to be sure they are OK.  Obviously any ice cream with cookie dough, brownies, cake etc…..will be off the menu!

Eggs are gluten free.

Corn tortillas are gluten free.

Use butter and olive oil (or corn or veggie) to cook in. NO margarine.

Most bacon is gluten free. Some will actually say gluten free.  The problem with bacon is usually MSG and nitrates – both of these ingredients are gluten free, but can cause other problems.

Speaking of breakfast……frozen hash brown patties (those oval ones) usually are NOT gluten-free.  However, Ore Ida has a bunch of their potatoes that ARE gluten free and are clearly marked.  If you are not sure, make them from scratch, potatoes are naturally gluten free.

Majority of cereals are NOT gluten-free.  Luckily there are several flavors of Chex that are gluten free – rice, corn, honey nut, chocolate, cinnamon and apple cinnamon.  Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles (not Puffs) are gluten free.  There are also gluten free Rice Krispies – but you will need find the ones that are marked gluten free, not all stores carry gluten free Rice Krispies.

If you need pancakes (and who doesn’t?!), check out Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix (pretty bag with sunset) is a VERY good mix.  Bob’s Red Mill makes a gluten free all purpose baking mix that makes great pancakes or waffles too.  There is a gluten free Bisquick mix also, but in my opinion not as good as the two I have mentioned.

Syrup – 100% maple syrup is naturally gluten free.  The labels of other syrups will need to be checked carefully.

For now, stay away from lunch meat and processed foods, sausage, hot dogs, wieners, kielbasa etc…. until you have a handle on how processed foods will affect you and you get better used to finding gluten in the labels.

Most regular, no flavor added, corn tortilla chips or potato chips have no gluten.  Watch out when they add flavors – like most of the BBQ or Sour Cream & Onion flavors have wheat in the seasoning – the wheat makes the seasoning go further like beans in chili…..

Check your seasonings in your cabinet for WHEAT, BARLEY or RYE.

Single seasoning like garlic powder, onion powder etc are usually ok. Lawry’s season salt is gluten free – generic brands of season salt you will have to check.

Seasoning blends – check the label.  A red flag is if you see “spices” with no specific listing.  If it does not have an allergy label (bold words that say contains or allergens) call the company or check the website.

Salad dressing………..gotta read the labels! Start with the Paul Newman ones…….MOST of them are gluten free and very good. They don’t usually say gluten-free, but on the label after the ingredients it usually will say CONTAINS: Soy, dairy, nuts…….if wheat is not listed you are probably OK to eat that item, check the rest of the ingredients first.  Hidden Valley Ranch and Wishbone Italian dressings are gluten free at the time of my writing this – but check the label.  Both companies will clearly state allergens.

If you are a chocolate fiend like me……you can have M&M’s, Hershey bars, Reese’s peanut butter cups (not the minis), York peppermint patties, Hershey kisses, Dove, 3 Musketeers, Snickers…… just to name a few, so YAY!  If you have a favorite candy go on GF OVERFLOW to see if yours is listed.  Sadly, Twizzlers are NOT gluten free, but Skittles and Starburst are!

Nuts are naturally gluten free……….BUT you have to watch out because the seasonings/coatings often contain gluten. For the time being, I would stay away from nuts.  Add them later if you continue with gluten free – but do your research.

Coffee is naturally gluten free, so you are good to go with any brewed coffee.  I am not sure about the “cappuccino powder” that they sell in the gas station. You would need to ask them to look at the label.

Tea is also naturally gluten free – be aware that the bags that are stapled are no problem, BUT some of the tea bags are glued together with stuff that has gluten. Most tea will say right on it “gluten free”.  Celestial Seasonings and Stash tea use no gluten in the bags or sealing of them.  Be careful of Lipton tea – they have not made a statement saying they are gluten free and suggest you read all labels carefully.

Flavored liquid creamers like coffee-mate or International house are both gluten free.

Most of the liquid flavors like Torani or DaVinci French vanilla…….are gluten free as well, but you will need to check for your favorite flavor.  Look on their website – Torani shows that French Vanilla is gluten free but the Sugar Free French Vanilla is NOT.  They have a couple others listed too.  For the DaVinci they show all flavors are gluten free except for Dulce de Leche Sugar Free Syrup.

This leads me to one more point to make – the Dulce de Leche is basically caramel.  ANYTHING that is caramel or caramel flavored you need to thoroughly check the label.  If it does not say gluten free CALL.  Caramel is often made using BARLEY for flavor!  So this can be a huge problem. If you want that caramel flavor, go with liquid creamer.

Basic booze - gin, vodka, rum, brandy etc…..all gluten-free! Holla!! Wine too. Be sure to check labels on flavored liquors. Lately there are a lot of flavored vodkas – steer clear of this for now, most of the companies I have contacted so far say the flavoring added may not be gluten free…..so they may no claims on those. You cannot have Malt beverages, so no beer or those Smirnoff cooler things.  There are quite a few brands of gluten-free beer out there.  As far as coolers go, you will have to read labels, for instance Mikes Hard Lemonade is NOT gluten-free………but their light version is and should say gluten free on the label.  Check into Ciders…….most are gluten free and should be marked.  

Most sodas are gluten free.  Double check your favorite.

I have found it a bit easier to make a batch of food I can eat (for example soup, stew, chili or enchiladas) and then freeze single serving sizes for later.  This works out great for me during the week for lunch, I don’t have to spend a lot of time making things each day and I can rest assured that I am eating gluten free.

There……….whew………that wasn’t so bad!  I think I have provided a decent list of items to get you through a couple of weeks eating.  Remember to keep your focus on all of the great things that you CAN have! Good luck!  You can do this!!

Live and LOVE gluten free!!

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