Making the transition to a gluten-free diet is one of the hardest parts of realizing you have a gluten intolerance. You want to feel better, cure your headaches, and improve your indigestion by changing your diet, but actually doing it can be a bit of a culture shock. Many of the foods you eat on a daily basis will no longer be allowed and you need to become a stickler for reading ingredients of everything you eat. Here are some tips for transitioning to a gluten-free diet.
Start With Your Favorite Gluten-Free Foods
When you are making the transition to a gluten-free diet, you should first consider what foods you already eat that will still be allowed. This makes it easier for you because you can rely on some of your classic staples that you enjoy eating on a regular basis without feeling like you are missing out on anything. For example, most vegetables and fruits you eat already can still be enjoyed, such as lemon in your water, oranges as a snack, and bananas with your breakfast. Most meat can also be eaten, though you need to be careful with processed meat, such as packaged deli meat.
Buy Gluten-Free Substitute Products
While you eventually want to start making more food items from scratch, the transitional period can be quite a challenge. During this time, it is helpful to find some gluten-free substitutes of the foods you can no longer have. For example, you can usually find your favorite type of bread, biscuits, cookies, crackers, and cereal in a gluten-free version. There are usually boxes of gluten-free boxes as well. It used to be that only health food stores sold substitutes that were much more expensive than the standard form of these foods, but since gluten-free is becoming more popular, it is easier to find these food items in the supermarket.
Find Friends Who Want to Join You
It can be hard when you are doing this all alone. Try to find friends or family members that also want to reduce their gluten intake. This makes it easier when going through recipe books together, swapping ideas for meals, and going out to restaurants. If you have kids, try to transition them to a gluten-free diet as well so you don’t have the temptations in your household. Get your family together to come up with delicious gluten-free meals together.
While you might know about all the typical signs of having a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, such as stomach pain, indigestion, and headaches, there are some less common ones you might want to know about. Here are some of the less common signs of gluten intolerance to be aware of.
While you may not realize it, your skin condition, such as red splotches on the face and excessive dandruff on the scalp might actually be due to a gluten intolerance. While these conditions can be worse if you actually have an allergy to gluten or Celiac disease, people with an intolerance to gluten may also experience similar symptoms. You may find that you have a lot of dandruff and that using special shampoo doesn’t do much good. Perhaps you have redness on your face and can’t figure out why. These are both signs of eczema, which tend to be common among people who have issues with gluten.
Mental Health Disorders
If you are someone that struggles with a lot of different mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, it may very well be linked to your gluten intolerance. There have been quite a few studies that actually link gluten disorders and Celiac disease to anxiety and depression. Like the skin conditions, the symptoms might be worse with Celiac disease, but that doesn’t mean your anxiety or depression can’t also worsen if you have an intolerance to gluten. If you have noticed extreme irritability at odd time, worsening depression, or a sudden onset of anxiety, it might be a good time to consider other symptoms of gluten sensitivity.
Severe Digestion Problems
You likely know that having digestion issues is very common when you have an intolerance to gluten, but did you know it can cause more serious problems? For example, you might have irritable bowel syndrome, seemingly caused by nothing, but it ends up being linked to gluten. Try eating a gluten-free diet for a short period of time and see if your digestion and IBS symptoms improve. If they do, then these issues are directly linked to the gluten intolerance.
Any time you have an odd symptom, you should talk to your doctor about it. They might find that some of your symptoms are due to what you eat, such as the gluten in your diet. Removing gluten for a few days can tell you a lot about how you felt before compared to how you feel after.
One of the struggles of discovering that you have a gluten intolerance is then trying to figure out what you can eat and especially how to put your meals together. You no longer eat rice or pasta as a side, bread your chicken, have dinner rolls, or eat anything you want. Even if you were on a low-carb or low-calorie diet previously, the gluten-free diet is not going to allow for the same types of foods. Here are some helpful ways to put together your gluten-free meals.
Get a Gluten-Free Cookbook
To start with, it is really helpful to have at least one gluten-free cookbook, but preferably a few different ones. These are going to be your point of reference not just for making sure you have plenty of recipes to choose from, but so you know what foods you can and can’t have. Many of the gluten-free cookbooks available are going to provide food lists, tips, and suggestions for creating meals that help with your gluten intolerance. While many of them cater to allergies or Celiac disease, you can still use the same recipes for your gluten sensitivity.
Start Baking Your Own Bread
This might sound like a huge chore, but once you make your own loaf of bread, you will wonder why you haven’t always done it. There is something about getting bread out of the oven or using a bread maker that is satisfying. Pulling a loaf of bread you made from scratch and slicing it up yourself is rather cathartic, not to mention the smell and fresh taste when it comes from your own kitchen. Baking your own bread helps to save money since you can use a gluten-free bread recipe instead of having to buy an expensive alternative at a local health foods store. Bread machines are easy to use and a quick way to make your own bread.
Find Grain Alternatives
While you can’t have many of the grains you are used to, there are still some that don’t contain gluten. Finding these and using them in your meals can really make up for what you are missing. For example, you might not be able to have some forms of rice or pasta, but you can still have quinoa. This is always gluten-free, healthy, low-fat, and really easy to include in all of your recipes. Also look for foods that naturally don’t have gluten so you don’t have to second guess anything, such as fresh produce, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Get Rid of the Processed Stuff
With things like dairy and meat, it is okay to eat these food items, but you want to avoid anything that is processed. Now is the perfect time to stop eating so much processed food and rely more on the natural options. Instead of hot dogs and deli meat, get ground beef, chicken breasts, and steak
So, you've decided to go grain-free. This is a great choice, and you'll definitely be feeling the benefits in no time. But, it can be hard to stick to a diet plan if you don't enjoy what you're eating. Luckily, there are plenty of delicious meals that can be eaten on the grain-free diet.
Cereal and oatmeal aren't the only breakfast meals, even if they typically come to mind first. Grain-free individuals can enjoy freshly cooked eggs with a side of bacon or ham, a nice juicy steak paired with hash browns or diced potatoes, or a Denver omelet with all the fixings.
If you prefer a lighter breakfast, you can have grain-free banana bread or pumpkin bread, made fresh at home or bought from a bakery. A simple parfait can be made with yogurt and whichever fruits you enjoy; blueberries, strawberries, and bananas are great toppings, especially when combined with nuts, giving you all the nutrients you need to start your morning. Grocery stores also sell a wide variety of grain-free breakfast bars, held together with egg whites and fruit, rather than oats or granola.
Mid-day is here, and you wanted a sandwich or a burger, but they both have a big grain-filled bun on top! Not a problem, you can have your burger wrapped in lettuce, rather than a hunk of bread. Same great taste of grilled beef and your favorite toppings, lacking just the bread. As for sandwiches, there are now more grain-free breads on the market than ever before. Some are made from Almond or Coconut flour, among other types. These can be hit or miss, depending on your preferences, but they are absolutely worth giving a try before just cutting out your favorite hoagie or club sandwich from your meals.
If you aren't in the mood for a sandwich, try cooking up some home-made fried chicken. This is where almond flour really comes in handy, because you don't have to sacrifice the breading. You end up with a great, crispy exterior with the same delicious herbs and spices as any other fried chicken, minus the grains and the issues that come with it. As a side note, vegetable and canola oil are also rough on the stomach, while avocado, grape seed, peanut, and sunflower oil are much easier on the digestive system.
There are countless great dinner meals that don't require grains at all. Even those that do contain grains can often be substituted without compromising flavor. Freshly seared salmon or any other type of fish, garnished with some lemon and rosemary, is healthy, flavorful, and doesn't contain one bit of grain.
Steak, grilled chicken, and salads are all wonderful meal ideas. The greatest benefit with salads are the seemingly limitless possibilities; Caesar, Cobb, Chicken, Chop, Mandarin, Tuna, Potato, and countless other variations of salads can be made and enjoyed. If you don't feel like cooking, there are restaurants everywhere that make extravagant salads; just order one, pick it up, and enjoy.
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.