Gluten Free Diet: 101

If you’ve just been told that you or someone you love has to eat a gluten free diet, chances are good that you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Most people don’t even know what gluten is, much less how to avoid it. The bad news about eating a gluten free diet is that it is for life. There is no cure for celiac disease or gluten allergies, so the only way to treat these conditions is to permanently and completely eliminate gluten from your diet.

The good news, however, is that things get easier. My husband, John, and I have been eating a GF diet for several years now and it’s not the uphill battle it once was. In fact, it’s actually pretty easy now. Once you have a little bit of experience at eating and cooking gluten free, you’ll feel much better about the whole thing.

What Is Gluten?

Let’s start with the basics. To put things simply, gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley and a few other grains. When gluten is mixed with water, it becomes elastic and stretchy, which is why wheat flour is used so frequently in regular cooking. The gluten is what allows wheat bread to expand and get airy and light. It’s also what allows wheat pasta to keep its shape.

For our purposes though, gluten is the enemy and it must be eradicated. Unfortunately, it’s used in a lot of foods that you wouldn’t expect. Instead of listing all the foods that you cannot eat, let’s take a look at what you can eat. It’s probably a good idea to plan your first gluten free week’s menu from this list of food. Don’t try to do anything fancy yet. You’ve got plenty of time later for all that. =)

Foods That Are OK On A Gluten Free Diet

Whole, unprocessed foods are always a good place to start. This includes:

* Fresh fruit
* Fresh vegetables.
* Fresh meat (preferably that has been butchered and prepared in the store)

When I say fresh and unprocessed, I mean food that is as close to its natural state as possible. If the food has a sauce or marinade on it, it could be contaminated.

Non-gluten grains are another food that you’ll come to love. In this category we have:

* Rice
* Corn
* Soy
* Arrowroot
* Amaranth
* Buckwheat

Rice, corn, and soy you’ve heard of. Arrowroot and amaranth you probably haven’t heard of, but that’s cool. They still love you. Buckwheat, despite containing the evil “wheat” word, is completely gluten free.

One caveat here: Make sure that the food you’re going to eat that has one of the above grains as an ingredient doesn’t also have wheat flour in there too. For instance, cornbread can be made with just cornmeal (OK) or with a mix of cornmeal and wheat flour (not OK). Buckwheat pancakes can be made from just buckwheat flour, or from a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour. You get the idea.

Lastly, foods that are clearly marked “gluten free” are always good. The availability of these foods will vary in your area, but where we live we can find:

* gluten free bread
* gluten free bagels
* gluten free muffins
* gluten free pizza, cake, cookies, etc.

The point being, if it’s clearly labeled “gluten free” then you’re good to go.