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How to Go Gluten-Free

Gluten-Free Goddess Pizza Crust


I have to be what? 
Where do I begin? 
And what can I eat?

Going gluten-free can be confusing at first. Keep it simple until you get your bearings. Focus on whole, naturally gluten-free foods. 

NOTE: Gluten-Free is inherently wheat-free. Wheat contains gluten. So- remember: No gluten equals no wheat. 

BUT. "Wheat-Free" does not necessarily equal "gluten-free". Other, non-wheat grains also contain the gluten protein- barley, and rye (and commercially processed oats- due to cross contamination issues; look for a GF symbol on certified oats to make sure the oats are 100% gluten-free).

Here's a gluten-free food list to get you started.  

Say yes to fresh, unprocessed produce. If you’re a vegetarian, you're in luck. You already love veggies of all kinds, so go for it. Do your bunny food thing. And don't forget fresh seasonal fruit

Omnivore? You're in luck, too. Plain, unprocessed fresh meat, chicken, eggs and fish are all naturally gluten-free (watch out for added broths, seasonings, fillers, spices and marinades that might contain wheat or soy sauce). 

Vegan? Plain tofu is gluten-free (but watch out for baked versions with seasonings that may contain wheat). And just say no to evil seitan- made from "vital wheat gluten". Also problematic- faux meats- read those labels. Gluten is often the main vegan protein source.

For carbs and starches think produce- fresh potatoes (white, gold, red, blue) and sweet potatoes. And for healthy pasta substitutes, try riced cauliflower, ribboned zucchini and spiraled squash "spaghetti" strands.

Plain, whole grain rice is gluten-free (watch out for par-cooked, instant or flavored processed rice in cartons or boxes- these may contain wheat in some form, as spices, or seasoning). Italian Arborio rice aka risotto rice makes an elegant meal. 

Try quinoa for a fun, complete protein "faux grain". Quinoa cooks up quickly-  faster than rice- and cozies up to the flavors, herbs and spices you add to it. Here's my post on How to Cook Quinoa with delicious recipes to get you started.

Rolls of cooked polenta (cornmeal mush) that say "gluten-free" right on the label are a convenient base for Italian and Southwestern style toppings, appetizers, and family style layered casseroles.

Dairy? Here's the bad news. Some celiac savvy physicians suspect a whopping fifty percent of celiacs are also intolerant of- or allergic to- the proteins in milk, casein and whey, and many others find it difficult to digest the sugar in milk, called lactose (lactose intolerance). 

Note: If you find you are still symptomatic after giving up gluten, you might consider getting testing for milk proteins or lactose intolerance.  

Also look into FODMAPs- hard-to-digest carbohydrates/sugars that include lactose, and fructose, fructans, inulin, etc.

Gluten-free dark chocolate brownies and cold almond milk.

Here's the good news... If dairy is fine for you, cultured plain organic yogurt is gluten-free; try it with a dab of honey, all natural 100% fruit jam or pure maple syrup. Flavored yogurts could be trouble- avoid yogurt with added granola, toppings, or flavors made with non-GF oats, wheat germ, and barley.

Plain, aged block cheeses are generally safe; start with a wedge of good Parmesan and aged cheddar; both are high in calcium and have zero lactose. When you are ready to branch out, fresh goat cheese is delicious; and tangy, and there are many varieties of real cheese that are safe (check labels for additives, fillers or flavorings- these are possible culprits). And despite the popular myth that blue cheese is not safe, most blue cheeses are gluten-free.  Again, watch for added flavorings.

Double check "low fat" versions of dairy food for added starches or fillers that may not be gluten-free (safe starches include rice starch, tapioca, potato starch).

If your digestion cannot tolerate lactose, casein or whey (the sugar and proteins in dairy food) there are several gluten-free vegan cheese alternatives on the market crafted from rice, almonds, cashews,  pea protein or soy. If allergic to milk, always check labels for hidden ingredients (some 'lactose-free' cheeses actually contain the milk protein casein).

Luckily, many non-dairy milks now say 'Gluten-Free' right on the package. Call the company when in doubt. Try the new chilled coconut milks in a carton, or almond milk, organic non-GMO soy milk, cashew and hemp milk. 

For sandwiches think: wraps made with corn, teff or brown rice tortillas (please check on these, as some brands have tested high in gluten), low-carb lettuce wraps, rice paper wraps, and even toasted gluten-free waffles (they make fabulous grilled panini). 

See my recipe for a Gluten-Free Millet-Buckwheat Wrap.

There are several gluten-free breads available with a wide variety of quality and taste. Some are sawdust awful. Some aren’t half bad. Many new offerings are cropping up. Toasting makes almost any gluten-free bearable. (And when you're ready to bake, I've got gluten-free bread recipes that are delicious.) 

However, I wouldn’t jump into gluten-free bread right away.

Give your taste buds time to adjust to the newness of gluten-free flours. They are, indeed, different. 

They smell different.

They taste different. 

The texture is different. 

It takes about two weeks or so to adjust your wheat craving taste buds to the alternative charms of gluten-free grains. 

Be patient. The craving for wheat will pass. I promise.
An important note on oats... Oats have been a controversial topic in the celiac community. Here’s why. Although the protein in oats is not the exact same problematic protein found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt (note: spelt is NOT gluten-free), commercial oats have been found to contain gluten, possibly due to cross contamination in the harvesting, storing and milling process. 

The good news is, a few small dedicated farms have begun producing certified gluten-free oats. Bob's Red Mill now has gluten-free certified oats- look for the GF symbol on the label.

Most doctors recommend avoiding oats completely until you have healed your gut inflammation. When you are ready to try some, start slowly. Oats are high in fiber. They can be a tad gassy for some individuals. Try them in small amounts at first, once or twice a week, to give your digestion a chance to adjust to the high fiber.

Aside from the obvious forbidden foods (standard ready-made breads, breadcrumbs, rolls, muffins, bagels, donuts, croissants, cereal, pizza, fried food, pasta, beer, crackers, pretzels, cookies, cake, brownies, pie crust) I advise saying no to processed foods and mixes, fast food, junk food, snack food dusted with added flavors, packaged seasonings, soups and dressings- in other words, anything with ingredients you can barely pronounce. (And truthfully, this includes a lot of gluten-free junk food- which I'm sorry to tell you, has become a billion dollar industry. Just because it is gluten-free, does not mean it is necessarily healthy or nutritious.)
It is my personal belief that limiting refined sugars and starches, soda, unhealthy saturated trans fats and low nutrient junk food will go a long way toward healing a stressed digestive system.

When food is the cure for what ails you, choosing whole natural foods makes the most sense, after all.

While it is popular to mock gluten-free label-reading folks these days as diet challenged wing-nut weirdos, I am here to tell you a few honest observations that might just spare you some pain. Take this information as an offering. Something to consider. What you do with it is up to you.

So here goes.

Celiac messes with your ability to digest certain foods, and first on the list is high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is a relatively new super-refined, super-sweet cornstarch based sweetener (added to so many products now, it's ubiquitous). HFCS can cause digestive troubles in an already sensitive system (and you should know it also raises your set point for "sweet" taste, and is strongly suspected to contribute to insulin resistance, higher triglyceride levels, and Type 2 Diabetes- a once adult-onset disease now endangering our children and teens).

Also problematic for many (celiac or not) are the sugar alcohol based sweeteners (sorbitol, mannitol). They can cause digestive symptoms remarkably similar to a gluten reaction, including pain, bloating, gas and the Big D- diarrhea. Check your toothpaste, sweeteners, sodas, candy, gum and breath mints-- what you suspect might be a hidden gluten symptom may actually be an artificial sweetener or indigestible FODMAP style carbohydrate wreaking IBS style havoc.
Many celiac folks need to avoid coffee, too, especially if heartburn is a symptom (it's a gastric irritant, digestive stimulant, and a known IBS trigger). Try, instead, drinking plain, organic, loose white, green or black tea, unsmoked yerba mate, or rooibos- read labels and watch for added flavors. 

Be careful with blended teas and herbal teas; some contain barley, malt, or flavors derived from gluten grains. Unfortunately, many herbal teas are contaminated with pesticides, so please practice due diligence, and research the tea company (don't let their cute packaging fool you into thinking it's 100% chemical/pesticide free).

As for alcoholic drinks, many are safe. In general, avoid flavorings, mixes, and 'malt'. 

Potato vodkas and unflavored rums and tequilas are naturally gluten-free. Distilled whiskey is as well. Cognac is safe; and a good brandy is usually fine- but watch out for added flavors that may not be gluten-free.

Gluten-free beers are controversial- some so-called gluten-free omission beers have tested higher than desirable amounts of gluten- so please practice due diligence on this. Do your homework.

In theory, alcoholic aka hard ciders are safe. Due diligence, though, people. Make sure.

Bottled red and white wines are most often safe (avoid malted wine coolers) but you should be aware that older wineries may use antique oak barrels sealed with food grade paste (aka wheat). It's best to call the winery and check. 

For those allergic to casein, egg proteins, or fish, be aware that modern methods of winemaking often include a fining process that utilizes one of these top allergens. From personal experience, I have found that a great many wineries use casein and egg. Look for vegan wines that are fined with a non-animal fining agent. Frey Vineyards uses a natural clay fining agent, and stores wine in stainless steel (note that the Syrah and Port may be aged in oak barrels). 

What about snacks?

So in the beginning, Dear Reader, I kept it really simple.

I snacked on rice cakes or corn thins with a schmear of organic peanut, almond or cashew butter. 

I ate plain roasted almonds. Cashews. Raisins. Applesauce. Bananas.

I sliced cheddar cheese and ate it with a handful of grapes. 

I kept bags of carrot sticks handy to dip in homemade hummus

I made my own flavored yogurts with organic plain yogurt and natural fruit preserves.

I got a popcorn maker so that I could choose my cooking oil and seasoning and use non-GMO organic popcorn.

And I always kept some gluten-free organic dark chocolate on hand for a real treat. I still do (it’s those nifty antioxidants, I’m after- really it is!).

After I got more comfortable with knowing what brands were- and were not- gluten-free, I branched out to non-GMO organic corn tortilla chips. Classic. Fab with salsa and guacamole.

And there are even more safe gluten-free snacks available now– from crackers to pretzels and chips- as always read labels (not only for 'gluten-free' status, but for nutritional value- you don't need pro-inflammatory processed junk food messing with your healing process!).

So, what's for dinner?
Any gluten-free menu ideas?

Here’s what I did my first year gluten-free...

For dinner I roasted cut-up vegetables like crazy- potatoes, squashes, onions, carrots, broccoli, you name it- tossed in sea salt, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

I based meals around baked potatoes, both white and sweet. Split open and seasoned baked potatoes and sweet potatoes make a wonderful base for all kinds of toppings: chili, stew, roasted veggies, Italian ragu, and baked beans. I even would make a salad baked potato- topped with fresh baby greens and all the fixin's.

I cooked up rice. From long and short grain brown rice, to arborio risottos and stir-fried white basmati rice. It's all good. (Just be careful with Asian sauces containing a wheat based soy sauce!)

On an average weekday I might cook up a batch of rice in a rice cooker and lightly stir-fry it in a skillet with a little olive oil, herbs and spices. I add cut-up fresh vegetables and some protein. You can add strips of meat, chicken, ground turkey, pork, fish, chick peas, beans or slivered almonds.

To conjure my art student days I might do a simple brown rice stir-fry with matchstick carrots, golden raisins and chickpeas.

Sometimes I go with a Mexican-style rice stir-fry and add chopped roasted green chiles, black beans or chicken, topped with fresh chopped tomatoes, avocado slices, salsa, and a big squeeze of fresh lime.

I create rice Thai-style with a splash of coconut milk, basil leaves and mild GF curry, and add whatever veggies we happen to have on hand. Sometimes I'd add a dab of peanut butter to the coconut milk sauce.

On nights we crave Italian, I make brown rice or quinoa and top it with a marinara sauce with fire roasted canned tomatoes, garlic, lots of sweet peppers, mushrooms, with a splash of balsamic vinegar and chopped fresh herbs.

For breakfast there is gluten-free hot rice cereal, and buckwheat cereal; or try the new quinoa flakes. There are several cold cereals that are marked gluten-free- check your market for kid-friendly choices. Frozen gluten-free waffles.

You can also cook up rice, millet, buckwheat, and whole quinoa as a breakfast cereal- top with maple syrup and cinnamon. Nuts and fruit.

Ideas Part 2. 
Healing Soups, Stews... and Smoothies

I'm a big believer in the power of fresh vegetables. All those vitamins and antioxidants! Make lots of them. Too busy to make soup? Dust off your slow cooker – it’s perfect for making soups, stews and comfort food.

Spike your soups with the healing properties of fresh minced garlic, ginger, fennel, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice or apple cider vinegar, shredded cabbage, parsley and cilantro, and you have some serious medicine. Remember- cabbage helps heal an inflamed gut. Here are some fabulous soup recipes to get you inspired.

For a jump start in added nutrition, whip up smoothies with yogurt, a banana, a touch of sweetener. Or add a splash of fresh fruit juice and chunks of more fruit (frozen fruit works well for this). Find a gluten-free rice protein powder to add extra aminos and protein. Or GF peanut butter powder.

For those avoiding dairy, use a gluten-free rice, soy, nut or hemp milk (the chocolate flavors make a decent cocoa). Check labels carefully, as some non-dairy milks are not gluten-free due to barley used in processing the “natural flavor”. If you tolerate lactose-free milk- and the milk proteins casein and whey are not a problem- try organic brands. 

One note on vegan milks and non-dairy products- I'm personally not a fan of the common additive carrageenan. It does not agree with me (some folks I know well are also sensitive to it.) Gas and bloating are side effects I'd like to avoid. Just sayin'.

And for cooking and baking-- don't forget coconut milk. Coconut milk is terrific in soups, stir-fries, sauces, puddings, and baking. 

On to dressings. Salad dressing labels are very scary, not to mention, unappetizing. Exactly what is partially hydrogenated mono sodium glutamate hydrolyzed vegetable protein guar gum carageenan cottonseed oil, anyway?

Instead, I take five minutes and whisk together my own simple dressings with extra virgin olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice, or Spectrum Organic Balsamic Vinegar or Champagne vinegar (adding a spoonful of gluten-free honey mustard, yogurt, or mayonnaise or Vegenaise thickens the dressing if you’d like more than a simple vinaigrette). I add dried or fresh herbs- a little dill, a dash of basil, thyme or oregano and ground pepper. 

I’ve got a sweet tooth. How about gluten-free goodies?

Good question. Here’s what I did. So that I wouldn't have to stress about perfecting the art of gluten-free baking right away, I selected a favorite gluten-free ice cream and sorbet for dessert. Fortunately, there are quite a few available. Baking came later-- and is now a pleasure.

Karina's update- 

With all the recent talk about sugar and inflammation, here's what we suggest. No more than 2 tablespoons of sugar a day. And in all honesty, I've whittled it down to less than that.
Most of my recipes can be be baked with less sugar. Experiment and find your own preference for sweetness.

Part 3. Gluten-free Shopping Strategies: 
How Not To Feel Overwhelmed

I admit it. The first trip to the supermarket post diagnosis was a total nightmare. Granted, it was the GF Dark Ages- back in 2001. But still.

I spent almost two hours reading the super-fine print on every label in every crowded grocery aisle. I was bumped and glared at for taking up space. I felt stupid and discouraged and totally overwhelmed. I realized quickly I needed a strategy. So I went home with a grocery bag of fresh vegetables, Lundberg brown rice, plain rice cakes, bananas, and made a plan.

I looked over the various safe food lists for celiacs on the Internet, copied all the familiar products I was interested in, pasted them into a document file, and created my own personalized Gluten-Free Shopping List. This helped me focus on the brands and foods I preferred (rather than printing out the long on-line lists cluttered with brands and products I would never need or want). I scoured the lists for favorites.

For instance, I looked for a brand of yogurt I liked. Then, peanut butter, jam, ketchup, mustard, mayo, tea, fire roasted tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. You get the idea. All the basics.

I compiled. I saved the list and printed it out for convenience. Over time, I have edited The List and pared it down quite a bit. Shopping has become infinitely easier now that I have my own list of tried and true favorites. Periodically, I re-check labels to make sure my favorites are still gluten-free. [Please note: Even though you may find a certain brand listed on-line as gluten-free, it’s always wise to double check. And even as you develop and maintain your own personal gluten-free list over time, it's a good idea to continue to read labels to make sure the ingredient list has not changed .] When in doubt, call. Most companies have 1-800 customer service numbers listed on food, health and beauty items and many, if not most, actually know what gluten is.

Part 4. Eliminating Gluten
Making Your Kitchen Safe

The day after I went gluten-free, my husband Steve and I tackled the pantry and the fridge. We raked through labels and identified any foods that contained gluten. If they were unopened, they went into a box for the local food bank. If they were partially used, we dumped them out and recycled the containers. 

If I was unsure about a product, I set it aside and researched it. It was an enormous task. Which brings me to an important side issue. Support.

Support is invaluable in this endeavor we call living gluten-free--- especially in the first year. Don't underestimate your need for it. To stay healthy and gluten-free it takes a partner, family member, or friend willing to embrace change, willing to listen and learn. Steve told me that pantry-clearing day, “I’m in this with you, Babe. I’m going gluten free.” 

Yes, he’s quite a guy. A mensch, even.

And now you know why I fell in love with him in the first place. Well, that, and he could juggle- and... whistle a Crowded House tune perfectly. 

So here's a shout out to my dear husband. The guy behind the gluten-free goddess. He's been there for me from day one. And honestly, it’s made all the difference.

If you need broader support, find a local celiac support group. 

Contamination Issues

And now for the thorny part. The tricky bump on the learning curve- invisible gluten. It is dead sneaky! Where does it come from?

First- consider the contents of your refrigerator. All shared condiments must be avoided; it's best to purchase your own peanut butter, jam, butter & margarine, mayo- and separate it. You can label it: My GF Stash. Or use a colored sticker system. It does seem extreme, I know. But, Dear Reader, crumbs and residue from gluten containing food can wreak havoc over time. Trust me.

You may not think so, at first (I admit, didn't believe it), but even the tiniest gluten crumble contains enough of the offending gluten molecule to cause serious trouble and trigger our sensitive immune systems. And we know how tiny molecules are. And how invisible.

So picture those sticky fingers of family- and co-workers- blissfully eating orange oil pizza, or dripping sub sandwiches, and sugary glazed donuts. Fingers that leave gluten residue on fridge handles, computer key boards, phones... you get the idea. If you have symptoms after going gluten-free, cross contamination could be the culprit.

Remember, gluten is a protein– and gluey proteins are next to impossible to eradicate. Because, well. They're sticky. There's a reason, Darling, that wheat is used in wallpaper paste, adhesives, and drywall compound.

I suggest using alcohol wipes in shared spaces to clean off fridge and cabinet handles, steering wheels (I'm sure you don't ever eat in the car, right?), remote controls, computer keyboards and mice, game controllers, you name it.

And after using a grocery cart? Or after shaking hands? I use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Liberal amounts of alcohol sanitizer help to dissolve the sticky gluten protein off fingers, as does a good old fashioned hand washing with bar soap and water.

Other considerations?

Let's get back to the kitchen. Porous materials. Aware of the protein residue problem, I set aside my old cutting boards and breadboards- including a lovely antique round carved breadboard I’d had for twenty years; I hated to part with it, but my health trumped sentiment. Off they went, with all my favorite old wooden spoons, and anything porous that might contain old gluten residue, including our non-stick skillet, and wooden salad bowl.

I also gathered up my old vinyl and plastic spatulas, my bread machine, and our blender with a rubber gasket. We made quite a big donation pile. And what wasn’t donated we sold at a yard sale. Then came the fun part. Replacing. I even gave the kitchen a new coat of paint, just to brighten my spirits and enhance my fresh start- with color.

Next on the agenda?

More label reading. Check the fine print on your vitamins, medications, and cosmetics, mouthwash, and toothpaste.


Although controversial- doctors often sneer at this- I even checked shampoo, soap, hand and body lotions. Some say such teeny tiny amounts don't matter- after all, you don't actually eat shampoo, soap, or hand lotion. But. I would argue that some of us use our hands to eat. Some of us lick our fingers. And some of us KISS. So why chance it? It's not impossible to find gluten-free beauty and body products. As always, check labels and call manufacturers because product formulations can change.

It took me a good 5 to 6 months to truly eradicate all specks of gluten from my life. I made some mistakes early on (a box of herb tea with barley, a natural lip balm with wheat germ oil, a friend’s old wooden spoon used to stir pumpkin soup), but time and experience smoothed out the bumps of my mistakes and the gluten-free lifestyle soon became second nature. As it will, for you, too, Dear Reader. Promise.

Part 5. Your Holy Grail: Bread? 
Gluten-free pasta? Brownies?

When you’re ready to branch out a bit and your taste buds have adjusted to food without gluten, I am here to tell you there are fabulous breads, killer pasta, pancakes, cupcakes in your future!

When the flavor memory of wheat begins to fade (this takes time by the way, and is why I didn’t recommend rushing out to purchase gluten-free substitutes for pasta, brownies, bread, and cookies; they’ll taste funny- even odd to your wheat saturated taste buds) there are plenty of tasty pastas to twirl, breads to toast, and decadent Dark Chocolate Brownies to melt in your mouth.

But try to give yourself two weeks first. Gluten affects brain chemistry. Experts liken it to opiod addiction. One mother told me her agitated , gluten craving son actually licked the kitchen table during the his first gluten-free week, trying to get a taste of gluten.
Adjustment to living gluten-free usually takes a minimum of two weeks; and it can, in some individuals, take up to a month or two- especially if hidden gluten is consumed, and the craving for it lingers. 

Think of it as a psychic adjustment period, where your focus is not on what you can no longer have, but on choosing fresh, healthful, whole foods that will jump-start your healing process

And when you’re ready, peruse my dessert recipes (try this for luscious Flourless Chocolate Cake).


Most of all- have fun with the new adventure of living gluten-free. Why? you might grumble. What’s so fun about it?

Here's the thing. 

After getting rid of your life-long enemy- that heinous gluten- you're going to feel more energetic, clear, focused and free than you have in a long, long time.

That's what is not only fun about it- but for many of us- sick for years before proper diagnosis- the benefits of living gluten-free might even be called a minor miracle.

So as William Goldman wrote in The Princess Bride, Have fun storming the castle.

And don't forget.
Laughter is good medicine. So go easy on yourself. 

The author Karina Allrich copyrights this original article ©2005-2020. All rights reserved in all media. No re-posting, copying, broadcasting or excerpting is permitted.