Adopting a gluten-free diet doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. In fact, it should be a positive experience that exposes your palate to a wide variety of flavors.
Below, you’ll find 10 steps that make adopting a gluten-free diet easy and cost effective. Enjoy.
1. Start Small
You don’t have to have your new gluten free diet dialed in by tomorrow. Instead, make slow, sustainable changes. At the clinic, we recommend starting a gluten free diet by first taking inventory of what foods in your house contain gluten. Below, you’ll find an exhaustive list of all foods and ingredients known to contain gluten.
Start by removing these items from your home. It is much easier to adhere to a gluten-free diet if gluten containing foods are not in the house. Once you’ve removed the culprits, make note of what essential ingredients are missing from your pantry. See what gluten-free options can be utilized in their place.
Remember, this is a gradual process. Going gluten-free overnight is exhausting. And stressful.
2. Get the family involved
Sticking to a nutritional change is effortful. Research suggests that your likelihood of sticking to nutritional changes is greatly increased if you have social support. (1) With this in mind, try to get your family engaged in your new diet. Cooking two separate meals each evening will become tiring in short order.
If your family is reluctant to adopt a gluten-free diet with you, there are plenty of digital gluten-free communities. Some of our favorites include:
These online communities are a wealth of information. Should you have any questions about certain products, or recipes, these online communities can help point you in the right direction. They can also be there for support.
When you first begin a gluten-free diet, it can feel isolating. These communities can be there to lean on in the beginning. Additionally, if you’re not sure if you can ever eat at a restaurant again, please see this post. Ali and I curated our list of the best gluten free restaurants in the Calgary and Cochrane areas.
3. Save money while going gluten free
Gluten-free products cost more than wheat-filled alternatives. Fortunately, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) recognizes this. If you have a diagnosis from a practitioner that proves you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you’re eligible for a rebate on your annual income tax. (2)
For example, if a loaf of wheat bread costs $3 and a loaf of gluten-free bread costs $5, you may claim $2 as a medical expense on your income tax return. You will need to keep receipts for each gluten-free product purchased.
4. Get to know what foods contain gluten
With some foods, like bread, it’s obvious if they contain gluten. Other foods can be more confusing – does millet contain gluten? The first step in beginning a gluten free diet is getting a crystal clear idea of what foods have gluten in them. The below list of grains and starches contain gluten:
- Graham Flour
- Wheat Germ
5. Get to know foods that are naturally gluten-free
There are many grains and starches that are naturally gluten-free. But here’s where things get tricky: naturally gluten free does not guarantee that the product is actually free from gluten. Often, gluten-free foods are processed at the same facility as foods containing gluten. This results in cross-contamination – gluten spreads into a naturally gluten-free product. Please keep in mind that organic does not equate to gluten-free.
To avoid cross-contamination, it is recommended that these naturally gluten-free products are “certified gluten free”. This will ensure there is no cross contamination as they will have been processed at a wheat free facility. Below are the most common gluten free grains and starches:
6. Know which foods are likely to contain gluten
The below list is by no means exhaustive. Ensure you check the label of the below foods. These foods often contain gluten in them. So, be on the lookout.
- Baked beans (canned)
- Blue Cheeses
- Breaded foods
- Chocolate Milk
- Cold Cuts
- Communion Wafers
- Egg substitute
- Energy Bars
- Flavored coffee/tea
- French Fries
- Fried Vegetables/Tempura
- Fruit fillings/Puddings
- Hot Dogs
- Ice Cream
- Imitation meats – crab meat, bacon etc.
- Malt vinegar
- Non-dairy Creamer
- Oat Bran
- Oats (unless certified gluten free)
- Processed cheeses
- Roasted nuts
- Root Beer
- Salad Dressings
- Soy Sauce and Teriyaki sauces
- Trail mix
- Veggie Burgers
- Wine coolers
7. Identify additional sources of gluten that may be in your home
Odd as it may seem, your house likely has non-food sources of gluten. Gluten is incredible at helping improve the texture of both foods and household products. In fact, the word gluten comes from Latin where it meant “glue”. This is exactly what it does to products – it glues them together, creating a smooth, wonderfully textured product. The following household products often contain gluten:
- Lipsticks/Lip balm
- Vitamins/supplements (check label)
8. Find the gluten-free section at your local grocery store
Going gluten-free has never been easier. Most grocery stores have specific sections of their store dedicated solely to gluten-free products. You can (likely) shop these products without having to check labels. Often, the products found in this section are certified gluten-free. This means that the production of the product is done at a factory that does not contain any gluten or wheat products.
9. Become aware of gluten’s other aliases
To further complicate matters, Health Canada is rather lax on how manufacturers label ingredients in their products. Gluten or wheat has many additional names. Just because you don’t see wheat or gluten on an ingredient list does not indicate that the product is actually gluten-free. If a product has the “certified gluten-free” label, you don’t have to read the ingredients list.
Below, are common ingredients that are often code names for gluten. If you see them on a product, that product is best avoided.
- Amino Peptide Complex
- Avena Sativa
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Caramel color
- Fermented Grain Extract
- Hordeum Distichon
- Hordeum Vulgare
- Hydrolyzed malt extract
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Modified food starch
- Natural flavoring
- Phytosphingosine extract
- Secale Cereale
- Soy protein
- Triticum Aestivum
- Triticum Vulgare
- Vegetable protein (HVP)
- Yeast extract
10. Gluten and cross-reactive proteins
After going gluten free, many people can continue to feel the same or similar symptoms. This could be the results of something called cross-reactivity. (3, 4) Cross-reactivity occurs when the immune system of someone allergic to gluten/wheat (think, celiac disease) confuses other food proteins for gluten.
Imagine the gluten protein to resemble a triangle. If you’re allergic to gluten, your body will have created antibody’s that react to any cells that are triangular. Some foods have proteins that are also triangular in shape. The immune system gets confused and attacks these other food proteins as though they were gluten.
This immune system activation and reaction is why the symptoms of a gluten allergy (celiac disease) may not completely disappear after removing gluten from the diet. In this situation, it is recommended to remove cross-reactive proteins. Below is a list of cross-reactive proteins known to closely resemble gluten:
- Cow’s Milk
- Whey protein
- Milk chocolate
Ok, now you know the best practices towards starting a diet that is free from gluten. I hope this list helps you ease into a gluten-free diet.
It’s time to hear from you!
What tips have best helped you adopt a gluten-free diet?
Please share any of your favorite gluten-free recipes as well!