Okay. So lets assume you’ve read the blog posts and you’ve decided you should try the gluten-free thing. (note: there are many reasons to go gluten-free, even if you aren’t allergic… i’ll get to them in another post down the line…)

The question is, where to begin?

Obviously, as devestating as it might seem, the best place to begin is with research and adjustment of lifestyle based upon what you shouldn’t eat.

Bear with me here. It’s quite a list. But just to give you hope – I love food. Food is delish. It is amazing. It’s a gift. And I have a very varied and delectable diet, despite being sans-gluten and lactose and refined sugar. So you just wait – we’ll get to the good stuff, soon!

In the meantime, here’s some more info on gluten and what you should avoid.

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat; it is the part of flour that allows leavening to occur and it is used to bind substances together. People who have a gluten allergy usually react to one or more of the proteins within wheat, which are: albumin, globulin, gliadin, and gluten.

The term “gluten” can cause confusion as it is often used interchangeably with the term “wheat.” In actuality, there are grains other than wheat that contain gluten, such as rye and barley. There are also foods that contain less obvious sources of gluten, such as: fermented beverages, bran, couscous, durham, groats, kamut, malt, oats, spelt, and triticale.

Some less obvious glutinous foods may include:
Meat products – any products prepared with breadcrumbs or batter, sausages and other processed meats or smallgoods (unless labelled gluten free), thickened soups, meat pies and frozen meals.
Dairy products – malted milk, some cheese spreads, icecream in a cone and some soymilks.
Fruits and vegetables – canned and sauced vegetables, textured vegetable protein (found in some vegetarian products) and fruit-pie filling.
Cereal and baking products – wheat, wheaten corn flour, semolina, couscous, wheat bran, barley, oats, porridge, breakfast cereals containing wheat, rye, oats or barley, corn or rice cereals containing malt extract, some icing sugar mixtures and baking powder.
Pasta and noodles – spaghetti, pasta, lasagne, gnocchi, hokkein noodles, soba noodles and two-minute noodles.
Bread, cakes and biscuits – all bread, cakes and biscuits prepared with flours from a gluten source.
Condiments – malt vinegar, many mustards, relishes, pickles, salad dressings, sauces, gravy and yeast extracts.
Snacks – liquorice, some lollipops and chocolates, packet savoury snacks and some flavoured potato and corn chips.
Drinks – cereal coffee substitutes, milk drink powders.
Alcoholic drinks – beer, stout, ale, guinness and lager (most beers contain gluten; however, a range of gluten free boutique beers is now available in Australia).

Thats just the minimal list, folks. Be prepared – you will now be one of those people that stand for hours in grocery stores comparing nutrition fact information on the labels of any and every box, bag, and sticker. The kind of people that currently drive you nuts because they are always asking questions of the cashier and running back to grab or exchange “one more thing, real quick”.

But don’t worry, you get used to it, even if no one else around you does. And in the long run, being more nutritient-conscious can do nothing but help you!

Some more basic info: avoid products with ingredients that may include the words barley, malt, rye, spelt, kamut, whole-grain, whole-wheat, granola, semolina, oats, durum, triticale, some soy ingredients (usually soy sauces…), breaded, floured, fried… to name a few.

Note that for some individuals, gluten-sensitivity goes so far as to necessitate a complete lack of contact with glutinous foods – which means checking your skin care line, your makeup and hair products, your mouthwash and toothpaste; not licking envelopes or stamps; cooking food in a separate location with clean utensils (this means not putting your gluten-free toasts/breads in a toaster which has been used for regular bread… etc.), and more.

If you have reason to question whether or not a food is gluten-free, err on the side of caution. Better safe than sorry (or healthy than sick…) – for a long time, I would simply google the words “gluten-free” or “gluten” in addition to whatever ingredient/food I was examining. And the truth is, a LOT of foods have gluten in them. And I mean a lot.

Here’s one of the best tips I can give you, before I post again on the food alternatives…

Go. Organic.

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s time-consuming. Yes, it’s sort of green-peacey-love-the-earth-hippie, bring back the 60’s, free the whales and burn some incense – to a lot of people. But lemme tell you, when you are considering your health and sanity, the easiest way to eliminate gluten is to buy your food at an Organic Store.

Whole Foods, My Organic Market, and a lot of smaller food chain stores are now available to help people who are dealing with single or multiple food allergies, or who are simply health-conscious. Eliminating pesticides, steroid injections, and chemicals from your food is definitely not a bad way to go. And it’s served me immensely.

Don’t get me wrong – I still purchase a lot of my fruit and veggies, nuts and basic food group items from the local SuperFresh or Giant. It’s cheaper, and I understand that. But you have GOT to wash them really, really well, and check the ingredient list. And when it comes to special foods, meat, and pure cereals and soy products, you can’t go wrong with shopping organic.

Another benefit to shopping at organic food stores is that many of the individuals who work in those environments are very knowledgeable about food allergies and can answer the questions you might have if you are trying to eliminate gluten, lactose, sugar, or anything else from your diet. This is NOT the case in basic grocery stores. Trust me. I’ve tried, and the blank, “you-freak-me-out” stares you get from the employees at these locations is enough to send you back to the produce section with the intent of living on veggies for the rest of your life. (BTW all fresh fruits and veggies should be gluten-free… if you didn’t catch that drift).

Hopefully this isn’t too overwhelming. Learning what NOT to eat, (trust me) may be frustrating and confusing at first, but the options that one has nowadays are much, MUCH more extensive than many years ago, when this allergy was not diagnosed. There are plenty of delicious alternatives, and many benefits (as mentioned) to going gluten-free. (side note: since eliminating gluten, lactose, and refined sugars from my diet 2 years ago, i’ve only been sick once. never felt better!)

So – look forward with glee and anticipation to the next post, which should (I hope) follow shortly, and describe the wonderful variety that is actually available in your food choices.

In the meantime, train your dog to start licking envelopes, toss your whole grains, switch shampoos, and stock up on fruits, veggies, and nut butters.