For anyone who makes the courageous leap to go completely gluten free for the first time, the story may go a little like this…
You head out to the supermarket with an optimistic stride in your step and prepare to buy your very first loaf of gluten free bread. You are quietly excited about your decision to take the plunge and experiment with this much talked about gluten free land. The excitement wavers slightly as you scan over the bread section for the fifth time trying to find anything labelled gluten-free. Finally you spot a gluten free label on the bottom shelf – success. Or is it? The tiny, crumbling loaf looks dry and anaemic, the ingredients list is filled with more refined carbohydrates and inflammatory ingredients than a McDonalds menu and the price on the label is so absurdly high you have to take a second glance to see if it really is referring to the miniature sized package you hold in your hands. White rice flour, potato flour, maize flour, soy flour, canola oil, sugar, salt, preservatives, additives… and a whopping price tag to top it off. Your hope begins to deflate as you start to wonder what else could substitute. Aha – you quickly pace over to the health food aisle and inspect your options. The offerings are equally bleak – gluten free bread mixes filled with toxic preservatives and refined flours, gluten free crackers made with more cheap, inflammatory ingredients and the final insult: gluten free muesli packed with sugar and cornflakes.
If you find yourself in the above scenario, don’t panic. Eliminating gluten doesn’t have to mean elimination of nutrients and taste. There are plenty of healthy, reasonably priced and tasty gluten free sources – but usually you won’t find these pre-made in a packet. In fact I wouldn’t recommend buying any gluten free packaged foods unless they contain nutritious sources like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat or amaranth with no added sugar or strange-sounding preservatives and additives. Breads, cake mixes, snacks, pastas and cereals with a gluten free label are almost always filled with hidden nasties in a poor effort by manufacturers to eliminate gluten and still keep the product tasty and cheap to produce. Why add a more pricey, nutritious gluten free grain when they can sneak in genetically modified corn or soy flour plus some cheap oils, starches and sugar to mask it all?
So, back to those nutritious gluten free options. Head to your local health food store and get yourself some bulk buckwheat groats and quinoa grains or flakes. Be prepared to drop the sandwich habit (unless you have the time to make your own gluten free bread) and swap to buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, millet or brown rice based dishes. It doesn’t have to be all about grains – try using vegetables as the bulking agent for main meals or snacks. Legumes like lentils, kidney beans and borlotti beans can also provide a filling and convenient core ingredient. In baking, try substitutes like coconut flour, buckwheat flour and almond meal paired with a raising agent like baking powder or eggs. If you stock your cupboards well with plenty of delicious substitutes you can avoid any feelings of deprivation. Remember to include sufficient protein and plenty of good fats with each meal to keep your appetite satisfied. There are thousands of interesting recipes that make a gluten free diet rewarding and delicious rather than a challenging burden.
Even so, at times you may be tempted to call off the whole gluten free expedition and run back to the safe familiarity of bread, crackers, pasta and more bread. Of course you are more than welcome to do this – but for those with chronic health issues it could be worth dedicating just six weeks of your life to find out if your symptoms reduce or disappear completely. Allergy testing may not always detect gluten intolerance, however a six week elimination diet can easily determine whether or not you need to part ways with gluten for good. This could be a small sacrifice in order to potentially solve chronic health issues that interfere with your quality of life. Remember, preparation and research will ease your transition into the gluten free world and if you do find yourself in need of a packaged snack – be sure to read the ingredients list first!
*Note: If you are consuming gluten free grains on an elimination diet, make sure the product is ‘certified gluten free’ as this will ensure the manufacturer has tested for gluten traces and ruled out the risk of cross-contamination (with other gluten products) during processing. Or, a completely foolproof option is to avoid all grains during the elimination diet.