There’s great debate about the rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet. Many so-called experts say that no one needs to follow a gluten-free diet unless they have been diagnosed with celiac disease. Others say there is such a thing as gluten-sensitivity, while still others try a gluten-free diet for weight loss.
Originally, I was in that final group, but it was during my family’s one month gluten-free weight loss trial that I learned I was truly gluten-sensitive. Three weeks into our trial we were out and about and I began to get very hungry. There are times when I get shaky when I need to eat and this was one of those times. We decided to make a quick run through McDonald’s for some items from the dollar menu. I chose to get a chicken sandwich, and had eaten most of it before we’d even left the parking lot.
Not fifteen minutes later my esophagus was on fire. I was suffering one of the most intense rounds of acid reflux in recent memory. In that moment I not only realized that I hadn’t had any reflux in three weeks, but I made the immediate connection to gluten.
Over the next few days and weeks I experimented with eating foods with different amounts of gluten and experienced both acid reflux and migraines. I had already battled migraines for years and was accustomed to keeping a food log when necessary to track down foods that caused or contributed to my debilitating headaches. Now I found that gluten was likely one of the last migraine triggers I hadn’t yet tracked down, and was causing acid reflux as well.
My main point here is that I have my own proof that I have a gluten sensitivity of some sort despite not having an official diagnosis. What started as taking a stab at weight loss by jumping onto a diet fad turned into a voyage of discovery. In the years since, two-thirds of my family have made the switch to a completely gluten-free lifestyle, and we’ve learned a few tricks along the way.
Here are 7 Tips I’ve Learned to Help You Go Gluten-Free
- Make sure you understand what gluten is and where it’s found. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Depending on your sensitivity, you may also need to avoid bulgur, farro, kamut, and spelt. That means you’ll have to pay attention to products that contain any derivative of one of those grains. For instance, beer contains barley, as does just about anything malted. Breaded products are rarely gluten-free. You’ll also need to be careful of deep fried foods at restaurants. Even though french fries are naturally gluten-free, they are often fried in the same oil as breaded products such as onion rings and fried chicken, so there’s cross-contamination.
- Gluten-free shopping doesn’t have to be expensive. You can now find gluten-free brands at many big retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Kroger. Aldi even produces their own growing line of gluten-free products. Yes, many of these products will cost more than their generic counterparts, but you’ll often find something in the same price range as the name brands.
- Don’t forget to look for coupons. Companies like Perdue, Udi’s, and Glutino regularly offer coupons for their products. Check online sources like coupons.com weekly for gluten-free product coupons, and look for special product circulars at local natural and whole food stores. You can sometimes find coupons on product manufacturer websites as well.
- Check product ingredients carefully. Check the ingredients for wheat, barley, rye, and malt. Also keep an eye out for caramel coloring as it is sometimes derived from glutenous sources. Many products denote if they contain known allergens such as nuts, soy, milk, or wheat below the ingredients list. Also look for the Certified Gluten-Free seal.
- Mexican restaurants are your best bet for eating out safely. Do your own homework, but as long you skip flour tortillas, you should be able to eat almost anything your local Mexican restaurant will serve. You’ll have to be more careful at fast food places like Taco Bell because they often stretch their ground beef with flour, or they use spice mixes containing flour. Many Asian restaurants also offer naturally gluten-free options.
- See if your favorite restaurants offer gluten-free options. Many restaurants offer gluten-free menu items, or a specific gluten-free menu that you can ask to see. Check out websites such as Gluten-Free Registry and Find Me Gluten-Free to discover gluten-free friendly restaurants and business. Find Me Gluten Free even has an app for your smartphone.
- Prepackaged gluten-free bread mixes are a huge time-saver! Try out the many different packaged gluten-free baking mixes until you find the mix that’s right for you. You can also try mixing up your own. Here’s a recipe I love.