For those contemplating going gluten free the whole ‘how to do it’ aspect can seem a bit overwhelming and, well hard. I’ve been through it (several times), so I thought I’d pull together a few tips to make it easier for you and perhaps even fun! You really don’t have to miss out, in fact you might find that you even prefer eating this way.
Know your why
For me going gluten free was about gut protection so as to prevent further auto immune conditions developing. Did you know in every auto immune condition studied, leaky gut has been found? Gluten is a major contributor of leaky gut. I had dabbled with GF on and off for years before properly understanding the connection to auto immune disease. Once I got it, I have been committed to it 100%. That’s my ‘why’ but you have to figure yours out for you in order for you to WANT to go gluten free. Do you want to stop bloating? Have more energy? A Clearer head? Reduce your carbs? Look after your digestion? Know YOUR why.
Know where to find it
The obvious places are the gluten containing grains – wheat, rye, spelt, barley & oats. The less obvious are in processed foods such as sauces, marinades, soups, soy sauce. Learn to read the labels. It isn’t too hard any more as products do have to say if they contain gluten, you just need to get into the habit of looking, even on things you wouldn’t expect! Gluten containing grains are often used as thickeners.
Do it for 30 days and notice the changes
Most elimination diets will recommend eliminating a particular food for at least 30 days. It gives your body time to detox and adjust to not having to digest that particular food. The beginning of being permanently 100% GF began for me with a paleo style food elimination for 30 days called the Whole 30 – I thoroughly recommend it. I am willing to bet that if you eliminate gluten for 30 days (& don’t replace it with the processed GF alternatives) that you’ll feel so much cleaner and healthier! I have read (I think it was in the book Grain Brain by Dr David Perlmutter) that your body actually can take up to 6 months to fully eliminate gluten from your body, so 30 days might not be enough but it’s a really great start. Personally I won’t go back to eating gluten, it’s just not worth it for me.
Commit to it 100%
Again, in Grain Brain he goes through the science of being 100% gluten free. If you are going gluten free, to really properly benefit you need to give it up 100%, 100% of the time. It’s not something, that if you have an intolerance to, that you can eat ‘in moderation’.
Now that I have made peace with being 100% gluten free (and it took years) it’s easy. I no longer (well very rarely) want a piece of bread or cake. I can make pretty delicious sweet treats without gluten (or grains) and if I really do want a piece of bread to soak up my poached eggs, I will occasionally have a piece of GF toast. Knowing that I don’t eat gluten actually makes it easier than eating gluten in ‘moderation’, particularly when I’m out. I just don’t look at the non GF options. It reduces temptation. Seriously having that as a non negotiable is much easier.
Find alternatives not replacements
This would be one of my biggest tips. Don’t just replace cakes with GF cakes, bread with GF bread, pasta with GF pasta etc (although I DO do that for my kids, they aren’t 100% GF but I do only buy GF pasta… I know somewhat hypocritical but I pick my battles and they don’t have any significant intolerances). Don’t look for the GF cookies and cakes at your average cafe or in the health food aisle. Many of these products are highly processed and for those of us with gluten intolerances, our gut can treat many other grains in the same way as it does gluten. This is called gluten cross-reactivity. I get the same bloating if I eat quinoa or too much rice.
It’s a better habit to find alternatives eg zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice (recipe in my cookbook), kelp noodles, paleo ‘treats’ rather than the replacements. You really can still eat your cake but you’ll be much better off if you make it yourself. The cake I was about to eat in the photo above is the cover recipe in my cookbook and available here!
Focus on what you can have
Going gluten free isn’t miserable. It’s an adjustment but there are so many fabulous ways to cook that don’t involve gluten. Focus on which protein you are going to eat, then make an awesome salad (check out my recent post on how to make salads interesting) or roast some veggies to go with it. Breakfast can be more challenging if you’re used to cereal and toast. Why not totally change your breakfasts and whip up a quick omelette or green smoothie? I have some pretty tasty grain free muesli recipes if you want a ‘cereal’ with fruit and yoghurt type breakfast.
Try some new recipes
There are lots of fabulous recipes, blogs and cookbooks out there focussing on going gluten free. My advice is to lean towards the paleo style ones simply because they won’t just be full of recipes with GF flour. Here are a few of my favourites:
Irena Macri – Eat Drink Paleo (old fav of mine). She has a new book too called Happy Go Paleo
Pete Evans – his empire has a huge number of cookbooks out now. My favourite is ‘Family Food’
Quirky Cooking is enormously popular for Thermomix fans – she’s putting out a new cookbook soon that looks great.
Diane San Filippo – I love her book Practical Paleo and she is also releasing a 2nd edition soon too.
Then there is always What Annabel Cooks! All the recipes on this website are gluten free and every recipe in my cookbook is too.
Read a good book on the science
I am not a scientist. I’m not great at explaining things in scientific terms but others are. My favourite easy to read books on the topic are:
Grain Brain by Dr David Perlmutter
Wheat Belly by Dr W Davis
The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne AKA The Paleo Mom
It Starts with Food by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig from The Whole 30
I’ve written a few sections in my cookbook about how important it is to be prepared to help you on your GF journey. It helps enormously if you have easy to reach for foods so that you don’t reach for the biscuit or slice of toast. Things like raw nuts, fruit, medjool dates and jerky are saviours for me to have on hand, and often I’ll keep things like that in my handbag too.
Being prepared also helps with meal prep when going gluten free. Having a good supply of fresh fruits and veg, pre-cooked meals to just reheat after a long day at work can help too.
Eating out gluten free
This can be where people really struggle when going gluten free for the first time. It really is so much easier than it used to be and getting easier all the time. Most menus now mark what’s gluten free or a gluten free option (GFO). Sometimes it’s obvious, but it’s ok to ask if it’s not marked. Even things like burgers if you don’t eat the bun are often GF but you do have to check. From time to time it’s challenging. During the week I met a friend for lunch and there was very little GF on the menu. In the end I had smashed avocado on GF toast with a side of 2 eggs, more a breakfast, but still GF. I did have to ask quite a few questions to get to that point (their burger patty had breadcrumbs in it) but I got there in the end. Some of the harder places to order GF are asian restaurants, especially Chinese I’ve found. You really do have to check they use GF soy sauce! By and large though it’s pretty easy and sometimes it helps just having some choices eliminated for you!
Going gluten free doesn’t have to be hard, in fact it can be fun! Just embrace the change, try some new things and enjoy the benefits!