If you’ve recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, you likely will have to change what you eat. May is Celiac Awareness Month, a perfect time to think about how to go gluten-free.
Successfully adapting to a gluten-free diet requires you to stay calm, says Maria Luci, assistant director of digital media at Beyond Celiac, a patient advocacy and research-driven celiac disease nonprofit.
Understand that what seems challenging at first eventually will become routine. Start slowly by educating yourself about the new diet, and preparing meals carefully.
“It’s always best to concentrate on what you can eat, rather than what you can’t, and to start simply,” Luci says.
Eating gluten-free at home
When switching to a gluten-free diet, many people prefer to cook their meals at home instead of relying on restaurant or pre-packaged meals. Preparing your own meals allows you to “control the ingredients and take care to avoid accidental gluten exposure,” Luci says.
Look for recipes that need little customization – “perhaps just the substitution of one gluten-free ingredient for one that is not gluten-free,” she says.
Examples include using a gluten-free pasta to make macaroni and cheese or baked ziti, or preparing enchiladas with corn tortillas instead of the wheat flour variety.
Incorporate a variety of foods in your gluten-free diet, so you can keep things interesting.
Remember that some grains – including rice, corn and quinoa -- are naturally gluten-free. Fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and dairy also are safe bets. Other staples of gluten-free cooking include:
Choosing the right packaged and restaurant foods
If you prefer packaged foods, look for choices that clearly are labeled gluten-free.
Beyond Celiac has a Label Reading Tips guide to help you through the process of spotting gluten in packaged goods.
Luci says restaurant meals can be more challenging, since there are many ways in which gluten can find its way into a restaurant meal. The Beyond Celiac Dining Tips Guide can help.
“Do research on the restaurant beforehand, ask lots of questions and be clear with your server about your needs,” Luci says.
Remaining vigilant is the key to successfully avoiding foods with gluten, Luci says.
“Learning to read package labels at the grocery store and menus at restaurants for sources of gluten is absolutely necessary,” she says. “Gluten can hide in sauces and thickeners, soups, salad dressings, breading and more.”
Overcoming challenges of going gluten-free
Going gluten-free can be challenging, especially at first.
“One mistake gluten-free diet newbies often make is not realizing all the places gluten can be hiding,” Luci says.
In addition, “cross-contact” can make it easy to accidentally eat gluten.
Educating your family about your disease – and the need to stay gluten-free – is one way to avoid cross-contact.
“Remind your family not to share utensils, pots and pans, toasters and toaster racks, or other cooking items without thoroughly washing them beforehand,” Luci says.
Separate gluten-free products from other items in your pantry, and wash all cooking surfaces before preparing gluten-free foods. Clearly label items such as spreads and condiments as “gluten-free.”
Also watch for the “re-dip,” Luci warns: “Don’t spread your gluten-free bread with butter, peanut butter, mayo or other spread that has already had a knife-to-regular bread dip,” she says.
Over time, your transition to a gluten-free diet should become easier, Luci says.
“Cooking differently and dining out may seem like a burden and an inconvenience at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can keep it fun,” she says.
For more on beginning a gluten free diet, download the free Beyond Celiac Getting Started Guide.