Wednesday, May 12, 2010

FAQ: Going Gluten-Free

This is a question I am frequently asked and so, in recognition of food allergy awareness week, the post below relates to eating gluten-free.

I've been gluten-free for a little over 8 years now, when I noticed a correlation between eating gluten rich foods (mainly bread and pasta) and sudden abdominal pain. My uncle, Larry, was already gluten-free so I was lucky to have someone show me the ropes. When I first went gluten-free, it was late 2001 and the selection of available gluten-free foods was minimal. I was lucky to live half a mile from a Whole Foods, which had some gluten-free foods, although most of them were bordering on inedible. Let's just say I ate a lot of salads with chicken. and chocolate.

I think it is worth noting that I did not notice an immediate difference in my intestinal distress when I went gluten-free. It probably took a a good 2-3 months before I noticed a difference.

Lucky for people starting this journey now, the quality and availability of gluten-free foods has improved greatly. Here's a recent news article from the NY Daily News on this very topic. Our neighborhood Giant renovated the summer Marino was born and included an organic section with a huge stock of gluten-free foods. Prior to that renovation, I had to go to Giant AND Whole Foods every week. Ugh. Life is easier now and I only have to go to Whole Foods every 4-6 weeks to pick up a few things our grocery store doesn't carry (like red lentils and Ener-G egg replacement).

Where to buy gluten-free food? Check your local grocery store. Our Giant has an awesome gluten-free section, and even when Evan and I were in Iowa, the HyVee Food Store there had a lot of great, hard to find, gluten-free foods.

The following places always carry gluten-free products:

What to buy? If you can afford it, it's likely that you can find gluten-free replacements for all of the gluten-based foods you normally eat. Unfortunately, you are likely to pay 3 or 4 times as much for a gluten-free product than a regular product. A loaf of gluten-free bread, for example, is $7 or $8. Contrary to popular belief, these products are not necessarily any healthier than any other products out there. I highly recommend spending some time trying out foods that naturally do not require gluten. There are lots of yummy rice dishes out there that won't require a $7 loaf of bread of $9 bread crumbs. Here's a few of my favorites:

Roast chicken (I use soy butter)
Lemon chicken (use Tamari instead of soy sauce)

Below are some of my favorite gluten-free products. Some are treats, some are just gluten-free naturally, but I can attest that they all actually taste good!

Tinkyada Rice Pasta - even Evan likes this!

Kinnikinnick frozen pizza crusts and doughnuts

Taste of Thai rice noodles and pad thai sauce

Aleia's Cookies

Glutino Pretzels

Van's Waffles (these are very affordable)

Ian's gluten-free chicken nuggets and french bread pizza's

Hidden Gluten. When I was getting started with eating gluten-free, the hardest thing for me was all the products that contained gluten that you wouldn't think of as being "wheat" products. Distilled white vinegar is made from wheat, which means that many sauces, marinades, salsas, salad dressings, bbq sauces and ketchup have gluten. Heinz ketchup is gluten-free and their bbq sauces are gluten-free as well. Lots of medicines also contain gluten, as it is a binding agent. More information can be found here or talk to your doctor about what is safe for you to take.

There is a really good list of gluten-free products here.

Dining Out. This is a bit trickier for me because I am also lactose-intolerant. I found that when I was pregnant and able to tolerate lactose, there were significantly more restaurant menu items available to me than usual. Many restaurants have gluten-free menus now, although lots of the gluten-free menus are just a list of a handful "safe items" like salads and bun-less burgers - not really the kind of stuff you want to bother leaving the house and paying money for.

Here are my favorite places that have gluten-free menus that are worthwhile:
Austin Grill
PF Changs
Here's a list of restaurants with gluten-free menus (good, bad and ugly)
A safe bet is always a thai or Vietnamese restaurant. Both of these cuisines have menus that are naturally full of gluten-free items. Vietnamese is my new obsession - I could eat it every day!

If you want to read more on eating gluten-free, I suggest you check out these blogs:
Allergen-Free Please
A Year of Slow Cooking
Gluten-Free Girl
Gluten-Free Mommy
Baking Love

PS: I hope this will serve as a good starting point for people going or thinking of going gluten-free. As such, if you stumble across this and have more resources for me to add, please leave a comment and I will edit this post as I find new helpful resources.


  1. holy cow!!! great post! i didn't even know there was an allergy awareness week!
    thanks for doing all this work. i realized when we started eating "healthy" a few months ago that there are 2 isles of gluten free at our local health food store. i should give it a try.