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I can’t eat gluten. Where do I start?

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1. Don’t Panic

Easier said than done. We all have that brief panic. I know I did. The fear that you’ll never have bread and cake again. But you will. There’s lots of great options out there. Don’t let people fill you with fear.

You’ll be pleased to know there is a lot you can still eat, no matter what people may try and tell you. The first time I told some family members I couldn’t eat gluten anymore they said:

“Oh God. All you’ve got to eat is that boring Free From aisle!”

Talk about supportive…! This is not the case however. So take a moment, breathe, and read the rest of this post, hopefully filled with lots of helpful nuggets of GF info.  As I type this I’m tucking into an M&S GF Almond and Frangipane traybake. I was supposed to have one slice, I’m currently contemplating a third.

2. Visit your doctor

If you think it’s gluten that’s causing you problems, it is important to visit your doctor. People after affected by all sorts of different foods in different ways. Ask to be tested for Coeliac Disease, in which you’ll have a little blood test. As displayed on the NHS website, ‘Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition. This is where the immune system – the body’s defence against infection – mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.’

If this comes back negative you may still have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, if you’re experiencing certain symptoms after eating gluten. I’m no doctor, but after the doctor actually laughed at me when I suggested allergy testing, I decided to cut gluten out of my diet as a trial and error test. It may not have been gluten, it could have been other foods, but trial and error was my best way to try.

Within a week of living a gluten free diet, my symptoms, which were a mixture of stomach upsets, stomach cramps, shaking, headaches, and feeling extremely spaced out, disappeared.

At the end of the day, trust your doctor, but also trust your gut. It knows!

3. You’ll find gluten in more places than flour

There’s a pretty funny Family Guy episode which compares gluten to Ebola. Obviously Ebola isn’t a laughing matter, but if you have a sense of humour and don’t mind people poking a bit of fun at gluten, I’d watch it. In the episode it’s often to referred to ‘sneaky’, found in ‘sneaky sneaky soy sauce.’

Soy sauce is just one of the mysteries, as it’s in fact made from wheat, something I never would have guessed would contain it.

Sources of gluten:
Wheat, malt, rye, barley, triticale, brewer’s yeast, wheat starch. 

You’ll find it easy to avoid the key foods that contain wheat, i.e. bread, cake, biscuits, pizza, but what’s less obvious, is foods that sneak gluten in for reasons unbeknown to me.

Key foods to double check ingredients: 

  • Meats with sauces
  • Gravy & stock
  • Vinaigrettes
  • Chips/potatoes that have been coated/seasoned
  • Sweets with a sugary coating
  • Sushi
  • Salads (if they add dressing/croutons)
  • Some alcohol
  • Flavoured crisps
  • Sauces & dips
  • Oats

How to combat these and eat around it –

  • Meats with sauces – if you cook with fresh meats from scratch, you shouldn’t have a problem. Meat alone is perfectly fine, it’s just the way it’s cooked and whether breadcrumbs are added or gluten containing sauces are used. Instead of buying meats already with a sauce, buy the two separate, making sure whatever sauce it is you fancy is GF before you add it to your meat.
  • Gravy & stock – Knorr stock cubes are great, especially the fresh pots. They’re full of flavour and also vegan. To add some flavour to dish, I’ll add one of these stock pots, or add to hot water for gravy. If eating out or round family or friends, just take on of these pots with you if you think you’ll be added gravy to your roast for example. You can also buy fresh gravy that’s gluten free, you just need to read the labels.
  • Vinaigrettes (no malt vinegar, as this contains malt) – balsamic vinegar is both gluten free and delicious. Some dressings will be OK if they use spirit vinegar, just make sure it’s not malt vinegar.

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  • Chips/potatoes that have been coated/seasoned – you can buy frozen chips from the frozen aisle that don’t contain added wheat, but why not cook them from scratch. I’ve got a really simple recipe potato wedges here. What my friends also find hilarious, is that in kebab shops after a night out, if I fancy some food, I’ll ask to see their frozen chip bag. Pretty much every time they’ve been fine and 100% potatoes and oil, but never feel embarrassed to check! It’s also better than being ill.
  • Sweets with a sugary coating – sadly fizzy laces, which were always a favourite, contain wheat flour. Just double check, as most are fine. My favourite are Rowntree’s Randoms
  • Sushi – some sushi from Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda are perfectly fine, as long as you don’t add the soya sauce from the little closed bottle you’re also given. Double check there’s nothing breaded within the sushi though.

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  • Salads (if they add dressing/croutons) – check with a restaurant when you’re out. There’s nothing worse when the drizzle lots of dressing and it’s a guessing game as to whether it’s OK.
  • Some alcohol – I tend to find most alcohol is fine, as I usually stick to spirits and wine. Sadly beer is a no go due to containing barley, however there are some good gluten free beers out there. Daura is particular good and stocked in Honest Burger. There’s a really handy list of everything here.

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  • Flavoured crisps – watch out for Salt and Vinegar, due to malt, and heavily flavoured crisps like Frazzles, Nik Naks and Monster Munch. Most Walker’s I find are fine.
  • Sauces & dips – like vinaigrettes, it often depends if sauces use malt vinegar. What’s also important to check is for wheat flour in cheese sauces for example. I find most tomato bases and curry sauces are perfectly fine.
  • Oats should be naturally gluten free, however ways in which they are farmed can often become contaminated with wheat flour. The best things to do is buy gluten free oats, which are quite reasonable in price. I have porridge for breakfast most days with gf oats, water and a splash of honey.

4. There’s more to life than the Free From aisle

I like to cook naturally gluten free where I can, you don’t always need to buy gluten free pasta, bread and biscuits to get by.

A lot of people tend to associate gluten with ‘carbs’ and so think you’re munching on salads all day. I easily get my allowance of carbs – it doesn’t always need to come from bread and pasta.

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Some key foods I eat on a weekly-monthly basis & are often in my basics shopping basket:

  • Potatoes – baked, sweet, baby
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Knorr stock cubes
  • Avocado
  • ALL the veggies – e.g. aubergine, courgette, butternut squash, carrot, parsnip, peppers, spinach, sweetcorn.
  • Tuna, salmon & chicken – when I’m eating meat
  • Coconut milk
  • Nuts – mainly cashew, pecans and walnuts
  • Plain crisps
  • Eggs
  • Almond or soya milk
  • Vegan cheese (Violife)

It’s also good to point out, that some products in the free from aisle are naturally free from gluten, and cost less in different areas of the supermarket, for example tomato soup and korma sauce. There was a huge uproar when this featured on a Channel 4 programme, and was even covered in the press. What’s important to remember is yes, if something is naturally gluten free, definitely buy the ‘non free from’ alternative as it will no doubt be cheaper. Once you start to realise what foods are naturally gluten free, it becomes easy, but admittedly there’s always a lot of ingredients checking.

What the press failed to mention however, is that these items were in the Free From aisle not only because they were gluten free, but also dairy/egg/nut free, hence being more specific and so a slightly higher price.

5. But do take advantage of Free From products 

Every now and then it’s OK to crave bread, pasta, biscuits, cake, hot cross buns and croissants. Maybe not all at once, but thanks to the Free From aisles of supermarkets, this is totally available if you’re following a gluten free diet.

I do buy bits from here, but never religiously each time I shop. I find a lot of gluten free bread doesn’t sit very well, and it’s a running joke amongst the gluten free community that it’s extremely dry and falls apart. True story. My favourites are the Artisan Bakery (for a fresh loaf- below) or Udi’s Tiger Loaf (supermarket loaf).

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It’s a great place if you fancy a little treat or you’re really craving something doughy.

On a side note – there IS such thing as good gluten free pizza! It’s taken me a long time to discover, but it’s out there! My favourites are-

Takeaway – Domino’s GF bases (available in personal & small)
At home – Schar’s gluten free pizza bases
Eating out – Pizza Union (GF dough, but NB this is made in a kitchen that deals with other dough, so not suitable for coeliacs).

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6. Stock up on snacks

I’m a famous snack lady. I never go anywhere without snacks! It’s becoming more and more simple to pick up gluten free snacks on the go, with supermarkets and places like Boots stocking Nakd bars and Trek bars. I find buying these in bulk from the supermarket saves you a ton.

I recently popped home for Mother’s Day and remembering how much I liked Nakd and Trek bars, my Mum found a selection reduced in Asda – so bought the lot! Boots usually sell them for around 90p, but I refuse to pay more than 75p. These worked out 30 something pence each, which is a bargain. I can why she picked up so many!

Naris Oatcakes are also great to have in your bag for emergencies, or a plain packet of crisps. Ready salted Hula Hoops are my go to. My favourite gluten free and vegan snacks are here if you fancy a gander.

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7. Plan your meals

When you go shopping have a rough idea what you’re going to eat for that week and what you need for lunch. I cook in bulk a lot and freeze portions that I take to work and heat up in the microwave.

With simple planning you’ll avoid food waste and keep on track. Take inspiration everywhere you go. I learn a lot from other food blogs, Instagram, cook books, and TV chefs. If you like to follow recipes, there are so many online that are great. You can find all my recipes here. If you’re like me and like to freestyle, if you see a recipe you like that isn’t gluten free, think of how you can change up a few of the ingredients. You’ll become a better cook for it.

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8. Mix up your lunches

A lot of people ask me what I manage to have for lunch, but again, once you get into habits an you plan – nothing’s too difficult.

A few lunch ideas you can prepare at home/in the office to enjoy on your break:

  • GF crackers with avocado and salad (prepped at work) Recipe here.
  • GF and vegan cottage pie (made at home & heated at work)
  • Rice with smashed avocado and tamari sauce – like soy. (Uncle Ben’s style pouch, heated at work)
  • Smashed avocado on GF toast with sour cream and chives
  • Tuna, bean and rice salad with spinach (Tuna salad pot from Lidl)
  • Scrambled eggs with GF toast (eggs microwaved at work)
  • Lentil Bolognese (made at home & heated at work)
  • GF pasta in a tomato sauce with veggies (made at home & heated at work)
  • Tesco sushi – 2 for £2 – without the bottled soy sauce, these are perfectly fine.
  • Tuna salad bowl with baked new potatoes and polenta bread. Recipe here.
  • Homemade falafel  & hummus with salad (made at home). Recipe here.

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9. Do your research when eating out

When eating out, thanks to more and more awareness, there are lots more gluten free options on menus. Most family and friends understand that most of the time I’ll need to contact a restaurant prior to visiting to double check their menu before booking a table.

Even if you’ve spoken to someone on the phone or via social media, always double check with staff on the day and have them double check if with the chef if they’re not sure.

It’s great that a lot of chain restaurants now have separate allergy menus, and now, some restaurants in London are fully dedicated to gluten free. Just take Niche, Mildred’s, Ethos, Pho and Honest Burgers for example.

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10. You’ll soon make new habits

Believe it or not, in a few months time it’ll be a doddle. Over two years on and my brain works in a different way when it comes to food. I LOVE food, and I never want it to be something that’s functional, but sometimes it does have to be when you’re in a rush.

Planning is the key for making sure you enjoy the best gluten free food there is to offer. Try and use this step to improve your diet for the best, but there are treats out there when you’re really craving a big slab of cake or huge pizza, if it’s gluten free, do it.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Katie
    18th March 2016 at 9:34 pm

    I don’t need to avoid gluten in my diet, but this was still such an interesting and informative read – I’m sure it’ll help a lot of people!

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