I think I've told this story before, but in case you didn't hear it, I'll tell the abbreviated version here. It's a story that is not only my own but I suspect belongs to many people in the U.S. and around the world. I am gluten-intolerant. So is my son. This is not a diagnosis that all doctors agree with in other words, not all medical professionals recognize this as a real issue. We have been tested and scoped and examined and the best advice we were given was to either avoid the foods that do not agree with us or take over the counter meds so that we can eat said foods. Hmmm... We have chosen avoidance. Well, I have chosen avoidance for us. There will be a time in the not so distant future that my son will have to make his own choices, but for now, I hold the grocery strings.
The elimination of gluten in our diet began about 8 years ago when I became completely gluten-free and vegetarian. I was able to maintain this diet for about two years. During those two years I lost 30 pounds, eliminated all stomach discomfort as well as migraines. I had never felt better. In 2009 we added another little one to our family and due to many factors, I slipped off the wagon and both meat and wheat were reintroduced to our diet. We still did not buy wheat products but were less strict when eating out....which we were doing quite frequently. Slowly my health deteriorated and the weight crept back on.
Again, at home we were gluten-free. But, we backsliding was rampant out of the home. A slice of pizza here, a burger there....we were out of control. We could have made better choices and frequently did. Jason's Deli offers gluten-free sandwiches and has their amazing salad bar. Pei Wei offers a gluten-free menu. Moe's is gluten free with much of it's menu. Mellow Mushroom offers a tasty gf pizza. See what I mean? We could have made better choices, but didn't.
Now what? I am back home with the kids and am pulling it all back together. I keep asking myself, "why couldn't I do this while I was working?" I have come to a few conclusions. First, of all, I love to cook and I love to try new things. In fact, I am WAY to ambitious in the kitchen. Here's what I mean by this. If you have followed me long you know I say, "I am not a food blogger." But, in reality, I am a lot like one. I am always trying new things. You know what? It's overrated, causes me stress and gets me into trouble. It is too easy for me to think of something complicated and not use what I know.
So let's talk about getting back to basics and living a healthy gluten-free lifestyle. I want to give you my best tips for living gluten-free. I have included a bullet list below and then further down have expanded on said list.
1. Know that being gluten-free is really easy but requires some will-power and yes, an occasional extra step.
2. If you are eating whole foods (no, not the grocery store) diet, you are already at least half-way there. In other words, if your diet is already one with fresh fruits and veggies, it's fairly simple to move to a gf lifestyle.
3. Buy very few items labelled "gluten-free".
4. Pick a good gluten-free baking mix (yes, this is taking the easy way out) that fits your tastes. (We use Pamela's Products. Bob's Red Mill is very popular. King Arthur has a good baking mix as well.)
5. Don't be afraid to make changes to your favorite recipes.
Now that I have given you my tips, I want to explain a few things.
1. Gluten-free eating is easy but again, you may need to make a little bit of an effort. For example, if you are eating out in an urban area, you might choose a burger place like Red Robin which offers gluten-free options or if you are somewhere that does not offer much in the way of gf and you know burgers are high on your list, you may need to order gf buns (might I recommend Udi's) from Amazon. See what I mean about that extra step? And, I don't want to mislead you. If you are purchasing gf bread, etc., be prepared to pay a little extra. I said it was easy but I never said it was cheap.
2. Whole foods are the key to any diet. GF is not neccessarily paleo. You can have a paleo diet that is naturally gluten-free. We are not paleo. We do beans and white potatoes (with the skin on for the potassium). Did you notice the picture of a burger and fries above? That is a homemade burger with a gluten-free bun and fries I made from scratch. Now, let's talk about beans. We are big believers in the bean. Let's talk more about whole foods. Let me share with you what a typical dinner, last night's dinner in fact, looks like in my house. Yesterday I was home and was able to simmer dried pinto beans on the stove for about 5 hours. I seasoned them with bacon fat, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. In addition, I cooked chicken in the crock-pot on high for four hours. It was cooked in diced tomatoes, green chili's, salt, pepper and cumin, creating a Mexican style chicken. When both of these things were finished, I put them together on a bed of lettuce with a little shredded cheese and guacamole on top to create a nice Mexican salad. We served it with non-GMO corn tortilla chips.
3. I checked my pantry. We purchase approximately 5 items that are engineered to be "gluten-free." They are: Pamela's Products Biscuit and Baking mix, crackers (we use Blue Diamond and WF brand rice crackers), bread (which we use sparingly - it is not a staple in our diet and I recommend Udi's or WF), Ancient Quinoa pasta and a handful of mixes (for emergency only!). This does not mean I don't check labels. I do. Wheat is hidden in many products. I want to be clear with you. Little comes into my home that is pre-made. We have a weakness for chips (true story). But, we do not and have never (since we had children), purchased any packages of cookies, etc. The few things I do purchase in packages, specifically chips, cereal, and granola bars, I look to ensure they are gf. But, I check everything. Even if we buy lunch meat, it should be gf. Did you know wheat is used a filler in ketchups and soy sauce? Check EVERYTHING. Remember the image above of the burger and fries? Yes, I did say I made those from scratch. Yes, it is time consuming. Did you know that even most commercial fries have wheat? Have you read my posts about how I LOATHE Trader Joe's? Everyone holds it as some wonderful standard. Guess what? Their french fries are full of fillers, including wheat! If we do purchase fries from the grocery store, we purchase Whole Foods or Alexia (which can be purchased at Kroger.)
4. Again, invest in a gf baking mix you like. The ones I mentioned above are great. Pamela's is our staple. We do also use almond flour but it is naturally gf and not a baking mix. You can use this baking mix as a substitute for many things. Speaking of mixes, in #3 you'll see that I keep a few mixes on hand. For example...I have had a vanilla cake mix from Bob's Red Mill in the pantry for about 6 months. I RARELY use a mix. There are occasional times that I do use mixes. The two that come to mind are my occasional cravings for shortbread (BRM has an amazing Shortbread Cookie mix) and for the one or two times per year I make cinnamon rolls (using BRM or Pamela's Vanilla Cake Mix). If you are not a baker and are looking for a great way to have easy sweet nothings I also recommend Namaste products, particularly their Spice Cake!
5. I LOVE scones. My favorite scone recipes are from two of my favorite Southern Living recipe books. I eliminated the wheat flour from the recipe and substituted with my Pamela's baking mix. See how easy that was? Through the years I have stopped telling folks that such and such is gf. Why? They wouldn't touch it. Guess what? No one knows the difference. So, don't be afraid to experiment.
I want to leave you with a little story and a final tidbit of wisdom. When I was younger I had several friends who were vegetarian. It was their sense of principle to honor all life and thus chose that lifestyle. Many of them were smokers (reckless youth, you know) and instead of eating meat their diets were filled with boxed pasta, Doritos and sodas, but there were vegetarian, darn it. And, they were very unhealthy. I am seeing this trend as well with gf products and it frightens me that folks buy into this. If you eliminate wheat from your diet for your health (and I want to be clear, I DO NOT believe that everyone should be gf. Did you hear that?), do NOT fill your pantry with GLUTEN-FREE products. If you are going gluten-free you must maintain an healthy whole food diet.
There are several gf bloggers that I follow and I'll be adding them to a blog roll in the next few days. And, I'll continue to add links and my own recipes.