I learned that I was gluten-intolerant last fall, practically the minute I cut it out of my diet as an experiment (learn more about elimination diets here). My chronic sinus problems disappeared overnight, I dropped what seemed like twenty pounds of bloat (this is an exaggeration), and constant pain in my hip, knees, and shoulders began to lessen. I loved how I felt, my skin cleared up, and I kept myself gluten free until I was in Mexico on a vacation.
In order to be “responsible,” I chose beer as my drink of choice instead of calorie- and sugar-laden margaritas.
It was a disaster.
I was sick for nearly a week after, and had to admit to myself that, sadly, my love affair with gluten needed to be put on hold indefinitely.
Let’s be clear, here. I am not just a gluten lover. I am gluten obsessed. I love it in all shapes and sizes: dreamy, soft flour tortillas (best wrapped around a Chipotle burrito), fancy, expensive cupcakes, bread, OREOS. There are no substitutes for those things. Well, there are, but they’re either a) dry and crappy and incomparable to their gluten-filled counterparts or b) really freaking expensive.
If you are looking at this guide and gluten doesn’t make your stomach churn or your sinuses a hot mess, I need you to back away from the computer and go buy yourself a package of bread. Stat. If your body has blessed you with the ability to process wheat protein like a boss, then do all of us who cannot a favor and enjoy the finer things in life. Like the million different flavors of Oreos.
But, if you are like me, and learning how to cope, I’ve got you covered.
First things, first: what is gluten, and what is it found in?
Gluten is a generic name for different proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. It often serves as a binder in foods, and can be fount in different breads, cereals, salad dressings, soups, and other processed foods.
Awesome, so how do I navigate it? Can I not eat anything at all?
You can eat so many things! The easiest way to navigate processed foods is to check. the. ingredients. list. The ingredients list will tell you whether or not the product contains gluten or if it is processed in a plant where it could contain traces of gluten. The words you’re looking for are “gluten” or “wheat.” What you can eat (and tolerate) is totally dependent on the severity of your intolerance or allergy.
Wait, a gluten allergy is different than an intolerance?
Yes! Gluten intolerance is a spectrum, with Celiac Disease being the most serious. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder that impacts nearly 1 in 100 people all over the world. When a person with Celiac Disease eats gluten, it causes damage to their small intestine and makes it difficult for their body to absorb nutrients. Celiac Disease is hereditary, and can have long-term health implications if left untreated. You can learn more about Celiac Disease symptoms here, and if you think you might have Celiac, be sure to be screened by a doctor. People with Celiac Disease should not eat ANY gluten, including trace amounts used in food preparation.
On the other side of the spectrum is a condition known as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. When someone is non-Celiac, but still sensitive to gluten, they experience similar symptoms when they consume gluten (like brain fog, bloating, and sinus issues, among others), but do not damage their small intestine. I fall into this category.
It’s important to note that people can also have a wheat allergy, which elicits an immediate autoimmune response when someone eats wheat — this is different from Celiac Disease.
Okay, got it. So what CAN I eat?
Oh my gosh, so many things. It’s a common misconception that all carbs or all grains contain gluten, which is absolutely not true. You can still have corn, rice, and potatoes, which means you can still partake in Taco Tuesday as long as you order your tacos with corn tortillas, and homemade French fries are still on the table. If you have an allergy of any kind, you do have to stay away from many food service made products as they contain trace amounts of gluten from production. Whole foods including fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and dairy (unless you’re also #blessed with a dairy intolerance) are also all naturally gluten free, so being GFree is a lot less dramatic than it might seem.
But, what about cookies? Or cake? What will I do without Oreos?
Look, guys, I agree, it is a tragedy that Oreo doesn’t have a gluten free option (seriously, can we start a petition?), and I am fuming every time I want pizza and Domino’s wants to charge me a million dollars for a crust I can eat (okay, $15. For a small. It’s ridiculous), but no worries – I’ve found some amazing (processed) gluten free treats that taste amazing and are worth the few extra bucks. Here are my favorites:
Not to mention, lots of your favorite gummy candies are likely already gluten free, which is a huge relief if you’re also a gummy addict like me 🙂
Navigating being gluten-sensitive (or full out Celiac) is tough, but not impossible. The important thing to remember is that there are many, many things that are naturally gluten free, making it easy to navigate this new limitation on your diet.