How to go Gluten-Free
By Nichole Krueger | May 12, 2022
So you want to go gluten-free. Maybe your doctor or practitioner recommended it due to symptoms you struggle with. Or perhaps your child is hyperactive and you read that gluten can cause symptoms of ADHD. Whatever the reason, I’m here to give you some practical tips. But first let’s start with the basics:
What is gluten, anyway?
Gluten is a group of proteins found in the seeds of grasses. The gluten proteins in wheat, barley, and rye are particularly damaging. It’s a highly inflammatory substance that triggers increased intestinal permeability (aka, leaky gut) in EVERYONE. Research has shown that even if there is no allergic response to gluten, it still stimulates the production of a protein called zonulin which increases leaky gut and blood-brain barrier permeability (aka, leaky brain…aka BAD NEWS).
Gluten is arguably the most inflammatory food we can eat.
Symptoms associated with gluten consumption:
People generally correlate gluten sensitivity with digestive issues. But this is not always the case (and is not the case for me). Gluten is just as likely – or perhaps even more likely – to affect the brain since it can dramatically change brain function and behavior. Here is the short list of some of the common symptoms attributed to gluten intake:
- Digestive issues (gas, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea)
- Skin rashes / Eczema
- Headaches / Migraines
- Brain Fog
- Poor cognitive function
- Anxiety / Depression
- Mood changes / Irritability
- Numbness in extremities
- Joint Pain
- Neurological symptoms (neuropathy, migraines, dementia, schizophrenia, ataxia)
Okay, okay. I need to go gluten free. But what do I EAT??
First let’s cover where we find gluten. Gluten is not in everything – it’s is only found in foods that contain wheat, barley, or rye. So your apple and your carrot are gluten-free. HOWEVER, gluten is sneaky. It’s in places you wouldn’t necessarily think of.
Where will you find gluten?
When you’re reading labels, keep an eye out for these various names of wheat flour: durum, semolina, graham, bulgur, kamut, spelt, einkorn, emmer, farina, faro, triticale, orzo, couscous, matzo, and cake flour. Oats are cross-contaminated with wheat during growing, storage, and transportation, so they are considered a source of gluten unless you specifically get certified gluten-free oats.
Here are common foods that contain gluten:
- Bread, buns, croissants, bagels
- Cookies, cakes pies, donuts, muffins
- Crackers, pretzels
- Sauces (e.g. soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce), dressings, gravies, cream soups (as a thickener)
- Seasoning packets and spice blends (as a thickener)
- Pie fillings (as a thickener)
- Waffles, pancakes, biscuits, cereals, breakfast bars, granola bars
- Flour tortillas, pitas
- Pasta, couscous, dumplings
- Any breaded or deep-fried food
- Ice cream cones, pie crust
- Pizza crust
- French fries (may be coated in wheat flour)
- Processed meats – some sausages, lunch meat, bratwurst
- Imitation seafood
- Some modified food starches (some are made from corn)
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
The good news is that you can find GF substitutes for nearly everything on this list.
Common Gluten-Free Grains and Ingredients
This is a list of common ingredients that you’ll find in gluten-free packaged foods. You can substitute with these ingredients in your own cooking as well.
- Bean and lentil flours (garbanzo, chickpea, etc.)
- Coconut flour
- Nut flours (almond, pecan, etc.)
- Potato flour/starch
- Seed flours (pumpkin, sunflower, etc.)
- Tigernut flour
When you’re shopping, look for the gluten-free symbols:
The following foods, on their own, are naturally gluten-free:
- Meat, poultry, fish, eggs
- Nuts and seeds
How to make your meals gluten-free (GF)
Oftentimes you can just make small tweaks to what you already feed your family. Do you bake a lot? You need a good gluten-free flour blend. Are casseroles your thing? You need a good cream soup mix.
Here are some simple swaps that don’t require any skills in the kitchen:
Pizza: GF crust, crustless pizza, pepperoni pizza cups, or frozen gluten-free pizza. Also, many pizza joints now have a gluten-free or cauliflower crust option (cauliflower crust is not always GF – make sure you check).
Spaghetti: swap out the pasta for gluten-free (my favorite is Jovial) If you usually use a spaghetti seasoning packet to season your sauce, you’ll want to carefully read the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain any of the ingredients that are gluten-containing. Or use your own spice blend.
Other pasta dishes: pasta salad, mac & cheese, lasagna – sub a GF pasta. I find brown rice pasta has the best texture.
Muffins, pancakes, cookies – oftentimes you can use your own recipes for these foods. You’ll just need to replace the all-purpose flour or wheat flour with a 1-to-1 gluten-free flour mix. If you aren’t comfortable with that, just Google whatever you want to make with the words “gluten-free”. Here’s a good recipe for gluten-free pancakes and waffles.
Tacos: use corn shells or corn chips. Taco seasoning packets almost always contain gluten because of the flour that is used as a thickener. Either find a gluten-free seasoning packet or gluten-free taco seasoning!
Fajitas: sheet pan fajitas! (See my Instagram “Food” story highlights). You can eat your fajitas in a bowl, on a salad, in a gluten-free wrap, or on a lettuce boat.
Meatloaf or meatballs: replace bread crumbs with gluten-free bread crumbs, rice cakes, or gluten-free oats.
Any recipe calling for cream soup: make your own GF cream soup – it tastes WAY better than canned! (message me under “Contact me” or on Instagram or Facebook for a recipe).
Burgers: You can swap your bun for a GF bun, but what I really prefer is a lettuce boat (even my kiddos prefer it!) Or try a Burger bowl.
Sloppy Joe: you can put the meat on a sweet potato, on a regular potato, or in a bowl topped with onions and tomatoes and scoop it with chips (chips with a cleaner oil preferably!) You can also use a GF bun or bagel (sometimes they can be a little thick and dry, so I generally don’t go with a bun). Again, if you use a seasoning mix, make sure it’s gluten-free.
Chicken Pot Pie: replace the flour used to thicken the sauce with GF flour, such as brown rice flour or sorghum. Then use a GF crust mix, GF frozen crust, or GF Bisquick.
Cake: use a gluten-free cake mix . King Arthur, Thrive Market, and you local grocery store all have Gluten-Free cake options. If you do a search on Facebook you may also find a local gluten-free baker.
And if you want to have meal that is naturally gluten-free, stick to meat, beans, veggies, rice, quinoa, and fruit and you’ll be safe!
Want some tried-and-true gluten-free recipes? Download my Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free eBook.
How to eat gluten-free while dining out
This has gotten MUCH easier in the past few years. Here are some tips and tricks to follow to successfully dine out gluten-free:
- Many restaurants have gluten-free bun options or offer lettuce wraps, so you can get a burger or a sandwich. You can also get any burger or sandwich without a bun. (Don’t knock it until you try it)
- Check for gluten-free pizza crust options
- Choose a naturally gluten-free option like a steak, broiled fish, grilled chicken, baked potato, steamed veggies
- Many places will denote the meals that are gluten-free, or can be made gluten-free, with a GF emblem
- Be prepared – servers often do not know what foods contain gluten, but you can prepare by checking out an online menu before dining out
- And most important – don’t be afraid to ask!
Sneaky places you’ll find gluten in restaurants:
- Sauces and gravies
- French fries and Sweet Potato fries (often coated in flour)
- Pita chips
- Many appetizers (mozzarella sticks, deep-fried pickles, onion rings)
Obvious places you’ll find gluten:
- The bread served at the table (unless the restaurant is a ROCK STAR and has a GF option – we love you Freshwater Tavern!
- Buns, rolls
- Anything breaded or deep-fried
What about when I just want to eat convenience food?
For snack options, check out my Gluten-Free Snack List
Here are a list of some of the more common brands/foods that have gluten-free convenience food options:
- CauliPower chicken
- Mac & cheese (Annie’s brand has gluten-free, so do many store brands)
- Applegate offers GF chicken nuggets, sausages, luncheon meats
- Ian’s Foods offers GF chicken nuggets and fish sticks
- Many brands, including store brands, offer gluten-free pizza
- Van’s Foods offers Gluten-Free Waffles and crackers
- Some other trustworthy brands to look for: Simple Mills, Enjoy Life, and many mainstream brands have gluten-free options now.
- Many grocers have a gluten-free aisle and sections in the freezer.
If you plan to make this a lifestyle change, give yourself permission to start slow so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Start by going gluten-free for your dinner meal. Then if you have left-overs, you automatically have a gluten-free lunch. Once you are feeling confident with your dinners, then move to breakfast. Give yourself grace as you make the changes. And connect with me on social if you have questions or want to share any wins!
If you want added support and accountability on this journey, book a free Book a Free Discovery Session with me to see how I may be able support you.