How to Start a Gluten Free Diet in 6 Easy Steps
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye, so on the surface, it makes sense to avoid these grains and products like breads, crackers, and cereals that include them. However, there are a very large number of processed food items that use gluten as an ingredient, and these include such non-grain items as artificial bacon bits and packaged cheeses. Yikes! That’s a surprise, huh?
Because gluten can show up in some unlikely places, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now regulating the use of “gluten-free” on food labels. The FDA also requires food manufacturers to declare if wheat is an ingredient in their product – and this is certainly a big help in avoid gluten. However, if a food manufacturer chooses not to use “gluten-free” on their product label, they do not have to disclose ingredients made from rye or barley. Double yikes! So what can you do about that??
Always Read Ingredient Labels
Until federal regulations change to include rye and barley, learning to read ingredient labels is a must for anyone seriously needing to avoid gluten. Processed foods have many artificial and natural additives that contain gluten. In addition, some food manufacturers will use the same equipment to create both gluten-free and gluten-based breads, crackers, cookies… thus potentially contaminating the gluten-free product. So how can a person looking to start a gluten-free diet figure out what they need to know and what products they should or should not eat?
Here are a few of our favorite tips and strategies for following a gluten-free diet:
1. Educate yourself about the different additives that gluten can be found in. The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America offers excellent information about gluten-free foods and where to find them.
2. Look for foods that are verified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). This is a world-class certification and verification program which inspects products and manufacturing facilities for gluten, and maintains strict industry standards. All of us here at Tommy’s are proud to have every one of our flash-frozen vegetable medleys pass their rigorous standards. To learn more about them, visit www.gfco.org.
3. Take a break from highly processed food! If you think about it, many of the items we buy at the grocery store today didn’t exist in our parents’ or grandparents’ time. So much of what we eat is highly processed and ingredient labels can be so complex and incomprehensible. Try eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains like quinoa or wild rice. If you’re picking up a packaged food item, can you identify all the listed ingredients? If so, that might be a good choice.
4. Search online for gluten-free versions of your favorite recipes. From pizza to pasta to desserts of all kinds, there are many excellent websites that offer ingredient substitution advice and gluten-free cooking tips.
5. Get involved with a local gluten-intolerance support group or online community. The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America offers group listings on their website, but you can also find groups through area hospitals, grocery stores, and libraries or community centers. Connecting with like-minded people is a great way to learn more and share resources and information.
6. Find a nutritionist that understands a gluten-free diet. For those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or allergies, a knowledgeable nutritionist can help you help make sure your diet contains enough fiber and nutrients to keep other health issues from emerging.
Whether it is from necessity or by choice, starting and maintaining a gluten-free diet is a significant change for most Americans who have grown very accustomed to eating a wheat-based, highly-processed foods diet. If living without gluten makes you, or your family members, feel better, the transition is worth the effort for both your long-term and short-term health and wellness. Here at Tommy’s, we believe the health concerns involving gluten-intolerance have only yet begun, and that more research in this area will be done in the near future. Until a clear understanding of what is causing the rise in gluten-intolerance is discovered, we’ll continue to ensure that our frozen vegetable medleys are verified gluten-free – for your well-being and ours.