I often get emails and/or comments about where to start when someone is first diagnosed with Celiac Disease or decides to embark on the gluten-free diet. I figured that I would make up a short list of tips for those who are new to the gluten-free diet. This won’t be a list of the obvious, but more a compilation of things that are a bit more confusing or complicated.
1. Get a new toaster. Putting gluten-free toast in a toaster that has had gluten-filled bread in it is going to render your gluten-free bread contaminated. Toasters are roughly $15 at Walmart, so well worth the money it will cost you. If you have others in the house still eating gluten, label your toaster with a piece or tape, or do as I did and just write on the outside of it with a Sharpie. That didn’t stop both Aaron and I from glutening the toaster. LOL! We have each done it once now and donated that toaster to Goodwill and got another. I have now started using my toaster oven, which has only had gluten-free items in it.
2. Stay clear of soy sauce unless you are sure it is gluten-free. There are several gluten-free brands on the market (La Choy, San-J and Kikkoman now makes a GF version). Additionally, some sauces & marinades may contain soy sauce, so don’t be so sure the grilled chicken you are ordering at a restaurant is gluten-free unless you have double checked.
3. Along the lines of the toaster, get new condiments and label them “gluten-free” if you are sharing them with others. “Double dipping” utensils will quickly contaminate your condiments and could leave gluten crumbs behind.
4. Beware of the ingredient “natural flavorings”, which may contain barley malt (malt flavoring). While wheat does have to be called out on the label, barley does not under the current law. Natural flavorings can be found in many processed foods and drinks on the market. Some of the products that we have been the victims of include pancake syrup (100% maple syrup is the best and gluten-free, as is Aunt Jemima) and Powerade. There are many companies that will clearly label gluten on the label and I tend to be loyal to those companies.
5. Check your medication for gluten. There is an excellent site that is maintained by a local clinical pharmacist called Gluten-Free Drugs. If you are unable to verify your medication, call the manufacturer or your pharmacist and ask. For the record Tums (brand name) and Beano are not gluten-free.
6. In reference to #4, don’t assume you are free & clear on drinks. Unless you are drinking unflavored water, milk, 100% juice, unflavored tea (and even some of these may contain barley, so check), or unflavored coffee you need to verify that what you are drinking is gluten-free.
7. Cross contamination is a real concern when dining out (or even in your own home!). Picking the croutons off of your salad is not sufficient. Make sure to speak with the manager or chef on duty to ask about their methods for preventing the cross contamination of your food. Unless you have worked in a restaurant, you may not be aware of some of the methods used to prepare food. If you have, you know what I am talking about. Veggies can be steamed in pasta water; ingredients that contain gluten may be kept right next to gluten-free ingredients on the line; eggs used for omelets may be thickened with pancake batter to make them fluffier; the same utensils may be used to plate your gluten-free food that just plated that burger or chicken fingers; your “gluten-free” fries or tortilla chips may be fried in a fryer with chicken fingers or onion rings. More info about hidden gluten in restaurant food.
8. Check your make-up. If it goes on your face, it has a potential to be in your mouth. I know that most people don’t willing eat their mascara, but better to be safe than sorry, right?
9. Shampoo, hairspray, lotions, etc should also be checked. While it is true that gluten does not get absorbed through the skin, some people who suffer from dermatitis herpetiformis need to avoid skin contact with gluten as well as consuming gluten. Additionally, if you get hairspray in your mouth, don’t wash the lotion off of your hands, use an antibacterial gel with gluten (ahem…thanks a lot Bath & Body Works), it is best to just make sure they are gluten-free.
10. If you drink alcoholic beverages, check your alcohol. Malt beverages are not gluten-free. This means most wine coolers these days and most beers (though there are plenty of gluten-free beer options) are not gluten-free. Triumph Dining has a nice list of gluten-free alcohol here. Easy choices are wine, Woodchuck or Crispin hard ciders.
11. Always, always read the label! Even now, 5+ years into this, I read the label. Companies are notorious for changing suppliers and therefore that once gluten-free product may no longer be gluten-free.
12. Yogurt is not always gluten-free. Plain yogurt is, yes, but not always the flavored yogurt. Dannon is one of those who will only say their plain yogurt is gluten-free. Yoplait labels their gluten-free varieties “gluten-free”.
Last, but not least, relax. Everyone makes mistakes. No one gets it perfect straight out of the gate. If you do make mistakes (and I still do on occasion), dust yourself off and get back up. Please feel free to ask questions below – I am happy to help and if I can’t give you the answer right away, I will do my best to find out for you.