Back to the Basics: Navigating the Word “Gluten”

By Bridget

When my doctor first told me to cut wheat out of my diet, I couldn’t even remember the word “gluten,” let alone know exactly what it meant. Months were spent in the trial and error period, searching for resources both at the library and online. My local library had about 3 books with anything to do with gluten, one of which was a recipe book, calling for ingredient substitutes like arrowroot and xanthan gum. Not exactly something I already had in my pantry.

Although our social community is becoming increasingly aware and accepting of gluten intolerance and allergies, many people are still hearing the words “gluten” and “celiac” for the first time (probably having written the diet off as a fad of 2011 and 2012). For those readers who are new to this website, or for those who have friends and family members who need an introduction to the diet, here is a back to basics cheat sheet filled with things I know now that I desperately wish I’d known then.

  1. While, in general, gluten equals wheat, there are some grains that are okay for people with simply “wheat” allergies that still contain gluten. Spelt, for example, is one of the biggest offenders. Lots of products will proudly tout the “wheat-free” label, but contain spelt, which is a big no-no for gluten intolerants. Keep in mind that while we fall under living a wheat-free lifestyle, we have to stay broader and keep all gluten out!
  2. Not all grains and cereals are absolutely off-limits. Rice, corn, potatoes, quinoa, and even some oats (still debatable on the oats front, in general the steel cut are okay for me, but celiacs tend to prefer to steer clear all together) are safe choices. This was a huge relief for me. Keeping that starch component on my dinner plate has helped my meals feel complete and offers a lot of flexibility in how I am able to build and structure my eating. This also means that rice and corn chex’s are permissible cereals, gluten-free label and all!
  3. There ARE desserts that are naturally gluten-free! Although we usually equate dessert with cookies, cakes, and brownies, we shouldn’t forget about the puddings, jell-o, yogurt, and even ice cream that are automatically gluten-free! Now I’m not saying that all of these desserts are absolutely gluten-free. It’s important to still look at the labels and never reach for cookie dough ice cream, but focusing on the desserts you can eat will help put perspective on living a gluten-free lifestyle. Just think…flourless chocolate cake!
  4. Trust manufacturers, but still do your homework! Having a gluten-free label isn’t something food companies do without testing. They can face huge lawsuits for saying their product is gluten-free if it isn’t. However, standards are set based on minimum parts per million or parts per billion detection. This means that a product labeled gluten-free could contain trace amounts of gluten due to cross contamination in processing facilities. Doing your own research and finding what works for you is the best standard. Someone with a gluten intolerance may have no trouble eating a product that a celiac wouldn’t be able to stand, so eat what’s right for you!

Gluten sensitivities can seem daunting at first in a world centered around bagels, pizza, pastries, and beer. Finding what works for you is the key to balancing your new gluten-free lifestyle. If you’re still looking for some hints, check out the Gluten-Free 101 section of our website. There are some great travel, restaurant, and kitchen tips that will help you navigate the gluten-free world!

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