the basics

How To Go Gluten-Free (And, Perhaps Just As Importantly, Why)

There must be a good reason to give up those bagels and spaghetti and cookies, right? There is. Here, how to go gluten-free (and WHY).

Here’s a rather disconcerting notion to consider: Gluten may be having a negative effect on your body, but you might not know it. Suffer from bloating, diarrhea or abdominal discomfort? Find yourself with mouth sores, low energy, joint pain and/or (this is the biggie) inflammation? Gluten may be to blame. The best way to figure out whether gluten is, in fact, the culprit is to cut it from your diet for 1-2 months. During this time your gut will heal, and you will eventually start to notice some pretty drastic changes in your body. And it’s precisely these changes that convince so many to continue with a gluten-free diet. 

I point all of this out—the particular symptoms, the testing period of going gluten-free for 1 -2 months—because I have known many folks who have had one (or more) of these issues before cutting gluten from their diets and finding that their symptoms cease to exist. It’s a huge testimony to one gigantic truth about our bodies: It all starts in the gut. If we have a poisoned gut, it affects every other system in the body. If we have a healthy gut, our bodies function differently. In fact, in my experience, many people don’t even realize they are experiencing discomfort because that’s their ‘normal’—it is what they are used to—but find that they feel like a new (lighter, less bloated, and better functioning) person when they cut said gluten.

What is the back story here? Well, it has to do with the wheat we are eating. (Gluten, in case you don’t know, is a general name for the proteins found in wheat and similar grains.) The wheat currently being grown in the U.S. is not the same grain it was 50 years ago, and it’s not the same wheat currently being grown in other parts of the world, either: The wheat in the States—thanks to the type of wheat, as well as the soil in which it is grown—is harsher on the digestive system, and creates a hefty dose of inflammation in our bodies. But with many of our diets so heavily focused on wheat (sandwiches, pasta, cupcakes, beer!), how does one even begin to go gluten-free? Here’s how.

1. Focus on what you can eat, rather than obsessing over the fact that you can no longer partake in the (admittedly heavenly) various textures of gluten anymore.

Here are some of my gluten-free go-tos:

  • Quinoa or brown rice (for grain substitutes)
  • Rice crackers or pasta
  • Spaghetti squash or veggie noodles
  • All potatoes, especially sweet potatoes (all make great sauces, too!)
  • Tapioca flour (used as a thickener… or to make pao de queijo)
  • Coconut and almond flours (for baking)
  • Brown rice, garbanzo bean, buckwheat and millet flours (for baking)
  • Gluten-free flour mix (already done for you!)

2. Learn how to decipher labels. The hardest part about grocery shopping is knowing when and how to read the ingredients label on products. As for the “when” to read the ingredients label, my answer is always! Even pre-packaged chili seasoning has wheat flour in it. And while most labels have the “Contains Wheat” warning clearly indicated below the ingredient list, not all of them do—so keep your eyes peeled when reading that list. If the ingredients list is so long you start to feel overwhelmed, just put the product back because you shouldn’t be eating that anyway. Less is more when it comes to ingredients.

In short: Keep it simple. There’s a lot of crap out there. A lot! It’s too overwhelming, so you need to start by going back to the basics. Shop the perimeter of the store, and, for the love of everything gluten-free, please do not go down the “Gluten-free aisle” and think that’s your new home. It’s not. It’s just a lot of insanely over-priced products that are usually full of sugar or salt to hide the fact that it’s too dense or dry and has a funny after taste. Real talk here.

3. Stick to what you find in the produce department. You know there is literally (almost) nothing in there that you can’t have (unless it’s a pre-packaged salads or pre-made meals).

4. Look up simple recipes. Nothing fancy. Until this becomes your new normal, you just accept and enjoy the carb detox you’ll be on as you slowly familiarize yourself with what is on the “yep” and “nope” lists. You’ll get your carbs back, TRUST ME, so don’t freak out. Worst thing that could happen? You lose weight and feel great. Such a tough consequence, we know.

There are a plethora of simple recipes to incorporate every week into your routine that will keep you feeling nourished. If you need ideas, ask a friend who is gluten-free or go to good ol’ Pinterest.

The main takeaway here? Don’t get overwhelmed. Life is too short, but cutting out (or, okay, lessening) gluten will make you feel 100 times better in the end.

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