I’ve been gluten free since early 2008, and, with the amount of social eating I do, it’s something most people know about me. So when friends and family, and friends of friends and family, find out they, too, have celiac disease, I always get an email asking for quick advice. Going gfree is a dramatic change in lifestyle. It’s definitely a positive change, especially if you’ve been suffering through the negative symptoms of celiac’s or gluten-intolerance, but a dramatic change nonetheless. I always feel guilty overwhelming the newly-diagnosed’s mailbox with a 1,000 word essay. My first words are always congratulatory, since it is usually a long and frustrating process to be diagnosed, and I remember what a relief it was to finally know what was making me sick, and then I dive right into the staples. It took me years to find delicious gfree products, so why should you have to spend the same amount of time and money to be disappointed? Here’s my go-to list:
1. Quinoa pasta, especially Ancient Harvest’s, which I usually buy on bulk on Amazon. The bad news: Your days of buying 3 boxes of pasta for 99 cents are over. Any gluten free pasta is more expensive. The good news: You can eat pasta again! And quinoa, Asia’s super grain, is so much healthier for you than processed wheat. There are also corn and rice varieties of pasta, but I’ve found them to be so much mushier and not hold their consistency as well as quinoa.
2. Protein bars, like Kind Fruit & Nut Gluten Free Bars (I like Strawberry and Peanut Butter). I learned the hard way that it is too easy to cheat on your gfree diet when you’re very hungry or very tired, so I always keep a protein bar in my bag, two or three when I’m traveling (airports and train stations aren’t the most gluten-friendly places). If I’m running late on a meal, or skipped breakfast and someone at school offers me a donut, I’ll grab my Kind bar instead.
3. Glutino makes several versions of your pre-celiac favorite snacks, like gluten free pretzels. You can usually find them in your local grocery store; I know Harris Teeter, Stop & Shop/Giant and Yes! Market carry them. They are much more expensive than traditional pretzels, so you’ll probably want to buy some fruit, vegetables or almonds (Blue Diamond, not Emerald) as well!
4. It took me three years (and hundreds of dollars) to find a bread that didn’t taste like soggy cardboard. I’m thrilled to say I finally did (or, rather, WC finally did). A Colorado company, Udi’s, makes a whole grain and white variety of delicious gluten-free bread, which is now sold at most Harris Teeters, Trader Joes and Giants. You can buy a few loaves offline and freeze them for a month or two, but the shipping costs are pretty steep (though, I would say, totally worth it when you indulge in your first gfree grilled cheese).
5. Gluten free baking is completely different. Gluten is the protein in wheat that gives your baked goods elasticity, so cooking without it can often lead to dense sweets. You usually need to add xanthum gum to compensate. If you bake often, you can google several gfree flour mixes and mix your own, but if you only bake once a month or so like me, it’s probably cheaper to buy a pre-mixed bag (with xanthum gum). I use Namaste’s “Perfect Flour Blend,” which I buy at Whole Foods for $10. It’s definitely pricy, but I’ve found I can substitute one for one in all of my old recipes, which is sometimes priceless for me. For lots of amazing gluten free recipes, check out Simply Gluten Free. Yum!