Okay, gluten. Let me think. That just means I’ll cut out carbs, right?
When you’re new to a gluten free lifestyle, there are a few heuristics that dieting divas may have planted in our heads. No bread, no cakes, no cookies, no baked goods. But this is not the entire picture, and in fact not entirely true!
Gluten is defined as the substance that holds dough together, which is why it’s so pervasive into common foods in our diet. Gluten can be found in cereal grains, mainly wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. So yes, your typical wheat-based breads, cakes, cookies, and crackers will make you quite sick; however, there are also other products that contain gluten that might be less intuitive. Soy sauce, salad dressings, and marinades often contain gluten. Even packaged meats may be tossed in flour before being sent to stores and vitamins, prescriptions, and chap sticks may contain it as a filler!
So what’s the good news? The gluten free lifestyle is now not only something that people take on as celiacs, but is also adopted as a dietary restriction for those with various health problems or desires to lose weight. This means that there are many gluten free substitutes available for gluten-containing products. Most rice, potato, and corn products are naturally gluten free. Furthermore, flour-based baked goods can be made equally deliciously from rice, almond, coconut, and corn-based flours. There are even gluten free alternatives for soy sauce (Tamari) to satisfy that salty sushi craving.
It is important to note that the general population, like many of us pre-diagnosis, is not often well-tuned to the distinction between a gluten-free dieter and a person with celiac disease. This places the responsibility in our hands to advocate for ourselves in restaurants and at the homes of others. Depending on the severity of your illness, you may have varying sensitivities to cross-contamination. This means that in addition to avoiding consuming gluten products, you must also take precautions to make sure that your food is prepared in a safe, gluten-free zone. It is important to remember that restaurant owners, chefs, waiters, and hosts are very accustomed to making adaptations to their menus for people with nut allergies, lactose intolerance, and other dietary restrictions including celiac disease. They want you to have an enjoyable eating experience, so be sure to speak up (and tip a little extra for the accommodations).
Throughout this section, I will offer little tips and tricks for navigating the social sphere as a celiac. It really isn’t tough, it just takes practice and soon you’ll be comfortable in every setting with these little tricks (and a packet of GF soy sauce) up your sleeve!