Celiac Diet

Catering for a celiac diet can be quite difficult at first,. Basically, all that's involved is excluding gluten, but it's easy to make a mistake if you're not familiar with the ins and outs.

So, first off, is the person you are cooking for newly diagnosed? If this is the case, it's likely that they will also need to avoid milk products, because the mechanism which digests them has been damaged, and there hasn't been time to heal yet. Of course, even if they have been diagnosed for years, they may still have an intolerance to dairy foods (70% of adults can't digest lactose, a protein found in milk products, for example).

Start with a clean slate

If you are the celiac in question, your first job is to go through your kitchen cupboards and throw out all the items that contain gluten. The most obvious of these are flour (except cornflour/cornstarch) and barley (and mixes containing it). Most people don't have rye or rye flour, but if you do, that has to go as well.

Soy sauce and malt products, including malt vinegar, should also be disposed of, and malted drinks such as Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo go in the sack along with the rest.

Next you need to check the labels of everything else. If you have breakfast cereals, they probably need to go – even rice based ones like Rice Krispies often use malt in the flavoring. Oats which are not labeled “gluten free” can also go in the trashcan. Oats themselves don't contain gluten, but most are contaminated by being processed in the same factory as wheat or barley.

Anything which has unspecified starch on the label must go. This will most likely include things like seafood sticks (“crab sticks”) and low fat yogurt. That yogurt by Onken with the wheat added to it is obviously a no-no as well.

Ingredients to watch out for are starch of unspecified origin and malt/malted products, as well as oats, as already mentioned. Soy sauce and monosodium glutamate (frequent in Chinese cooking, but can be found in almost anything) should be avoided. MSG is a chemical, but it's often made using wheat in the processing. Many celiacs report that it has a bad effect on them, despite “scientific” reassurance that it's safe.

Most coatings and savory toppings contain wheat flour or breadcrumbs, and many marinades contain wheat flour as well.

Burgers and sausages, in fact most prepared meat products, contain bread or flour to bind the ingredients and/or as filler. There are 100% beef burgers available – but check the label even on these.

All sauces, whether ketchup or cook-in-sauces, should be inspected to ensure they have not been thickened with flour or “starch”. Top quality ketchup may be OK, but the cheaper varieties will most likely have to go. Mayonnaise by Hellman's is fine (or it was last time I checked – you check your jar as well, to be safe) – cheaper varieties may not be.

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All these are "for the bucket"

I went round to my friend's place to get this shot. If these were in my cupboard, they would be "for the bucket"
I went round to my friend's place to get this shot. If these were in my cupboard, they would be "for the bucket"

Your final port of call is the drinks cabinet. Whisky, bourbon and most beer, lager, etc use gluten-containing grains in manufacture. The makers try to claim that there is no gluten left in the final product. Don't believe them. Celiacs have learned to their cost that there is enough to give a nasty reaction.

Finally, remember that gluten can contaminate surfaces and chopping boards in the cleanest kitchen, so give the whole place a good scrub down, just to be on the safe side.

Having done all that (and had a rest), you will probably need to go shopping. Choose a store that has a good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. Buy some big potatoes that you can cook in their skins, a couple of bags of rice (brown is best, but it's up to you what you choose). These will help to fill the space left by bread, pasta and pastry.

Buy unprocessed meat, such as steaks and chops. If buying frozen ground (minced) meat, check there are no additives. Get stocked up with lots of stuff you can cook quickly, or eat straight away without cooking.

Raid the spice section and pick up lots of interesting looking seasonings to spice up your meals. If there's a gluten free section, buy some gluten free pasta and some rice flour – which is great for thickening sauces and things like that.

Cooking gluten free can be as simple as grilling a steak, frying a few potatoes and making a salad to go on the side. Old-style cooking, like your granny used to do. It's not too difficult, so long as you don't have any of those dangerous foods around to tempt you.

Watch out for gluten in toiletries

I nearly forgot to mention the bathroom. You would be surprised how many things in the bathroom or the medicine cabinet have ingredients that can cause problems: medicine, toiletries or talcum powder adulterated with wheat-based products.

It was several months before I realised that the reason I couldn't see for hours after washing my hair was that the shampoo I used was one of those with wheat germ in it (why?). As soon as I stopped using it, the problem went away!

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