Eating Wheat Free / Gluten Free
How I've Learned to Eat Wheat-Free/Gluten-Free
Hi, My name is BunnyFabulous, and I've eaten wheat-free for the past 14 years. *
When I started off my wheat-free/gluten-free eating journey, there weren't many viable alternatives to regular bread, pasta or cereal, not to mention cake or cookies. When I say 'viable', I mean something that actually tasted good and/or didn't have the consistency of cardboard. Oh, how I would have danced, rejoiced and kissed the ground in any health food store that would've had the sign in the photo to the left back in those days. I'd still love to see more stores with gluten free aisles, but at least there's been a veritable explosion of new products on the market to help those of us who avoid wheat/gluten live a life that includes pizza, cupcakes, bread, crackers and other baked goods that most other people take for granted.
You know the saying 'if you want to find a prince, you have to kiss a lot of frogs?' Well, in my case, it's been more like 'if you want to find delicious wheat-free/gluten-free foods, you have to try a lot of bland, bad textured products that you wouldn't wish on anyone.' To help you start (or continue) your pursuit of tasty gluten-free eating, I want to share some helpful tips, recipes and product recommendations from my 13 years of experience so that you can avoid wasting your time trying the yucky stuff and focus on delicious foods that will help eating gluten-free be easier and more enjoyable.
Hope the fruits of my journey towards yummy goodness help you too!
* To be completely honest, I've messed up some and eaten wheat products during this time, but the vast majority of my diet has been wheat-free.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whatshername/540926535/
Why I Started Eating Wheat-Free & Gluten-Free
The girl who had trouble staying awake
In college, I had very little energy. So little energy that I'd frequently fall asleep in my early afternoon classes. Big deal, you might say. Some college classes are boring, and don't most college students stay out late studying or partying anyway? Those can both be true, but when my sorority sisters started taking bets not on if I fell asleep in class, but rather at what time I would fall asleep in class, I knew something just wasn't right. By the way, the class that happened in was titled 'Motivation' and was actually pretty interesting. Ah, the irony. Yes, I'd already tried getting better sleep, chewing gum, drinking Mountain Dew and other techniques for staying awake.
Despite exercising well and eating a low-fat diet, I'd had trouble losing weight too. My dad suggested going to a nutritionist to see if there was something else to help me eat better. I was pretty skeptical. Didn't I already have healthy eating habits? I humored dear old dad and made an appointment. The results of the bloodwork the nutritionist ran completely shocked me: I had sky-high histamine levels indicating an allergy, and I had very high yeast levels in my digestive system indicating that food wasn't being digested well. Rather, much of it was fermenting in my system and turning into fat.
A quick blood test by an allergist confirmed the identity of the allergenic culprits: wheat and corn*. While both were very mild allergies, eating them in mass quantities for my entire life had left my body in need of some quick relief from these foods. My nutritionist put me on a very strict cleansing diet (pretty much meat, vegetables and rice only) to get things back to normal, then after a few months I began what many people would call a 'regular' gluten-free diet....minus corn of course.
My body responded very well to the elimination of my allergenic foods...my energy level was better than it had ever been and I lost around 15 pounds easily. Gluten-free was the way I needed to eat to keep my body functioning well.
*corn is gluten-free, so people following a wheat-free/gluten-free diet can have it. I just happen to have that additional allergy. This website is just addressing wheat free and gluten free eating.
What's your gluten-free story? - Feel free to comment and elaborate about your vote if you wish.
Why are YOU interested in wheat-free/gluten-free eating?
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or dietician
The information I'm giving is a result of my personal experience and research only. I'm not giving medical advice. Consult your doctor, medical practitioner, dietician or nutritionist to verify all information before making diet choices.
Each person's level of tolerance for gluten or wheat is different, so what may work for me or someone else may not work for you.
Gluten-Free Baking Mix - Yes, you can have awesome cookies, coffee cakes, cake and other delicious baked goods! Notice I used the word DELICIOUS.
This baking mix is the best I've tried, hands down. I've tried a lot of alternate flours and baking mixes, and for taste, texture and ease of use, Pamela's is my clear favorite. All you really need to do is decrease the baking soda and/or baking powder in a recipe (see package for proportions...I just eyeball it) and it can be used cup-for-cup instead of regular flour. It replaces Bisquick for many recipes too.
For muffins, the difference is undetectable. Same with coffee cake, banana bread and many cookie recipes. Pancakes and waffles have a bit of a different texture, but it's still a pleasing one, and the taste is still good. Pamela's Ultimate Baking mix is my tried and true workhorse when I'm baking. I bake from-scratch cakes with it too, and while the cake consistency is ever-so-slightly heavier, most people I serve cake to (who don't realize the cake's gluten-free most of the time) never notice. They're amazed to hear what they're eating doesn't have any wheat or gluten.
Don't know what I'd do without this baking mix.
Helpful Tips for Gluten Free/Wheat Free Eating - A compilation of tips, principles, etc. that have helped me find good wheat-free meals, encouraged me when I fe
- Go with your eating style -- If you're already an adventurous eater, than you've already got a leg up on transitioning to gluten free eating. There are tons of new recipes and foods out there for you to try as substitutes for gluten-filled foods. Use quinoa instead of rice for a side dish, or experiment with alternative flours.
If you are a more picky eater or tend to stick with familiar foods, you might want to first try substituting ingredients gluten-free ingredients in your favorite recipes. Try some rice-based lasagna noodles in your favorite lasagna recipe, or use a baking mix to make chocolate chip cookies. They may not have a completely identical texture or taste, but if you're using good GF products, you can get really, really close to the original.
- Get some support -- When I was first diagnosed with a wheat allergy, I was fortunate enough to have a friend's sister with celiac disease to talk with about adjusting to my new way of eating. It was really helpful to have someone who understood about going to a birthday party and not being able to eat the cake, or figuring out how to make a halfway decent gluten free mac and cheese. If there's no one you're able to talk with about gluten-free eating in your life, there are gluten-free forums like Celiac.com's Celiac and Gluten-Free Forum to connect with others who are on the gluten free journey.
- Have realistic expectations -- Don't assume that even the best gluten-free food substitute will taste or have a texture EXACTLY like the 'real thing'. If you go into gluten-free eating thinking you'll never know the difference all the time, you will be in for disappointment. Yes, there are alternatives that can and do fool non-GF people because they're so good, but not everything will be perfect. I go for 'good enough' in the arenas where I haven't found the best alternative yet, and keep tweaking a recipe when I figure out something different to try.
It may take awhile for you to figure out your new gluten free favorites, so there are times where you'll see a product that looks good but tastes terrible. Hopefully the list of my faves farther down the page will minimize the 'buy a box but only eat a few bites' syndrome for you, but when it happens, don't be too hard on yourself. That stuff happens.
- Rejoice in what you CAN eat -- There's still a lot that a gluten-free person can eat without tweaking. My personal favorite is chocolate, followed closely by some varieties of premium ice cream. While eating gluten-free has its challenges, I think avoiding gluten and/or wheat is much easier than avoiding all the corn products with my corn allergy.
In a nutshell, it's usually happier to practice thankfulness for what you have rather than dwelling on what you can't eat. Believe me, though, I've had more than a few instances of food envy and feeling sorry for myself, especially at the beginning where I had to make extremely significant dietary changes effective immediately.
- Take a tour of your grocery/health food store with new eyes -- If you're new to GF eating, or you're feeling like you're in a rut, one thing that I've found helpful is to go to Whole Foods, the local health food store or my local grocery store's gluten-free sections with a notebook. Go with a generous time limit, and go alone (unless you have a friend who's extremely helpful with this kind of thing), and just peruse the shelves. Write down products you think you might like to try. Buy a couple if you want, but take your list home to research on the internet for reviews of the product.
Sneaky Places Wheat and Gluten Can Hide
Soups - especially cream-based ones
Sauce and gravy mixes
Meatloaves, crab cakes, meatballs
Reminder: Read Labels! - I hate to say it, but you'll need to become a label-reader. Some products like this beer make it easy, but there are other times where
P.S. -- I'm glad there are no crustaceans in this beer. ;)
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alyssagreening/2336045899/
Gluten-Free Pizza Crust - Enjoy pizza with a crust that rivals the real thing.
I like Chebe Pizza Crust Mix so much, I made another website about it: Easy, Delicious Gluten Free/Wheat Free Pizza Crust
When I started eating wheat-free/gluten-free, one of the foods I missed the most was pizza. I tried a number of homemade GF pizza crust recipes, but they didn't taste anywhere near the real thing. Chebe (pronounced CHEE-bee) transformed gluten-free pizza from making me long for 'regular' pizza to making our Friday night 'pizza night' so we could enjoy a pepperoni-topped pie with a yummy crust.
Chebe pizza crust mix is very easy to use and makes a great-tasting cheese bread crust. It doesn't taste exactly like pizza crust, but it's very tasty and stands on its own as a replacement. I'd compare it a little more to a Boboli or flatbread pizza crust. We like our pizza crust thin and crispy, and this works well for that taste. You can also make it thicker for a more hearty crust, or do calzones.
My Top Gluten-Free Pasta - I've tried ever so many brands, and Tinkyada comes out on top in my book
Back in the '90s, wheat free pasta options weren't very common, and what was out there had either a gritty or slimy consistency. Or worse, both. There are definitely more popular brands like DeBoles, which I've used a decent amount, and is fairly passable. However, once I tried Tinkyada, I'm not going back. The consistency is the closest to regular pasta that I've ever tasted, and it comes in a wide variety of shapes for many different uses.
I've liked all the shapes of Tinkyada that I've tried; shells, spaghetti, fusilli, elbow, etc. but the fusilli is my fave. It's awesome in homemade mac and cheese. It cooks up well al dente, and the nice thing about this pasta is that it still does well if you overcook it. My daughter likes the shell shape too, and it's a good gluten free finger food for young children.
Major Brands Coming Out With Gluten-Free Products - The last several years have seen more major brands rolling out gluten free versions of their products. Kudos
Also, since I first wrote this article, there is now gluten-free Bisquick available. I've tried it with a sausage ball recipe, which turned out very well. However, it made a pretty poor pizza crust. Oh well. At least it was somewhat helpful.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/67146024@N00/3684839498/
Favorite Gluten-Free Recipes
This is just a sampling of the wide variety of gluten-free recipes you can enjoy...from soups to baked goods to easy, healthy entrees.
This creamy soup is my take on allrecipes.com's Butternut Squash Soup II by Maplebird. The red potatoes make it less starchy, and I personally like the sour cream and nutmeg for extra creaminess and depth of flavor.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion - chopped
- 1 stalk celery - chopped
- 1 medium carrot - chopped
- 4 small red potatoes - cubed
- 1 medium butternut squash - peeled & seeded - cubed
- 1 (32 fluid ounce) carton of chicken broth
- 1/2 cup lowfat sour cream
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg -- or more to taste
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a large pot, and cook the onion, celery, carrot, potatoes and squash 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Pour in enough of the chicken broth to cover the vegetables, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 40 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender.
- Transfer the soup to a blender and blend until smooth. (you may need to blend it in batches). Return to the pot, and mix in the sour cream until combined. Stir in any additional stock to attain desired consistency. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
My Favorite Wheat Free/Gluten Free Recipes & Databases - Links to some fab recipes and helpful gluten free recipe databases
- Gluten Free Club
Sign up to get free emails of gluten free recipes. You'll also get access to their forum to discuss gluten free eating and learn from others, and be able to peruse their database of hundreds of recipes.
- AllRecipes.com's Gluten Free Section
AllRecipes is one of my favorite online recipe databases. They've got over 850 tested gluten-free recipes, tips and helpful reader reviews
- Banana Bread - Moist and Yummy!
The link is to the original (read NOT gluten-free) recipe, but all you need to do to make it gluten-free is substitute Pamela's Ultimate Baking Mix cup-for-cup for the flour, and cut the baking soda to 1/8 teaspoon. The top of the bread will get clo
Double Chocolate Cheesecake - Decadent, rich and beautiful. Perfect to make for company. You'll forget that you eat gluten-free.
This is one of my favorite homemade desserts of all time. It's really rich, so you'll probably slice this thinner than most cheesecakes. One of those to make ahead the day before since it needs to chill for 8 hours. Totally worth the wait.
- 1 Â½ C gluten-free graham or chocolate cookie crumbs
- 12 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
- 3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese - softened
- 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 tsp gluten-free vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
- 1 recipe Ganache topping (below)
- Press cookie crumbs into bottom and halfway up sides of a 9-inch springform pan; set aside.
- Microwave chocolate morsels in a microwave-safe bowl on HIGH for 1 Â½ minutes or until melted, stirring at 30 second intervals.
- Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer 2 minutes or until smooth. Add sweetened condensed milk and vanilla, beating at low speed just until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at low speed, just until combined after each addition. Add melted chocolate, beating just until combined. Pour cheesecake batter into prepared crust.
- Bake at 300Âº for 1 hour and 5 minutes or just until center is set. Turn oven off. Let cheesecake stand in oven 30 minutes with oven door closed. Remove cheesecake from oven: run a knife along outer edge of cheesecake, and cool in pan on a wire rack until room temperature. Cover and chill 8 hours.
- Remove sides of springform pan, and place cake on a serving plate. Slowly pour and spread warm ganache topping over top of cheesecake, letting it run down sides of cheesecake. Chill one hour before serving.
Ganache Topping - This goes with the Double Chocolate Cheesecake recipe above, but you could use this for a cake too.
You can make this with run-of-the-mill chocolate morsels, but I say go for the gusto and get the best morsels you can for this recipe. I've used Ghirardelli.
- Â¾ C whipping cream
- 6 oz semisweet chocolate morsels (1 Cup)
- 6 oz milk chocolate morsels (1 Cup)
- Bring cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat; quickly remove from heat, and stir in semisweet and milk chocolate morsels until melted and smooth. Let mixture cool (about 30 minutes) until slightly warm before pouring and spreading over cheesecake.
Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies Fresh Out of the Oven - Look in the Gluten Free Recipes section for the recipe. They look a little darker because of cocoa i
Mustard Crusted Red Snapper - I adapted this from the 'Heart and Soul of Memphis' Memphis Junior League cookbook that I got as a wedding gift.
This easy, tasty fish dish is an example of how just a little tweak can make a lovely recipe gluten-free. The original also called for skin-on fish, which personally grosses me out so I made a version with skinless filets.
- 4 fresh or frozen skinless red snapper filets (6 to 8 oz each)
- salt & pepper
- Â½ C Olive oil
- Â¼ C finely chopped onion
- 3 large cloves garlic - minced
- 1/3 C coarse-grained mustard
- Â½ C gluten-free flour or baking mix
- Â¼ C unsalted butter
- Thaw fish, if frozen. Lightly score one side of each filet. Season both sides of the fillets with salt & pepper, and brush lightly with a small amount of the olive oil. In a small bowl, combine onion and garlic. Press 4 tsp of the onion mixture into the scored side of each filet. Spread 4 tsp of the mustard over the onion mixture, coating evenly.
- Gently coat fillets with flour, shaking off the excess. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the remaining oil and the butter over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking. Cook filets, mustard side down for 3-4 minutes until golden brown and crusty. Carefully turn and cook 4-5 minutes more or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Eating Gluten-Free on a Budget - Gluten-free products can get really pricey really fast. Here's some help on how to keep the expenses down.
Overall, I've found it cheaper in general to center my cooking around foods that are already wheat-free/gluten-free...meats, chicken, fish, beans, vegetables, fruits, rice, etc., and then just make small substitutions when needed. A 1/4 cup of gluten-free flour or baking mix here and there for a sauce or roux is a lot less pricey than baking lots of gluten-free bread for sandwiches or other bread-heavy meals. Don't get me wrong, I love my gluten-free pizza and baked goods, but I tend to be more sparing with these products in my meal rotation.
- Tips for Eating Gluten-Free on a Budget
I really like these helpful tips from a guest-poster on MoneySavingMom.com. She has even more advice about how to save money while eating gluten-free.
More Specific Help on How to Avoid Wheat and/or Gluten
- Gluten-Free Shopping List
So helpful! A general list of the types of foods that are almost always gluten-free. You still need to check labels to be sure, but this gives you an idea of what you CAN eat. Some of my faves on this list: plain ice cream and chocolate!
- Celiac.com - Unsafe Ingredients for People Eating Gluten Free
A really, really thorough list of ingredients to avoid when you're avoiding gluten.
- Are Oats OK to Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet?
A selection of articles on whether the use of oats in a gluten-free diet is safe.
- Foods to Avoid on a Wheat-Free Diet
A thorough listing of ingredients to avoid if you need to eat wheat-free. They've also got a good 'types of foods to look out for' list to help you remember to check the labels especially carefully on these foods, which often contain wheat ingredient