Image: Hoisin Chicken Cabbage Tacos via camillestyles.com
So, you’ve decided to cut out gluten. Perhaps you have gut issues and are trying an anti-inflammatory diet, or maybe you suffer from acne and you think it might help. Whatever the reason, we hate to tell you but going gluten-free isn’t as simple as swearing off bread. Gluten-intolerant Editor’s note: just kidding, bread is actually the hardest part. I make my own but the supermarket variety has really improved.
Gluten is sneaky. It hides in unsuspecting places. Soy sauce, jelly babies, you name it. But if you know what to look for and where to look, eliminating gluten becomes easy…eventually.
So if you’re keen to join the GF crowd but don’t know where to start, nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin recommends doing a little prep work. Below, she shares the steps required to get you on your way to a gluten-free life. It may be tricky at first but soon enough you won’t even notice it’s gone.
“Although it may seem like common sense, checking the label correctly to discover if a product has gluten is a great starting point for understanding what products are gluten-free,” says Bingley-Pullin.
According to Food Standards Australia, all potential allergens must be disclosed on food packaging whenever they are present as ingredients or as components of food additives or processing aids. This means that all packaged food should state if it contains gluten but to be safe, it helps to read the ingredients list for common gluten-containing products like grains.
“A certified gluten-free product means all ingredients do not contain gluten. Any ingredients that have been processed to remove gluten must be tested to make sure that it still classifies as a gluten-free product.”
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye—it’s what gives foods such as bread, pasta and crackers its elasticity and chewiness. But not all grains contain gluten so it’s important to know your stuff.
“Many often think all wholegrains and carbohydrates contain gluten, but this is not the case,” says Bingley-Pullin. “Rice, chia, corn and flax are naturally gluten-free [as well as] buckwheat, amaranth, millet, besan flour, sorghum, sago, lentils/legumes, teff and lupin.”
But grains are the obvious stuff; gluten is also used as a bulking agent in a number of processed products. If you’re eating out or not preparing your meal yourself, Bingley-Pullin recommends opting for foods that are minimally processed.
“As a simple guide, the less processed a food is, the more likely it is to be gluten-free. Food that is prepared in a simple manner is usually best.” In other words, when in doubt, stick to fresh vegetables, meat, seafood and eggs and avoid anything fried, crumbed or marinated.
Now you know where gluten hides, it’s time to find some tasty alternatives so you can still enjoy your favourite meals, with a gluten-free twist. Bingley-Pullin shares her top gluten-free swaps below.
Soy sauce: is actually fermented wheat.
Swap: Tamari is a thicker, less salty, fermented soy sauce that contains less wheat and depending on the brand, classifies as gluten-free. Make sure you check the labels for this one and purchase salt-reduced.
Condiments such as tomato sauce: most contain flour for texture or for thickening purposes.
Swap: There are many gluten-free sauces available including pureed vegetables or spiced pear chutney. However, if they are not homemade all pre-purchased items need to be checked. Tapioca or arrowroot powder, and Dijon mustard are great additions to sauce and salad dressings too! When purchasing condiments opt for salt-reduced. DIY: Better yet, get creative in the kitchen and make your own sauce or condiment. Many pre-packaged sauces are full of processed ingredients so it’s better to make your own anyway. One of my favourite quick ideas is mixing together natural yoghurt, lemon zest, chopped fresh herbs and a pinch of good quality sea salt!
Oats: are naturally gluten-free, however, cross-contamination can occur during processing stages as they’re usually handled in the same factories as wheat, spelt and with rye.
Swap: Gluten-free oats are guaranteed to have been processed separately and grown in fields with crops that don’t contain gluten. You can often find them in health food stores. Quinoa flakes and chia seeds are also great swaps if you’re making porridge or granola.
Cutting out gluten doesn’t mean cutting out your social life too but when it comes to eating out, you need to be more mindful. When selecting restaurants, look up the menu beforehand and see if they label their meals as GF.
“Gluten-free eating is now so common that many restaurants will label their menu. If you’re unsure at all, just ask! You can also plan ahead, review the restaurant’s menu and call in advance with any questions. And if there’s a particular dish you have your heart set on, ask if there’s any way you can swap an ingredient out.”
If you’re going to a friend’s house, make sure they’re aware of your dietary requirements—and don’t be embarrassed! You can always BYO foods that are safe for you to eat to take out the hassle for your host. And when it comes to communal BBQs or picnics, always bring snacks you know are safe for you to eat.
“Overall, my best advice is to experiment, have fun and learn what works best for you. Start small by learning a few simple dishes that will go a long way to increasing your ability to use gluten-free foods in flavoursome ways. And as with any dietary or health changes, always consult your medical professional.”