nutrition: survival tips for the gluten-free

gluten-badSince going off the gluten myself, I’ve gotten a true taste of what life is like with food sensitivities. And let me tell ya, it stinks. Religiously reading labels at the supermarket, accidentally consuming exactly what you’ve been trying to avoid, not to mention trying to eat out!… Gluten-free, whether by choice or forced upon you, is as tough pill to swallow. Here are some tips that will hopefully help get you through it alive.

But first, let’s look at the question, what is gluten? It’s a good one to ask; many people believe it’s carbohydrates in general, others maintain that it’s bread. While these answers are both true to a degree, gluten is a bit more complicated than that. Found in wheat, barley and rye, gluten is a protein strand responsible for the fluffiness of bread, and the resilience of pasta. Gluten is truly a modern miracle, having been tweaked and altered throughout the centuries to produce hardy stalks, profitable crops, and desirable end products. Modern wheat truly is nothing like what it used to be; it’s come a long way, but not without health consequences that we’re starting to see rising up to the forefront.

Obviously, the first course of action is to avoid consuming wheat, barley and rye!

Wheat is found in bread products, breading/batter, beer, pastries and desserts, candy bars, sauces, cream soups, gravies, pastas, and even some meat marinades. Often, you would never think a product would contain wheat, but it does, so always check your labels. In Canada, a company must state on their ingredients list (at the bottom) if a product contains or may contain wheat. If it doesn’t say it contains or may contain wheat, it is safe to consume.

A sneaky wheat suspect many people are not aware of is soy sauce! Soy sauce is used in many sauces, marinades, jerky, seasoned nuts and even some potato chips, not to mention Asian cuisine. All thee foods should be used with caution, but Asian food must be avoided  altogether as it is pretty much guaranteed to contain either soy sauce, breading, or both! Make sure you check your labels for “soy sauce” or if it mentions anything about containing wheat products.

Barley, a grain commonly used in casseroles and stews, is also used in the production of beer and some other alcohols. It’s also responsible for producing malt, which is commonly used as a sweetener and is even used to make a vinegar (malt vinegar). Avoid any products with barley or malt, including malt vinegar, barley malt syrup, chocolate malt balls, and all beer.

– Rye, another common grain, is used to make the famous rye bread, as well as rye whiskey. Rye is also often added to multigrain breads and crackers, so make sure you check your labels (even if it’s wheat-free, it might not be rye-free!). Rye whiskey is also off the table, sorry folks 😦

– As far as fast food goes, when in doubt, ask! Many burger shacks have gluten-free burger patties, and some will even wrap it in lettuce leaves for you if you ask for it without the bun! But this is not always the case; wheat breadcrumbs are commonly used as a filler in burger patties (at least in Canada; in the US burgers can be served rare if the customer desires so I assume, in that instance, they wouldn’t load it up with breadcrumbs), so even if you order a burger sans bun, you might still be consuming gluten!

– Fries, depending on your intolerance to gluten, may or may not bother you. If you have full-blown Celiac disease, avoid all french fries and deep fried things altogether, unless you have the A-OK that they’re guaranteed gluten-free. This is because, for the most part, deep-fried items in a restaurant will all be fried in the same deep fryer using the same deep fryer oil. The oil is not kept hot enough to destroy the gluten strains, and so they inevitably contaminate fries as well as other deep-fried goodies. Consume with caution.

Granola bars & oats. This was a lesson I learned the hard way, unfortunately. Granola bars often contain wheat, oats and barley malt syrup, so label reading is imperative here. Even if they’re labelled “Wheat-free,” don’t think you’re going to get away clean! Oats, unless otherwise mentioned, are processed in the same facilities wheat is, meaning they have been contaminated with gluten from the wheat.

– Last but not least, eating out, depending on where you live, will be varying degrees of awfulness. Use food apps like Zomato to help you locate gluten-friendly facilities in your area, and always make sure to ask your server if you’re not sure! Many menus nowadays come with a symbol legend and either a gluten free/gluten friendly/wheat free symbol that you can look for beside menu items to help you decide. Some even have dedicated gluten-friendly menus… but this is not always the case. Again, when in doubt, just ask your server.

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