I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that the majority of us (other than the uber health conscious and those still riding the Atkins movement) don’t choose a gluten-free lifestyle. Like myself, we usually come to the conclusion that gluten is bad for us after suffering through countless stomach aches, overwhelming fatigue, uncomfortable bloating, “GI issues”, irritating skin problems and… well, you get the picture. Some of us are smart enough to identify gluten as the “feeling like sh$t” catalyst and thus give up the grains all together, while some of us need a little more proof. I was of the stubborn latter half and after growing tired of constantly feeling bad, headed to my local Naturopath to undergo Food Allergy Testing. 96 foods consumed and $550 later, the results were in and my suspicions confirmed: I am HIGHLY intolerant to gluten.
HIGHLY intolerant to gluten?! Could It really be? What am I going to eat? What about bread? Pasta? Sandwiches, burgers and muffins? Sauces? How am I ever going to be full again?! Am I going to slowly whither away as a result of lack of caloric intake until I die emaciated and starving? Ok, I admit that last one is a little dramatic but I should also mention that not only am I intolerant to gluten, I am also highly intolerant to quinoa, eggs, beans, bananas and almonds… in one 20-minute appointment with my Naturopath, I went from having a plethora of foods to choose from, to only a handful of food groups on my menu – all far too healthy to make me ever feel full, right?
I must admit that, along with the millions of questions firing through my mind, I also felt an unexpected feeling of pure excitement. I was finally able to say “NO” to gluten… the ingredient that had been causing me distress for so long. I finally had a solid excuse to go gluten-free that would, without fail, stop me from eating burgers, birthday cake and huge bowls of pasta… all the oh so delicious foods that led me to the dreaded “food coma”. I could finally focus on healthy, REAL foods that would fuel my body and my mind: veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes, brown rice. I could use this as an opportunity to get more creative in the kitchen and try new recipes. I could eat out less and save buckets of money. I could research books, blogs and websites and become a gluten-free expert. Despite my boyfriend’s new pet name, “Glutard”, I knew this radical change in my diet would better me inside and out. My gluten-free journey hadn’t even begun and I already felt overwhelmingly proud and satisfied with my new “G-Free Life”.
As my G-Free Life officially began, I quickly realized that adjusting to a life without gluten in a society overloaded with the stuff wasn’t going to be easy. Regular grocery stores have very few G-Free products, organic markets have some G-Free goods, but they are mixed in with all of the regular foods and finding a simple G-Free soy sauce takes patience, determination and more time than any one individual wishes to be spending in a grocery store. Along with the grocery shopping challenges, I found that research was necessary to not only find new recipes and to learn what foods actually contain gluten (more than I would have ever imagined!), but to differentiate the different types of G-Free foods and how they all work together in cooking and baking. I spent a lot of time on the internet and a lot of time in the grocery store and, through this process, have some tips to share to make the transition over to a G-Free Life a little easier for the next guy.
Top 5 Tips for Beginning a G-Free Life
1. Talk to People!
I quickly realized that I was not alone with my gluten intolerance. In fact, many of my friends and colleagues not only lived G-Free, but had been doing so for many years. All it took was a simple Facebook status update and the responses started flooding in. I was sent private messages with recipes, I received wall posts with links to blogs and websites and I had comments on my status from friends letting me know that they were intolerant to gluten and were here as my resource should I need anything. I even had friends of friends, COMPLETE STRANGERS, messaging me tips, advice and encouragement! Not only have I incorporated all of the information my fellow g-free’ers shared with me into my every day life, I now have baking/cooking days with my G-Free friends and sample G-Free friendly restaurants with them.
2. Find Your Fave Blogs/Sites!
As a blogger, I am the first to admit there are SO MANY blogs out there and the G-Free community is no different. By simply Googling “Gluten-Free” I was bombarded by blogs and websites that were filled with recipes and information, some of course better than others. I quickly narrowed my list to a handful of favourites and use them regularly while I’m in the kitchen cooking, picking up ingredients at the grocery store or making menu choices at restaurants. Here are a few of my personal faves:
3. Have Some Fun in the Kitchen!
Prior to my G-Free Life, I spent minimal time in the kitchen and was content with eating boring stir fry for days on end and fuelling myself with quick fixes like peanut butter toast and quick pastas. I seldom used recipes and almost never tried cooking something new. Since living G-Free, I have done a complete 180. Not only am I in the kitchen more, I actually WANT to be there. I am cooking amazing meals and really enjoying it! I cook my meals from scratch, experiment with ingredients and use the people I love as guinea pigs for my latest taste sensations. This has not only made cooking gratifying, it’s become one of my favourite hobbies and one that has created even more bonding time for my boyfriend as I as we now cook together. I rotate through my fave G-Free blogs, cookbooks and books and try out multiple new recipes a week. To my surprise, there are TONS of delicious, nutritious meals out there and here’s the clincher… THEY ACTUALLY FILL ME UP! As a marathoner and somebody with a metabolism that operates at the speed of light, having enough “fuel” without the grains was one of my initial fears, but that fear has now completely diminished! Since becoming G-Free, I have learned about so many new foods and food pairings and different ways of cooking vegetables and… ok, I’ll stop there – as you can see, this gets me a little excited!
4. Get Support From Your Loved Ones!
Ok, before I start this one, I must share that I have an EXTREMELY supportive boyfriend. The type of boyfriend whose number one priority, without fail, is making me happy. He was the first person to encourage me to get a Food Allergy Test, the person beside me in the Naturopath’s office as they delivered the news, the one next to me at the grocery store hunting for gluten-free options and the guinea pig for my latest meal creations. He has now taken it one step further and is going G-Free with me. He saw the positive effects of a G-Free Life first-hand through me and wanted to test it out for himself. Not only has he lost weight, he feels amazing, has more energy, is no longer having “GI issues” (as he likes to call them) and is finding avoiding gluten EASY (remember, this is a carb lover we’re talking about). Ok, so not all partners, family members or friends will be willing to adopt a G-Free Life to support you, but they will be your guinea pigs, they will make sure G-Free options are available while you’re over at their place for dinner and they will be your biggest cheerleaders as you say “NO” to the burger and “YES” to the salad. Surround yourself by supporters of your new lifestyle and the journey will become that much easier.
5. Find the Right Spots to Shop!
Grocery stores are finally catching up with the G-Free movement and you’ll notice that many chains, such as Thrifty’s on Vancouver Island, are using labels to identify G-Free foods. They also have small G-Free sections in their bakeries with breads, muffins, tortillas and pizza crusts… be warned: these are not cheap ($8 for a loaf of bread)! There are also more and more whole foods markets popping up that carry G-Free products. A few of my favourites are Planet Organic and Lifestyles Market. Although you can find G-Free bread at your local grocery store or whole foods market, it may taste more like cardboard than bread (at least this is what I found). Do your research and find out if there’s a G-Free bakery in your community. I quickly made the switch to Origin, a bakery here in Victoria and their breads are not only cheaper than Thrifty’s, they are delicious… and actually taste like bread! If my spidey senses are correct, there will be more and more G-Free options popping up as we move forward, but for now, get to know your community and where to shop!