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Getting Accustomed to Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping

August 29, 2009

If you are new to Gluten-Free living, the seemingly simple, basic activity of going to the supermarket can seem like an ordeal.  First, you have to search high and low, reading labels to find things you can eat and all the weird new products you will need to make your “new food.”  Then you have to deal with the torture of seeing and smelling all the tantalizing old favorites in which you used to indulge.  Navigating your way through the grocery aisles seems like one of many challenges you will face at every turn in your new life – constantly presented with an array of appealing food options, and knowing that you can freely enjoy only a few of them.

The first few visits to the supermarket may indeed be frustrating and time-consuming.  While it can be a challenge at first, the truth is that with a little willpower, some basic knowledge, and patience, you will soon acquire the skills you need to deftly weave your way through the aisles, identifying good Gluten-Free food choices with speed and confidence.  You’ll find that your focus will soon shift from the things you can’t eat anymore to all the wonderful, fresh, healthy, and, yes, delicious things that you CAN eat.

While they are no substitute for your own thorough research or the advice of a professional, we have a few tips, things to watch out for, and suggestions of some wonderful products that we think you’ll find helpful.

The Basics:

  • The cardinal rule of grocery shopping:  You have to read the ingredient labels on EVERYTHING.  Better yet, focus on buying foods that don’t have ingredient labels- as in fruits, vegetables, whole gluten-free grains.  The more unprocessed, and natural a food is, the less likely it is to be contaminated with gluten.
  • Gluten only comes from three sources: Wheat, barley, and rye. Some people include oats in this list but only if they’ve been contaminated by wheat.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have to be vigilant, but think of all the other wonderful things there are to eat.  All fruits and vegetables, beans, unprocessed nuts, fresh meats, seafood, and most dairy products are all perfectly safe for Gluten-Free shoppers.
  • Many people hold the misconception that the Gluten-Free diet is a low-carb diet.  It can be, but it isn’t necessarily, and we believe that healthy carbs are important.  You can still eat all the potatoes, rice (preferably brown, red, black, or something besides white), and corn that you like, and you’ll discover many wonderful grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and sorghum that will help fill in the holes in your new pantry.
  • Wheat – the big, bad, super villain of Gluten-Free living.  You know you can’t have it, and you probably know by now that they sneak it into darn near everything.  Not only that, but sometimes it goes by an alias to try to throw us off its track.  Semolina, Durum, Bulgur, Triticale, and even the seemingly innocent Spelt are all part of the Wheat family.  Don’t mess with them!
  • Barley and Rye – also gluten-containing grains.  These are usually more obvious and easier to spot as ingredients.  Watch out for Barley in soups (but soups can be dangerous territory anyway – more on that later).  Also beware of anything with the word “Malt” in it – unless it is specifically labeled as rice malt, it is probably barley malt, and thus contains gluten.
  • Gluten in Disguise – when wheat goes incognito in processed foods.  Read the label thoroughly on any packaged commercial food product.  Watch out for ingredients like Modified Food Starch (often from wheat), Malt Vinegar (any other kind of vinegar is fine, though), and Textured Vegetable Protein (gluten is protein, so this stuff is chock-full).
  • Keep in mind that any prepared soups, sauces, condiments, and dressings you buy may be thickened with flour or wheat-based starches.  Again, read those labels!  If you can find products that are specifically labeled “Gluten-Free,” you’re totally safe, but awareness in the US is still such that major food manufacturers include that on their packaging.
  • Ingredients like Couscous and Orzo may look like grain or rice, but they are really pasta, made from wheat flour.

A few tips on some of our favorite things…

  • Instead of soy sauce, which contains wheat, try Bragg’s “Liquid Aminos” which you can find at www.bragg.com.  If you’re a purist, look for wheat-free Tamari soy sauce.  There’s lots of talk about soy sauce from certain countries containing wheat, and others not, but again, the only way to be sure is to read the label. Add links
  • Oats are the subject of great debate in the celiac community.  While oats do NOT contain gluten, commercial oats are often contaminated with gluten in processing.  If you can find them, try Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Oats.  They are tested and certified Gluten-Free.   Visit www.bobsredmill.com to see their wide array of GF ingredients!
  • For an even healthier hot cereal in the morning, try Quinoa Flakes.  This ancient supergrain is rich in Gluten-Free protein and fiber Try adding a cut up peach and some sliced almonds, cooking it in fruit juice, or whatever appeals to you, because it needs jazzing up a bit.  Check it out at www.quinoa.net for more info.
  • Trader Joe’s carries an extensive and growing selection of Gluten-Free products.  Try their frozen waffles – they come in all kinds of varieties, and most of them are Gluten-Free!  They also make brown rice flour tortillas, which will allow you to have that burrito or quesadilla again!  Visit www.traderjoes.com to begin your culinary adventure.
  • For snacking and entertaining, our favorite crackers are Blue Diamond Nut Thins, which you can find at www.bluediamond.com.  Made from brown rice and ground nuts, they are flavorful, crunchy, and kind of addictive.   Also try the variety of delicious snacks from Mary’s Gone Crackers (www.marysgonecrackers.com).  These treats are made from flax, quinoa, and sesame seeds and they are wonderful with cheese – if you can eat it.  Corn chips, nearly all of which are Gluten-Free, are also a good standby.

And the big question….   Bread?

Of course, the big hole in all Gluten-Free diets will be bread.  If you can’t find Crave’s delicious Artisan Bread in your market, the next best answer is to make your own.  It’s surprisingly easy and very rewarding.  Get yourself a copy of The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread, by the late Bette Hagman (http://www.amazon.com/Gluten-Free-Gourmet-Bakes-Bread-Recipes/dp/0805060774).  She has truly revolutionized Gluten-Free baking, using previously unheard-of flour blends. If you must buy commercial Gluten-Free bread, there are only a few brands that pass muster. Try Glutino’s corn-based breads (they make great bagels, too – visit them at http://www.glutino.com).  Kinnikinnick Foods (www.kinnikinnick.com) makes good tapioca and rice-based sandwich breads, and truly yummy “English Muffins,” which are flaky, chewy, and moist but bear no resemblance to any English Muffin we ever met.

And now a little GF Pep Talk:

If you are newly diagnosed with celiac disease, you may find a few consultations with a nutritionist to be a great way to get oriented, get feedback on your food choices, and to learn about alternative foods and eating strategies. Have patience, shop around in stores and online, be willing to experiment, and have the courage to try new foods and cooking styles. But once you get used to this new process and start to enjoy the health benefits of Gluten-Free living, as well as the delicious cornucopia of food options available to you, all the effort will feel worthwhile.

In time, you’ll find that your new diet will become second nature.  You’ll stop thinking of fast food as food – bonus!  You’ll habitually be choosing and eating healthier foods – at first because you have to but eventually because that’s what you WANT to do.  In fact, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything.

The truth is that nearly any favorite recipe can be made Gluten-Free, and still be delicious.  Crave products link are a testament to that fact.  You’ll find that if you can’t buy it, you can make it at home, and it’ll be even better!  In future posts, we’ll be discussing recipe adaptation and ingredient substitution so that you can figure out how to keep your family’s favorite recipes in the rotation, perhaps even with a healthy new twist.  Keep reading!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2010 9:53 am

    Great post! If your looking for more gluten free options be sure to become a fan of Sea Star Seafood on Facebook: http://ow.ly/39XWB! For more information visit our website at http://www.seastarcorp.com!

  2. April 18, 2010 7:42 pm

    Thanks Melanie! We are glad you appreciated it. We appreciate all your support!

  3. April 16, 2010 1:47 pm

    Thanks for posting this article. I appreciate the positive outlook. So many of our customers are overwhelmed when they are first on a gluten free diet. It’s easy to focus on the food and to forget about the need for a positive outlook.

    Melanie
    GF Specialty Market

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