Welcome back to the second in The Coeliac Series - a three-part series this week in honour of Coeliac UK Awareness Week.
Earlier this week we covered the symptoms of coeliac disease, and now we're looking at what to when you've got a diagnosis.
Ok, you've just been given a coeliac disease diagnosis, and those pastry-cased walls are closing in on you real fast.
What the hell does it even mean?
And how are you supposed to give up gluten FOREVER?
Fear not - coeliac disease doesn't have to be equivalent to life imprisonment.
In fact, starting a gluten free diet is just what you need to get your health back on track. And you might even enjoy it!
Too soon? Ok, read on...
What exactly is gluten?
The key to surviving a gluten free diet and not getting glutened every five minutes is to do your research.
Learn exactly what gluten is, where it's found, and what sort of foods contain gluten.
Coeliac UK is gonna be your number one go-to for this.
The grains that contain gluten include (but are not limited to):
- Bulgar wheat
- Durum wheat
- Pearl barley
You'll also need to be careful with oats (unless they're market gluten free) and barley malt extract (unless the product containing it is marked as gluten free).
There's a more extensive list here with a lot of grains I've never even heard of!
Once you know what you're looking for, you can start to look for it on ingredients lists.
Typically, you'll want to avoid things like bread, pasta, pizza, biscuits, cakes, breaded or battered foods and lagers and beers.
And I wouldn't even look at Chinese food because (with a few exceptions) most of it contains soy sauce and that's a no go. Damn that wheat flour.
This list is by no means extensive but it gives you a very, very rough idea of some of the 'obvious' gluten-containing foods.
But don't panic, there's hope yet, and it comes in the form of a very special place for coeliacs - the free from aisle...
Get to know the Free From Aisle
Welcome to your safe haven.
Yep, that's pretty much the dance you'll do the first time you walk down the free from aisle.
All those foods you thought you'd never eat again?
You'll find a gluten free version of (most of) them here. Gluten free bread, gluten free pasta, gluten free cakes and biscuits, gluten free beer, gluten free flours and mixes - depending on which supermarket you visit, you're bound to find a whole wealth of stuff.
I think this is a great place to start after a coeliac disease diagnosis.
The best advice I can give it to TRY EVERYTHING.
You'll soon find the brands you love - and the ones you're not so keen on.
You'll find the gluten free products you want to fill your cupboards with and you might even make a gluten free friend or two as well.
Don't expect the same as 'normal'
While there are a lot of gluten free alternatives in the free from aisle, you can't expect everything to taste the same as 'normal' food.
Some things, like pasta, will be pretty close, but others, like the bread, will take some getting used to.
My top tips?
- When you can, always try to warm up gluten free bread in the oven or toast it. You'll find this is the best way to eat it, and some of the freshly baked rolls taste as close to 'real' bread as I can remember when they're freshened up for a few minutes.
- Don't expect food to act the same way. For example, with gluten free pasta you want to get that water boiling before you add it - otherwise you'll get a gloopy soup. And a lot of bread-type recipes will actually create a batter rather than a knead-able dough. But bear with it!
- Look into things like xantham gum to make your gluten free flour behave in a more 'normal' way. Gluten is effectively what makes dough stretchy, so without it you end up with a dough that is pretty sticky.
- Free from products can have a lot of extra ingredients added, so just be aware of this when you're stocking up on all those cakes. Just because they are gluten free there is a common misconception this means healthier too - and that's not always true.
Live life outside of the free from aisle
Once you've got used to reading ingredients lists, you'll feel a lot more confident venturing away from the free from aisle.
And you might save some pennies too.
A lot of foods are naturally gluten free, and it's knowing this that will save you time, effort and money.
Meat, vegetables, rice, potatoes, corn, pulses, buckwheat, nuts, soya - all of these are naturally gluten free and a great basis for a healthy diet.
Don't be afraid to read labels and figure out what is safe for you to eat. It's important to get a balanced and nutritious diet and you won't find this just in the free from aisle.
It's also a good idea to invest in some gluten free recipe books.
You can't live your life eating ready meals because they're the only thing marked gluten free!
Get used to creating meals from scratch and you'll find you can enjoy many, many things on a gluten free diet.
You can read some more tips for saving money on a gluten free diet here too.
Get cross-contamination savvy
Ok, so you've mastered the art of what is gluten free and what's not - but are you ingesting gluten by accident?
Cross-contamination is a risk for people with coeliac disease and if you're going to all that effort to make gluten free food, you want to make sure it is 100% gluten free.
A few pointers of things to look out for:
- Use toaster bags to toast your bread. You pop a slice in the bag and then you can use any toaster without the risk of getting gluten crumbs on your bread.
- Use separate trays and pans for gluten free and non gluten free foods when cooking, and make sure you stir gluten free dishes with a separate spoon too.
- Be careful of storing products like flour in with your unsealed gluten free food - you've seen what a cloud of flour these normally make, so be careful.
- Don't fry gluten free food in the same oil as gluten-containing foods. This is one to watch out for when you eat out, particularly with things like chips.
- Get your own butter dish and use separate knives. I can't stand crumbs in butter at the best of times, but you don't want any gluten crumbs in your gluten free butter!
Stay positive - we're in it together!
I've made some amazing friends through my blog and coeliac disease diagnosis, like this lovely lady Laura who runs My Gluten Free Guide.
It's important to remain positive through your coeliac disease diagnosis.
You might be feeling like you're 'giving up' all these foods but I like to look at it that you're at the start of an exciting adventure discovering lots of new foods.
Try things you've never eaten before, test out new flavours and find some gluten free recipes you love.
There is a great online support network as well so make use of it!
Whatever questions you have, it's likely someone else has been there before.
Why not join The Gluten Free Blogger Group, we're a friendly bunch and always happy to help!
You can ask any questions and it's a safe space to discuss gluten free living and coeliac disease.
Try and reach out to other gluten free people and you could make some great friends too - it makes going out for dinner a lot more fun!
Okay, so this was a very concise whistle-stop tour of your first steps into a gluten free world.
But there are a few other websites and coeliac bloggers you should check out which are packed with information, as well as all the other coeliac tips on my blog of course!
This is absolutely a one-stop-shop for everything you could possibly need! Coeliac UK is a fantastic resource and I'd definitely urge you to sign up for the amount of support you get. Plus it could help fund research into coeliac disease too!
My Gluten Free Guide
Laura at My Gluten Free Guide is lovely blogger who is writing some amazing posts about living with coeliac disease, gluten free travel guides and some delicious recipes. I'd highly recommend Laura's blog as a great resource if you're new to a gluten free diet or just looking for some more information!
Gluten Free Alice
If you're gluten and dairy free, Gluten Free Alice has everything you could need on her blog! Another great resource from a lovely lady trying to make the gluten free world an easier place to navigate! Check out her recipes and reviews.
Refrain from the Grain
If you're ever travelling to London you simple HAVE to bookmark Refrain from the Grain! Cristina's blog is absolutely packed with the most mouth-watering dishes from around London. She never lets her coeliac disease get in the way of enjoying a good meal.
The Positive Coeliac
There are a lot of us ladies spreading the word about gluten free living, and a lot of bloggers who have been out there for a looong time, which is why I wanted to shout about Derek's relatively new blog, The Positive Coeliac! It's great to see a guy blogging about his coeliac disease experience, with lots of helpful insights and all about his journey through diagnosis.
Other useful posts!
Want to do some more research on coeliac disease and gluten free living? Perhaps you're newly diagnosed with coeliac disease, or just looking for some inspiration for a gluten free diet? Check these out...