Whether it's for Celiac disease, nutritional health, or other concerns, there are many reasons people choose to say goodbye to gluten. Despite many restaurants, grocery stores, and similar providers are more likely to offer gluten-free options than ever before, going gluten-free is going to take some work.
Switching to a gluten-free diet is an involved and often permanent lifestyle change. You’ll need to be up to the challenge of ditching certain foods (including some of your favorite ones) to ensure that everything you eat is safe.
Here are five tips we hope you keep in mind when starting a gluten-free diet.
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1. Know the Facts
Knowing if and when to cut out gluten is not always easy—nor does it always come with a diagnosis. For instance, Celiac disease is somewhat rare; with only 1 in 133 Americans carrying the disease. Compare this to the 20-45% of Americans who are likely to blame gluten for food sensitivities.
All of this isn’t to say that gluten-based foods shouldn’t be removed from a diet, or that your symptoms aren’t valid. As always, talk to your doctor about any digestion issues you’ve been suffering and whether or not going gluten-free is right for you.
Knowing the facts will help you better understand your food sensitivities and what products should and should not be avoided—which will make this transition far easier than operating with advice or help.
2. Clear out your Groceries
You can easily waste several hours or an entire evening scourging through your pantry—reading labels and using the Internet to figure out what is and what is not safe to eat. Unless otherwise recommended by a doctor, we don’t feel as if that’s the right way to go about your transition.
This won’t be an option for those with Celiac disease, but if you can, go through the rest of your groceries without worrying about the gluten content. Clear out space in your home to put any new groceries, and instead invest your time into researching your new products rather than your old.
In a few days or weeks, you’ll have burned through the last of your groceries purchased before going gluten-free. You will also have given yourself more than enough time to adjust to your new and more healthy normal.
3. Skip the Substitutes (for Now)
One of the most common mistakes made when switching to a gluten free diet is the immediate desire to purchase substitutes for your favorite foods. While gluten-free pizza, pasta, and similar dishes are very helpful for certain dinners or situations, you’ll find quite a few issues going straight from the real deal to the substitute.
Most of the time, gluten-free substitutes and alternatives to your favorite foods are going to taste different and that difference can be quickly perceived as bad during the crucial first few weeks of switching to a gluten-free diet.
While there’s nothing wrong with going back to the substitutes when you’re ready, consider changing up your diet and seeking out naturally gluten-free meals. Once you’re comfortable and trust that you’ll stick with your diet, then begin to see which substitutes are right for you.
4. Don’t Wing It!
Keeping on top of your gluten-free diet will be much easier when it’s just you and your pantry. But what about when eating out with friends?
You can often feel like a downer or mood-killer by lamenting the lack of gluten-free options during a brunch or evening meal with friends, so for their sake and yours, stop this common problem before it happens.
As often as possible, plan out your meals and head to the computer for research when going to a new restaurant or shop. Many urban markets and places to eat will offer gluten-free substitutes, so look up the meals you can pick from, and order with confidence when you head out into the town.
Planning ahead prevents unnecessary hassle for yourself and your dinner party—as well as reduces your risk of accidentally consuming gluten. It’s a win-win for everyone!
5. Get Help
Cutting out gluten isn’t as simple as dropping added sugars or counting calories. Gluten is one of the most pervasive substances in our everyday lives. Products you didn’t even consider needing to cut will have to be removed from your diet permanently to maintain a gluten-free diet.
It’s an involved, intensive process, especially if your sensitivities require your living space or kitchen to be 100% clear of the stuff. That’s why our final tip is to see out as much help as you can.
After speaking with a nutritionist or general practitioner about specific health concerns, use a wealth of online resources to find out which products are and are not safe. You may also want to seek out one of the many gluten-free cookbooks available to help you cook with confidence.
Finally, talk to friends and family that may have already cut down on or eliminated gluten from their diet completely. While circumstances vary and not everyone will need to be as strict as others, keeping company that understands your struggles and can provide their own experiences can be invaluable to maintaining this lifestyle change.
Since we know going gluten-free is hard, why make it any harder? Your support system and family can be there every step of the way to minimize temptations, provide solutions, and help you adjust to your new normal.
We can’t promise you that the transition will be easy. There will be many cravings and even a period of mourning for the foods you love that you’ll have to leave behind. Experimenting with new dishes and flavors won’t always result in your next great discovery, either.
However, with a little bit of time, a good amount of research and enough dedication, there’s no reason going gluten-free should be anything other than another aspect of your daily routine. Soon enough, you won’t even worry about whether or not your next meal is safe to eat.
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