Going Gluten Free? 7 Tips You Must Read First

Lisa Lacy

Gluten-free cooking is definitely becoming more mainstream given increased media attention and an onslaught of cookbooks and ready-made products. But what exactly does "gluten-free" mean? And why would someone adopt a gluten-free diet?

We asked some experts for their best cooking tips for anyone considering a transition to a gluten-free diet. But, first, some quick definitions:

Gluten is a protein common in grains and cereals like wheat, rye, and barley. It doesn't provide taste as much as it provides texture. Someone who has celiac disease can't tolerate gluten.

But people with celiac disease aren't the only ones who follow a gluten-free diet. It is sometimes recommended for pregnant women and in children to combat autism. It has also been popular in some weight loss programs.

Regardless of your reasons for adopting a gluten-free diet, here are seven awesome tips from gluten-free experts that will make your transition easier.

1. Avoid sauces unless they are specifically labeled "gluten-free."

Jennifer Iannolo, CEO of food blog The Gilded Fork, says soy sauce, commercial salad dressings, and other sauces must be avoided -- they contain gluten unless they are labeled otherwise because of wheat-based additives.

2. Like a hockey coach, you need subs.

Jen Voss, public relations manager at Buffalo Communications (and a celiac), says you'll need plenty of quinoa and/or rice in your pantry as a substitute for grains and breads.

3. Make your own seasonings.

Personal trainer and fitness blogger Kate Galliett says this is your key to super-flavorful food.

Many ready-made seasoning blends contain wheat or another form of gluten, so they must be avoided in a gluten-free diet. Instead, you can make your own seasoning mix -- and if you do it in bulk, you'll have it on hand when you're ready to cook, she says.

4. Instead of avoiding, create. And stay away from processed foods.

In gluten-free cooking, it's easier to avoid gluten and to create gluten-free items, says Jeanne Sauvage, the blogger behind the Art of Gluten-Free Baking.

"Most food is [gluten-free] -- meat, veggies, fruits, rice, potatoes, etc. It's the stuff you do to these things that are the problem," she adds. "Many processed things contain gluten or are contaminated with it during processing. So, the closer folks stick to the basic foods, the [fewer] problems they will have with gluten."

5. Start drinking -- and cooking with -- wine.

Sauvage also notes wine and distilled liquor contain no gluten because gluten is too big to get through the distilling process. However, some liquors have the mash -- like barley or rye -- added back in for flavor, which then adds the gluten again.

6. Don't get discouraged or overwhelmed.

 Sherri Konick, who has been on a gluten-free diet for several years, says her main tip is to not get frustrated when first starting out. But, rest assured, Konick says when you get down to it, it's not that hard.

"If you give up on most processed/packaged foods and start cooking yourself, it's pretty easy. You buy the safe ingredients and spices, stock your pantry, and you can cook just about anything you want. Breads and pastas are difficult at first but there are alternatives that you quickly get used to."

She also recommends checking out this unsafe ingredient list from celiac.com.

7. Branch out to new cuisines.

Lindsay Spencer, marketing and communications specialist with the National Peanut Board (and a celiac), says her one tip for those just starting out cooking gluten free is to explore new cuisines.

"It can feel very confining at first, thinking you can't eat anything, but there are many cuisines that are naturally gluten free or offer lots of gluten-free items," she says. "For instance, Mexican, Spanish, and South American cuisines predominantly use corn instead of gluten. Asian cuisines like Thai and Vietnamese use rice."

Image via KevinLallier/Flickr

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