If diabetes can be challenging to manage, celiac disease can be just downright frustrating. At first glance it seems like it must be pretty easy – just avoid foods with gluten. Easier said than done. It’s amazing the number of foods that contain gluten, foods you would never suspect. A jar of nuts? Some brands actually use a light dusting of flour (wheat!) to keep the nuts from sticking together in the jar. Same with some brands of grated cheese. Blue cheese seems safe until you realize that it’s made from mold – mold grown on…bread! Cross–contamination seems to be everywhere.
Become an Expert Label Reader
When at the grocery store, the secret is being an expert label reader. Fortunately, this is now getting easier. FDA labeling requirements have become much more comprehensive. Not long ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see “and additional spices” at the bottom of a list of ingredients on a food label. Now, those spices need to be identified.
My own general rule of thumb is to keep it simple. All things being equal, I’m always on the lookout for foods with the least amount of ingredients. That makes things easier. If I’m comparing bags of potato chips, I prefer to see nothing in the ingredients beyond “potatoes, salt, oil.” Staying away from foods with lines and lines of listed ingredients cuts down on my chances of ingesting unwanted gluten or unwanted sugars. It’s all just additional noise that I’d rather do without.
More and more foods are labeled “Gluten Free” (Which I like to think means “Gina Friendly”) and of course that’s extremely helpful. If I see two cans of soup and they both list the same exact ingredients, but one of them says “Gluten Free,” I’ll go with that one. The other might be gluten free as well, but I appreciate the fact that the first manufacturer took the time and effort to label their soup “Gluten Free.” Even with a gluten-free label, though, I’m careful. My system doesn’t tolerate gluten-free oats very well, for example.
Restaurants provide their own sets of challenges. Of course, I look for the GF designation. That doesn’t mean a restaurant won’t have options that are Gina Friendly. My rule of thumb is to ask, and then govern my decision based on the reaction of the server. “Oh, yes, we have many gluten-free dishes available,” is a very good sign. “Well…we have salads,” followed by silence is, on the other hand, not such a good sign. Neither is: “Free what? Ma’am, we don’t serve any free food here.” And, yes, I’ve heard this more times than I like to think about.
Some restaurants cook their Gina-Friendly french fries in the same oil that they use to cook breaded foods, like onion rings. This kind of cross-contact means the fries come out not so Gina-Friendly. I always ask. Sometimes the server will jump right in and say, “Oh, yes, we use separate fryers.” Other times I get a blank look and that tells me to stay away from the fries, if not the restaurant. If I question the food, I feel more confident when the server takes the initiative and tells me he or she will confirm with the chef. When someone just says, “Well, I’m pretty sure our grilled chicken is gluten-free,” and then stands there waiting for my decision. Well, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to order the chicken. In fact, I may leave, or never return to, the restaurant.
Just Keep Things Simple
Overall, I have found that you must make some concessions to living the GF lifestyle which might not always make things as convenient as you’d like them to be. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to make things work. Just keep things simple – eat more fruits and vegetables, avoid foods with a laundry list of ingredients, be diligent in reading labels, and be comfortable asking questions of family, friends and restaurants. After all, it’s your well-being!
For more information on eating gluten-free, visit the National Celiac Association.