Going Gluten Free, Getting Started…

Amazing GF chocolate chip cookies-- I didn't think it was possible.

Good morning!   I hope your week is off to a blessed start.  I just looked at the 5 day forecast and saw temperature predictions in the 70’s, and that gives me a spring in my step!

In the past month I have had 5!! people ask me for help in going gluten free.  After writing and sending 5 variations of the same e-mail to these friends, I decided to just type up a post for those starting the GF diet or those cooking for someone on the GF diet.  I realize that many of you will have no interest in this advice/information.  But if you are thinking of going GF or have a GF family member or friend visiting your home for a meal, I hope this information will be helpful.

First a little background—

After hospitalization for severe and sudden stomach pain in May of 2010, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.   I had been unable to eat or drink for several days before I was admitted to the hospital and underwent an exploratory endoscopy.  Even though I had suffered with various mild symptoms of Celiac Disease for over 10 years, my blood tests for the disease had always come back negative, so I was told that C.D. wasn’t the cause of my difficulties.  Well, the endoscopy tested positive for Celiac Disease, which I am told is the only sure way to know if you have the disease.  I was advised to immediately start the GF diet.

I was given little to no practical information on how to make this drastic dietary change.  I turned to Dr. Google, and a friend with Celiac Disease, and my supermarket.  I googled complicated GF baking recipes, and I shopped for GF flours with foreign names.  I felt so hungry that I ate, and ate and ate.  I soon weighed 10 pounds more than my regular weight!

For the first 6 months I followed the GF diet and experienced a general lack of energy, constant gluten cravings, AND a serious sense of self pity.  I was mourning not only the delicious taste of gluten, but all my favorite recipes, the smell of freshly baked bread in my home, the ability to eat whatever I wanted on restaurant menus, and the simplicity of traveling to the home of a friend for a meal. I HATED asking friends and family members to make me something that was on my diet.  I started eating before I went to people’s homes, and I grieved the loss of cultural food traditions and social eating.

With time, some of my nagging health issues improved, and so did my ability to make GF foods.  This combo gave me the incentive I needed to push forward with the GF diet.  It has not cured all my health issues, and I do still experience stomach problems, but overall my health is much better than it was before adopting the diet.

In my early research on the GF diet I came across website after website that advised me to cook plenty of fresh meat and veggies.  I was already a bit of a health nut, so this advice was rather obvious to me, but I thought I’d throw it out there in case your diet is not primarily comprised of meat and vegetables.

In May of 2010, I wasn’t looking for advice on how to cook meat and vegetables, what I really wanted was advice on basic staple products and substitutions that would make some of my old recipes work and make the transition to eating GF easier.

So here is the information I wanted to fine, but couldn’t–

Easy staples that you can buy for meals–

  • Corn Chex
  • Rice Chex
  • Udi’s Bread (the best GF bread you can buy, it’s edible but still not gluten bread, I eat it toasted with eggs in the am and for my sandwiches, the cinnamon raisin bread is great with butter in the morning)
  • Van’s Waffles
  • Tinkyada brown rice pasta (this is good pasta, cook al dente, substitute for regular pasta in recipes, it’s the BEST GF pasta I have found)
  • Snyders GF pretzels (taste just like regular pretzels!)
  • Kind bars
  • Pamela’s baking mix for pancakes and muffins (add sour cream to the mix to make delicious pancakes, you can buy Pamela’s baking mix more cheaply online at amazon.com)
  • Corn Starch in lieu of flour to thicken sauces
  • Betty Crocker GF Brownie Mix (these brownies are easy and fast and delicious!)
  • Learn to make risotto (it is soooooo good!)
  • Purchase GF bread crumbs or grind up Udi’s bread for breading chicken or adding to meatball recipes, or use another failed GF bread baking attempt as breadcrumbs
  • Tamari sauce in lieu of soy sauce (la choy soy sauce is GF), use this to make asian rice based recipes
  • Oatmeal (GF oats only)– I order this off of Amazon and it is cheaper than the store bought GF oats.  A certain percentage of people going GF can’t eat oatmeal, so I would wait a few months before adding this into your diet.

For good online recipes try–

  • The Crockpot Lady (easy recipes and they are all GF)
  • Gluten Free Girl –GREAT for special occasions and baking, but all the recipes are time consuming and complicated (but delicious!)
  • Gluten Free Mommy–good recipes, not as time consuming, she has a great cornbread recipe too!

I also can’t recommend highly enough that you spend time cooking lots of meat/fish/ and fresh veggies with rice.  GF baking is hard, so I wouldn’t start off trying to make white cake or white bread (I still can’t make these recipes work).  You will learn with time that there are certain things you can make GF and other things that just don’t work well.  In general, chocolate is my go to dessert, I avoid making white bread/cakes as they never taste as good as gluten products.

As I mentioned earlier, it took me about 6 months to adjust to the GF diet and to stop craving gluten foods like pizza, regular pasta, and bread.  It also took me about that long to get more energy and start feeling much better.  I’d recommend supplementing with a good multivitamin because a lot of gluten baked goods are fortified with B vitamins and GF foods are not.  Even if you are not going completely GF, just cutting back will leave you craving gluten foods for a while. Give it time, it will get better.

I hope this helps.  Feel free to leave your thoughts of questions in the comments.

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  • Saoirse

    My family is gluten free due to celiac as well. It is difficult at first – but I have found concentrating on the natural gf is easy enough. If you haven’t tried King Arthur Flour GF products – it us totally worth the $. When I first made the chocolate cake – I was positive I accidentally picked up a gluten cake mix – and double checked 2x.

    Also, I wonder if I could ask – what do you do about Communion? My DH is very sensitive – and has a dreadful reaction with a touch of cross contamination. He prefers to practice the sacrament in spirit only – as he says God understands. My oldest – who is also gf – is preparing for his First Communion. The parish is offering the low gluten host. I feel this is likely OK for that day – but that accommodation each time we go to Mass might be difficult – and we teach that the Eucharist is a beautiful gift – and he is so excited to receive. Could you share how you handle it? Thank you.

  • Kellie “Red”

    I am not extremely sensitive, so I am able to receive the host with few problems. I DO NOT receive daily though, but only on Sundays. I would probably opt for the low gluten host if I were receiving communion daily. Our Parish offers a low gluten host, and I know a number of people in the Parish with Celiac Disease who choose this option. I have chosen not to do this because my reaction is minimal, it creates extra work for the Priest, and I have to arrive at least 15 minutes early to give the Priest the host and remind him that I am there. The Parishioners I know that receive the low gluten host are extremely sensitive to even the smallest amount of gluten, but they have no trouble with the low-gluten host. Hopefully this will work for you.

  • Jill Tait

    Great post Kellie. We do not struggle with any kind of gluten issues, thank God, but my sister has 5 boys and 3 of them are diagnosed autistic. They try to eat GF and it has helped my nephews significantly, but has been hard on other members of the family. I have passes this info on to her! Thanks again 🙂

  • I’m glad to hear things are going better for you.You certainly weren’t a glowing advocate for the GF diet in those early days. 🙂 I actually went gluten free over Lent due to my own ongoing digestive issues. Part of me hoped I wouldn’t feel better, because I didn’t want to have to cut out all gluten, but after two days of misery, I felt noticeably better and thankfully, I’ve had very few cravings. The biggest problem is all the hidden gluten I’m finding in products I assumed would be gluten free, for example, artificial crab meat. Who knew??? My California roll had gluten in it! Not even my sushi is safe.

  • If you’re looking for cake, Betty Crocker makes a really decent GF cake mix. It’s free of many of the major allergens (including gluten, dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts–so it’s safe for K), rises really well, and tastes halfways decent. I make it for all K’s school functions and birthday parties and everyone’s always been surprised it was GFDF.

    Re. the advice to focus less on GF “substitutes” and more on different foods–agreed. For vegetarians, you can build fabulous meals around quinoa, amaranth, polenta, rice, and other grains and beans and legumes. You won’t miss the gluten! 🙂

  • The gluten in your Cali roll could also be from the soy sauce, which is usually made from wheat.

  • maryalice

    Just to clarify about your husband, he is theologically correct when he says that “God understands” — which is to say that a spiritual communion is a valid and legitimate source of grace for someone who cannot physically consume the host — this applies to someone who is physically unable to swallow, for example.

    What I don’t know, but it is worth finding out from a good source, is whether you can/should receive wine only? I don’t receive from the cup because I am such a germophobe (lame, I know), but I know that Christ is fully present under both species, so why couldn’t you just receive the wine?

    Perhaps you can explain all of this to your son and try to have the GF host as often as possible, but of course there may be times when it is impossible. But teach him the form of a spiritual communion for sure, so he knows that he is not just not receiving.

  • Saoirse

    Thanks for your thoughts on the spiritual Communion. He did talk it over with a dear friend who is a priest. My DH is so sensitive to gluten that even though only he and one of our children are celiac – I had to take the entire house gf for his GI comfort. (It did however reveal hidden gluten sensitivities in two other kids that manifested as ear infections!). The wine was actually suggested by Father as an option – but outside of my DH’s germophobe tendencies – he pointed out the host is broken over the cup – contaminating it. One might think this overkill – but the man seriously wouldn’t make it to the “go in peace” before he was making a swift exit.

    As for my son – I would have a great fear that he would find the wine distasteful and spit it out. I think I am going to ask for an unblessed communion wafer to see how his system reacts. Maybe I will be lucky and he will be able to do as Red does and have no negative results. Thanks so much for your ideas.

  • Kellie “Red”

    I would also suggest allowing your son to taste some table wine prior to reception of his first Holy Communion. Perhaps he will be able to drink from the cup if he has had wine before and is prepared for the way it will taste. My children have taken sips of my wine with dinner and so they would not be surprised by the taste. And our Parish does not offer the Precious Blood to the parishoners, so we don’t really have the choice of receiving that way. Your husband is right, however, that a small piece of the host is dropped into the Precious Blood and if he is that sensitive, perhaps even that would cause him to feel sick.

  • Kellie “Red”

    “You won’t miss the gluten!” I would NEVER go that far 😉 There are days when I really do want a slice of pizza or a donut from our local bakery. These things will always be missed 😉

  • texasmommy

    We went gluten free for awhile to see if it would help our son with some special needs, and I found out that the rice vinegar they usually use to make sushi rice sticky has gluten, so sushi was off the table for awhile!

  • maryalice

    Over on the Adaptive Sports Foundation Blog, I shared our program director’s granola recipe. This is beloved in my house, and so easy to make, and I would guess that you can make it with the GF oats. We change up the nuts or use pumpkin seeds. We eat it with milk or yogurt or over ice cream. Last week, I made a huge batch using 10 cups of oats, and gave some as a gift!


  • Claire

    Our parish started using a small chalice for those who cannot consume the host. They let the sacristan know before Mass begins and Father only fractions the host into the main chalice. Those needing to receive communion from the chalice go to the side rather than joining a communion line. And some communion wine tastes much stronger than the wine most of us drink! Ask if your son could taste it before.

  • Kate E.

    We have a good friend who has a severe reaction to gluten as well (like Saoirse’s husband). She had long talked about all the hidden gluten in things but it wasn’t until I went no grain, no dairy, no sugar for a month (a challenge at my gym) that I really understood. That stuff is everywhere! Having said that I found that there are a few things I really loved
    1: Spaghetti Squash…I totally thought spaghetti squash was a bogus substitute but I found it is great as a replacement in Asian noodle dishes like Pad Thai and I also like it with a spicy red sauce and ground beef. I cook it pretty al dente so it doesn’t get mushy.
    2: If you don’t have multiple allergies, nuts rock. I make a hot cereal which is just almonds, pecans, coconut milk, cinnamon,a banana, and I like a dash of cardamom. Sometimes I add a little apple. Blend it, heat it. Add almond milk or cow milk if you do that. Toss some fresh berries. You won’t miss the oatmeal. And I love oatmeal.
    3: I was totally grain and sugar free but from past experience I ditto the King Arthur recommendation on GF baking, their GF recipe blog is also lovely.
    4: If you are going nutters and adding in the dairy free, sugar free to the grain free…this ladies blog has just awesome, easy delicious recipes http://www.theclothesmakethegirl.com/category/recipes/

    Good luck and feel great!

  • emily b


    Hi! Ashley (my younger sister–your friend 🙂 told me you had discovered you had celiac’s; I have had intestinal stuff for the past nine months or so–since I became pregnant again this past summer. Giving up gluten got me part of the way “there” (I felt about 75% better within a month); but I saw the GI doc yesterday actually and he thinks dairy may be another culpret, given how things have evolved (I now have quite a little history over the past months!). So I am now gluten-free/dairy-free, at least until I can figure out exactly what’s going on (at which point I may cautiously add one or ther other back in….we’ll see).

    I totally echo what you said re: some things just not being worth replicating in the GF versions (cakes, etc.). I have not yet done GF baking, for instance. (Other than cookies; whole foods has a great and easy peanut butter cookie recipe, and GF oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips are easy and yummy too.) But I do cook a lot of our old main dish stand-bys that had a touch of flour (for instance, thickened stews, or casseroles, etc.) with some substitute such as corn starch or arrowroot powder. In general, I always have good results–not much difference (the kids have never noticed).

    Anyway, just wanted to pop in and say “hi” and tell you that I’ve had a similar journey over here! Hope all is well with you and yours. Emily

  • E.M. McCauley

    I have yet to be diagnosed with Celiac’s (unlike RSR, I haven’t had the endoscopy). But my alternative medicine/ metabolic doctor placed me on gluten-free diet for the duration of my pregnancy because of all the health troubles I was having. Despite my many years of being a nerd of medicine and all things nutrition and biology, I had never heard of gluten-free, or Celiac’s disease. Then, with the grace of God, I started to meet all sorts of people who WERE living gluten-free or living with CD. One of them, a woman in my parish, does in fact receive the Eucharist in the form of the wine only. This is completely permissible, and really has only to do with the practices within a parish. It is unfortunate these days that so few parishes offer the Eucharist in both species, but an exception due to health concerns can certainly be arranged with a wise and open-minded pastor even in parishes that don’t offer the two (such as in my parish).

  • E.M. McCauley

    I’ve been gluten-free for almost 3 months and I am so thankful that I am. I live in Cincinnati, OH, the baking capital of the country I believe, or at least that’s what it seems like to me due to # of bakeries per capita. So every day I am reminded of treats that I can’t easily buy for myself or for my family (we are in this together, hubby, kids, and I). But I love cooking with more diverse ingredients and getting everyone involved in the process. Even my 3 year old loves baking gluten free with me — the more ingredients, the more complex it is, and he enjoys that immensely! But the one thing I DO miss that I would like to find a really good recipe for is NAAN! Does anyone know of a GF naan recipe? I’d be crazy enough to take a loaf of naan bread to an Indian restaurant in my purse and pull it out once entrees are served! Thank you in advance 🙂

  • Kellie “Red”

    Hi Emily! I went GF dairy free as well for a little while. I am able to tolerate some dairy, but can’t really eat ice cream or drink milk w/o having some serious stomach pain. Butter, cheese, yogurt or a small scoop of ice cream are fine, but not at every meal. Hopefully you can reintroduce small amounts of both into your diet at some point. Glad to hear you are doing well. We just had our 5th too, so I knew you must be pregnant again 😉 We seem to be on the same timetable!

  • maryalice

    When you were dairy free, did you use soy or almond milk?

  • emily b

    I’m wondering about milk substitutes too–which work best in cooking, etc., and which are easiest to tolerate. My nutritionist suggested putting my leftover rice in the blender/vitamix, along with water, to make rice milk (or to do the same with almonds) as a way to make them cheaply, but I haven’t been that adventurous yet .

  • Kellie “Red”

    I use rice milk, although almond milk has more nutrition. I don’t think soy is good for anyone to be drinking, so I never use that.

  • You have a good point but I wonder, what about the flipside?