It seems like every day I hear about someone else trying out a gluten-free diet to help with some health issue. But how do you know if you should try a gluten-free diet? And where do you start in making this huge change?
Our Gluten-Free Story
It’s been almost a year since our family decided to try a gluten-free diet to help our daughter with some serious gastrointestinal problems, severe eczema and behavioral issues.
Update: It’s been 3 years since we went gluten-free, and my daughter is still doing amazing! She has actually grown out of her wheat allergy, but still seems sensitive to gluten so we have continued a gluten-free diet for her.
You can read all about how we tried a gluten-free diet and subsequently found out about her food allergies here. Gabriella is now a sweet, giggly, energetic four year old and has spirit and spunk in her eyes again.
Last year at this time, we were contemplating canceling our upcoming Disney World trip because of Gabriella’s health. This year, her constipation is under control and maintained through daily medication, though I’m hopeful we’ll begin to wean off of it soon.
Her eczema is nearly 100% gone with only an occasional flare up on her hands, thanks in part to avoiding wheat and an amazing South African doctor who deserves a post of his own sometime soon. Her behavior did a complete 180 and besides normal preschooler meltdowns, we have not had a single issue since about three days after we went gluten free.
Should You Go Gluten Free?
Since I’ve been open about our story and our friends in real life have witnessed the amazing changes first hand, many people have come to me asking, “Should I go gluten free?” or “Do you think going gluten free would help my child?” I am not a doctor, and the truth is that I don’t know.
There are people who claim that this whole gluten free craze is a fad we will laugh at in 15 years, and maybe they are right. It turns out that my daughter has an actual wheat allergy, but so many people have found that they feel better without any wheat or gluten in their diet, even if they don’t have an allergy or Celiac disease.
People with gluten sensitivity can experience symptoms such as “foggy mind,” depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue when they have gluten in their diet, but other symptoms are also possible. These symptoms go away when gluten is eliminated from their diet.
If you think you or your child might have a problem with gluten, talk to your doctor first before starting a gluten-free diet. You’ll want to get tested for Celiac disease and this is the only way to ensure accurate test results.
I’d also suggest an allergy test, though these aren’t as reliable, especially in babies or toddlers. There are several methods of allergy testing and you’ll need to work with your doctor to see what is best for you.
Once you’ve been to the doctor and determined that giving a gluten-free diet a try is the next step, you’ll want to commit to being gluten free for at least six weeks.
Some will say that it may take months to notice changes, but everyone who I know personally that has benefitted from a gluten-free diet saw results within six weeks. It took us three days before I knew we had found an answer.
The next question after people ask me about going gluten free is always “What do you eat?” Overhauling your diet can seem daunting. I know I was completely overwhelmed.
Thankfully, there are so many fantastic resources out there and gluten free is almost mainstream now so gluten free options can be found at most grocery stores and even restaurants.
14 Easy Gluten-Free Swaps
I’ve put together a list of 14 easy swaps to help get started with a gluten-free diet. These aren’t things we eat every day or necessarily the healthiest options, but they worked for us when we started out on this journey.
Yes, I’ve made gluten free bread from scratch and can easily whip up a batch of homemade gluten- free chocolate chip cookies now, but there are so many things to learn when you’re starting out that it’s nice to have some store-bought, accessible substitutes to make things a little easier.
Finding edible gluten free bread was like finding the Holy Grail. There are plenty of options out there, but to be honest, most of them are just gross.
Our first foray into gluten free bread was Udi’s brand because they carry it at Costco and pretty much everywhere. They serve it restaurants, and it’s pretty much the most mainstream brand out there.
One taste of it and I seriously cannot figure out why! It is dry, hard, flavorless and basically awful.
We went through several brands before finally finding Canyon Bakehouse bread which is a close second when it comes to our favorite bread. My daughter loved this but it wasn’t good enough to satisfy the rest of the gluten lovers in our family.
A friend recently told me about Schar brand, and finally we have a gluten free bread the whole family can enjoy! We love their sandwich bread, ciabbatta rolls and everything they make. Most gluten free breads are found in the freezer section, but you’ll find Schar brand bread in the regular bread aisle with the specialty breads.
There are so many gluten free cereal options to choose from now. Any grocery store will carry gluten-free Cheerios and Rice Chex, but you may also be able to find Barbara’s Honey RicePuffins or Nature’s Path Organic Whole O’s at a bigger or specialty store.
When it comes to mixes, I love King Arthur brand. The King Arthur Gluten Free Pancake Mix is simple to mix up and the result closely resembles the kind of pancake you’re used to. A close second to this is Trader Joe’s brand gluten free pancake mix. Especially if it is in the fall because their gluten free pumpkin pancake mix is soooooo good.
For a waffle that tastes just like an Eggo, Trader Joe’s brand gluten free waffles are the way to go. For a heartier and healthier taste, we also like Nature’s Path Blueberry Buckwheat Waffles. Despite the name, buckwheat is actually a gluten-free grain.
The only Udi’s product we will ever buy is their frozen pizza. It tastes remarkably like what I remember Totino’s pizza tasting like from my childhood.
If you want delivery, Domino’s Pizza does a great job with their gluten-free pizza.
6. Crunchy snacks
Immaculate Baking Company makes break and bake gluten free chocolate chunk cookies. Yum!
8. Mac & Cheese
We like Annie’s brand mac and cheese made with rice pasta, but even Walmart carries their own store brand of gluten free pasta now.
If your child is going to be gluten free, birthday parties with gluten-filled cupcakes are inevitable. Duncan Hines has a good selection of tasty boxed cake mixes and Betty Crocker frostings are all gluten free. You’ll find pre-made iced cupcakes in the freezer section, and we like to keep a package of these in the freezer for birthday parties or other times when I need a replacement dessert.
10. Snack bars
11. Chicken nuggets
This frozen convenience food is a kid-friendly favorite and great for a last-minute meal. We love the Golden Platter gluten free chicken nuggets from Costco.
There are so many gluten free pasta choices out there! I tend to use different types of pasta depending on what I am cooking.
For basic spaghetti, Jovial brand organic pasta is one of our favorites, but it’s not easily found in stores. Ronzoni and Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta are available at most grocery stores and are good choices too.
Most stores carry a wide selection of gluten free flours, but I will warn you that they are not all created equal.
I cried after making my first batch of muffin’s with Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten free flour. They smelled like dirty socks due to the chickpeas that make up a bulk of the flour.
Gluten free all-purpose flours are all mixtures of different flours and the ratios make a big difference.
I highly recommend taking a look at Gluten Free on a Shoestring to learn more about gluten-free flours and how they can blend. To get started, my favorite all-purpose flour is Better Batter, but you can only order it online. If you had to buy one from the store, I’d recommend King Arthur multipurpose flour.
14. Fast food
Chick-fil-A can save the day when you’re caught out of the house and need to stop for a quick bite. Their grilled nuggets and French fries are both gluten free and cooked in dedicated areas with low risk of cross contamination.
A note about following a gluten free diet
My daughter has a wheat allergy and has no choice but to eat a wheat- and gluten-free diet. All of our meals at home are gluten free, but my husband, son and I continue to eat wheat products on occasion. None of us has shown any signs of issues tolerating wheat, and I believe that whole grains are a healthy part of a balanced diet.
A gluten free diet is not a healthier way to eat. In the beginning, I actually found it much more challenging to eat healthy because gluten free foods, especially ones designed to replace similar food traditionally made with wheat, are usually highly processed and have to include refined sugar to make it taste good.
We’re at the point now where we are back to eating 90 percent real food, but it took a long time and lots of trial and error in the kitchen to get there.