Have you noticed the recent increase in people suffering from Celiac Disease? Until a couple years ago, most of us had never even heard of this autoimmune disorder, which causes glutens to damage the small intestine. (Glutens are the proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats.) Now it's popping up all over.
Celiac symptoms can begin at any age and make some sufferers violently ill when they eat even tiny amounts of gluten. As a result eliminating symptoms often requires a complete change in diet and lifestyle.
Imagine trying to remove all glutens from your life? Glutens are found in a majority of foods, particularly packaged foods. Why even some medications, as well as the glue on envelopes and stamps may contain wheat gluten. As a result, living gluten-free requires constant vigilance, particularly at the supermarket.
The following step-by-step guide to make shopping easier. For a comprehensive list of gluten-free foods, visit the Celia Sprue Association Web site. Zeer Select also has a searchable database of over 30,000 food products that are gluten free.
1. Clean Out Your Cupboards
Start by examining the ingredients list on everything in your pantry and refrigerator. Toss or give away anything containing glutens so you won't accidentally use them.
2. Assemble a List of Staples
Learn the basic ingredients that substitute for common gluten-containing products, as well as foods that can serve as the basis of your diet. The Celiac Sprue Association offers a comprehensive guide to these substitutions.
3. Compile Recipes
Tons of Web sites and cookbooks now offer gluten-free recipes. (Amazon.com has a huge selection and Elisabeth Hasselbeck's book "The G-Free Diet" is hugely popular.) These resources can help you create a file of recipes that form the basis for your diet, instead of the gluten-containing recipes that previously formed the backbone of your meal planning. Many cookbooks also offer gluten-free recipes as substitutes for standard meals ranging from meatloaf to macaroni and cheese.
4. Make a Shopping List
Until you're more familiar with gluten-free grocery shopping, plan your meals at least one week at a time. This will help you transition to your new diet, allow for experimentation and save money.
5. Focus on Produce and Meats
Don't concentrate on your limits -- think about the opportunities. A gluten-free diet allows you to incorporate more fresh produce and healthier meats into your diet. Shop the perimeter of supermarkets, where you find these foods, and try to avoid the center aisles that contain processed foods.
6. Avoid Specialty Stores
Specialty and health-food stores often charge a premium for gluten-free foods, produce and meats. The least-expensive and most-effective strategy is to buy as much as possible at a standard supermarket.
7. Bring a List
It's difficult to remember at first which foods contain gluten and which don't. Printout and bring the Celiac Sprue Association list of allowed foods to serve as your guide.
8. Check Twice
Re-read every ingredient before putting an item in your cart. You may think canned chicken broth is nothing more than chicken and water but many manufacturers toss wheat into their products as thickening agents.
9. Bring a Small Notebook
You'll have to read every ingredient list when you start your diet conversion. This can be tedious and time consuming so avoid repetition by taking notes when you find a gluten-free product that fits with your dietary preferences.
10. Join a Support Group
Take advantage of others' experience with an online or support group. Enabling.org offers a list of support groups by state. Celiac.com also contains a wealth of information for Celiac children.