How to Start a Gluten Free Diet: Getting Back to the Basics

Published on www.ndtvfood.com

The Basics: Starting Gluten Free Diets

Ok, so now you’ve decided to explore gluten-free options, but are confused about where to begin. Well, to start gluten free diets, the first thing to ask is, ‘What is Gluten’? In this, the etymology can itself be quite revealing: Gluten is, literally speaking, Latin for "glue". For our food-related purposes, it is a mixture of proteins found in wheat and related grains, including barleyryeoat, and – at its simplest – has its chief purpose to act as a glue and hold food together.

If you’ve decided to give up gluten, it’s not terribly hard to identify the leading actors in this drama: i.e., wheat, barley, rye and oats, and to eliminate it from your diet. But what can be hard is to identify trace quantity in your diet, and which will completely innocuous to the non-allergic, can still cause significant harm to those allergic to gluten, let alone those who have Celiac.

These ‘hidden gluten’ as I call it, can be found in corn flour, baking powder, icing sugar, soy sauce, and ketchup and many other such items. (Read my associated article: http://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/are-you-really-off-gluten-its-time-to-be-a-food-detective-1409927.)  

Very importantly, even the gluten which can remain hidden in kitchen appliances can cause havoc to those who have allergies.

I thought the lessons of a mother may be revealing; here’s what I did when my son Mannat was first diagnosed with Celiac.

Equipment:

I removed all old roti material such as the ‘belan’ (rolling pin), the ‘chakla’ (flat pan), flour sieve, the wooden spoons, chopping boards, the cooking pans ( non stick ones) the bread baking pans etc. At its essence, gluten has glue like characteristics, and it tends to sticks in trace quantities to kitchen equipment. For wooden equipment (such as spatulas, chopping boards etc.), this is an especially big problem. I solved the problem by removing all of the kitchen material mentioned above, and by buying new ones.

For those who are not inclined to do so, I’d urge them to clean your tools very deeply and carefully, and for wood-based material, make the investment to buy afresh.

Dry Storage:

Then, I removed all wheat-items roti atta, oats, barley, besan, packaged masala’s like haldi, red chili, pre-mix masala’s like readymade butter chicken masala, biryani masala etc. as almost all of them have ‘hing’ in them. Also, I removed Bournvita (made with barley), traditional Indian ‘namkeens’, corn flour and baking powder, all of which have gluten.

This can be troublesome at first, but there are plenty of alternatives. I replaced ‘atta’ with gluten-free flour blends made with brown rice, jawar or ragi roti’s.  Many of these alternatives are increasingly widely available from companies such as 'Navdannya, Whea-Free etc.

While I started out buying from these companies, I have migrated to more customized blends which I now make afresh in my own kitchen using a milling machine. My kitchen now has ground-besan made from channa-dal, and freshly ground garam-masala, haldi, red chilli, zeera etc. I have to confess, the flavors of food at home are disproportionately greater than the effort put into its creation. This is an investment in time I’d highly recommend.

Refrigerator:

Then, I cleaned up my refrigerator. I removed Hershey Syrup; it has malt. I removed Worcestershire sauce; it has barley malt vinegar. Even maple syrup, and processed cheese and milk-based processed products such as mayonnaise and anything that wasn’t certified gluten-free. All frozen products like chicken nuggets, smileys, frozen meats, sausages.

Anything that wasn’t made in a certified gluten-free facility went out of my refrigerator.

Now this may appear extreme, but for those who have a gluten allergy (as opposed to those who are making a lifestyle choice), this is the essence of living gluten-free: you have to avoid contamination, and you have to take your choices seriously to not hurt yourself.

The good news is that there are many alternatives. I replaced traditional tomato ketchup with gluten-free tomato ketchup made from apple cider/corn vinegar. Instead of processed cheese, I started using fresh cheeses like mozzarella, cheddar and homemade cottage cheese. I started making homemade chicken nuggets and French fries rather than the frozen stuff that used to sit in my freezer. And quickly, I sensed the positive results.

The main thing is to replace wheat with rice. I introduced my family to different types of rice: wild rice, red rice, unpolished rice, brown rice. Then there are a number of grains which are gluten-free, such as kasha, quinoa and risotto. Importantly, the pizza and pasta got replaced with freshly made gluten free homemade pasta and pizza.

Starting a gluten-free diet is like going back to your childhood when everything was freshly done and packaged or processed food was non-existent. To go the distance, it will appear a bit tough at first. Primarily because of the marginal incremental effort. But then, if you’re not going to invest in your own and your family’s health, what will you invest in?

Now, my family’s diet is simple: our mornings starts with milk, eggs, fruits, gluten-free toast (full of flax seeds), almonds and walnuts. No additives, no sugar. A midday meal is a probiotic drink, fruits and a gluten free cereal bar/cookie. Lunch is fresh, homemade cottage cheese, vegetables, dal and gluten free roti or rice. Mid-evening snack is milk without any additives, and fruit. Dinner is vegetable risotto with chicken/fish steak or an Indian meal with a meat.

Frankly, you’ll be surprised at how easy it all becomes, and how healthy and energetic you all will feel. Think of this as the beginning of a new lifestyle; it’s a journey which is meant to last you for the rest of your (now longer) life.

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