It’s been so long since I’ve started the gluten-free diet, I sometimes forget how confusing it was at the beginning. But I think I can help you by narrowing foods down from the root – just like we are trying to do with our Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. At the very root of the food, does it have gluten? (And remember that we are concentrating on gluten at this point, not overall diet.)
This works pretty well for grains like wheat, rye, and barley, but it gets a bit confusing when we look into processed foods. This is where reading labels comes in to play. Here’s my rule of thumb: If it doesn’t say specifically Gluten Free on the label, don’t buy it, especially when first starting out. The worst thing you can do is “trust” that the manufacturer is going to plainly list gluten or wheat on the label ingredients if it’s there.
So before we get into the nitty-gritty of ingredients, let’s take another look at what gluten is exactly by one very special gluten expert, Dr. O’Bryan:
Things are getting better in labeling laws but they are still allowed to have a small percentage of ingredients they need not list. This doesn’t make me feel safe. So, trust the manufacturers that plainly list whether their products do or don’t contain gluten. To give you a bit more extensive idea of where gluten can be hiding in commercial products, you might want to look at this article by glutenfreern.com.
Another area to watch is a tricky one. This one got me for a long time, mainly because I just didn’t see any reason I should have to read labels on things like almonds, other nuts, seeds, and obvious “natural” foods I knew didn’t contain gluten in their natural form. However, here’s where it gets crazy. Many times (in fact most times) these foods are packaged in a facility that may have just ran a line of gluten containing products and then your natural product used the same line before they packaged it. In other words, it is very easy for a naturally non-gluten containing food to get contaminated by its processing facility. This was very sad for me. This meant I couldn’t just assume things like nuts and seeds were okay. Same thing for other grains like rice, oats and other grains. In fact, the more you look, the more you will see those sad little words on the back of the package. It usually says something like this:
This product was packaged in a facility that also processes foods that contain wheat, soy, tree nuts, etc.
This ends up eliminating a lot of packaged foods. In fact, it is rare I find nuts and especially nut mixes that specifically say gluten-free. If I think it’s naturally gluten-free but it doesn’t actually say it on the label, I call the manufacturer (usually you can find this number on the label) and if they can’t answer confidently, I don’t buy it. The answer to this dilemma is to buy bulk unfortunately. Amazon is a great place to find gluten-free products. In fact, because I can’t link every food option out there, I will just get you started by linking you here to my affiliate Amazon partner page where you can also help support my efforts for this blog just by using the link to my “resource center” which I just started so I could help point you to the products I use or products you can use for your transition. Thank you in advance for using my links to purchase your products. It really encourages me to keep blogging. But please, please, remember that just because a product says “gluten-free”, it may not be to the standards your body needs. You only know once you see how you do with a product. So don’t buy large amounts of packaged foods until you try them first. It will save you money in the long run!
I can’t express enough how important it is to read the labels. If they don’t say gluten-free, assume they are not. This includes olives and fermented products which sometimes use a grain based vinegar for preserving! You can also call the manufacturer to ask them about their product. If they sound unsure or don’t seem to know what gluten actually is, you can’t trust their judgment! I generally trust exclusive products like olive oils which only handle their one product in their facility but it always pays to ask. I also frequent Celiac forums after typing in “is _____ gluten-free?” in the search engine, and usually I will see a result that is from a Celiac forum. I trust their judgment because their bodies react so quickly to gluten. Their documented experience helps those of us who have delayed reactions and keeps us from unneeded suffering.
Another product that has been very hard to find without cross-contamination has been beans. Some of you eat them and some don’t. On the GAPS Diet, I can have certain beans. I have never been able to find clean, gluten-free lentils so I have lived without them for a long time. I don’t feel like taking the risk. But I know of many that do check their lentils well and pick out any debris (sometimes finding a grain of wheat in them) and rinsing real well. The risk is up to you. In the end, it is all about how sensitive you are. I am very sensitive so it’s not worth it for me. Here’s the video I watched that convinced me it wasn’t worth risking. You can be the judge for your situation:
The good news for those who do like beans and would like to use them for your transitional phase, is that there is one place I have found I can trust. The reason is because they do not have gluten in any form in their facility – at least not since I’ve checked last. They grow and process their beans themselves so the risk is low. The name of this company is Rancho Gordo and their heirloom beans are so fresh and delicious! They are aren’t cheap, but I use these as a treat to add to salads or in the winter make a special bean containing soup or stew. Always double-check any manufacturer periodically to be sure they are still able to call their product truly gluten-free.
Another area of concern are seasonings! My friend had gone truly gluten-free but was using her old seasonings because it’s expensive to switch over everything. However, she had seasoning blends she liked that she continued to use. Looking on the back of the label, there was no gluten and no reason to be concerned. However, it is very common for these seasonings to be processed on equipment which has gluten and therefore they cannot guarantee they are gluten-free! Unless the manufacturer specifically says gluten-free on the label, don’t buy it! From my research, I have heard that most Celiacs believe most straight McCormick spices are gluten-free but the blends are likely not. Here’s a post by gfreefoodie.com which I believe has good info on this subject. In the end, we must judge for ourselves. Although I feel mostly comfortable with McCormick Seasonings (not the blends), I found that my local Whole Foods carries a whole line of certified gluten-free seasonings which makes me much more comfortable. I will be buying these as I replace my current spices of McCormick and replace them with these since they are certified. The brand is called Simply Organic and they specifically say gluten-free on the spices like this. When beginning my journey, I used gfoverflow.com for a time while I learned what was gluten-free and what wasn’t. It allows you to type in an ingredient and supposedly they have checked with the manufacturer on its gluten-free status for your convenience. I am on the GAPS Diet now so I eat almost no package foods which actually makes life easier in the gluten-free department! I will continue to remind you that manufacturers occasionally change their practices so you might want to check before buying each time to make sure it is still acceptably gluten-free.
Perhaps the trickiest part of reading labels is that gluten can be hiding in ingredients you may not even recognize as gluten such as this list here courtesy of dramymyers.com. You can see why I found going truly gluten-free much easier when I went on the GAPS Diet because processed foods are just completely cut out, eliminating all this label reading drastically.
Don’t forget things like eating off someone else’s plate who is not gluten-free (cross-contamination) or taking a sample of gluten-free food at the store when other people have possibly put their hands nearby with other food that could be contaminating your sample. I just don’t do it. Makes it safer! And although many of you may not believe this, I got severely ill from just kissing my husband after he ate a gluten containing chocolate chip cookie last December! He didn’t tell me he ate it on the way home from work and then kissed me as he walked into the house. Next thing I know (that night), I am eliminating all kinds of food from my diet, trying to figure out where the cross-contamination came from. After a couple of days of me being very ill, he realized he was probably the culprit and confessed to the indulgence (he is also on a gluten-free diet) as he didn’t want to see me taking more food out of my diet which was already restricted to very little by then! This was the moment in time when my husband realized how sensitive I was to gluten and now is very careful not to get any near me.
So I hope this gives you an idea of how meticulous you have to be when buying your food and keeping yourself free of gluten. The rule of thumb for me is to never put anything in my mouth that hasn’t been proven to be gluten-free. And even then, there is no guarantee. We just have to do the best we can.
I know this can be discouraging, but what I like to remember as I go through these difficult transitions in diet and the like, is that we are fortunate that something works for us to feel better. So, in light of that thought, I am thrilled to have the option to use a gluten-free diet to my advantage. I am thankful to those who have researched this connection to thyroid antibodies and to those who continue to spread the word like Izabella Wentz in her new and extremely helpful book on getting to the root problem of Hashimoto’s (also in eBook form for immediate help). It’s important to see the positive side of things when you are making a difficult change. The rewards could be better than you would ever believe….I know that was the case for me! But it meant learning how to be truly gluten-free first! (Just in case you are confused about what I mean by truly gluten-free, I mean that I needed to eliminate all cross-contamination and ingredients that were hiding gluten before feeling the real benefits of a gluten-free diet.)
Have a good week!(Pictured above is an herbed egg omelet with flavored shredded grass-fed beef)
The whole “Let’s Go Gluten Free” series can be found here.
Disclaimer: All posts are describing my personal journey through health issues and are in no way meant to guide anyone towards any method in particular. I am not a medical practitioner or have a dietary or medical license, and this blog is not intended to be taken as authoritative advice. Please see your doctor, or health professional before making any drastic diet changes! Also, occasionally I find others to partner with whom I have had tremendous help from and therefore, there may be paid advertisements and links to support them and help me financially run this website.