Cheat Sheet

Living Gluten-Free For Dummies

Living gluten-free means you can prepare gluten-free dishes that are delicious as well as nutritious. To create tasty gluten-free snacks and meals, you need to ensure that you’re stocking your kitchen with important ingredients for gluten-free cooking and that you know which foods and ingredients you need to avoid. It’s also helpful to know what you can substitute for certain foods and ingredients in favorite recipes that you want to adapt to your gluten-free diet.

Checklist of Foods and Ingredients to Avoid in a Gluten-Free Diet

When you’re living gluten-free (especially if you’ve just started following a gluten-free diet), it can be hard to remember which foods and ingredients you should avoid, especially when you’re grocery shopping! Here is a list of the grains and the foods that usually contain gluten that you need to avoid on a gluten-free diet:

  • Wheat, and almost anything with the word wheat in its name. You also need to avoid hydrolyzed wheat protein, wheat starch, wheat germ, and so on; but you may not realize that you need to beware of wheat aliases like flour, bulgur, semolina, spelt, frumento, durum (also spelled duram), kamut, graham, einkorn, farina, couscous, seitan, matzoh, matzah, matzo, and cake flour. You should avoid buying the following items because they usually have wheat in them. Make your own unless you can find store versions that are specifically gluten-free:

    • Beer (some gluten-free versions are available)

    • Bread, bread crumbs, biscuits

    • Breakfast cereal

    • Cornbread (the flour usually contains some wheat)

    • Crackers

    • Croutons

    • Gravies, sauces, and roux

    • Imitation seafood (such as imitation crab)

    • Licorice

    • Marinadese (such as teriyaki)

    • Pasta

    • Pizza crust

    • Pretzels

    • Soy Sauce

    • Stuffing

    • Sweet baked goods like cookies, cakes, cupcakes, doughnuts, muffins, pastries, and pie crusts

  • Wheat starch is wheat that’s had the gluten washed out, but you still have to beware. In some countries, a special type of wheat starch called Codex Alimentarius wheat starch is allowed on the gluten-free diet -- but standards vary from country to country. Codex Alimentarius wheat starch isn’t allowed in North America because some people question whether the washing process completely removes all residual grain.

  • Barley and its derivatives. Most malt is derived from barley, so unless it states otherwise, you need to avoid malt and malt flavoring as well as barley in its pure form.

  • Triticale, which most people have never heard of. It’s a hybrid cross between wheat and rye, and was developed to combine the productivity of wheat with the ruggedness of rye.

  • Rye isn’t really hidden in any ingredients, so the pure form of rye (usually found in rye bread) is what you need to avoid.

Important Ingredients for the Gluten-Free Kitchen

Here’s a quick list of basic ingredients to always keep in your pantry, to help with your gluten-free cooking and baking. Check your local grocery store or online supplier of gluten-free foods for these items:

  • Gluten-free flours.

  • Xantham gum.

  • Guar gum.

  • A premixed batch of gluten-free baking mix.

  • Quinoa (which you can toss into soups and other foods).

  • Rice. Brown rice is best.

  • Gluten-free bread crumbs (which can be ordered online).

  • Gluten-free crackers (which you can crumble and use as coatings on foods, fillers in meatloaf, and in soups and salads).

  • Gluten-free snacks (which are great to have around for kids).

Gluten-Free Food and Ingredient Substitutions

If you’re tempted to experiment with making your favorite recipes gluten-free, here are some savvy substitutions for a few of your favorite ingredients. Don't hesitate to get creative!

  • Flour: If your recipe calls for flour, consider using cornstarch or a gluten-free flour or mix. Experiment with the many new flours available, like bean flours, sorghum, and amaranth. They’re nutritious and add flavor, and oh yeah, they’re gluten free!

  • Breadings and coatings: If a recipe calls for breading, bread crumbs, flour coating, or a similar preparation, consider using wheat- or gluten-free mix (either homemade or store bought). Bread and muffin mixes work well for coatings on chicken and other fried goodies. Seasoned cornmeal or corn flour (masa) and crushed potato chips are also excellent alternatives.

  • Thickeners: Cornstarch, arrowroot flour, and tapioca starch make great substitutes for flour and other thickeners. Dry pudding mix works well for sweet recipes, and bread or baking mixes work well for just about anything.

  • Binders: Consider using gelatin, xanthan gum, or guar gum.

  • Bread crumbs: Many gluten-free breads turn to crumbs when you look at them. And certainly, there are always plenty of crumbs in the bag; just use them as extras for cooking. Or crumble some bread slices, and toast or broil the crumbs to make them crunch.

  • Croutons: Cut fresh, gluten-free bread into cubes, deep fry, and then roll in Parmesan cheese and spices. Some people suggest letting the bread get just a tad stale (not moldy) before making croutons this way.

  • Granola: If you can find gluten-free oats, you’re set. But if you can’t, you can still make granola. Toss together toasted nuts and seeds and then mix them with gluten-free cereal, honey, vanilla, a tiny bit of oil, and spices or seasonings.

    How much spices and seasonings? A smidge or so, until it tastes like you like it. Bake at 300 degrees for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Add dried fruit (that’s been soaked in water for 10 minutes), let cool, then refrigerate or vacuum seal and freeze.

  • Trail mix: Many trail mixes that are available at the stores are already gluten-free, but if you like to make your own, mix some peanuts, raisins, dried fruit, and gluten-free chocolate candies or chips.

  • Oatmeal or hot cereal: Try corn grits. Prepare them like oatmeal and top with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, or fry them. Hot cereals are also available from the producers of grain-free flours. Some new amaranth and quinoa hot cereals also are available that are nutritional powerhouses.

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