Gluten Free 101
I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a few more “basic” gluten free blog posts for a while now. Gluten Free 101, What To Do When You’re Diagnosed, Gluten Free Grocery Shopping, and so on… But I kept telling myself all of that information is already out there! No one wants to hear it from me.
Turns out, I was wrong.
Just a few weeks ago, an old high school girlfriend contacted me. Her friend’s son had been diagnosed with celiacs and was wondering if she could pick my brain a bit. Then a few weeks later an acquaintance reached out to me on Instagram wondering if she could ask me a few questions about her daughter’s gluten free (GF) diet. Then, a local chef reached out to me with some GF questions, as he wanted to become more knowledgeable on the subject in order to accommodate his GF clients. And finally, I went to a GIG: Gluten Intolerance Group meeting this week, my first one in years, and there was a woman there for her first time ever who was struggling with a GF lifestyle. What surprised me even more was that she’d be eating GF for nearly 5 years!
That is when it FINALLY hit me; people do want to know more. People do want to learn about eating, baking, cooking, and living GF. They want to know where to shop, what to buy, and what to look for in labels. They want to know how to de-gluten-ize their home kitchens, how to avoid cross contamination, and what kitchen appliances they should and should not buy new. They want to know everything the average doctor doesn’t tell you, the tricks of eating out, and the secrets behind GF baking. But most importantly, I’ve found that people want and need to know, they’re not alone.
Given that I’ve just listed a bunch of extremely loaded questions that will take many, many blog posts to answer, I thought it would be good to start here with GLUTEN FREE 101: What is gluten? What is it found in? And how can celiacs best avoid it?
WHAT IS GLUTEN?
Gluten is a protein made up of gliadin and glutenin. When mixed with water, gluten becomes sticky and elastic. It forms hundreds of thousands of stands that make up what we call in baking, a gluten network. When cakes, cookies, muffins, pastries, and the like are baked, air feels the gap between all of these strands, pushing the network to its limit. As the gluten stretches and air fills in the empty spaces, you’re left with a light, airy, flakey, fluffy, and perfectly layered pastry. Gluten is really quite magical in that sense – it is the glue that holds all baked goods together.
WHAT IS GLUTEN FOUND IN?
Gluten is quite essentially everywhere. It hides in foods you’d never think of and unfortunately, hides in labels too as there are various additives and preservatives that contain gluten. However, by law, it is not necessary to list gluten as an allergy (only wheat) so we must learn what to watch for in labels.
This list includes many of the MAJOR items to watch for. It does not include every last food or ingredient gluten is found in but I’ve made it as extensive as possible.
Malt: extract, syrup, flavoring, and vinegar
Broths and Bouillon
Gummy Candies (licorice, gummy bears, gummy worms)
Brown Rice Syrup
Fermented Grain Extract
Hydrolyzed Plant Protein (HPP)
Hydrolyzed Soy Protein
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Modified Food Starch
HOW CAN YOU BEST AVOID GLUTEN?
1. Be your own best advocate. Stay up to date on labeling laws, educate yourself on everything you need to know about eating gluten free, and ask a whole lot of questions! If you don’t know if a product is gluten free, call the company. If you don’t know how safe a restaurant is to eat at, ask questions regarding cross contamination practices. And if you just have questions regarding a gluten free lifestyle, reach out to me, the GF community at large, or both, we are all in this together!
2. Read ingredient labels like it is your job. Do not buy anything just because it says gluten free on it! Remember, there is no one agency that is actually regulating food packaging – just because it claims it is GF, doesn’t mean it is. Check the ingredients, make sure it is not manufactured on shared equipment, and if it comes down to it, call the company. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
3. Learn to love to cook and bake! This is easy for me to say but doing most of your own cooking and baking can really, truly, undoubtedly limit your exposure to gluten. I know it can be frustrating to get started but once you get going, I think you’ll find cooking and baking GF far easier than you ever imagined. And the best part of it is, RylieCakes is here to help you every step of the way.
Lick The Bowl, It’s Gluten Free!
P.s. Below are some fantastic resources regarding hidden sources of gluten and what to look for reading ingredient labels: