It’s hard changing your diet from something you have always known, whether it be to live a healthier lifestyle, because it’s a trend or because of a medical reason.
My gluten free journey began when I was 16 and diagnosed with Coeliac Disease. It was really hard to adjust to living a life without certain things that I loved; such as cake, biscuits and pizza (all very unhealthy by no means, but that’s not the point)! I had to adjust to being ‘abnormal’ in school, and it was hard.
It’s not so difficult anymore – there are so many more Gluten Free products on the shelves and there have recently been Christmas Gluten Free adverts on TV – a great indicator that it’s now in the limelight of advertising.
So here’s the start of what you need to know…
Gluten? What is it?
Gluten is a mix of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Wheat the most used grain typically used in processed foods such as bread, pasta and cakes. Having said this, gluten can be sneaky and get into food you wouldn’t even imagine such as sugary sweets, sausages, crisps and sauces/dressings.
Help! What can I eat?
Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic! It’s not the end of the world. You can eat foods that are naturally gluten free such as meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, rice, potatoes, lentils, quinoa, and most beans. Avoid most stock cubes and flavour infusers when making your own Spaghetti Bol, stew or risotto and buy a gluten free alternative.
My go to website when I was first diagnosed was Coeliac UK where they have an abundance of help and advice. There are now some amazing products out there that are actually very tasty and don’t have the consistency of cardboard!
Any top tips when sourcing Gluten Free alternatives?
Check out your local health food store for unusual things that you may not get in your usual Supermarket. I love chia seed crispbreads for a quick on the go snack, or topped with cheese as a Sunday night snack, which I found in Wholefoods.
I am embarrassed to ask in a restaurant for a gluten free menu – what do I do?
I used to be exactly the same. I would phone before I went to the restaurant or ask my boyfriend to check what I could have – back in the day options were limited to an ‘undressed chicken salad’, ‘water’ or ‘air’ (I joke) but now lots of restaurants are learning more about what the gluten free diet is and what happens when people are allergic to Gluten.
Where would you recommend that is safe for those new to the gluten free diet?
Most top end restaurant chains in the UK now offer gluten free, alternatives with options clearly labelled, and they all have websites, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I find twitter quite effective to ask questions – as most come back to you pretty much straight away.
My favourite place to sink my teeth into a juicy burger is Honest Burger. The burgers are cooked to perfection and the chips, onion rings and beer are gluten free and it’s like a party in your mouth! Result!
If you are ever in London, you have to visit my all-time favourite bakery Beyond Bread Bakery. They serve cakes, pastries, readymade sandwiches; you’ve dreamt of it they have it. You really will be like a child in a totally gluten free sweetshop.
How do you find the perfect gluten free recipes?
I am lucky to have an amazing mum who cooks amazing food. She has adapted most recipes she knows so I can have a Gluten Free version. Cooking for a gluten free diet isn’t that hard, I guess it’s just trial and error. As gluten is the sticky stuff that holds cakes and such like together, it’s hard to get the balance right when making a Gluten Free alternative.
As I have got older I am no longer chief icing tester; which used to keep me at bay. I first started cooking with baking mixes from companies that know how to do it best. When I experiment with my own recipes I use a tiny amount of xanthan gum (about 1/5 of a teaspoon) – too much and you will have a cake shaped eraser. It acts as a replacement for gluten in cakes and batter helping reduce turning it into sawdust at the touch of a hand.
With quantities and cooking times I just kept trying again and again, although the only thing I can’t seem to get right is pastry. I wouldn’t put my worst enemy through tasting my previous attempts! There are alternatives out there for you to purchase.
Going Gluten Free is really daunting – where can I buy products?
Most supermarkets now have their own branded ‘Free From’ range, which are surprisingly good. I think supermarkets realised there was a growing demand for not just gluten free but other free from products too. I find small health food shops great for finding those surprising gems you didn’t think you’d be able to eat again.
Also visit freego.com – a totally free from website stocking hundreds of products you may not get anywhere else.
My number one advice would be don’t be scared to ask. Ask your GP, your Dietician, your coeliac friend, your local Coeliac UK support group – or google. Head to my blog to see my favourite brands and food alternatives to live a happy Gluten Free life.
Tilly Manners is author and editor of ‘Gluten Free Tilly’. She started writing my blog about a year and a half ago as she was bored of her then day job, wanted to exercise her brain and put her English Degree to some form of use!
Website: Gluten Free Tilly
G+: Tilly Manners