In 2013 I found out that I felt ill all the time not because of a fluke 20-month stomach flu but in fact because I have celiac disease (aka the gluten allergy). The diagnosis was obviously a huge turning point, because after a few days of detox my symptoms went away, and within a month I felt better than I had in years.
That being said, at first there was definitely a major moment of, “Now what?” For anyone newly diagnosed as celiac or gluten intolerant, or anyone with a suspicion of the gluten allergy who wants to self-test, this is my minimalist take on going gluten free.
I opted to go with a true elimination diet, focused on cutting out the danger food and not actively adding extra food back in to fill the void. My approach is very simple: eat foods that do not naturally have gluten. As in, whole foods that have no gluten in their chemistry, and are not processed with wheat; foods that resemble their natural forms as closely as possible. In other words, I buy a lot of ingredients these days, and make wholesome, simple meals.
It was a challenge at first, when I came to realize the sheer volume of gluten in my diet. Everything that is baked, mixed, or otherwise processed in a factory has gluten in it. Everything. I’ve loved to cook since I was little, and never felt like I relied on processed food too much, but even so, my trips to the grocery store changed drastically. Now I just stick to the outer aisles, buying everything fresh.
Once I had a firm grasp on what I could and couldn’t eat safely, the next challenge has been to keep myself from getting bored. I basically live off of fruit, eggs, sautéed or roasted meats, rice, salads, and roasted vegetables. (And chocolate bars.) The menu can get bland, fast, so I rely on herbs and from-scratch sauces or soups to make the routine feel more varied. The same basic ingredients can create a French, Mexican, or Chinese dish, just by swapping in different spices.
The reason that this approach to going gluten free differs from the norm comes back to the idea of elimination, not substitution. Going gluten free is not as simple as emptying the snack cupboard and refilling it with the equivalent crackers, cookies, pretzels, and candy from the gluten free aisle. This is a generalization, but in my opinion those baked goods are not worth the money. They’re made with random ingredients, all sorts of odd plants and chemicals, to try and replicate the taste and texture lost by removing wheat flour. It’s actually kind of gross. It always boggles my mind when someone dives into the gluten free trend for health reasons, only to stock up on snacks that are more expensive, less tasty, and loaded with unnatural ingredients. To each his own, but I have to wonder, how is that better?
It takes a bit of effort and culinary know-how, but my minimalist take on the gluten free diet leaves me safe and healthier, and right now that’s plenty.