I’m sure, as you who are just starting out may have noticed, that repeatedly asking “is this GF friendly” gets a little tedious, or feels embarrassing at first. I cannot stress, however, how important it is.
Let me start with a little story:
When I was first starting out, the first slip up I had was because I didn’t ask. I was out to dinner with a group of friends after spending the day at Waltham’s Annual Steampunk Festival. I didn’t want to be that person, so I just looked at the menu and tried to make a conscious, logical decision.
As it was dinner and I was hungry, I didn’t want to get a salad – not to mention this wasn’t exactly a super-salad type restaurant. Most of the offerings were obvious no’s – burgers, pasta dishes, sandwiches, etc. They did, however, have a curry on the menu which is one of my favorite meals. My experience with curries had led me to believe that they used a base of coconut milk, so it seemed a logical and delicious option. I ordered it with anticipation.
When the dish came, it looked about what would be expected – a pile of veggies and chicken on rice in an opaque yellowish-orange sauce. The thing was, the sauce looked a bit thicker than I expected. Well as any true chef knows, for a traditional way to thicken sauces all you have to do is boil it down a bit, so I mixed up a spoonful and took a bite.
But that’s where everything went wrong.
To digress a bit, here’s a little something that people don’t tell you when switching to a limited diet: Once a nutritional source (e.g. gluten, or meat) is out of your system, your body slowly “forgets” how to process it making you increasingly more sensitive to its exposure. That is why a person who has only been a vegetarian for say 5 years has a better chance of successfully and without side effects go back to eating meat than one who has abstained from meat for 20 years – and that is by choice of abstinence. With allergies, the process is accelerated because the food you’ve cut out is already known to be bad or tricky for your body to handle. The average time for all of a toxin to leave your body is about a month (tobacco, alcohol, etc.) so I tend to use that as my standard time stamp (I’m not a doctor, so don’t quote me on this). Which brings me back to my Curry dish.
At this point, I had been completely without gluten for about, I want to say, 6 weeks – so I was just starting out. But I had managed to not mess up for that entire time, so I think it’s safe to say that it was out of my system entirely.
Which means that when I took that first bite, I felt the effects immediately. My mouth and throat started to get itchy, and I began feeling….I don’t really know how to explain it, I just felt wrong. Obviously the first thing I thought was “it can’t be the curry because curry doesn’t have flour in it!” but since I couldn’t explain it otherwise, I stopped eating it and waited for the next time our server came by to ask her.
Guess what: It had flour in it. My waitress was just as surprised as I was. Thankfully, she was super nice about it, and replaced my meal with something else at no charge, but – Lesson. Learned.
So I did the smart thing – I went home, got on the computer, and started really doing research about everything I liked to eat that came prepared, which led to learning about common ingredients in foods that are not safe as well.
Turns out, there are extremely weird variances that you all should be aware of. For example: did you know that the bite-size version of most candy bars are not GF even if their traditional size is? Or that traditional soy sauce is definitely not gluten free (don’t worry my fellow sushi lovers – Tamari is basically the same thing only pure soybean/no additives and is safe to use). Also, anything with “natural flavoring” included in the list of ingredients that is not specifically labelled GF is probably worth avoiding, or at least calling the company to check.
Wheat, because of its malleable behavior and cheap cost is an extremely common additive in what seems the most illogical of ingredients and foods. It is also what restaurants use more often than not as a shortcut for thickening sauces, dips, dressings, soups, stews, and chilis, so I stress again – I feel your pain in having to be that guy, but it truly is better to be safe than sorry.
But don’t take my word for it – Our Miss Hennifer has her own story about surprise non-GF foods, which you can read about on her blog posting about Zaftigs.
I found this handy-dandy little chart that you can print out on ingredients to look out for:
Also, below are a few sources of information to get you started, but I recommend that you take a bit of time to do some research on your own.
First, a great source you all should be familiar with is celiac.org. I am not celiac, but because celiac is a very serious disease, they take gluten very seriously, so it can be a very beneficial source of information. Additionally, as a “.org,” you know they’re legit.
This is not to be confused with celiac.com. Not to say this isn’t a great source as well – it is! – but it is also an open forum blog cite that is contributed by multiple people at an unprofessional level, so its standards are much more relaxed. Here is their list of Unsafe Gluten Foods.
Jessica of From Jessica’s Kitchen Blog has a great List of Hidden Glutens
runtastic has this short list of GF Alternatives for a few common food bases and some basic tips on cooking with them.
Not a fan of using fake glutens? The Greatest has this list of 15 Foods You Miss When You’re GF, and an alternative recommendation for each.
Always looking for feedback – any Thoughts, Questions, Comments? Let me know!