Are you new to the gluten-free diet? Wondering what to do or how to start? Want access to quick information? I have you covered in this article. Please note this post contains affiliate links. No information in this article should be construed as medical advice. Please discuss your health concerns with your doctor and see my disclosures and disclaimers.
Imagine that your favorite foods are suddenly off limits.
You can no longer eat pizza, pasta or bread.
Going out to dinner at a restaurant feels like such a chore.
You feel lost and alone.
These are real emotions for those diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity feel once they’re told they can no longer eat gluten, a sticky protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats.
When you’re diagnosed with a gluten disorder, you’re not only dealing with this shocking diagnosis, but also you’re dealing with the realization that you will never get to eat the same way again.
Most people are emotionally attached to their food, and there is, no doubt, an emotional burden to the gluten-free diet even years into the diet.
In fact, I’m eight years into the gluten-free lifestyle, and I’m just starting to cope with the reality that I have to deal with eating gluten free for the rest of my life.
Read my book, Dear Gluten, It’s Not Me, It’s You to learn how to break up with gluten and heal in the aftermath.
It’s never easy being gluten free. But after awhile, it will get easier.
I hope you find this beginners guide to gluten free – and the entire Good For You Gluten Free blog – as a indelible resource to you throughout your gluten-free journey.
Below I’ll show you how to get started quickly and thrive long term. Let’s get started!
Getting Started with Gluten Free
Here’s how to quickly get started with the gluten-free diet.
(1) Set Up Your Kitchen
You want to feel as safe as possible in your home, so it’s important to set up your gluten-free kitchen wisely.
You’ll need to clean out your pantry and fridge, invest in a few new kitchen items and appliances, and communicate your needs to your entire household.
For a detailed, step-by-step guide to setting up your gluten-free kitchen, please refer to my article, Setting Up a Gluten-Free Kitchen.
(2) Learn How to Read Food Labels
Gluten is lurking in so many packaged products, so you’ll want to brush up on how to decode a food label for hidden gluten.
I’ve written extensively on this process and recommend you read this article, Learn How to Decode Food Labels, from top to bottom.
In a nutshell, the FDA says that products must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten to be labeled gluten free. The FDA adds that a product cannot contain a gluten ingredient unless the gluten is removed and the final product contains less than 20 ppm of gluten.
Keep in mind that 20 ppm of gluten is just a tiny crumb of the sticky protein. This means even a gluten crumb can cause an autoimmune reaction – and damage – in people with celiac disease.
(3) Check Medications for Gluten
You’ll want to check that all your medications are gluten free, including cold, allergy, birth control, thyroid medication, etc.
Please note that there is a lot of information – and misinformation – abound on the Internet, and manufacturers notoriously change their ingredients.
This is why it’s important to check labels carefully for the most up-to-date disclosures and/or email or call the manufacturer to inquire on any items that aren’t clear-cut.
For the latest information on how to identify gluten in medications, read my article, Is There Gluten in Medications?
(4) Check Makeup, Toiletries and Lotions for Gluten
Gluten cannot be absorbed by the skin, so it’s okay to touch gluten (unless you have a wheat allergy).
That said, you want to be very careful about slathering products that contain gluten on your skin as they can easily be transferred from your hands or face to your mouth.
Items to be most aware of are products that come in contact with your lips, mouth or hands. Here are some articles to learn more about how medications and beauty products can affect you:
- Gluten-Free Toothpaste Guide
- Is Your Lip Balm Gluten Free? The Scoop on Which Lip Balms are (and are NOT) Gluten Free
- Best Certified Gluten-Free Makeup Brands
I highly recommend Red Apple Lipstick for most of your makeup, lipstick and lip balm needs. Everything is certified gluten free and will keep you looking your best.
(5) Streamline Grocery Shopping
Grocery shopping can be one of the hardest things you do when you’re new to the gluten-free diet. I was lucky to have a gluten-free friend offer to take me grocery shopping and teach me what brands to look for and what to avoid.
Before heading to the grocery store, I highly recommend downloading and setting up the Fig Food Scanner & Discovery app on your phone. It’s free and will enable you to scan the barcode of any food item found at the grocery store so you can quickly read the label and identify any sources of gluten along with any other ingredients you might be avoiding. Learn more about Fig in this review I wrote and/or download the Fig app.
Today, many grocery stores carry a plethora of gluten-free brand name foods. I recommend shopping at a variety of stores to find the best gluten-free products and deals. I find that some stores carry the breads I like, while other stores carry the flour I like.
I personally find Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, Safeway, Walmart and King Soopers (Kroger), to have great selections of gluten-free foods. I don’t have an Aldi near me, but I hear it’s great too.
Here are a few articles that will help you get used to grocery shopping while strictly following the gluten-free diet:
- The Best Gluten-Free Products, Brands and Allergy-Friendly Foods
- 200+ Foods You Can Eat on the Gluten-Free Diet
- 10 Naturally Gluten-Free Foods Every Celiac Should Be Eating
- 10 Ways to Eat Gluten-Free on a Budget
A few other tips:
- Avoid buying anything in the bulk bins due to the high potential for cross contamination.
- Understand why oats are controversial and how you can enjoy gluten-free oats safely.
- A great way to try different brands before committing to buying them is via a gluten-free food monthly subscription box. You’ll get sample-sized gluten-free products sent to you each month so you can try new brands before buying them. Gluten-free food can be expensive, so you don’t want to waste your money on brands you don’t like.
(6) Plan Your Meals
The safest place to eat will always be in your home where you control the ingredients and preparation. This is why I encourage people new to the gluten-free diet to eat at home as much as possible, and only eat out at trusted restaurants on occasion when you do eat out.
Here are a few articles to check out if meal planning is of interest to you.
- 9 Meal Planning Tips for People with Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivities
- Free Sample Celiac Disease Meal Plan
(7) Master Eating Out Gluten Free
Restaurant staff must take great care when preparing your food, including using separate pots, utensils, cooking oils and clean hands and surfaces. Restaurants may say they can make a gluten-free dish, but can they really?
Here are a few resources to help you eat out safely and gluten free:
(a) The Ultimate Guide to Eating Out Gluten Free book. This detailed ebook includes everything you need to know about eating out safely while on a gluten-free diet. It’s required reading for anyone who likes to eat out.
(b) The Eating Out Library. I share all my experiences at various restaurants on my blog and encourage you to scroll through my Eating Out library.
(c) Additional Resources. Here are a few more resources you might enjoy to help you eat out safely:
- Gluten-Free Fast Food Restaurants – Nima Tested
- 10 Tips to Hosting Your Gluten-Free Friend
- How to Navigate Special Events When You’re Gluten-Free
- Survey Reveals ‘Eating Out Safely’ as the Top Challenge Facing the Gluten-Free Community
I also recommend downloading the Find Me Gluten Free app. While the app isn’t perfect, it does help you identify potential restaurants near you. Just take the reviews with a grain of salt as some people are more lax in their gluten-free diet than others.
(8) Traveling While Gluten Free
Traveling presents a whole other set of challenges for the gluten-free traveler. A few tips to make your life easier when you travel include:
- Bring lots of non-perishable foods with you, just in case. You can view a list of my favorite [and mostly] portable gluten-free snacks in this article. Dried meats, granola bars, oatmeal cups, and peanut butter will ensure you have food in case you can’t find any or get stuck on a plane for hours. I also like to pack my favorite gluten-free bread (Canyon Bakehouse in the Stay-Fresh Packaging) so I can easily make sandwiches.
- Stay in a hotel that has a fridge, microwave and stove top, or even better, stay at a vacation rental (search VRBO or Airbnb to find a good rental home). You can then shop for and prepare fresh foods at your hotel/VRBO and not be dependent on restaurants for all your meals.
- If going on a cruise, read my Ultimate Gluten Free Cruise Guide. This article has helped a lot of people to navigate the gluten-free life while cruising.
- If you’re traveling internationally, you can request a gluten-free (or gluten-friendly) meal from the airline. You must do it ahead of time (not when you get on the flight). Call the airline and make sure they note it on your flight information.
- You can find gluten-free restaurants using the Find Me Gluten-Free App. Just remember that your level of gluten free may be different than some of the reviewers who may or may not be as serious as you are about avoiding the sticky protein.
I also travel with a portable gluten-detecting device so I can test my food for hidden gluten. Check out the Nima Sensor, ALLIS Sensor and The Allergy Amulet. These products enable you to test your food before you eat it.
(9) Become Educated on Gluten Disorders
It’s important to become educated on what a healthy, gluten-free diet looks like. A wonderful resource is my book, Dear Gluten, It’s Not Me, It’s You, where I offer you understanding, practical advice, and even some emotional support while you’re on this crazy gluten-free journey.
But more than that, make sure you’re able to talk about gluten in an articulate and educated way. There’s nothing more embarrassing than someone asking you, What is Gluten?, and you have no idea how to answer the question.
Here are some articles to help you increase your knowledge of gluten disorders and everything in between:
- What is Gluten and Why is it Bad for Some People?
- What is Celiac Disease? (silent celiac disease?)
- 10 Signs and Symptoms of Celiac Disease (symptoms of gluten intolerance)
- Is There a Cure for Celiac Disease?
- Can Celiac Disease Kill You?
- 10 Surprising Celiac Disease Myths Debunked
- What Causes Celiac Disease and Can It Be Prevented?
- Is Celiac Disease Genetic?
- Why You Should Never “Cheat” on Your Gluten-Free Diet
- Autoimmune Disease and the Gluten Connection
(10) Make Healing a Priority
Healing your body from celiac disease may go well beyond swapping gluten-free pizza for regular pizza. I highly recommend reading the following resources to help you improve your overall health.
- How I Healed from Celiac Disease Naturally
- Supplements for Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance
- Heal Your Gut Challenge for People with Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance
- 5 Dangers Associated with the Gluten-Free Diet
If you’re still struggling with your health despite eating gluten free, I suggest you talk with your doctor, or preferably, a nutritionist, dietician or health coach specializing in celiac disease or gluten disorders. I have a list of trusted celiac disease and gluten-free practitioners on my website.
You Got This
Remember, eating gluten free is life changing. It’s not easy. At times you’ll want to throw in the towel and give up.
It’s okay to feel anxious about this process, especially when you’re at the beginning of your gluten-free journey.
Take solace in knowing that your celiac disease diagnosis was/is truly one of the best things that happened to you. It may have just been the exact thing that saved your life. And while the gluten-free diet is never easy, it will get easier with time.