How to Stock a Gluten-Free Kitchen
By JAX PETERS LOWELL
From small artisanal producers to supermarket giants, everybody and their brother is trying to sell you gluten-free products. Some marketers are even putting the gluten-free label on naturally gluten-free foods like oranges, almonds and asparagus. But not all gluten-free products are good for you.
Some processed brands have the same or more fat, high-fructose corn syrup and calories and are just as empty as their glutinous counterparts. And gluten-free isn't cheap. According to a Canadian study, gluten-free products are, on average, 242 percent more expensive than gluten-containing foods. Where do you begin without breaking the bank?
Get More Nutritional Bang for Your Buck
* Choose gluten-free packaged foods made with organic, additive-free ingredients and enriched with B vitamins.
* Eat fresh fruits and vegetables and naturally gluten-free foods. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, berries will help you better absorb vitamin D.
* Stock up on foods that supply enough fiber and protein. Beans and legumes like chickpeas pack a nutritional wallop. Whole grains like sorghum, wild and brown rice, millet and quinoa are good choices that are easy to cook up as porridge or to add to soups and stews. Steel-cut oats and buckwheat are great choices, as long as they are certified gluten-free and have not been grown, milled or processed with wheat.
* Forget belly-busting baked goods made with refined white-rice flour. Stock up on whole-grain gluten-free bread, quinoa, flax and amaranth cereals, whole-grain bagels, tacos, tortillas, wraps, waffles, granola and protein bars.
* If you're lactose intolerant, vegan or don't do dairy, look for plant- or rice-based protein powders for smoothies and green drinks.
Look for the "Certified Gluten-Free Label"
The FDA mandates products that bear the government gluten-free label to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. This can be confusing because there is no one standard design or symbol and very little oversight -- companies are responsible for policing their own facilities.
Another way to say it is that with a shortage of government inspectors and serious outbreaks of E. coli and other life-threatening foodborne illnesses to occupy their attention, don't expect the FDA to come down hard on your favorite cookie company.
Instead, buy products certified by impartial organizations like the Gluten-Free Certification Organization, Celiac Support Association and the Canadian Celiac Association, whose standards are stricter than the government's, with 5- to 10-parts-per-million gluten-containing policies.
Divide and Conquer
* In a mixed kitchen, providing space and budget allow, establishing a separate pantry and refrigerator shelf is a good idea -- storing gluten-free foods above the rest of the family's is a good way to avoid falling crumbs.
* If possible, dedicate a freezer shelf for individual gluten-free pizzas, frozen entrees, bread, rolls, muffins, etc. This will help other family members understand that these foods are off-limits to them (unless invited to share), and you will always know when it's time to restock.
* It's wise to buy duplicates of things like jam, peanut butter, mayo and dips too easily contaminated by the spoons, knives and chips of gluten-consuming members of the family.
* Ditto for hard-to-clean items like cutting boards, toasters, colanders, wooden spoons, flour sifters, etc. (as your budget allows).
Look for Gluten-Free Products in Unexpected Places
More and more large supermarket chains have dedicated gluten-free sections. Farmers markets often sell organic, artisan-made, often gluten-free, refined-sugar-free and vegan baked goods as well as other foods without additives and other unhealthy ingredients.
Natural-food stores and organic markets large and small offer many gluten-free items as well as exotic items like miso paste, wakame for soups and sushi rolls, gluten- and dairy-free frozen desserts and raw foods.
Never buy grains, seeds, cereal, nuts and nut mixes from an open bin, as the risk of gluten contamination is high. (Don't get me started on the germy, gluten-coated scoop.)
Don't overlook virtual markets, buyers clubs and the dedicated gluten-free stores, bakeries and cafes popping up everywhere. Many have created their own products for online and in-store buying.
Start Small Before You Go Big
The cost of specialty flours and mixes can add up quickly. Buy one all-purpose baking mix, a cereal or two, a cookie and muffin mix, breadcrumbs, protein powder, etc. in small sizes when available. Then when you find something you love, go big with store coupons and online sites like Gluten-Free Saver and Vitacost.
Tack a sheet of paper listing your purchases to the inside of the pantry door and keep track of which ones you like best. Let the whole family weigh in. Cross off the duds and add new products. This makes keeping an inventory of your favorite products much easier. It also tempts the non-gluten-free family members to enjoy gluten-free foods as well, making meals easier on the cook.
Currently, 64 countries are strictly regulating or banning outright genetically modified foods. Alas, not the United States. Despite the lack of FDA regulation, many companies are voluntarily labeling GMO ingredients. Look for organic, non-processed, additive-, high-fructose corn syrup-, hormone- and antibiotic-free, non-GMO products. Small-batch producers and gluten-free companies like Bakery on Main, Eden Foods, Erewhon Organic and Glutino use no genetically modified ingredients. Look for the seal from the Non-GMO project.
Readers -- Do you follow a gluten-free diet? If so, why? How do you keep your kitchen gluten-free? Did you find this article helpful? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Jax Peters Lowell, a diagnosed celiac, novelist and award-winning poet, is the bestselling author of Against the Grain and The Gluten-Free Bible. She was the first to bring national attention to the gluten-free diet and is a recipient of the Leeway Foundation Transformation Award for her pioneering efforts in bringing public awareness to the issue of gluten intolerance. Her newest book is The Gluten-Free Revolution: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About Losing the Wheat, Reclaiming Your Health and Eating Happily Ever After. She lives in Philadelphia in a restored bread factory.