Gluten-Free 101: What is Gluten Anyway?

Are you feeling confused by all the “gluten-free” labels popping up on everything from cereal boxes to sandwich meat?  Do you think celiac disease is an allergy to gluten?  Are you unsure whether it’s all a big hoax or maybe just a new celebrity fad diet?  Unsure what gluten even is?  Well, my friend, this informative yet entertaining little video is just what you need!

I kind of wish he would’ve gone into a bit more detail about what it feels like to get glutened when you have celiac disease: I end up in bed for a couple of days, miss work and school, and have the worse stomach pains I’ve ever had in my life.  And it takes a good week before I can eat normally again (I have to eat super soft gentle foods) and about two weeks (sometimes closer to three) before my stomach completely stops hurting after eating or drinking (water is the worse, it hurts so much).  And all of that drama and pain can happen if I were to just pick croutons out of my salad. 

But I suppose going into all of that would’ve made for a much longer video.  Check it out.  And let me know what you think. Smile

What to know more about living gluten-free?  Check out these posts:


Debi’s Confetti Salad (gluten & allergen free)

101_1075I’ve shared this recipe before, but I had to post it on The Crunchy Cook again when I realized yesterday that it’s one of the few recipes previously posted on my blog that I can still eat.  I can eat something!

Due to my extreme peanut allergy, I can’t even walk through the food area at my university around lunch time because someone might be eating something peanut-y.  And that would be bad.  Really bad.  This means that the one and only microwave on campus is completely off limits to me (who had the grand idea to only put one microwave in at a college?), so foods that don’t have to be reheated are the best options for lunches.  And I can still have one of my favorites!

This recipe, Debi’s Confetti Salad, is something my mom came up with.  And it’s a dish my family tends to eat a lot.  You can find her original post about this recipe on her food blog, Cheap Eats.

Salad Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked rice, cooled (I usually use brown rice but you can also use white or basmati)
  • 1 can (16-oz) red kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can (16-oz) black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can (16-oz) corn (drained)
  • 4 sliced green onions
  • 1 small green or red pepper (finely diced)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (optional)

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or cider vinegar if you can eat apples)
  • 1 tablespoon Spenda/sucralose (or sugar if you prefer)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Mix all of the salad ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Mix the dressing ingredients together in another bowl.
  3. Pour dressing over salad, mix together.  And you’re done!  It’s that easy.

Disneyland: The Happiest (Gluten-Free) Place on Earth

DPP_923I’ll be honest with you, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Disneyland.  Spending a day at Mickey’s lair makes me feel like I’m vacationing inside of a giant advertisement—an entire theme park dedicated to living in, wearing, and practically even breathing Disney.  And brands aren’t exactly my thing even when I’m not feeling suffocated by them.

To Disney’s credit,  the rides are fun and it can be a nice place to relax and play.  And it truly is magical when you’re young enough to not be concentrating on brands or how things like gender or social-economic status are portrayed (or maybe that’s just me).  But what really convinced me that I could have a nice—maybe even “magical”—time at  Disneyland was the food.

Vacationing Gluten-Free:

My fiancé, Mr. Munger, and his family took me along on vacation last September to Disneyland.  I hadn’t taken a major vacation since going gluten-free, so the idea of traveling out of state and eating in unfamiliar places was downright scary at first.  I imagined being surrounded by happy vacationers as my stomach loudly demanded food or cried out in pain because I’d accidentally been glutened.

To my surprise, vacationing at Disneyland was almost magical—the ultimate food vacation.

The very first day we arrived we stopped by Town Hall (the welcome center right inside the park) because we’d been told they’d be able to supply us with a list of celiac-safe dining.  I was presented with a huge packet.  It listed every restaurant in Disneyland and California Adventure and what I could eat.  When you’re used to only being able to eat only one thing on the menu being handed a stack of papers detailing all the foods you can safely have feels almost like Christmas.

The Menu:

We usually didn’t eat inside the park for breakfast, so I packed Udi’s gluten-free bagels and put cream cheese on them.  When I did have breakfast at Disneyland, though, I was able to eat eggs, bacon, hash browns, and ever pancakes shaped like Mickey’s head.  For lunches I ate tacos, salads, gluten-free pizza, chicken burgers on gluten-free buns, and kabobs.  For snacks I could grab a turkey leg or fruit or French-fries.  And for dinner, because I’m madly in love with sea food, I usually ate some  sort of shrimp or fish.

What was truly magical about the trip is that after an entire week of eating away from home I never got sick from cross-contamination.  Not to mention I had so many healthy, delicious options while there that a year later and I still find myself missing the restaurants inside the park.  The fact Disney is so well prepared for accommodating their gluten-free guests also kept the planning ahead of time to a minimal, which made the trip feel more relaxing.

Despite my love-hate relationship with Disney, I decided that for gluten-free folks Disneyland truly is one of the happiest (and safest) places on Earth.  I’d hands down recommend Disneyland as a destination vacation for anyone with celiac.

Eating Gluten-Free in Disneyland:

  1. Eat inside the park.  Yes, it’s a lot more expensive than eating at McDonalds but it’s also so much safer.  And the food tastes great and there are lots of healthy options.  Honestly, if I ever go again I’d rather have a shorter trip and be able to eat in the park than stay for a week and risk getting sick.  There are also counter-service options that are around what you’d spend at McDonalds and offer gluten-free choices.
  2. Talk to the staff at Town Hall.  They can give you a list of everything you can eat in the Disneyland and California Adventure.  And they also provide complete lists of peanut-safe foods and other common allergies.
  3. Ask questions.  All of the staff I interacted with was friendly and more than willing to answer any questions I had in order to help keep me safe.  Don’t risk your health. If you’re not sure about something, ask.
  4. Always tell the waiter you’re gluten-free.  Whenever I went to a sit-down restaurant, the cook who’d be specifically making my food would come out to talk to me about the area they’d be cooking my food in and what they could do to make sure cross-contamination wasn’t an issue.  It made eating out so much more relaxing!
  5. Have fun.  Enjoy being able to have choices, try something new.

Mr. Yuck Stickers: Helping You Stay Gluten-Free

220px-Poison_Help.svgMy friend, Emmalie, who is gluten and lactose free as well as vegetarian, and I were talking about the complicated process of going gluten-free.  And she shared an excellent idea with me about how she keeps track of what foods she can’t eat. 

Emmalie said that when she first became gluten-free, she bought a bunch of Mr. Yuck stickers and “put them on all the glutenous foods” in her house to help reminder her which foods were off limits.  Covering foods she couldn’t eat in the stickers helped her make the transition to a gluten-free / dairy-free / meat-free lifestyle a lot easier.  “It also helped my family understand what I could and couldn’t eat.”  Someone could easily use another type of sticker though (might be smart to use a different kind if you’re dealing with small children and are concerned the poison label might confuse them).  But whatever type of labels you use, I think stickers are a very simple way to effectively mark all the food foes in the kitchen.  

In addition to using Mr. Yuck, Emmalie also found star stickers to be helpful.  “I got tired of checking my food all of the time so I would stick a star sticker on food that I had checked and found to be gluten-free.”  The stickers have helped Emmalie to keep track of her food foes and now she says that she only uses “stickers for condiments and foods that aren’t obvious.” 

“Mr. Yuk’s face really helped me come to terms with the idea that foods that I loved don’t always love me back.  Love should be a two-way street.”  Absolutely.

Gluten-Free 101: Foods and ingredients to Avoid

Gluten-FreeSo, you’ve just been diagnosed with celiac disease or you’re starting an elimination diet to determine the future state of your relationship with gluten.  You’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to go from here.  It’s normal to feel overwhelmed because learning to be gluten-free—thinking about what’s in everything you eat, reading ingredient labels—is more than a diet, it’s a completely new skill.

The very first step to getting you on the road to recovery is learning which ingredients and foods to avoid and then clearing out all the gluten from your life.  I’m not a medical or dietary professional, but thanks to my many food foes I have a lot of experience reading ingredient labels and looking things up.  While this isn’t a list of absolutely everything that contains gluten, hopefully it’ll help you identify some of the main food foes in your life and give you a better idea of what to watch out for.

If you’re like most folks and don’t have a lot of experience with allergies or food sensitivities, figuring out what’s in your food likely sounds challenging or even downright impossible (start off by learning how to read ingredient labels).

Here’s what to do:  Print out the lists of ingredients and foods to avoid before going to the grocery store (if you try to keep track of it all in your head at first you’ll likely forget something).  Then, before you put anything in your cart, flip over the package/box/can and carefully look over the list of ingredients.  Don’t assume anything (not even something like processed meat or tea) is gluten-free without first checking.

Ingredients to Avoid:

  1. Wheat flour (yes, this includes white bread)
  2. Whole wheat flour
  3. Barley
  4. Rye
  5. Oats (due to cross-contamination, unless it specifically says it’s gluten-free)
  6. Spelt (Only an option if you’re wheat-free and not gluten-free)
  7. Bleached flour
  8. Kamut
  9. Triticale
  10. Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  11. Malt-Vinegar (flavoring, syrup, and extract)
  12. Wheat germ or bran
  13. Wheat starch-modified
  14. Hordeum vulgare extract
  15. Hydrolyzed wheat gluten
  16. Hydrolyzed wheat protein

Questionable Ingredients:

  1. MSG (can be made with wheat gluten, but I honestly don’t know enough to tell if it’s safe so I just avoid it)
  2. Artificial coloring (sometimes it’s safe, sometimes it’s not)
  3. Carmel coloring (I’ve heard a  lot of different thoughts on this, so I try to always avoid it just to be safe)

Foods to Avoid:

  1. Baked goods that use a non-gluten-free flour (hamburger buns, cakes, bread, most corn bread, donuts)
  2. Pasta made from wheat flour
  3. Ramen noodles
  4. Cornbread (unless made from a gluten-free recipe)
  5. Beer (unless labeled gluten-free)
  6. Barely malt
  7. Breaded foods (you can make a gluten-free version at home)
  8. Bread crumbs
  9. Couscous (sometimes you can find a gluten-free version at the grocery store but avoid it completely when eating out)
  10. Flour tortillas
  11. Graham crackers
  12. Sauce or teriyaki sauce (unless wheat-free, read the ingredient list)
  13. Teas that contain barley (always read the ingredient list)
  14. Ice cream containing cookie dough and other chunky things (rocky road can be a problem, too)

Gluten-Free 101: How do you read ingredient labels?

no gluten free symbolI grew up in a family with a lot of food allergies, so reading ingredient labels looking for random things like mushrooms, mint, carrots, and honeydew was just a part of life.  It wasn’t until I discovered I had Celiac disease that things got interesting—so much to remember!

To my surprise, one of the most common questions I’m asked about being gluten-free and living with food allergies is how to read the ingredient labels on food.  Some friends have told me that they don’t know how to tell what’s in their food, which makes the idea of being gluten-free seem downright impossible.  While it is challenging, due to the fact that it’s require by law to post the ingredient list on food, it’s not impossible.      

Here’s what to do:

1.  Bring a list.  It’s hard to keep track of all of your food foes when it’s still new, so bring a list.  This will help to keep you from purchasing things you can’t eat.

2.  Forget the “Nutrition Facts.” When you’re gluten-free or dealing with an allergy, all of the important info is to the right or below the “Nutrition Facts” (on the back of the box/container/can) in the “Ingredients” section.

3.  Check the “Contains” or “Allergy Information” section.  It should be right below the ingredient list, usually in uppercase letters, and it will often tell you if the product contains a common allergen or sensitivity (if it says it “may contain” something or “manufactured on equipment that also produces”, it means there are cross-contamination issues and you should avoid it).

4.  Carefully read through the “Ingredient” section.  Even if the “Allergy Information” section checks out, don’t stop there!  A lot of ingredient labels, like the Peanut Butter Cheerio one below, doesn’t say if the food contains gluten.  Don’t assume it’s okay until you’ve read everything.  If you read through the “Ingredients” section on the Cheerios below, you can tell that it still has gluten because it contains “whole grain oats” and “whole grain barley.”  So, don’t eat it!

Ingredient List -- Cheerios Peanut Butter2

Gluten-Free 101: Cross-Contamination

Oftentimes one of the biggest issues if you live in house with both gluten-free and non-gluten-free people is cross-contamination.  My mom, Deborah Taylor-Hough whose the author of Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month, joined me in chatting about how to make your kitchen safe for your gluten-free family members or friends.  Here are some of the tips that we learned the hard way …

Kelsey Hough and Deborah Taylor-Hough on living gluten-free.