Being confronted with the need to change your diet in a radical way is challenging at best. Daunting is perhaps a better way to describe it. Overwhelming comes to mind as well. Our entire ‘Standard Australian Diet’ is centred wheat. It is in everything. Until you have the need to investigate the ingredients in everything you buy you could be forgiven for being quite unaware of wheat’s pervasive presence in your diet.
When Miss Sunshine was about 10 or 11 years old I was advised to put her on a wheat- and dairy-free diet after her eczema and snot became intolerable. This advice was given right before a long weekend and we were away for four days. I did not know what to feed my daughter! She couldn’t eat much of anything she normally consumed before dinner time. I was a terribly stressful adjustment. Both my niece and a colleague have recently been faced with the same overwhelming dilemma and my brother and his wife, particularly, are struggling to figure out what a wheat-free life might look like. I have mentioned many times, here, that I eat a mostly wheat-free diet. I can tolerate small amounts because I do not have coeliac disease. My symptoms include a foggy brain, heartburn and/or reflux and insomnia. I experience these same symptoms, only magnified, when I consume too much sugar.
So what does one eat, when wheat is off the menu? Grab a cuppa and settle in. This is gonna be a long one, but I hope I can alleviate of the stress of such a diet change for someone out there.
Bread: there are a number of different brands of gluten free bread available now. My favourite remains ‘Country Life’. They recently changed their recipe and the bread is now more moist and soft. Not at all the unpleasant, dry version available previously. I had a brand from IGA the other day. Yuck, yuck, yuck. It was given to me – I threw the whole loaf out. Likewise, gluten free wraps are less than exciting. I wouldn’t bother with them at all. You will find gluten free breads with all the other packaged loaves. Sometimes they’re tough to get a hold of if the store doesn’t carry much stock. Ask them what days the gluten free bread is delivered so you know when you're likely to get it.
Pasta and Noodles: There are a number of gluten-free options for pasta available now. My favourite ones contain rice flour. Corn pasta is just weird and I don’t enjoy it. Look for brands like Orgran and BuonTempo. Also have a look in the Asian section of your supermarket. You will find vermicelli and rice stick noodles as well as bean thread noodles there.
Pizza: I recently tried a polenta crust. It was delicious and I will happily make that again if we’re doing homemade pizza. Lots of pizza shops offer gluten free options now. They’ll be more expensive but they’re pretty darn good. Gluten free pizza bases from the supermarket are not so wonderful. I wouldn’t bother with them.
Cakes and Biscuits: If you’re baking for yourself it is quite simple to replace regular flours with gluten free flour and so far I can’t tell much of a difference. Maybe I'm just used to it though? They only things I’ve not succeeded with are pastry and scones, but scones elude me at the best of times so that’s not so surprising! You might find baked products dry out a little quicker than you’re used to, but if you freeze things as soon as they’ve cooled you will have that just-baked moistness throughout the whole batch. If you want to buy these already made there are both cake mixes and bought biscuits available in the health food aisle in the supermarket.
Snacks: This was particularly challenging with Miss Sunshine. It’s not such an issue for me anymore because I am not snacking between meals. If you’re into what I call ‘snackety packety’ food items for lunch boxes my first piece of advice would be bake at home. If that’s not your thing for whatever reason then have a look down your health food aisle. You will find all manner of gluten-free chips and similar snack foods. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Vegie Chips. Nuts are good. There are lots of brands rice crackers available now in the biscuit aisle. My favourite are the Sakata multigrain ones. Vita-weat also do a brown rice cracker. I know, I know, it says ‘weat’ but they’re really good rice crackers!!! Also have a look at cruskits for their corn or rye versions and corn thins or rice thins. They’re pretty yummy. Of course there are potato chips, corn chips and you might find things like twisties or cheezels have little or no wheat. Spend some time reading the ingredients lists. You'll be surprised what you discover. And then there’s good old-fashioned fruit. Always there, never with wheat!
The final challenge is how to do a wheat-free diet when it might only be one person in the family. It is tempting to just have everyone eating the same foods but you will find gluten-free foods can be terribly expensive. A small loaf of bread is $6.50 and flour is $3.50 for half a kilo. It’s not cheap!!! What has worked for me is a little of cooking separately and a little of everyone eats the same. At dinner time if I’m making a dessert or something where flour is required I just use the gluten free. There are some things you just can’t do separately. Everything else is pretty much separate. For example, if I’m doing something like pasta I put a bit pot on for regular pasta and a little pot of gluten free pasta just for me. It’s one extra pot….that’s really not a big deal.
These days I am eating a lot more protein instead of carbohydrate so being gluten free is much easier. Rather than my favourite toast for breaky I’m having two eggs made into a sweet frittata. I have leftovers for lunch and dinner usually consists of meat and vegetables. Rather than eating sugary foods I go for honey, maple syrup and fresh fruit.
Hopefully facing a life of no wheat isn't quite so daunting now. Try and think of it as an adventure to see what you can find. Pick up different brands and compare ingredients. I found some tins of tomato soup had wheat and some had tapioca flour. There will always be things you will miss because there hasn't been a gluten free alternative created yet (think hot jam doughnuts!). But there are lots of things available now. Aussies are magnificent at ensuring special diets are catered for.