Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, which requires a life long gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives. Oats were traditionally considered unsafe for celiacs as well, but in recent years doctors have found that this was due to cross contamination, not the oats themselves, so a celiac may safely consume oats that are certified gluten-free. When a celiac sufferer consumes gluten it damages the villi in the small intestine. The villi are responsible for helping the body to absorb nutrients. Left untreated celiac disease can lead to malnutrition and a host of other medical problems. Once on the gluten-free diet, the celiac sufferer's body quickly repairs itself, but the diet must be followed for life, or the damage will reoccur. In addition to avoiding gluten, the celiac must also avoid any cross contamination with foods containing gluten, as well as any cooking surfaces/appliances that have been used to prepare foods containing gluten.
Shortly before our daughter's second birthday, blood work and a biopsy of her small intestine confirmed a diagnosis of celiac disease. I was relieved and overjoyed to finally have a diagnosis and start the process of getting our very sick little girl healthy. I had never heard of celiac disease before. There were no celebrities announcing their g-free status, and certainly there were no mainstream labels with gluten-free written on them. In fact, I spent the first few months strolling the grocery aisles with my toddler and infant, and my trusty thick booklet of "safe" foods to check before putting anything in the cart. I became the woman standing in the aisle with my cell phone attached to my ear, calling company after company to see if products were safe. It was not at all uncommon for a representative to have no idea what gluten was, much less to know if their product contained it.
Things have changed drastically since those early days. Within a year of her diagnosis Hyvee added a health market section which included an entire aisle of gluten-free products. I was in heaven! Not only did they have the gluten-free aisle in the health market, but they also printed and distributed a packet listing all of their gluten free products. I had another booklet to carry around! Shortly after that we started noticing the Great Value brand at Walmart was actually listing gluten-free right on the label (they have since stopped doing this, but it was great while it lasted)! Within a couple years the labels from the allergen labeling laws started hitting the shelves, and grocery shopping got easier still. It is so easy now that I cannot even remember the last time I had to call a company! Eating out is a breeze and no one looks at you like you have 3 heads when you mention it!
Naturally gluten-free products could always be found everywhere, but now even specialty products, like bread and pretzels, can be found in most stores. In fact there are so many wonderful products available it can be hard to choose. So I thought I would create a list of our family's favorite brands/items for anyone who is just beginning to navigate the world of gluten-free, because this stuff is pretty expensive and it hurts to spend that money on a product that tastes awful!
Prepared Bread Products: Hands down, my family's favorite is Udi's. The sandwich bread acts just like gluten bread! The hamburger and hot dog buns are delicious and are even making appearances in local restaurants like Red Robin!
Packaged Bread (baked at home): Breads by Anna Yummy! My favorite (click here) is top on my list because I am not much of a baker and it is sooooo easy and very tasty! Just add eggs, oil, and a liquid, and throw it in the oven for a little over an hour. It also works well egg-free (in addition to gluten-free our sweetie was corn-free and egg-free for awhile too)! It slices well and can be used for sandwiches, and tastes yummy with or without toasting!
Pancakes: On nights when mom does not have dinner planned (and nights when I do) chants of, "King Arthur Pancakes, King Arthur Pancakes," can be heard echoing throughout our home for
Daddy to make his famous pancakes. In my opinion (I am not gluten-free) these taste better than the gluten pancakes they are trying to mimic.
Cake Mix: I really like Betty Crocker's cake mixes. They are a bit more expensive than other gf mixes (which are already expensive), but I think it is worth it. I have found that with many gf cake mixes there is a grainy texture to the cake, and these mixes produce the closest texture to gluten cake that I have found. I am sure there are great bakers out there who have mastered their own recipes, but for anyone like me, who needs a mix, Betty Crocker is the girl to go to!
Snacks: Obviously there are many snacks foods which are naturally gluten-free (fruit, cheese, most popcorn, most yogurt, etc.), but I want to include a snack section because we definitely have some favorites! These pretzels from Glutino are our favorite! In fact, I like them better than gluten pretzels. Our favorite crackers from Ener-G are pretty tasty too.
Packaged Cookies: There is no shortage of great tasting packaged gluten-free cookies! When she was younger these were really handy because not only do they all taste good, but they also look like what everyone else is eating, and that can be pretty important! Midel's gluten-free animal cookies look just like Animal Crackers and are super yummy! Their other cookie products are good too. I've eaten way too many packages myself so these products are no longer present in our pantry! The taste of these Orgran cookies remind me of Chips Ahoy. Again, you won't find them in our pantry! Actually, they are not a favorite of our daughter, but everyone else in the family loves them. These Enjoy Life Snickerdoodles are a hit with everyone. Our 2 year old, who is not gluten-free recently got into a pack sitting on the counter, took out every cookie, took one bite of each, and placed them all back into the box. Apparently, he was claiming the whole box for himself! There are many other cookies out there. Really this is the one area of gluten free where I think it is hard to find something that doesn't taste good.
Low Gluten Hosts: In the Catholic Church we believe that the bread and wine are truly transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. In order for this change to take place several things need to happen. Number one, the proper words of consecration need to be said, number two, they need to be said by a priest, and number three, they need to be said over the proper matter (bread made of wheat and water and a special wine). I had just come into the Catholic Church when our daughter was diagnosed. Immediately I worried about how she would be able to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament when she was older, as I knew the gluten free hosts other celiacs used would not work for a valid consecration and would remain just a simple host after the words of consecration. We settled for our pastor's answer of having her receive the Precious Blood when the time came, but still worried about cross contamination. A few years later we were at a new parish and our pastor let us know about a special host made by some Benedictine nuns specifically for those in the Church who suffer from celiac disease. As far as I know these are the only hosts that are both safe for a celiac (they contain .01% gluten) AND meet the requirements of Cannon Law for a valid consecration. We are so blessed!
Pasta: We most frequently use Tinkyada, and are please with the results. Quinoa, which is packed with nutrients is another option, but is a bit more expensive.
Mac and Cheese: Our favorite frozen Mac and Cheese is Amy's Rice and Cheese, and our favorite stove top mac and cheese is Annie's.
Pizza Crust: Pre-made, frozen: Kinnikinnick Mix: Full Circle
Frozen Waffles: Vans
Pre-made Frozen Donuts: Kinnikinnick ...YUMMY!
After our daughter's diagnosis, my husband had borderline blood work and went gluten-free. He is feeling much better on the diet, but has never received an official diagnosis. Our 4 year old is following the gluten-free diet too, but has no diagnosis. We plan to introduce gluten and test him in the future, but for now, he is gluten-free. The rest of us have no dietary restrictions and enjoy both gluten containing and gluten-free foods on a regular basis.
I may add to this list when time allows (right now I need to dress a naked toddler who has been playing with the faucet while I have been typing this)!! Please feel free to add your own gluten-free favorites!