Tips from a Gluten-Free Amateur

It seems like everyone is going gluten-free these days, doesn't it? I was recently told that I have an “intolerance” to gluten. This is different than celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder in which the individual suffers difficult gastrointestinal symptoms that are triggered by wheat gluten. I simply have a heightened sensitivity to digesting gluten, a problem that is shared by many other people, who often don't know it.

Could it be you? Why not try eliminating gluten from your diet for a month and see how you feel. Sound impossible? I'm here to tell you it's not. Here are some of the things I've learned in the past few months:

Be prepared. This helps more than you know. Cooking meals on weekends that you can eat during the week saves time and helps to eliminate daily quandaries about what to eat. Bringing along gluten-free snacks (fruits, veggies, hummus, etc.) can help you avoid serious crankiness when you're on the road and the gas station is out of bananas. If you're traveling, pack some gluten-free rice bread, almond butter and jelly for sandwiches on the go.

Don't replace wheat products with second-rate substitutes like those that are chock-full of sugar, salt and artificial ingredients. The more salt and sugar you eat, the more you'll crave it. Some items labeled "gluten free" make up for the lack of wheat with unhealthy additives, so check labels.

Don't deprive yourself of carbs. If you're like me, giving up carbohydrates all together is definitely not an option. I don't know what I would do without quinoa or brown rice, both delicious gluten-free whole grains. Brown rice pasta and sandwich wraps are must-haves in wheat-free kitchens. Pair proteins with carbs to keep your blood sugar in check.

Get fat. That doesn't mean what you think it does. By eating more healthy fats like nuts, avocados, coconut and olive oil, you'll feel more satiated at meals.

Satisfy your sweet tooth in other ways. Feel like you're missing out on dessert? Curb cravings by adding sweet vegetables to your diet, like butternut squash and sweet potatoes. For dessert, I like to bake apples with nuts and cinnamon or have some frozen berries (strawberries are my favorite).

Five gluten-free snack ideas:

Rice cake with almond butter, unsweetened coconut and chia seeds or ground flaxseeds

Chopped veggies and hummus

Corn chips and salsa or guacamole (check ingredients because brands differ)

Celery with peanut or almond butter and raisins (yes, old-fashioned ants on a log)

Applesauce or your favorite fruit

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