Grocery shopping for the gluten-free diet requires a bit more planning and a bit more time than it probably did before living gluten-free, but once you become accustomed to reading labels and selecting different grains, it becomes as easy as ever.
Preparing to Go to the Store
When you're just beginning to cook for the gluten-free diet, good preparation makes shopping more efficient and less expensive.
Once you've become accustomed to gluten-free shopping and cooking, you will need less preparation time, as well as less time in the store.
Here's how to get started:
First, Plan Your Meals
Sit down with a good gluten-free cookbook, such as Carol Fenster's 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes or Gluten-Free Quick & Easy: From Prep to Plate Without the Fuss - 200+ Recipes for People with Food Sensitivities and choose the meals you'd like to prepare. Check your cupboards to see whether you already have some ingredients, and read their labels to make sure they have no hidden (or not-so-hidden) gluten. Write up a grocery list of any ingredients that you don't have or that you need to replace with gluten-free items.
Once you have your list written, you're ready to go to the store.
You're at the store now, list in hand, a bit confused about a few of the items on that list: sorghum flour? xanthan gum? modified tapioca starch?!?
Start in the health-food section of your store, if it has one. Most grocery stores have a section dedicated to specialty foods. Most of your flours, gums, starches, and other baking supplies are located here.
Since items in this section may be organic, for example, and not be gluten-free, read the packages carefully. If an item is g-f, it will say somewhere on the packaging--usually splashed across the front and always somewhere in the nutrition information box.
Wheat-free does not necessarily mean gluten-free, as rye and barley also contain gluten. Barley malt syrup can be found in many foods accurately be labeled wheat-free, but these foods are most definitively not gluten-free.
Kamut, triticale, durum, rye, barley, and graham flours also contain gluten, so be sure to avoid these flours and the foods prepared with them.
If your doctor says you can safely eat oatmeal, be sure to buy gluten-free oats. Oats are often milled on equipment that grinds wheat, and cross-contamination is almost inevitable. Instant oatmeal, unless it's labeled gluten-free, is particularly susceptible to contamination. Buy only oats processed on dedicated equipment.
Leaving the specialty foods section, it's time to pick up the other items on your list. Plan to read every label, even if you've bought the same product for years. Manufacturers can and do change their recipes without notice to consumers.
For example, a gluten-free soup base I've purchased for years suddenly dropped its g-f label and put modified food starch in. I put the jar in my cart with only a cursory glance at it; I didn't realize the ingredients had changed until I got it home and started to put it away. I had to give it away and go back to the store to buy another g-f brand.
The moral of the story: Never, never, never assume that a product is gluten-free.
Always read every label, no matter how often you purchase it.
So what exactly do you look for when reading labels?
Look for both obvious and hidden sources of gluten. These ingredients may mean gluten is present, unless the label specifies from which grain they are derived. For example, modified food starch contains gluten, but modified food starch (corn) does not.
*modified food starch
*vegetable protein or hydrolyzed vegetable protein
*malt, malt extract, malt syrup, or malt flavoring
*soy sauce/soy sauce solids
*flour, enriched flour, bleached flour, white flour
*durum/hard red durum flour
*rye, dark and light
The following words and phrases nearly always mean they contain gluten:
A Final Note
Remember always to read labels, even if you've bought the item many times before. You'll never regret checking a label!