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It was quite the task, some 10 years ago, when we put our son on a gluten-free and casein-free diet to help with his autism. We have had wonderful results, but this diet is also an important treatment for Asperger’s (a form of autism), celiac disease and other medical conditions.

On The G-Free Hunt
Gluten is a protein found in wheats, barley and oats. Since it gives foods containing it elasticity, shape and a chewy texture, it’s routinely found in many packaged products. When we began this diet it was hard to find gluten-free foods readily available in health food stores, let alone on grocery store shelves. In addition, when we did find gluten-free items they cost us an arm and a leg. Luckily, today things are very different. Some gluten-free items are available on grocery store shelves, but price can still be an issue. You can buy prepackaged gluten-free foods at a cheaper price by shopping around or by asking your local health food and grocery store if you can buy your favorite items in bulk to receive a discount. You can also look for other families eating a gluten-free diet and purchase in bulk together to save money.

I have found that for our family it is much cheaper for me to make everything from scratch, but not everyone has that kind of time, desire or patience. There are many misconceptions when it comes to gluten-free food. Just because it is gluten-free does not mean it is flavor-free or has an unusual texture. I believe that 99.9 percent of my recipes could fool some of the biggest critics. My husband was one of them. The biggest obstacle, and the hardest part for most people, is where to start. There are a lot of healthy foods that are naturally gluten-free. This includes fruits, vegetables, eggs and fresh meats that are not breaded, coated or marinated, and beans, nuts and seeds before they are processed. One of the best places to start is in your own pantry, determining what you cannot serve or use in cooking.

The next step is learning what you can substitute for those ingredients containing gluten in your favorite foods and treats. Our son had many favorites that he was no longer able to eat and, one by one, I learned how to make those items so he could still enjoy them. Today, many companies make gluten-free items that could not be found previously.

Avoid The “G” Foods
It is best to stay away from additives and preservatives. We no longer pur- chase anything processed or pack- aged because of all the hidden in- gredients, harmful preservatives and genetically modified foods, but there are some good companies out there making gluten-free products.

The grains and starches that can be part of a gluten-free diet are arrow- root, corn, cornmeal, millet, teff, soy, amaranth, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, tapioca, flax, chia, sorghum and the flours made from rice, coconut, soy, corn, potatoes, beans and oats. Oats are naturally gluten-free, but they are processed with wheat flour so it is very important that you specifical- ly purchase gluten-free oats and oat flour, such as that from Bob’s Red Mill.

Avoid all things containing rye, wheat, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) and barley. Semolina, spelt, kamut, bulgur, durum, farina and graham are all forms of wheat. Malt is made from barley and other grains so anything including it is a no-no—including malt flavoring, malt vinegar and most beers.

Be sure to read the ingredients on anything packaged, processed or canned—candies, condiments, gravies, salad dressings, soup bases, sauces that include soy sauce, seasonings and anything seasoned or breaded, beer, vitamins, medications, toothpaste, French fries, imitation meats, seafood and lunch meat. Basically, you need to be on the alert about anything you put in your mouth. You should also pay close attention to the ingredients used in cosmetics and hair-care products.

A lot of packaged, canned foods and spices use flours as fillers or thickeners. Purchase products that are guaranteed gluten-free and say so on the package. Bob’s Red Mill carries gluten-free rolled oats, cornmeal and various other items, as well as other gluten-free grains that are a great ad- dition to your new diet.

Over-the-counter and prescription medicines as well as vitamins may use gluten as a binding agent. In addition to checking packaging carefully, fol- low some new rules in your kitchen. It is easy to cross-contaminate while cooking if you are using both wheat flours and gluten-free flours in your kitchen at the same time. I have uten- sils and containers specifically designated for my gluten-free cooking and I keep my work area spaced out well. Sometimes I use separate counters.

If you have a child diagnosed with celiac disease you will want to pay close attention to such things as Play-Doh. Fortunately, it’s easy to make your own gluten-free version.

Making The Change
Going gluten-free can be overwhelming for you and your family. Remember to fall back on naturally gluten-free items and slowly find new gluten-free replacements for your other favorites.

If you are dealing with a child who has recently been diagnosed, school lunches may be a problem. My suggestion would be to start by packing his or her lunch so you can be certain that he or she is not eating the wrong foods and there is no cross-contamination. I would definitely alert the cafeteria staff and teachers so they are aware. You may find that they will work with you in providing special food for your child.

Your diet, or that of your child, is nothing to be embarrassed about and anyone who would be preparing food for you or your child should be well educated on all aspects of the diet and the importance of it.

Educate your child and teach him or her what to look for and about the importance of the diet. By doing so, your child will become his or her best advocate. The internet has a wealth of information. There are also some good magazines such as Living Without and Delight Gluten-Free Magazine that are packed full of gluten-free recipes and information about companies offering gluten-free foods.

To Bake Or Buy?
This is a personal preference. Generally, many people are afraid to bake from scratch or don’t have the time, and the ingredients are costly. There are some simple tips that make this experience more enjoyable and some good packaged items that can keep life normal for others.
Better Batter gluten-free flour has been a lifesaver in my house because it eliminates the need for additional specialty items to give dough the consistency I want. It can be used cup for cup like wheat flour so there is no special conversion required and it is a non-GMO product. I am able to make flaky pastries, pie dough, crackers and nicely risen breads that stay together well, etc.

Helpful Tips
When making gluten-free breads, you will want to beat the dough extra hard compared to the way you beat it for normal breads because of the consis-tency of the flour. If you are making a loaf of bread with yeast and are using a family recipe (non-gluten-free) you double the liquid (i.e., if your recipe calls for a cup, you will want to add two cups).

If you are making rolls or a formed bread and are again using a non-gluten-free recipe, add a half more liquid than listed in the recipe (for a cup you will add a cup and a half).

With recipes that don’t use yeast, you can substitute the same amount of Better Batter flour for the amount of wheat flour listed and not have to alter any of the other ingredients.

You may also find that your baking time may be increased on breads that require additional liquid. I use a toothpick or knife to determine how well done things are in the middle of my breads.

A gluten-free diet is life-long. Fortunately, we now know how to prepare tasty gluten-free dishes.

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