Bread, pasta, noodles, pizza, these can be the most difficult hurdles to overcome. While baked goods require a little more prep time and experimentation to find the right mix, thankfully there are some easy substitutions you can make to bring many of your old favourites back into your diet.
While there are a number of great gluten-free cookbooks, websites and apps, often the easiest thing to do is simply search for the recipe you really want and make a couple of simple modifications. Here are a few easy alternatives, and things to watch for, when bringins some of that comfort food back into your diet.
Pasta: One of the hardest things to give up when you go gluten free is wheat pasta. Pasta is versatile, easy, and central to so many core North American recipes that going without is a daunting task. Luckily, there are so many gluten-free pasta options available today that going spaghetti-free is not a requirement. While pasta in virtually every shape and size is available in gluten-free varieties, it is important to know what you are buying. Many gluten-free pastas use corn as the key ingredient, which has a very distinct taste. Others feature rice flour which definitely pick up the flavour and starchiness of rice. Many of the best gluten-free pastas feature a blend of flours and starches including quinoa, brown rice and potato.
Noodles: Similar to pasta, noodles are often central to Asian dishes and although they can often be replaced with rice, in some circumstances a noodle is essential. Of course many asian noodles are naturally gluten-free as they are often made with rice. Most grocery stores will have a wide variety of rice noodles available, although it is always important to check the ingredients as sometimes wheat is added as a thickener. In addition to rice noodles, there are other varieties of gluten-free noodles including soba noodles, made with buckwheat (which despite the name is gluten-free); bean threads, made with mung bean starch; shirataki, Japanese konnyaku noodles made from the starch of a tuber called konjac or devil's tongue; and Tofu or soy bean curd noodles, Chinese noodles made from pressed tofu. One thing to remember about these noodles is that they often have very specific cooking instructions, unlike traditional wheat pasta, if you throw these in a pot of boiling water and walk away you may return to a pile of mush.
Thickeners and breadings: One of the trickiest transitions to a gluten-free lifestyle involves anything that is baked using wheat flour such as cakes, bread and cookies. However, what is often overlooked is flour’s use as a thickener in soups and sauces and a coating for baked and deep fried meats and vegetables. It is this secondary use that is actually easier to solve. For soups and sauces, flour is primarily present as a thickener, not as a flavour enhancer, making it easier to replace with a gluten-free flour or a mixture of cornstarch and water. Other common thickeners are tapioca starch and guar gum. For breading on chicken fingers, french fries and other baked and deep fried favourites, try crushing some gluten-free crackers or rice cereal, just make sure the cereal is actually gluten free as many household names still contain wheat.
Buns and wraps: One of the best uses for bread products is as a delivery mechanism for yummy food. Burgers, sandwiches and wraps are all defined by the handheld container that holds the delicious middle, this is a problem. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of gluten-free buns, bread and wraps available at specialty food stores, and increasingly at regular grocery stores. Brown rice wraps are a great substitute for flour tortillas, and remember that traditional Mexican tortillas are made with corn flour. Another great alternative is lettuce wraps that can make a great, light alternative in fajitas.
Oats: Oatmeal is a breakfast favourite and oats can be used in a variety of interesting recipes. The good news is that oats are naturally gluten free. The bad news is that oats are extremely prone to cross contamination as they are often processed in the same facilities as wheat.
Though it seems overwhelming at first, living gluten-free has become easier than ever thanks to increased awareness and food manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon. If you keep these simple rules and substitutions in mind, the transition is not as scary as you might think.