Starting a Gluten Free Diet

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Deciding to go Gluten Free

There are many reasons to consider starting a gluten free diet.  If you have a child with autism, you’ll find no lack of articles about a gluten and casein free diet, along with mixed reviews about whether or not it works.  Full disclosure – I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV – I am a mom who is sharing our family experience with going gluten free.  Please seek medical advice from a doctor, not this blogger.

Vegetables and eggs can be part of a gluten free diet
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

My opinion on the matter is this:  there is evidence to suggest that autistic kids experience a higher rate of GI issues that include abdominal pain (as is the case with my daughter).  There is also a body of evidence that suggest people who do not have Celiac disease can experience a gluten sensitivity, including GI symptoms.  So, think about having stomach pain, but being unable to express that in a way others understand due to communication difficulties that autism can bring.  It stands to reason that this may result in a myriad of undesirable behaviors.  I’d be angry too if I was in pain everytime I ate!

We saw a decrease in “behaviors” of my autistic kiddo when we started a gluten (and dairy) free diet almost 10 years ago.  I believe that’s because we stopped her stomach pain.  Stomach pain, by the way, which was largely dismissed by medical providers because of her autism diagnosis.

Own your choice

All that said, my advice to parents considering this lifestyle – don’t apologize for trying to get to the bottom of symptoms, or for adopting a gluten free lifestyle.  So long as you’re providing good nutrition, it’s a non-pharmaceutical intervention that may help.  It can also be stopped (easily) at any time. Choose what you feel is right for your family without apology.

How do I start a Gluten free diet?

Start by looking through the pantry at ingredients and removing items that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, barley and rye.  If you’re not sure by reading ingredients, check the allergy information – that will tell you whether a product may contain or have come into contact with gluten. Many companies make it easy to find this information.  Aldi, for example, clearly labels whether a product is certified at gluten free on their product’s packaging.

I’ve tossed out all gluten containing products, I am going to starve!

OK, don’t panic.  There are lots of foods that are naturally gluten free:

Oats – it’s important to source certified gluten-free oats because often oats are processed in the same plants where wheat is.

In my household it took some time to find a really good gluten free all-purpose flour – I ended up blending my own, and you can find that recipe here. Flour is the basis for all baked goods, so finding one with a good taste and texture that your family will love is important.

Here are some other flours that are gluten free:

Almond flour
Amaranth flour
Arrowroot flour
Bean flour
Rice flour
Cassava flour
Potato flour (and starch)
Sorghum flour
Soy flour
Tapioca flour

Natural fruits, vegetables, meats, dried beans, eggs – all are gluten free (unless processed with gluten-containing fillers or ingredients.)

Most processed foods, unless specifically labeled as gluten free, contain gluten (bread, crackers, croutons, breaded chicken nuggets and the like)

What I like about this diet is that any meal that includes meat and a vegetable is a no-brainer, since those items are naturally gluten free.

So many years ago when there were not as many ready-made gluten free items, replicating my kiddo’s favorite chicken nuggets was challenging.  (I did find a great recipe that I still use to this day – get it here!)

Today, however, many stores stock ready-made and frozen gluten free items.  We get many of our favorites from bagels to oats at Aldi.  Although I prefer to cook from scratch, it’s good to have prepared items on hand when life gets busy. 

What about breakfast?

Meat, potatoes and vegetables are great for dinner, but most people don’t want to eat it for breakfast.  Admittedly, breakfast becomes more challenging for those going gluten and dairy free, but if you’re just cutting out the gluten, that opens the door for yogurt, fruit and some cereals (like Rice Krispies).  French toast is just as easy to make with gluten free bread.  I like to batch-cook gluten free pancakes and freeze them. 

Lunch without bread?!

Gluten free breads and wraps have come a long way, are easy to find and will simply replace the bread you’re using today.  Lettuce can hold anything that sandwich bread can, and it’s healthier.  My daughter loves cantaloupe wrapped in ham. 

Is a Gluten Free Diet hard to stick with?

Once you get the hang of it, no.  We’ve been following a gluten and dairy free lifestyle for nearly 10 years.  And, if you discover that gluten was the reason for stomach pain or GI distress, you’ll never look back!

Related Links

Check out our gluten free recipes
Best gluten and dairy free items at Aldi
Do Diet Changes help Autism?

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