lifestyle/ nutrition

How to go Gluten and Dairy-Free

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If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re either thinking about going gluten and dairy-free or have already done so and need additional resources or perhaps even encouragement and support.

Well, you’re in the right place. It’s now been nearly 3 years since the day I decided to give my diet a complete overhaul and felt it was time to share with you what has worked, what has been challenging and how you too can successfully transition and stick to a gluten and dairy-free lifestyle.

You’re going to find a lot of information in this post and can’t possibly be expected to remember it all so be sure to bookmark it for when you truly need it.

First, let’s start with the most important question. Why? Why should you go gluten and dairy? The why is going to look different for everyone. And only you can fully know your why but I will give you my why and you can see if this sounds relatable in any way.

After every meal that contained either stand-alone gluten, dairy or a combination of the two, I felt off, strange, not like myself. I justified it as normal, assuming everyone must feel uncomfortable after they eat. After all, who’s really talking about their digestive issues? Not exactly a hot topic at parties.

So here I was after every meal:

  • Feeling bloated
  • Extremely uncomfortable
  • Feeling as if my mind was in a fog
  • Had terrible abdominal cramps
  • Unusually tired
  • Often got instant headaches
  • For days after feeling depressed and anxious (more so than my general disposition)

It got to such an extreme point that I was in and out of doctors’ offices, everyone assuring me that I was fine and nothing was wrong. Test after test showed absolutely nothing. But it was not “nothing“, because the symptoms had gotten so extreme that they were interfering with my daily life. I was in pain, depressed and hopeless.

That was when I decided to take my health into my own hands and do what I intuitively knew I had to – go gluten and dairy-free. And I did. Overnight, just like that. And it changed my life.

The initial overwhelm of going gluten and dairy-free

Just like quitting smoking, going cold turkey was the only way for me. If I were to continue a little here, a little there, I wouldn’t have been able to heal my gut and experience living pain-free. A little gluten and dairy is still gluten and dairy and the body will respond the exact same way. If you want a detailed post on gluten and how it can cause inflammation in the body, check out this post.

Waking up on the day you’ve decided to change your lifestyle, can be daunting, overwhelming and utterly frightening and make you want to stuff your face with about a dozen croissants. No? Just me I guess.

But in all seriousness, the only way to successfully go gluten and dairy-free is one day at a time. And I don’t mean wing it, but mentally prepare yourself to just be okay with where you are and take it step by step. Looking at all the things you’ll miss out on or won’t be able to have can be discouraging, so the best way to do it, is to prepare. The mantra I keep to this day is: “Think about all that you are gaining, not losing”.

Cleaning your fridge and pantry

While I believe in going one step at a time, it is important to plan and prepare. And once you’ve made the decision, next is cleaning your pantry and fridge of all the foods that no longer serve you. Some of these may be obvious but there are some that are more subtle, so it’s crucial that you check labels.

Some of these are:

  • Artificial coffee creamer
  • Bullion cubes
  • Soy sauce
  • Imitation crab and seafood
  • Salad dressings
  • Meat substitutes
  • Granola bars
  • Soy meat products
  • Barley
  • Spelt
  • Oats (that are not certified gluten-free)
  • Couscous
  • Beer

If you want two comprehensive lists of products that contain gluten and dairy, check out gluten-containing foods and products here and dairy containing foods here.

What to be aware of when gluten and dairy-free shopping

The tricky part about going gluten and dairy-free is that a lot of packaged items often contain either gluten or dairy so until you’re really familiar with certain products, it’s important that you read labels. So be on the lookout for these gluten-containing words:

  • Barley (flakes, flour, pearl)
  • Breading, bread stuffing
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Bulgur
  • Durum (type of wheat)
  • Farro/faro (also known as spelt or dinkel)
  • Graham flour
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein 
  • Kamut (type of wheat)
  • Malt, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring
  • Malt vinegar
  • Malted milk
  • Matzo, matzo meal
  • Modified wheat starch
  • Oatmeal, oat bran, oat flour, whole oats (unless they are from pure, uncontaminated oats)
  • Rye bread and flour
  • Seitan (a meat-like food derived from wheat gluten used in many vegetarian dishes)
  • Semolina
  • Spelt (type of wheat also known as farro, faro, or dinkel)
  • Triticale
  • Wheat bran
  • Wheat flour
  • Wheat germ
  • Wheat starch

And these dairy containing words:

  • Artificial butter flavor,
  • Butter
  • Butter fat
  • Buttermilk
  • Butter oil
  • Casein
  • Caseinates (ammonia, calcium
  • Half & half,
  • Hydrolysates (casein, milk protein, protein
  • Lactalbumin phosphate
  • Lactoglobulin 
  • Lactose
  • Lactulose
  • Whey

I hope you’re still with me. I know this is a lot to take in, but if you’re serious about changing to a gluten and dairy-free lifestyle, it’s a good idea to understand how these ingredients can sneak into your food. And in a matter of weeks, you’ll be used to your new lifestyle and it will become second nature. It takes 21 days to change a habit.

The gluten and dairy-free pantry and fridge

If you’re the only one in your family suffering from a gluten and dairy allergy, I highly recommend having completely separate spaces where you store your food to avoid cross-contamination. If you’re like me, however and have sensitivity only, you may not need to do that.

Since going gluten and dairy-free is easier than it has at any point in time, the options are incredible.

Here are some ideas to help you curate your new gluten and dairy-free pantry and fridge:

  • All fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen)
  • Rice
  • Wild rice
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Certified gluten free oats
  • Amaranth
  • Teff
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Dry or canned beans
  • Corn (organic when possible)
  • Grass fed beef
  • Seafood
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Coconut, almond, cassava or rice flour
  • Almond, peanut, cashew or sun butter
  • Allergy friendly dark chocolate
  • All nuts and seeds
  • Certified gluten and dairy-free snacks of your choice (be sure to read ingredients)
  • Canned coconut milk
  • Herbs and spices
  • Olive oil
  • Honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar
  • Coconut flakes
  • Cacao
  • Almond, coconut, cashew milk
  • Nutritional yeast (you can make great vegan cheese)
  • Almond yogurt (if that’s your thing)
  • Vegan ice cream (though read ingredients carefully)
  • Cashew cream cheese
  • Coconut kefir milk

These are just some suggestions to get you started. If you need meal ideas, you can check out the recipes page. All recipes are 100% gluten and dairy-free, a lot of them vegan and whole 30 as well. There should be plenty of options to get you started.

If you want a resource for meal prepping, you can download your guide here.

Other’s reaction to your gluten and dairy-free lifestyle change

More than changing the food itself, one of the hardest parts of going gluten and dairy-free for me was having to explain to everyone in my life why I’m making this change. Everyone from my closest family members to the host in the local takeout joint suddenly needed a detailed layout of what I can and cannot eat. It felt awkward initially like I was a real burden until I realized just how much change (even if it’s not theirs) makes people uncomfortable. So I got used to this new way of living and so did they and after the initial questions, it becomes a non-issue. Everyone in my life is accepting, understanding and extremely accommodating.

Eating gluten and dairy-free in restaurants

As you can expect, going out to eat is the most difficult part of going gluten and dairy-free. Reading the menu carefully and asking as many questions as possible may feel burdensome but it is imperative. After all, you are paying for the food so don’t be afraid to ask. Always ask the wait staff to ask the chef in order to get the most accurate information.

If you live in a big city, chances are you may be able to find restaurants that cater to individuals with food sensitivities and allergies, but in smaller towns, this will be nearly impossible.

Since I don’t go out to eat much in the first place, when I do, I make it a point to call in advance to make sure there are choices if these don’t seem obvious. Restaurants like Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese etc will likely always have options for gluten and dairy-free food, but it’s pub food that’s oftentimes fried that will be trickier. Unless the restaurant has a separate gluten-free fryer (which is starting to happen).

Gluten and dairy-free holidays and gatherings

The second most challenging piece (temporarily at least) is gatherings with family and friends. But it doesn’t have to be. Most hosts want to know in advance if there are any dietary restrictions. And let’s face it, it’s 2020 and everyone is either pegan, vegan, keto-vegan, veggie-paleo or the like, so don’t feel too stressed out about letting them know you’re gluten and dairy-free.

Also why not volunteer to make a side or appetizer? And if you feel really comfortable with the person, you can educate them about using alternatives.

Let others know about your decision

Join gluten and dairy-free support groups.

If you’re serious about going gluten and dairy-free, you will make every possible effort to maintain that lifestyle. The more time and energy you invest in your decision to change your lifestyle, the more you have to lose if you don’t and the more likely you are to stick with it. Announce it to your family, friends, co-workers and anyone you normally interact with. The more informed they are, the less likely it is that you will be put in situations where you slip. And if you do slip, it isn’t a big deal. You will feel it physically, but it doesn’t mean you should give up. Go back to your new normal the next day and try your best.

If you feel stuck, alone or need support, there is power in numbers! Joining an online community can be empowering, insightful and can help you stay motivated to press through the difficult times. It is easier than ever to join groups, especially if you have social media accounts. One that I particularly like is this Gluten and dairy-free living recipe sharing and support. The caveat is to be sure to do your own research as often as possible and not take one single person’s advice as the end all be all.

You’re not a burden to others

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in these years, it’s letting go of the notion that I’m somehow inconveniencing people with my dietary needs. At first, I felt apologetic, even embarrassed that I was somehow different. But I realized just how good I can feel in my body and how much this positive change can radiate outward. So those negative feelings quickly vanished. After all, it was not my problem if they felt uneasy by my change, it was theirs.

Your body has wisdom, listen to it. If going gluten and dairy-free is going to change your life the way it has mine, don’t hesitate. You never know what possibilities await for you when you’re feeling your best!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Neuls Goettsch
    January 20, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Thank you 😊 I just started this journey
    To repair my leaky gut
    And becoming better and energetic again
    I love food xxx just love it so I find this journey exciting and look forward to learn x

    • Reply
      Daniela Modesto
      January 20, 2020 at 8:16 pm

      That is so wonderful to hear! First and foremost, trust yourself! You got this!!! It is the best thing I ever did – it changed my life and I hope it changes yours too!

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