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Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking

What home cooks should know about preparing gluten-free foods.
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WebMD Feature

Maybe you've been advised to eliminate gluten from your diet to manage celiac disease. Or perhaps you have health problems, including fatigue and abdominal pain, caused by sensitivity to gluten and called gluten intolerance.

Whatever the reason for avoiding gluten, chances are you'll need to learn your way around a gluten-free kitchen and develop simple strategies for preparing delicious and nutritious gluten-free meals and snacks.

Hunt for Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in wheat flour, which is used to prepare most of the baked goods that we buy in the store and make at home, including bread, bagels, cookies, and cake.

Gluten is also found in other grains that are often kitchen staples. Flour made from barley, rye, spelt, and triticale, a cross between wheat and rye, also contains gluten.

But gluten isn't just in breads. It's in many other products, too.

Going gluten-free means giving up most regular breakfast cereals, even the kinds touted as healthy, such as wheat bran; pasta made from wheat flour (including whole wheat varieties and couscous) and other grains, such as faro and barley; and regular bread, crackers, and other baked goods.

Gluten-free cooking also means carefully reading ingredient labels on food products used in home food preparation. But gluten isn't always obvious.

Gluten is added to a variety of foods to improve quality. The following terms on an ingredient label can be a red flag for gluten: emulsifiers, flavorings, hydrolyzed plant protein or hydrolyzed vegetable protein, natural flavorings, stabilizers, malt, and starches.

Gluten may turn up in any number of products you use to prepare meals and snacks, including the following:

  • Sauces, such as soy, teriyaki, hoisin, oyster, and Worcestershire
  • Gravy
  • Broth
  • Marinades
  • Spice mixtures and blends
  • Roux and thickeners in soup
  • Mustard
  • Salad dressings
  • Roasted nuts
  • Egg substitutes
  • Salad dressings
  • Lunch meats or cold cuts

Companies can change their recipes, suppliers, and production methods without warning. When in doubt about whether a product contains gluten, check with the manufacturer.

Make a Clean Sweep

Before stocking up on gluten-free foods, give your kitchen a makeover, advises Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, certified diabetes educator and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly called the American Dietetic Association).

"Clean out your pantry and refrigerator and start over," Sandquist says.

Open containers of peanut butter, mayonnaise, mustard, and other condiments may contain gluten. It's not worth the risk, so throw them out, if possible.

A gluten-free household is the best way to limit contact with gluten. If going completely gluten-free isn't an option, reserve space in cabinets and the refrigerator for gluten-free foods, Sandquist suggests.

In addition to gluten-free foods, you may want to consider doubling up on some utensils, dishes, and pans, if you're not totally getting gluten out of your kitchen. For instance, you might want to dedicate a toaster for gluten-free grains, and use separate cutting boards, containers, and baking sheets for gluten-free foods. Towels and oven mitts can become contaminated with gluten if they're used to handle foods containing gluten, so designate some for gluten-free cooking.

After that, you're ready to stock your kitchen with the ingredients for healthy, gluten-free foods.

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