The reasons for recommending a gluten-free diet to patients vary significantly, but the process of getting started is exactly the same. Here are step-by-step instructions for transitioning any diet to a gluten-free diet.
Get support from family and friends.
Transitioning to a gluten-free diet is challenging and can be emotional because food is personal—what we eat can evoke memories and feelings. Some people give up almost everything they enjoy eating until they learn how to make substitutions. Make sure your clients have support from friends and family to encourage them to see it through.
Learn which whole foods contain gluten (and those that don’t).
Teach your clients the basics: what whole foods contain gluten and what foods do not. Remind them that all meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy, & legumes in their whole form are gluten-free. Be sure to point out that wheat, barley, spelt, and rye contain gluten but that oat, buckwheat, tapioca, amaranth, rice, corn, millet, and quinoa do not. Try to focus more on what your clients caneat, instead of what they can’t eat.
Understand the many names of gluten.
Gluten has many names and is found in many processed foods. Even though the word “gluten” or “wheat” may not be listed in a label, the item may not be gluten-free. If malt, brewer’s yeast, or oat that it not certified gluten-free is listed, the product needs to be avoided. Modified food starch, starch, or dextrin may derive from gluten and can either be investigated or simply avoided. It is imperative to carefully read each label for all the gluten-containing ingredients.
Do a pantry, refrigerator, and medicine cabinet purge.
Your clients can begin practicing reading labels with their own kitchen! Instruct them to look through every questionable item in the pantry, refrigerator, spice rack, and medicine cabinet. Anything that goes into their body needs to be gluten-free. This is also a great way to see how much they already have at home that is safe to eat on the gluten-free diet.
Make a safe staple grocery list.
Help your clients plan ahead for purchasing some gluten-free alternatives to their favorite gluten-containing foods. This is a great step to take after they complete their household purge and know what needs to be replaced. There are many gluten-free flours to choose from; help your clients determine which flours will best meet their needs. If oats are a staple in their diet, encourage them to purchase oats that have been certified gluten free to avoid cross-contamination.
Take your time reading labels in the grocery store.
Reading nutrition labels of items that are not clearly marked as gluten-free will take a significant amount of time in the beginning. Encourage your clients to go grocery shopping when they have the time to go through the store at their own pace. This will allow time for confidence in their purchasing decisions and not mistakenly allow a gluten-containing food back in the house.
Prepare for the unknown.
Help your clients find an on-the-go meal replacement that they can keep in their desk, purse, or car. This will serve as a safe back-up plan for catered lunches at the office, impromptu meals with friends, or any unplanned situation.
Courtney Lee MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS has a virtual private practice specializing in personalized nutrition & anti-inflammatory diets. She loves helping people use nutrition to change their lives and enjoys empowering other RDNs to do the same! www.courtneyleerd.com.