Q: Penny ~ I have just been told to go on a gluten- and dairy-free diet by my doctor. I am so confused can you please help with where to start?
A: Alisa ~ First, take a deep breath, and relax. It’s going to be okay. During the first month of your transition, it may feel at times like there is nothing left to eat. But be patient and diligent. Soon the diet becomes second nature and you begin to explore all of the wonderful foods you can eat.
This topic could easily warrant an entire book, or two, so I’m just going to give some starter advice to help you in this transition:
1) Find some good resources …
Here are ones I use myself, and highly recommend:
The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook – This is a fantastic gluten-free cookbook that truly focuses on health. Though it isn’t 100% dairy-free, most of the recipes are.
The Almond Flour Cookbook – This is actually grain-free baking (one big step further than gluten-free, and again, most of the recipes are also dairy-free). What I like about this one for beginners, is that the recipes use very few ingredients, and the only specialty ingredient you will need is almond flour (no gums, pantries full of gluten-free flours, etc.). I even make my own almond flour at home from “raw” almonds.
Cooking for Isaiah – The author created these recipes for her family, but this isn’t a boring meat and potatoes kind of cookbook. She offers many recipe twists and creative parings, without venturing too far from the norm.
Go Dairy Free Guide and Cookbook – This is my book. I recommend it as it is the most conclusive resource you will find on how to cut out dairy. It will help you to understand the diet and what to look for. It is not 100% gluten-free, but many of the recipes and tips are. There is a food allergy index in the back of the book for recipes, to help you quickly identify the gluten-free recipes.
2) Plan menus …
The number one cause of grief with free-from diets is improper planning. When going dairy-free and/or gluten-free the last thing you want is to end up hungry with no “safe” food options in site. You need to be certain that appropriate food is always at hand for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and sweets (if you are like me, and tend to crave desserts). I advise planning one week of food at a time, and ensuring the day before that you have all of the ingredients that you will need. I also recommend keeping an assortment of snacks around. That way you should be able to cover any cravings that arise.
3) Focus on what you can eat …
Sit down and brainstorm on all of the foods / menu items you can eat. Take your mind away from what you normally eat and can’t eat, and move it toward ideas of what you CAN eat.
When planning your menus, give your mind some time to expand. It may even help to make a list of all the foods you like that are naturally dairy-free and gluten-free. Don’t be afraid to be specific, listing out items like apples, sweet potatoes, and olive oil, to help get the ball rolling.
Also, think of meals that are naturally free-from for your needs … a big pot chili dressed with avocado and tortilla chips instead of cheese and sour cream, grilled salmon flavored with herbs, lemon, and garlic and served with roasted potatoes, chicken tenders served over a large green salad and dressed with a vinaigrette, fried rice prepared with wheat-free tamari /soy sauce (readily available in most supermarkets), etc. Go basic, once you get the hang of it, then you can get more adventurous.
4) Get to know your enemy …
Make sure you have a list of gluten-containing ingredients and a list of dairy-containing ingredients. Set aside some time, and head to your grocer to get familiar with foods that are “safe” for you. Know what you are looking for and what to avoid.
For grocery shopping and food ideas, I think you will find our No Dairy No Gluten Product List very helpful. It is a big PDF list of store-bought foods that do not contain gluten or dairy ingredients (always check with the manufacturer if trace amounts from cross-contamination are a concern).
Keep in mind that unless your doctor specifically mentioned eggs as a problem, the term dairy-free does not typically include eggs. This is especially useful if you are starting out on a gluten-free diet, as many gluten-free recipes turn out much better with the use of eggs.
5) Focus on whole foods and take pause before adding alternatives …
Don’t focus on alternatives. Set your sites on a whole food diet (fruits, vegetables, gluten-free grains, nuts / seeds, and meat or meat alternatives), and try to plan out those “naturally” gluten-free and dairy-free meals.
When first starting out, alternatives can be stressful and disappointing. You will likely need at least a few at first … perhaps some brown rice noodles, dairy-free margarine, and milk alternative. Ones such as these are typically okay to start with, and often pleasing. But steer clear of the cheese alternatives, store-bought gluten-free breads, and other more “complex” foods such as these … at least in the beginning. Let your palate take a break from these foods, and you will likely be able to appreciate them more at a later date, while also being less dependent on them in your diet.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.