I share my gfe approach here on gfe—gluten free easily (and also on Facebook and Twitter) via recipes and discussion posts, but today I wanted to summarize it with a Top 10 listing: Top 10 Reasons to Live GFE. Plus One.
Longtime gfe readers may remember this discussion from almost 11 years ago (and recognize my old logo/avatar in the Top 10 image). In honor of Celiac Awareness Month, I thought it was time to re-share this article–both as a reminder for those who have been reading gfe since the original post and for all the folks who are fairly new to gfe.
The gfe approach means that one eats real food, first and foremost; some mainstream processed foods that are gluten free (such as tortilla chips—always check labels); and only a few gluten-free specialty products (such as gluten-free pasta) on occasion. Now that might sound intimidating to some folks—as in way too much cooking—but really it’s not.
However, it is definitely a shift in thinking if you are currently loading your grocery cart with only packaged foods. But, consider that the old adage is true, “Less IS more.”
Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store will give you your fruits, veggies, dairy/non-dairy products, meat, and seafood. From those alone, you can make a multitude of phenomenal meals. You will not just have one choice which is typically what packaged foods offer you.
Brief trips into the inner aisle of the grocery store here and there will yield products that are naturally gluten free or come from a manufacturer that offers a gluten-free product, such as balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, gluten-free soy sauce, etc.
How do I apply my gfe approach to real life? Well, today, I’ve enjoyed a leftover pizza omelet (eggs, almond milk, pizza sauce, and pepperoni) for breakfast and a small amount of tuna salad with pecans for a light lunch. I’ll be meeting friends for afternoon tea so I’ll enjoy a mixed greens salad topped with chicken salad at the local tea room. Our dinner is marinating as we speak—London Broil. The main ingredient is the beef, of course, but the marinade consists of soy sauce (gluten-free soy sauce, of course), honey, vinegar (or wine), oil, ginger, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce (again, a gluten-free brand; you can see the marinade recipe here). I’ll serve oven fries and green beans as our sides. As you can see, there’s nothing difficult about my day of food. It included food I’ve made (omelet, tuna salad, London Broil, oven fries), purchased products (soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, frozen green beans), and eating out, and exemplifies my gfe approach.
My Top 10 (+) Reasons to Live GFE
- I don’t have to shop at a special grocery store and usually not even in a special gluten-free section. I can almost always find something to eat while I’m out and about.
- I don’t have to keep tons of gluten-free specialty products stashed in my pantry, in my freezer, or under my bed. More importantly, I don’t break into a cold sweat if I find out that a specialty product is no longer being carried by my store or even produced.
- I only cook one meal for dinners, parties, etc., but still everyone is happy—gluten-free and non-gluten free folks. If you have to cook two meals because everyone doesn’t like your gluten-free food or you say it’s too expensive to feed everyone gluten free, then you are not following the gfe approach. Please read on.
- With few exceptions (and those typically occur when I eat out), I know what’s in my food. I don’t have to stress over reading lots of labels and learn what castoreum extract is (check out an explanation here) or what carmine or cochineal extract (the pink coloring in pink-colored products like Good & Plenty candy) really is. I don’t have to worry about other ingredients like sorbitan monostearate. Even if such ingredients are gluten free, I don’t want to eat them.
- I almost never face disappointment with the quality or cost of gluten-free specialty products because I use so few of them. Whole, real food is the best and, again, I don’t have to read labels when I’m eating real food. An apple is an apple. An artichoke is an artichoke. Shrimp is shrimp. And so on. When I combine those foods to make a meal, I not only know what’s in the meal, but I also know that it will taste good to all. There are no textural and flavor differences for others to adapt to; gfe food and meals taste great!
- When sticking to my gfe approach, I don’t often get “glutened”—either when eating out or at home. When eating out, I’m going for foods that are naturally gluten free and, therefore, will have the least chance of containing gluten. At home, on the extremely rare occasion that I do get glutened, it’s always due to a processed product and it’s pretty easy to do the detective work, figure out the culprit/cause, and banish it from my gfe life.
- Because my desserts are often flourless and crustless (like flourless peanut butter cookies or crustless apple pie)—and even dairy free as well using coconut milk (like this pumpkin pie)—they tend to taste like the decadent ones you’d eat at an upscale restaurant. They are super easy to make and a small portion satisfies in every way, and that’s not just true for the gluten-free eaters, but it’s true for everyone.
- You can teach others to feed you safely using the gfe method. And again, they won’t turn up their noses at your “special” food; they’ll want to eat what you are eating. With proper instruction, there should be no need to make you a separate meal. I’ve taught both family members and very good friends how to feed me safely. Of course, this instruction comes more easily when your family members and friends are already focusing on real foods. With the holidays coming up sooner than we can imagine, consider dishes like ham, turkey (hold the gluten-full stuffing and gravy or sub gluten-free stuffing and gravy!), mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, and corn pudding—all of which are naturally gluten free or can easily be made gluten free.
- If you have other food intolerances, it’s fairly easy to make adjustments for those as well, instead of looking endlessly for products that are free of a, b, c, d, x, y, and z. Many of my gfe recipes are gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free, soy free, and peanut free, and it’s pretty easy to make adjustments for other allergens like corn and tree nuts. There are truly so many possibilities when you are at the helm so to speak, and not relying on a food manufacturer to produce a product that safely meets your needs.
- My food bill is no higher than that of the average gluten-eating person. That’s always a good thing, but especially during these economic times. It breaks my heart when folks tell me that they are cooking two separate meals because they can’t afford to feed their entire families gluten free. Using the gfe approach, one meal that satisfies everyone and keeps all the gluten-free folks safe is perfectly “doable.” But you do have to “do it” …. as long as you keep relying on higher cost gluten-free specialty items and/or cooking separate meals, you won’t be taking the gfe approach. If you stop buying tons of specialty products and start focusing on real food, the gfe approach will slowly fall into place for you and your whole family. The focus does not have to be on the fact that the food is gluten free; just that it’s good.
- I am healthier eating the gfe way. One of the primary health issues related to celiac/gluten intolerance is inflammation. It causes or contributes to so many of the symptoms related to gluten issues. Packaged products, even gluten-free ones, contribute to inflammation and many other health issues. They are high in refined ingredients and carbs, often high in sugar and bad fat, low in fiber, tend to have a high glycemic index, and usually just don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. Frankly, when I eat such products, I don’t feel great. Real food that’s naturally gluten free gives you all the good stuff and combats inflammation and so much more. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not perfect with my eating and, therefore, my health is not perfect. I’m a work in progress. I love to bake, so while I do use alternative sweeteners like stevia and coconut sugar, still, too much cane sugar often finds its way into my diet. That cane sugar and other refined ingredients (e.g., white rice flour) cause their own issues, including the aforementioned inflammation. But I am in control of everything that I consume with my gfe approach. With the gfe approach, that doesn’t mean just choosing one product over another. To reiterate, it means focusing on real, whole foods; adding in some mainstream foods that are gluten free; and using very few gluten-free specialty items.
For more specific foods and meal ideas that support the Top 10 reasons to live gfe, you may also want to check out gfe’s tip sheets now located via the GFE Printables under my blog header. There you’ll find printable resource sheets (PDF) including 50 meals that are gfe, 50 gfe sweet treats, and the gfe pantry (with some more pantry and meal guidance here).
Originally published September 20, 2011; updated May 24, 2022.