This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gluten-Free Tip: Make a Shopping Guide

With gluten free product lists scattered here and there, you may find yourself piling up bookmarks, clippings and notes on the back of receipts as you figure out how to live gluten-free.  You can help yourself put it all together by starting your own guidebook for shopping.

For a pen and paper version, pick up a phone and address book with alphabetized tabs from an office supply store.  Try to get one without the entry labels that say "phone, e-mail" etc., but you can ignore them if that's the only kind available.

You can use the alphabetized tabs to sort items.  I prefer to sort by item type (i.e. C for Cheese) but think about what makes sense to you.  If you'd rather look under S for Sargento instead, go with your own system! Write down the brand, specific type or flavor if not all are gluten-free, where it is available (name of store or website) and where you found the gluten-free information (online, package label, phone number).  Re-verify products when the packaging changes or at least once per year.

Now this system can quickly get out of hand if you try to include every gluten-free product ever made.  Since this is a personal guide, try to restrict it to items you personally buy or use, with maybe one backup brand in case your favorite is out of stock.  It will make for much faster reference in the store.  You can even use it while making your shopping list, specifying brand and flavor on the list itself for a quicker trip to the store.

You can, of course, organize this electronically if you prefer.  A spreadsheet program like Excel or Open Office's Calc program allows you to create multiple categories to search for items.  I would recommend starting with the following layout:

Column A is where the product is available to you.  This can be "online", or the name of a store.  Some items will only be in specialty health food stores, others will be available at your favorite grocery store.

Column B is for the area of the store (e.g. frozen, deli, produce, baking, dairy, etc.)

Column C is the general type of item (cheese, oil, dressing, veggie)

Column D is the specific item (Pepperoni, Mozzerella)

Column E is the brand and specific type, if not all types are gluten-free (i.e. Edy's: Chocolate, pistachio, mint chip flavors)

Column F is where you found the information.  If the item is labeled gluten-free, enter "labeled".  Otherwise list a website or phone number you used to verify the gluten-free status.  This is important, because every time the packaging changes (a possible sign of reformulation) or at least once per year, you should re-verify the gluten status of items.  Companies will not announce that they suddenly introduced cross contamination in their manufacturing; your first clue is when you get sick.  So keep your information current! 

So now you have your own gluten-free shopping guide.  Make sure you make an entry when you buy something new (or see something you want to buy) in order to keep it useful. 

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