Introduction: How to Be Gluten and Soy Free the Happy and Healthy Way

Gluten and soy allergies and intolerance are becoming more and more common as time goes on. Ingredients consisting of these two products appear in a huge variety of the foods Americans have come to love. Many of these foods are starting to appear in either gluten-free mixes (like pancakes or cornbread) or prepackaged goods (like bagels or cinnamon rolls). Unfortunately, these food products only exist in select health food stores and usually only in cities; furthermore, because of the scarcity, specialization, and demand of this type of food, their prices run strikingly high. A good alternative is making these foods from scratch. This method is cheaper and often turns out just as well as, or better than, the pre-mixed and prepackaged goods, especially with practice. But because eating at home is not always an option, having strategies for eating out is just as important as being prepared to eat well at home. Follow these steps as a thrifty survival guide for happy gluten and soy free eating.

Step 1: Preparing to Eat Well at Home

A.  What you need for delicious homemade food
Just two essential items can transform almost any baked good into a gluten-free baked good. First is an alternative flour. Store bought gluten-free flour mixes can be expensive and come in small packages; instead, order your desired alternative flours online in larger quantities to have on hand and mix them yourself. To create an all-purpose flour, a mix between brown rice flour (2 parts), garbanzo bean flour (2 parts), and potato starch (1 part) work well, but other flours can be substituted as well, depending on personal taste.  Sorghum flour is popular in store bought mixes, but the flavor is strong and may overtake your baked good.

The second essential item is xanthan gum, which is expensive as well, but less so if ordered online. Also, recipes only require a small amount at a time so any amount you purchase should last you a while. Because non-wheat flours cannot produce the same chemical reactions as wheat flour can in the baking process, xanthan gum fills part of this role by helping the ingredients stick together (otherwise, gluten-free food can became crumbly and fall apart easily). With these two ingredients, you are ready to convert almost all of your favorite recipes to gluten-free.

B.  Deciding what to make
Once you have these ingredients on hand, deciding what to make is an important next step. You can meet many of your needs by eating naturally gluten-free foods, like yogurt, raw food, cheeses, etc, but in order to lead a less restricted life, learning how to make your other favorite foods is important. Some foods, like bread and pizza crust, require a lot of practice to get them to your desired consistency so buying them prepackaged might be a good idea (Udi's brand makes a good selection). However, other foods, like pie crust or gravy or cake, adjust well to gluten-free flours, and you might be better served both in terms of finances and expectations to make them from scratch. Especially in regards to confections, those individuals who have enjoyed gluten before expect baked goods to taste, look, and feel a certain way. Practicing and refining recipes in your own kitchen is the best way to meet these expectations.

C.  The soy component
One last important step to living a healthy gluten-free lifestyle is to approach the issue that many who are allergic or intolerant to gluten are often allergic or intolerant to soy, as well. Many prepackaged foods do not yet address this fact and often include ingredients like soybean oil into their recipes, especially pizza crusts. Even many everyday foods that you would expect to be safe manage to include soy products. Therefore, the best way to be both soy and gluten free is to cook your own food. Nothing can beat that—not grocery stores, not restaurants. When you can control what goes into your food, you can take the utmost control of your health.
For example:
The two main ingredients in soy sauce, aside from water, are wheat and soy. Surprisingly, the following recipe is a great substitute for those allergic or intolerant to either ingredient.

Gluten and Soy free Soy Sauce
14-oz can beef broth (or 2 cups)
4 T balsamic vinegar
2 t dark molasses
¼ t ground ginger
¼  t garlic powder
2 t salt
½ t sesame oil (optional)

Combine ingredients, broth first, into a pot and simmer (aka, reduce) until about 1 cup remains. Then, remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and store in a container in the refrigerator until needed. If you want to take this sauce to a restaurant to replace their soy sauce (most restaurants respect this action), I suggest saving an old jar to use as a storage container, rather than a tupperware container, as those tend to leak. The jar shown below is an old curry paste container and is a convenient size.

Step 2: Strategies for Eating Away From Home

A.  Eating at restaurants
Many kinds of restaurants use less wheat gluten products naturally, such as Thai or Mexican. The easiest and best way to eat out gluten-free is to target these kinds of restaurants. Additionally, more and more restaurants are offering gluten-free alternatives on their menu (vegan cafes and pizzerias in particular) so looking into these in your neighborhood is a good idea. These restaurants vary city by city, but searching online for “gluten free restaurant 'your city'” should help you find what's nearby your own home. But once again, watch out for soy, as most restaurants don't regard this in the same allergen category as gluten.

Fast food restaurants notoriously lack gluten-free options.  Two of these fast food joints that have recently instated gluten-free foods in their menus include Hardee's and Godfather's Pizza.  Hardee's addresses the issue of a gluten-free menu by being "gluten sensitive", which is to say they cannot claim to be "gluten-free" because they make all their food in the same kitchen.  See the images below for examples from their own websites of what they have to offer.

B.  Asking the right questions
Another important strategy when eating out is to ask the right questions to the servers. For example, don't ask if a dish has soybean oil in it, ask if they use vegetable oil when they cook.  Calling ahead of time is often a good idea.  The text below is a transcript of a phone call I made to a local pizzeria offering gluten-free pizza on their menu; it should give you a good example of how one of these conversations might go.  Remember to be persistent, or you might not get your questions answered.

Restaurant:  Virgilio's, *** speaking how may I help you?
Me:  Hi, yes, I just have a question about your gluten-free pizza.
Restaurant:  Yes
Me: Can you tell me if it's also soy free, like do you use vegetable oil at all?
Restaurant:  Is it, um, actually, it's pre-made and it's sent to us, frozen.
Me: Ok
Restaurant: So, um, there is egg in there, but that's all I know.
Me:  There's egg, but no soy, can you tell me that?
Restaurant:  No soy?
Me:  Yeah
Restaurant:  Uh, I don't know hold on...there is soy in there.
Me:  There is? For sure?
Restaurant:  Yes
Me:  Ok, thank you
Restaurant:  There's soy flour, yes.
Me:  Soy flour, ok thanks

C.  Snacking
Despite being prepared to handle restaurants, sometimes you can find yourself in a place where you have no options at all. Because this sort of thing can happen easily, either by going with others to an unequipped restaurant, or by not being near a gluten-sensitive place but needing food, having snack around is vastly important. Easy go-to snacks are fruit and vegetables, almonds, or gluten-free pretzels, but everyone has their favorites.

Step 3: Further Incorporating the Gluten-free Lifestyle

A.  Traveling tips
The surest way to be prepared to travel is to investigate in advance the types of options your destination offers in the way of gluten-free foods, such as grocery stores and eateries.  General internet searches, such as you would make in Step 2 in regards to where you live, are the most productive.  Finding a website, like Urban Spoon, that you can depend on for good information is valuable, but keeping your search general will prevent you from missing any good resources that might be dependent on where you are going.

Once you have assessed your destination's situation, you can determine how much of your own food and go-to snacks you will need to bring.  Essentially, when you travel, the best method of preparation is knowing whether you need to bring or buy most of your food.

B. Holiday eating
Make your food from scratch, and you can restore all of your old holiday favorites by using tips from Step 1! See the image below for my first gluten and soy free Thanksgiving, including ham, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, and chocolate bourbon pecan pie (not shown).

C.  One last food tip
Because gluten based foods often do the best job of making a person feel satisfied or full, black beans are a good, cheap, and easy meal alternative.  Just add some veggies to your canned beans in a pan, season them to taste, and sautee them until the veggies begin to brown and the beans are warm.  This dish is flexible to taste preference and always satisfying.  Enjoy!

D.  Being a good guest or companion for your gluten-free friend
The most important element of making your gluten-free friend feel comfortable is being understanding of his/her needs, not being overly sympathetic or pitying.  Being understanding includes being aware that compromise in finding good food to eat for the both of you might require more effort.  Understanding also requires a general working knowledge of their nutritional needs so that you can be more capable in finding compromise.

Additionally, a degree of sensitivity is also fundamental.  It involves making sure that your friend, or family member, does not feel like he/she is putting you out in anyway.  This sensitivity goes along with being understanding of his/her needs.  Having a gluten allergy or intolerance should not make you feel like you are a burden.

Humana Health Challenge

Finalist in the
Humana Health Challenge