The holidays can sure be a bummer for a gluten-free gal.  It is a bit like stepping into a minefield with danger everywhere.  All the baked goods and dips are about enough to make me want to hibernate like a bear until next spring!  (It’s been five years since I’ve had a doughnut, in case you’re wondering)  Just one dab of gravy can set me back for a good three days, or more, and have lasting side effects for over a month.  Call me crazy, but I am OCD about what I eat because of that, and not being able to read an ingredient label is like navigating in the dark, without a map.

So, here are my best tips for smooth sailing through the holidays for those who, like me, have food allergies or gluten intolerance.  I’ve also included some great information for those who are planning parties where there may be guests attending who have the same concerns. 

What does being  gluten-free really mean?

Celiac disease is different than wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity.  Celiac is much more sensitive to gluten exposure and when gluten comes in contact with even the pan they are going to cook with, it can cause a reaction.  So, it is important to really understand that there are many differences between differing types of gluten conditions, and I am really speaking in this article to what I know and have experience dealing with, which is wheat allergy and cutting gluten out of the diet.  Just because a label says “Gluten-Free” does not always mean it is wheat-free.  That is why I am such a stickler for ingredient labels.  There are many commonalities, as well.  So, I feel that by covering this broad topic, I can help bring understanding for those not dealing with having to eliminate gluten, and help suggest some ways to include gluten-free cooking into our kitchens this time of year.

Research conducted by Dr. Alessio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, and Dr. Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center and author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, indicates that between 5 and 10 percent of all people may suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some form.

Gluten-free foods are on average, 242% more expensive than their non-gluten-free counterparts.

Skip the dip

Sorry friends, but if the dip doesn’t come with an ingredient label, just walk on by.  It is not worth the worry.  Or better yet, I make my own gluten-free dip and bring it to share.  Sometimes even the gluten-free critics end up liking it, and I feel extra happy when I can share with another guest who may also have food allergies. Even mayonnaise can contain gluten.


Gluten-free gravy makes an appearance

Although gravy contains minimal amounts of flour, it can be especially tormenting to those who are gluten-free.  This year, I discovered a powdered gluten-free gravy mix by McCormick and am happy to report it is delectable!  It is a game changer, for sure, in my house and I am planning on hoarding it all holiday season long.  One packet only makes a few cups, so plan accordingly, but I feel we are making great headway with this new product.

Antipasto platter me happy

Bringing an antipasto platter is a surefire way to nail down a protein source, so I’m not stuck with just veggies and fruit for dinner.  I love how pretty they look arranged on a wooden platter and can be a great way to impress the hostess!  I like to add different cheeses, both soft and hard, such as goat’s milk cheese with herbs, a Gouda, mozzarella balls, parmesan, and a sharp cheddar.  Meats, such as smoked turkey, salami, pepperoni, kielbasa, or sliced deli meats are easy to prepare and air well with the cheeses. Again, some processed meats can contain gluten, so check the label before deciding on one.  I like pickled artichokes, dried and fresh fruits, such as grapes, dried apricots, raspberries, and herbs like basil or rosemary.  Then, I add some pretty jellies and jams like jalapeno jelly, sour cherry jelly, and maybe a spiced chutney to make it seem fancy and more like what everyone else at the party will be eating.  Being gluten-free or having food allergies doesn’t mean holiday eating has to be dull!

A flour by any other name wouldn’t be as sweet

My secret weapon to any gluten-free baking includes an all-star gluten-free flour blend.  This makes me a flour snob and I fully admit it.  But the truth is, they are not all equal and I don’t have time for the flour blends that have substitutions I have to figure in my head.  I am a one-to-one kind of baker.  The Tom Sawyer Flour blend has been my saving grace since becoming gluten-free. My neighbor, Mary, introduced me to it and I have been a loyal fan ever since.  I get it either online or I support the local health food store in Sheridan, Wyoming (it’s the only local one I have found to carry that brand.)

As a gluten-free baker, I love to impress my family and friends with g-free muffins and doughnuts that are so good, they can’t believe they are gluten-free.  I make an angel food cake that is to die for and knocks the socks off anyone who tastes it.  Xanthan Gum is another great tool I’ve added to my baking arsenal.  My favorite gluten-free cookbook is “The How Can it be Gluten-Free Cookbook” by America’s Test Kitchen.  It has baked good recipes, a waffle recipe I use weekly, as well as many other tried and tested gluten-free recipe ideas.

Pie in the sky

Gluten-free products have made huge advancements in the last five years.  I was amazed and gloriously delighted when I found a frozen gluten-free pie crusts in the freezer section of my local grocery store.  Now, this is sometimes only available during the holidays, so my advice is to stock up since they will keep in the freezer.  But, I have seen it on the off season at local health food stores more recently.  The frozen crust is not tough like so many I have tried to make on my own and failed.  It is also somewhat flaky and even my family will eat it.  The only drawback is that they don’t come with a top crust so the recipe would need to be open faced.  I have made apple pie and turkey pot pie with success, even without the top crust.  The baking directions are included on the label.

Tricky places wheat and gluten hide

Holiday parties and cocktails go hand in hand.  But, be cautious.  Many alcoholic beverages contain malt, which is derived from gluten, and may cause a reaction.  I was disappointed to find out that Twisted Teas are made from a malt when I had a reaction this summer.  Of course, I had to do my own research to find this information.  So be prepared and do your investigating ahead of time.  Whiskey and scotch are also made from malt.  I stick to vodka-based beverages because vodka is made from potatoes and wine is usually okay, as it’s made from grapes.

Ice cream and licorice contain gluten.  Soy sauce contains gluten.  BBQ sauces, salad dressings, chocolate syrup, and chicken and beef broth all can contain gluten.  It is everywhere.  That is why reading ingredient labels is so important.

I recently ate at a new restaurant in town.  It scared me to death.  But, I asked the cook and she brought out every ingredient list for me to look at, bless her heart!  I could have just kissed her, I was so impressed with their kindness, understanding, and willingness to help out a gluten-free gal.  Because of her kindness, I will go back now again and again.  Gluten and wheat have tricky names on ingredient labels, so if you are unfamiliar with them, it is easy to be fooled.

The following grains and starches contain gluten:


  Wheat germ








  Graham flour




Triticale — a hybrid of wheat and rye

The following ingredients are often code for gluten:

  Avena sativa



  Fermented grain extract


  Hordeum distichon


  Hordeum vulgare

  Barley enzymes, extract or syrup

  Hydrolyzed malt extract

  Hydrolyzed vegetable protein

Maltodextrin — this is made from corn or potatoes in North America, but maltodextrin from other countries may be made with wheat starch.

  Oat fiber

  Samino peptide complex

  Secale cereale

  Triticum aestivum

  Yeast extract

  Triticum vulgare

  Tocopherol/vitamin E

  Natural flavoring

  Brown rice syrup (often contains barley)

  Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)

  Hydrolyzed soy protein

  Modified food starch — almost always made from corn, potato, or rice in North American-made foods, but foods from other countries could contain starch made from wheat.

  Caramel color — frequently made from barley, but only outside of North America. North American companies use corn to make caramel color.

What are the symptoms of gluten poisoning?

Honestly, symptoms are different for most all of us.  Of course, the wide range of symptoms is why I have had to keep a food journal, which helped me pinpoint a repeating pattern that I have to re-read every time it happens, to remind myself what I am experiencing is normal.  Funny, but not funny.  So, some have bathroom issues, others upset stomach.  I experience high anxiety for about three to four days after exposure.  Other symptoms include headaches, joint pain and inflammation, skin rashes, bloating, edema, anemia, swelling of the throat, itchy scalp with little bumps all over the head.  Major fatigue is one of my main symptoms and I lay on the couch like a sloth for days, watching my family dance around me like a family of monkeys at the zoo. Can you sense my jealousy?

What I don’t miss is feeling bad all the time and not knowing why. I feel so much better now that going back to eating those things is just not worth it for me.

Food sensitivities also range from mild to severe and can result in anaphylaxis.  I have to admit I was once one of those people who thought that being gluten-free was a diet fad.  But, after experiencing it for myself and having to completely remove anything containing wheat and corn from my diet, I have come full circle.  It is real, guys.  I miss doughnuts and pasta so very much.  What I don’t miss is feeling bad all the time and not knowing why.  I feel so much better now, that going back to eating those things is just not worth it for me.  Kindness and compassion go a long way with those dealing with a gluten-free lifestyle.  Imagine being on a diet forever and never being able to fall off the wagon.  Being “glutened” is the absolute worst, because it catches us off guard.

What to do if you’ve been “glutened”

The question we’ve all been waiting for.  I have learned over the past five years what works for me. Now, it doesn’t stop the reaction, but eases the side effects and has made my life easier.  As with all things health-related, do your own research and ask the questions needed before making an educated decision about your own health.  Also, keep in mind that all of our bodies are different and what may work for one person, does not, unfortunately, work for all. 

Number one: the utmost important thing is to flush your system with a lot of water.  I like to add lemon to mine, as it helps with the detoxification process.

Check out the benefits of activated charcoal.  I now carry activated charcoal with me wherever I go and have learned this the hard way when unable to find any while on vacation.  It has been a lifesaver for me.  Digestive enzymes and probiotics help repair gut health and assist the digestive system to do its job.

Marshmallow root has helped soothe my stomach after a gluten poisoning.  Marshmallow root provides natural mucilage that supports, soothes, and moistens mucous membranes of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts. (*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  For educational purposes only.) 

Lastly, I usually do nettles of some kind.  Whether a tea or tincture, it is helpful in restoring the system and improving immune health, which is negatively impacted with each gluten exposure.  These items can all be found at your local health food store or online. A wealth of knowledge is also available from a trained Naturopath.

Make the best of a GF holiday

Okay, so the game plan goes like this: Bring your own booze.  Bring your own dip.  Bring your own gravy.  Bring your favorite gluten-free baked goods.  And, then, let go and enjoy the holidays!  Show the world that gluten-free doesn’t mean having to hide in the corner, nibbling on a bag of baby carrots.  Be the inspiration others need to experience in order to change a negative stigma into a positive one.  We can do this!  We are educating the younger generations, as well.  My kids now know how to check ingredient labels, too.  How cool is that?! 

Consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider to help you navigate a gluten sensitivity, request or prepare for gluten sensitivity testing.  Starting a GF diet before being properly tested can complicate the diagnostic process.

By: Megan K. Huber for  82717
Photos by Megan K. Huber

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