Disclaimer: The contents of this post refer to my personal condition which is gluten sensitivity and not Celiac Disease. I cannot speak to whether the solutions listed are safe for Celiac sufferers, only that I personally have not had reactions from them. I am not a dietitian.
There’s this one moment that sticks in my mind after I found out that eating gluten made me sick.
My fiancé came into the room, holding something behind his back. He frowned deeply and said, “I’m so sorry, my love” and revealed what he was holding: a jar of Marmite.
Marmite was my childhood comfort food. It was on all of my sandwiches growing up. It tastes like home and like “everything is going to be alright”. When I saw that they’d changed the label to reflect that it contained gluten, I actually started crying.
But I couldn’t argue. We’d been wondering why the stomach ache and mouth ulcers hadn’t stopped even though I’d been eating well.
I remember in that moment feeling completely helpless and isolated. I already knew I couldn’t eat bread or pasta or pizza or cake or donuts or biscuits or fancy, favourite chocolates. But Marmite was the last straw.
In those first months every new discovery about my gluten sensitivity was scary. The internet did not help. Articles like “you need to replace all your kitchen utensils” and “never eat at a restaurant ever again” abound. On the other hand, I had friends sharing “helpful” pieces about how gluten sensitivity didn’t actually exist and was all in my mind. Or it was just misdiagnosed IBS.
It was depressing, I won’t lie. And it was very lonely.
But! I’m not here to moan! If your story sounds like mine, here’s me today (3 years later) telling you: it gets better.
People will tell you that you need to say goodbye to everything you used to love and eat nothing but kale and carrots for the rest of your life (or cauliflower. Cauliflower everything. Cauliflower for days). This is not true. While veggies are important for the roughage you no longer get from whole grains, they’re not all you can eat.
I should know, I just ordered 5 boxes of chocolate cereal.
Let’s face it, I’m not a health nut. And developing a food allergy was never going to turn me into one. If you’re in the same boat, just an ordinary person wanting something to eat that doesn’t contain or taste like beans (or cauliflower), here’s my list of favourite substitutes.
(These are available in Cape Town, South Africa).
Sweet potato bread
Wellness Warehouse stocks a sweet potato bread that tastes exactly like ordinary white bread. You may have tried rice bread (so hard and dry) or banting bread (ew, coconutty) but this is something different. They stock a small loaf perfect for picnics and a bigger one with normal toaster slices perfect for savoury or sweet toppings. Makes a killer toasted cheese sarmie.
While these loaves are expensive (R49 at time of writing) you can make them last a few weeks by freezing them.
I really like cereal. The kind you can have with milk. Unfortunately, most commercial cereals are not gluten free.There is a wide range of gluten-free cereal out there, but most of it is imported and costs the price of a small house.Wholesome Earth’s Chocolate Loops are my latest discovery. They also do fruit loops. You can order them online through the Fresh Earth website or find them in Dischem. They’re only slightly more expensive than ordinary cereal and taste exactly the same as the original thing.
If you’re more a muesli person, be aware that the way we roll oats somehow involves gluten, so you need to buy special gluten-free oats. The Nature’s Choice brand has both gluten-free muesli and plain oats. You can also find these at Dischem.
One birthday I drove around for hours looking for a cake I could have. Spoiler alert: nothing. Even cheesecake in restaurants has gluten. BUT I have since discovered that the Gluten Free Gurus do an amazing sponge cake that is really affordable and available at almost every Checkers.
If you want something a little more exciting, Mugg & Bean now do a gluten free chocolate chip muffin. (But knowing Mugg & Bean they will mysteriously pull it from the menu before this post goes live, so you’ve been warned). It tastes lemony but otherwise pretty ordinary. It has a great texture and is especially nice after a few seconds in the microwave.
I’m not a fan of cauliflower (you may have gathered), so those banting bases don’t do it for me. A place called Pasta Factory produces really nice pizza bases for homemade pizza (they can be a little hard and salty but don’t taste like beans, so win). You can find them at Spar or contact them directly.
If you want to order in pizza, the Butlers gluten free base tastes so close to real pizza that I personally can’t tell the difference. Col’Cacchio’s gluten-free base is a little more beany and a little more pricey, but if you order a lot of toppings you can’t tell and the texture is amazing.
Biscuits are one of the easier gluten-free things to find. Most shops stock the imported Gullon Gluten Free cookies (I get them from Spar or Dischem but have also seen them at Checkers). The chocolate ones taste like chocolate brownies and are amazing dunked in tea or as a base for homemade cheese cake. I’m pretty sure they’re made of pure sugar, butter and cocoa, though.
For something a bit more wholesome, The Allergen Baker has a wide range of biscuits that are completely allergen-free and safe for celiac sufferers. Their shortbread is particularly nice and I can’t taste the difference between it and good ol’ Bakers.
Fresh Earth makes the best peanut butter cookies. I pick up a box whenever I’m at Dischem even though the packaging is a bit off-putting with its “free from stuff you can’t pronounce” labelling (the box is printed in vegetable ink, I kid you not).
I don’t know where I’d be without Sam Mills corn pasta. It tastes like normal pasta and is available in a variety of shapes. It’s pricey when you compare it with how cheap wheat pasta is here, but if you consider how many meals you can get out of a packet, it’s not that bad. The best part is, you can get it at Spar, Checkers and Dischem. For some reason, I’ve never seen it at Pick n Pay. They stock another brand that’s not as good (I can’t even remember the name).
Flour is a common thickener for sauces, which means most packet and restaurant sauces are out. But maize flour works really well for homemade sauces. White sauce takes 8 minutes in the microwave, just substitute Maizena for flour in the recipe.
In fact, Maizena is a pretty good substitute for most recipes that require flour as a thickener. I’ve even used it to make toad in the hole.
Things you can eat without substituting gluten
For some reason, people seem to think that being gluten free is the same as being a health nut. It’s not. Here are some things that I can still eat without getting a reaction. And do. In copious amounts.
Check the label. There are, of course, many flavours you can’t have. But lightly salted is usually fine! Not every brand will put allergen warnings on the label, so try to get from a brand that does. Lays, for instance, says that those light blue balsamic chips are a no go. But cheese and onion? Fine.
A dietitian actually told me to eat lots of popcorn for the roughage. So I do. I figured out how to make it in the microwave and now it’s my go-to snack. Corn is totally my best friend now.
Again, check the label. Some brands are mostly not okay. Lindt, for instance, uses malt. But white Lindor balls are actually fine. I’m a fan of Cadbury’s and as long as I don’t get one containing actual biscuits it’s fine. Oh and Nutella? Fine.
If you like Pronutro as cereal, good news for you. The wheat free is also gluten free. Futurelife is also gluten free, for the record (although I can’t stand the stuff).
Rice is gluten free. Sushi is made from glutinous rice which is not the same thing. That just means it’s sticky. What you want to watch out for with all Asian food though is soy sauce. Soy sauce is mostly not gluten free.
Potatoes are gluten free. So go ahead and have potato bake and fries (just check the spices used with the fries if you’re ordering somewhere new and that they don’t, for some bizarre reason, fry them in flour, which is a total thing btw urgh).
Okay so here’s a weird thing. Most patties use flour as a binding agent. I didn’t realise this until I started looking for some patties in the shops. But not all of them do. Mcdonalds, for instance, seems to bind their patties through pressing them really really hard (so yes, they end up flat as cardboard).
Be aware: this is not science, this is supposition.
Point is, I’ve been perfectly fine eating the insides of McRoyales (which is as disgusting as it sounds). There are probably other restaurants whose burger patties are perfectly fine. Your main challenge, if you choose to pursue this risky endeavour, is avoiding cross-contamination.
One time they put the cheese down before the patty and the roll got stuck to the patty and it was just a very sad nightmare that ended with a tummy ache. (Don’t go near Wimpy btw. Their tomato sauce uses gluten which means everything is dripping gluten).
Hudson’s, a Cape Town-based food chain, actually sells a gluten free burger with gluten free rolls that taste exactly like normal bread.
A nice juicy steak
Just tell them not to baste it in anything funny (or use gluten-containing spice mixes) and not to pour sauce over it and you’re all good 🙂
I have yet to find a substitute for Marmite, but they really are bringing out new gluten-free options every day. Just a week ago I discovered gluten free ramen cup noodles! So I live in hope.
Oh, and one last general piece of advice. If you buy a gluten-free baked substitute and it tastes crap? Microwave it for 30 seconds. Works almost every time.