Going Gluten and Casein Free (Questions and Answers)

Since starting our son on the GFCF diet, we’ve asked and answered many, many questions about it. I hope that by sharing some of the questions and answers below, we can help others that are considering this huge lifestyle change.

What does GFCF stand for?

GFCF stands for gluten free casein free. Gluten is the protein found in wheat (think bread, cereal and pasta) and casein in the protein found in milk (think milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter).

Why would someone go on a GFCF diet?

The main reasons I have found would be due to a food allergy, sensitivity or due to an autism diagnosis.

Why are some kids with autism sensitive to gluten and dairy?

Well this is tough to say for sure. It’s possible that children with autism can’t properly break down gluten or casein in their systems and suffer from a “leaky gut,” which means that the proteins that aren’t digested leak into the body and bloodstream. The undigested proteins can then reach the brain and can lead to issues with speech, behavior and social skills. (source). When eliminating foods that your body is sensitive to, your body reacts differently.

How hard is it to make the change to eating GFCF?

Well, it’s not easy, but it’s going to be a little different for everyone. Some big factors in making this change are the availability of food, the cost of food and the willingness to try new food for the person on the diet. My son was not terribly picky, so it wasn’t a difficult change in that aspect.

Where do you shop for GFCF foods?

There are so many places to go to get GFCF foods. The overall principals are clean eating/low processed foods though. Fruits, vegetables and lean meats naturally do not contain any gluten or dairy. So shopping for a diet rich with these foods can be done anywhere. However, there are many stores that we shop at for GFCF foods

1. Trader Joe’s – When TJ’s opened in our area in 2012, it was a saving grace. Though we didn’t start this diet until November 2013, I do not think we would be as successful if it weren’t for the affordable and wide variety of foods my son can eat that we get at Trader Joe’s. We try to buy as much organic foods as we can, just in case foods that are genetically modified are part of our struggles with autism. In addition to organic produce, the things we most often buy at TJ’s are organic chicken breasts/tenders, corn chips (they are organic Fritos and half the price!), Envirokidz brand cereal, coconut yogurt, rice milk, organic all-natural peanut butter, Udi’s gluten free bread ($4.99 a loaf – a few cents cheaper than at other stores) and organic brown rice pasta. The downside to TJ’s is that while their prices are typically very low, things do not go “on sale” and they don’t offer store coupons. It’s still our go-to store though.

2. Shop Rite –This is another store that we shop at often, but not as often as TJ’s. Some things that we buy at ShopRite are almond milk yogurt, gluten free snacks, mixed nuts, organic tortilla chips (Garden of Eatin’ is the best! ) and some condiments we can’t find at TJ’s, such as gluten free soy sauce. The store layout is that most GFCF items are in the same aisle. So you’ll spend most of your time and budget in one place rather than going all over the store.

3. Hannaford – I shop at Hannaford, but not regularly. They have a great selection of organic produce, but it’s a little more expensive than ShopRite’s and a lot more expensive than Trader Joe’s.  They also had a huge selection in general of other GFCF and organic foods. The layout of Hannaford is different than ShopRite in that they have a small organic section in each aisle of the store. So if you’re looking for organic rice, you have to go down the rice aisle. If you need organic chips, you have to go down the snack aisle. There’s a bit more walking involved, but if you’re looking for organic and non-organic foods, you’ll have to go down those aisles anyways. Hannaford also has a large aisle/end cap with lots of GFCF pantry items (stuffing mix, snacks, ingredients for baking, cookies and breads). Hannaford also has a good variety of GFCF frozen foods.

Is it more expensive?

Unfortunately, yes it is. If you’re also eating organic, then the difference is quite noticeable. Prior to having B eat GFCF, I was very big into couponing. I prided myself in saving a lot of money every time I went to the store using coupons from the newspaper and online (see my tips for couponing here). Now, a lot of the brands we buy do not offer coupons.

Here are some prices to compare (obviously prices will vary depending on sales and where you live):

  • Lara bars – $1.25 a piece – Granola Bars – $.50 a piece (a box of 6 might cost you $2.99)
  • Gluten free pretzels – $4.99 a bag – Regular pretzels-  $1.99 a bag
  • Gluten free organic cereal – $2.99 a box at TJ’s or $3.99+ a box at other stores  – Regular cereal – $1.99+ a box
  • Organic Cucumber – $2.00+ each – Regular cucumber – $.66+ each
  • Annie’s organic fruit snacks – $4.99 for a box of 6  – Other fruit snacks – $2.99 for a box of 6
  • GFCF pancake mix – $6.99 + a box – Bisquick – $1.99+ a box
  • GFCF cake mix – $4.99+ a box – Betty Crocker cake mix – $.99+ a box

How long will it take to see changes?

This answer will be different for everybody. We did feel as though when we started Brody on this diet, we saw some positive changes immediately. He stopped using his pacifier on his own (he was a month shy of three-years-old at the time), he became more affectionate and willingly gave more hugs and kisses and he started using more language. It’s hard to know exactly what to attribute to the diet and what changes were just because he’s always learning, growing and changing. The positive changes come in waves. Some weeks we feel as though things are going great and others, we don’t feel like it’s making any difference. I have read that you can see the effects of eliminating dairy within three to four days, but that gluten can take up to nine months before it is completely out of your system.

What are some of the foods you CAN eat on the GFCF diet?

There are lots of foods that you can eat if you’re GFCF, you just will have to be more picky about brands. There are very few foods that you will have a hard time finding a substitute for. Here are some things that B likes to eat:

Breakfast - fruit, dry cereal, almond yogurt, oatmeal, milk, juice, frozen waffles

Lunch/Dinner - sandwiches, chicken tenders, hot dogs, pizza, pasta, rice, homemade french fries, vegetables

Snacks - muffins, fruit snacks, pretzels, potato chips, tortilla chips, nuts, raisins and other dried fruit, applesauce

Desserts - ice cream (made from almond milk or coconut milk), cookies, cake

Things that I have not found a substitute for: boxed macaroni and cheese, string cheese, cottage cheese

What are some of the challenges that accompany this diet?

Two that come to mind are eating out at restaurants and trusting others to follow the diet. We don’t live in a bubble and the real world is definitely not GFCF. We seldom eat out (though we didn’t before Brody’s diet anyways), but when you do, you have to be very clear with the restaurant staff about your dietary needs. Most restaurants are willing to help you out and check ingredient labels for you or cook something special. It’s very easy to bake/sautee a chicken breast in oil (not butter) and season it with salt and pepper. Though they are not terribly exciting, steamed veggies are also fine. Many restaurants now also have a gluten free menu or at least indicate which items are gluten free.

In terms of trusting others, B attends preschool and goes to daycare in the afternoon. We are very clear with our expectations and wishes to his providers and 99% of the time, they do an amazing job. But they are human and also don’t have the capabilities to be 1:1 with him when there are other kids around. I can’t ask that the other kids at daycare of preschool eat only GFCF, so there are always GFCF foods within reach and B does not know or understand what foods he can and can’t have. He just knows that when he sees his brother eating a brownie, he wants it too. When he sees a Cheerio on the floor at church, he MUST have it now! We do the best we can and we know that others that care for him do too.

Do you eat gluten free and/or dairy free? What challenges have you faced?

One Response to Going Gluten and Casein Free (Questions and Answers)

  1. Pingback: Healthy (and Gluten Free!) Blender Pancakes Mama Say What?! | Mama Say What?!

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