Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gluten-Free Shopping Guide

Let me begin with the disclaimer that Cecelia's Marketplace has never offered me anything for this review and my only relationship with them is that I purchased their guide and regularly recommend it to others.

If you have gluten sensitivities, I highly recommend the Gluten-Free Shopping Guide from Cecelia's Marketplace.  It really made the difference for us in surviving the transition to gluten-free. 

The Pros:

An amazingly comprehensive list of gluten-free products, with very visible warning symbols on those at risk of cross-contamination because of shared equipment or facilities. 

Includes many store brands, such as Publix, Winn-Dixie, Meijer's, Kroger and Wal-mart.  Instead of being forced to buy specialty food labeled gluten-free we're able to buy most of our groceries in Publix store brand.  Most store brands don't label, but if they're safe, they're in the book.

Includes over-the-counter pharmacy items such as vitamins, pain meds and cold and flu meds. It was a nightmare finding multivitamins and vitamin E that didn't use wheat grass as the E source.  We were paying upwards of $50 a bottle for safe vitamins.  This book helped us find a safe store brand that saved us a bundle. 

Available in versions that list casein and soy-free products

Compact and portable:  We leave it in the glove compartment of the car so that it's available for shopping trips, then it fits in my purse for walking around the store.

Website updates; if information changes between editions, they list the update on their website under "product alerts" so that you can update the guide. This is crucial information as manufacturers sometimes reformulate without allergens in mind.    

We have used the book for a year, and the information has proven very trustworthy.  My partner has a very high gluten sensitivity and has not yet gotten sick from a product listed as safe. 

The Cons:

From using the 2011/2012 version, my biggest complaint is the categorization of products.  Until you get used to their index system it can be difficult to find items.  For instance, there are separate categories for "Chocolate" and "Candy," and what's included in each seems somewhat arbitrary. A second example is that there is no category for, say, "frozen vegetables." You have to look it up under the individual vegetable type, and the medley mixes are scattered between them.  This can make for a good 10 minutes in front of the frozen veggie section of the grocery store flipping back and forth to find out what you can buy.  Also, it can be frustrating to find an item in the index and flip to that page only to find a "see this other category" placeholder.  It would be easier to put that information in the index itself instead of sending the user on a wild goose chase.

I would like to see more imported cheeses listed, but considering the language and regulatory barriers this might be unrealistic.  There are several domestic brands, so I can still find goat cheese and a good feta when I have a craving.  

I would love to see pet foods included.  It doesn't do any good to keep a house gluten-free when pet mouths come into contact with their fur and furniture after eating.  Someone with high sensitivity could absolutely get sick by petting an animal who ate gluten before grooming itself.  Right now we have to be satisfied with reading labels and avoiding food with gluten grains. 

So it isn't perfectly user friendly.  I found that the first shopping trip using the guide took an extra hour for the time spent looking things up, but saved me more than a third of my grocery bill because I was able to buy store brands not explicitly labeled gluten-free.  Once I had a list of favorite products it cut my shopping time back down to normal.  I was able to grab my "usual," which I knew was gluten-free, and only had to reference the book once or twice per trip for specialty items I didn't usually buy. 

In all, though, the guide greatly expanded my ability to shop and freed me from only being able to buy brands that labeled.  I would still keep encouraging companies to label products gluten-free, but this guide gives you the option of independence from the labels.  I have not tested the casein/soy versions, but if they're as reliable as the gluten edition then they'd be a fantastic resource.  While companies are getting better about labeling for gluten, casein isn't even on the radar yet and is casually hidden in all kinds of prepared foods.

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