Jackie Aanonsen McEwan is the founder of Gluten Free Follow Me, the guide to living gluten-free. Nine years ago, Jackie learned she had celiac disease. She had just graduated from Georgetown University and moved to New York City for her finance job. Jackie had to figure out what gluten was, what foods she could eat, what foods she had to avoid, and the nuances in between. It was incredibly overwhelming, and she wished she had a go-to guide to tell her all she needed to know about following a gluten-free diet. This manual did not yet exist so Jackie did a ton of research and learned how to maneuver being gluten-free at restaurants and in her own kitchen. Gluten Free Follow Me was born! glutenfreefollowme.com allows users to do their own customized searches across 2,500+ gluten-free friendly eateries, products, and recipes she’s personally reviewed and made.
Jackie McEwan is so happy that she can share what she’s learned and have others benefit from her experiences and research. She wants everyone to feel comfortable when eating. Whether you have to be gluten-free, choose to be gluten-free, or have a family member or friend that follows a gluten-free diet, we all deserve to eat well! Jackie loves to discover gluten-free options locally & in her travels, find the best products, and develop her own gluten-free creations.
Eight years ago, my sports doctor had all of his patients take a food intolerance test, and gluten came up in my test results. I was like, what’s gluten?! Looking back, my diagnosis made a lot of sense because I would get sick at least once a week in college. In college, I would eat stir fry on Sundays (using gluten-filled soy sauce) and always felt nauseous. I would get sick after eating my favorite sandwich at Cosi and thought it was food poisoning. I went to the Emergency Room at a nearby hospital a few times because I couldn’t keep any food or water down. I had these reactions throughout college but no one ever brought up gluten as a reason for my sickness. I normalized these reactions because they had unfortunately become normal to me. Gluten sensitivity/intolerance and celiac disease were not as wide-spread as they are now. Looking back, it seems silly that I never pressed doctors on what was making me sick but gluten wasn’t in the forefront of my mind or their minds.
I was incredibly overwhelmed when I finally found out that gluten was making me sick. I didn’t even realize I was sick! I had recently moved to New York City and was so excited to eat out at all the restaurants. I went to a few gastroenterologists and found out I didn’t just have a gluten intolerance – I also had celiac disease.
My diagnosis forced me to rethink what I was eating because I had to immediately cut gluten out of my diet. My first thought was that I had just bought a Costco-size of Quaker Oat’s instant oatmeal packets which I kept in my desk at work (oats need to be certified gluten-free in order to be safe).
I did a ton of research on what foods had gluten in it, what foods were gluten-free, and all the grey areas in between. The gluten-free diet has become much more popular in the past few years, but it wasn’t as prevalent eight years ago so it was challenging. I wished there was ONE guide that had everything I needed to know about following a gluten-free diet.
In March 2014, I started to post about some of the gluten-free foods I was eating on Instagram. Surprisingly to me, my posts were met with great reception. People I had never met were asking me for more tips on gluten-free friendly eateries, products, and recipes, and I was more than happy to continue to make these discoveries. I was getting so many questions that I knew I needed to put all this information in one place rather than just Instagram. I taught myself how to make a website, and I launched www.glutenfreefollowme.com in September 2014! I wish I had something like Gluten Free Follow Me to guide me through my new gluten-free diet eight years ago, but I’m glad I can be a guide for others now!
Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat and related grains, including barley, rye, oat, and all their species and hybrids. Gluten helps food maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of food – not just bread! Gluten is commonly found in breads, baked goods, soups, pasta, cereal, sauces, salad dressings, but there are so many gluten-free alternatives nowadays so it really isn’t hard to be gluten-free!
When I first went gluten-free seven years ago, it was challenging because it wasn’t popular then. You really had to do your own research and search for gluten-free items. Now, most supermarkets have an entire section for gluten-free items, and they label which items are gluten-free outside of that section.
Many mainstream products label their products as gluten-free if they are or have adjusted their products to make them gluten-free. The gluten-free diet has become more popular with greater public awareness and better diagnoses. More and more people are discovering that they have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. I’m glad that it’s become more acknowledged because it’s making people more mindful of allergies and thoughtful about what’s best for their body.
People react differently to gluten. My reaction to gluten is I have to throw up anywhere from three to ten hours after eating it. I definitely don’t miss the 3am trips to the bathroom after getting glutened at dinner. Thankfully this reaction hasn’t happened to me in a long time since I’m so careful. I’m very sensitive to gluten, so I will know if I ingest it! This is why I do a lot of research before eating out and ask questions regarding cross contamination and food preparation. Other symptoms can be bloating, skin rashes and red-like skin, digestive discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, headache, tiredness, weight loss, stomach aches, nausea, and more.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease and affects about 1% of the general population. Unfortunately, many people who have celiac disease don’t even know that they have it. I’m so thankful that I found out seven years ago because if it goes untreated, it can lead to malabsorption, osteoporosis, iron deficiency, other autoimmune diseases, and in general a reduced quality of life. Ladies, if you’re having trouble getting pregnant, try going on a gluten-free diet. Many doctors now know enough about gluten’s impact to recommend this.
A lot of people, including me, forget that certain symptoms you’re having aren’t normal. You normalize it because it happens so much but you shouldn’t feel sick or uncomfortable all the time! I recommend taking a food intolerance test as a first step to see what comes up – the results may surprise you.
Many people feel better when they give up gluten, and they end up self-diagnosing themselves as it can be tough to diagnosis gluten sensitivity. If you feel better going gluten-free (just like with anything), then by all means, continue to do so!
When I’m not eating out, my typical lunch is a big salad and omelet topped with lots of roasted veggies such as cauliflower, broccoli, beets, Brussels sprouts, and squash. For dressing, I mix together apple vinegar, yellow mustard, and then whatever I have on hand such as balsamic vinaigrette, balsamic vinegar, honey dijon dressing, or another salad dressing. It’s so easy to make, and it’s healthy and delicious.
I love berries, especially blueberries. And when cherries are in season, they’re my ultimate fave! I’m also obsessed with healthy two ingredient pancakes – yup, just two ingredients! I make these all the time, and they’re too good. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but I also have a sweet tooth and love my chocolate & eat it daily ☺
I’m grateful that I receive packages, and they definitely add variety to my snack game. I’m constantly trying new products which is fun and tasty! I also bake a lot (as you know!) so on baking days, the batter and creation end up being a decent amount of my food that day 😉
I miss it a bit when I’m out with a group of people and everyone but me is eating the bread from the bread basket. However, rather than filling up on the bread, I am able to eat more of the “real food” later on in the meal. When a restaurant does serve gluten-free bread, it makes me appreciate it even more. I definitely don’t miss my gluten reaction, so it’s all worth it in the end.
If you have to follow a gluten-free diet for health reasons, please don’t cheat! You’re directly hurting your body, and it isn’t worth it!
Usually yes! If you’re following a dairy free diet, make sure you use non-dairy butter, cheese, and milk. For milk, you can use nut & seed milks such as almond, cashew, hemp, flax, and macadamia milk. Or soy milk and coconut milk.
If you’re vegan, you can use an egg substitute. When baking, you can replace 1 egg with a flax “egg” which is 1 tbsp ground flaxseed + 3 tbsp warm water, or a chia “egg” which is 1 tbsp ground chia seeds + 3 tbsp warm water. Ener-G and Bob’s Red Mill also make egg replacers.
Usually yes! If you’re following a paleo diet, you can use coconut sugar as a 1-to-1 substitute wherever it says sugar and then cassava flour as a 1-to-1 substitute wherever it says flour. You can also substitute coconut flour for flour but it won’t be a 1-to-1 substitute – it’s more like 1/4 cup coconut flour = 1 cup flour. You can substitute honey for white sugar, and substitute maple syrup for brown sugar. If you don’t want to use butter, than feel free to use coconut oil or ghee.
I personally review all of the eateries and brands on my website. I use a rating system from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. I base my ratings on taste, variety & abundance of gluten-free options, and safety.
5 rating: incredible — the restaurant has so many delicious gluten-free options; I will go back or already have gone back several times
4 rating: very good — the restaurant has great gluten-free options; it’s a solid choice
3 rating: good — has some gluten-free options; not my first choice but I can find some things to eat
2 rating: not good — didn’t have much for us to eat; maybe 1 or 2 dishes/salads could be made gluten-free
1 rating: don’t go — this rating really doesn’t exist since it would mean they have nothing gluten-free for us to eat; I can’t even add them to my website
5 rating: excellent — if the product is around me, I have to eat it/use it in that instant and/or use this brand all the time
4 rating: very good — I eat/use this brand a good amount
3 rating: good — it’s an option but not my first choice
2 rating: not good
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