Being diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can be sobering news to someone with a penchant for pasta and bread. But despite some restrictions, you can still be a foodie and whip up a deliciously balanced diet.

Discover wholesome and satisfying gluten-free grains.

Some of the most nutrient-dense, flavorful, and versatile grains happen to be gluten-free, says Carol Fenster, PhD, author of nine gluten-free cookbooks including 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes (Wiley, 2008). Fast-cooking quinoa, for example, has a wonderful nutty flavor, plus ample protein, fiber, and magnesium. Fenster, who was diagnosed with gluten intolerance 22 years ago, uses quinoa in place of bulgur to make the popular Middle Eastern dish tabbouleh.

Millet, amaranth, buckwheat, sorghum, and brown rice can also form the basis of a wide range of meals. According to a 2009 study from the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York, celiacs who eat gluten-free grains and products made from these alternative flours have improved intakes of several nutrients including calcium, protein, and iron. These grains are now widely available in natural food stores.

Hone your gluten-free cooking skills

To build confidence in preparing alternative grains and using other gluten-free ingredients, Fenster suggests gluten-free cooking classes. If there isn’t a gluten-free cooking class nearby, seek out celiac support groups for ideas and recipe sharing. Connect with others through the Celiac Disease Foundation (celiac.org) and the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (gluten.net).

There are scores of gluten-free cookbooks to choose from nowadays. Tackle “problem” cooking areas with titles like The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam (Celestial Arts, 2009) and Gluten-Free Italian by Jacqueline Mallorca (Da Capo, 2009).

Transform old favorites

Don’t ditch old cookbooks and passed-down recipes because you have to leave wheat by the wayside. Instead, learn to substitute gluten-free ingredients. For example, Fenster uses sweet rice flour in place of wheat flour to thicken cream soups and gravy. Pick up quinoa or brown rice spaghetti for pasta night. Try breading chicken or fish in gluten-free cornmeal. In meat loaf or meatballs, she suggests using gluten-free crushed crackers or instant potato flakes in place of regular bread crumbs.

Be your own baker

There are plenty of ready-made gluten-free breads and muffins out there, but to save cash you may want to learn to bake your own. Gluten is what holds wheat-based baked goods together, aids in rising, and gives springiness and structure, so no one gluten-free grain flour can replace wheat flour in a recipe. Make your own gluten-free flour mix by following the all-purpose Alison’s Gluten-Free Baking Mix; then replace wheat flour 1:1 with your mix or a store-bought option such as Pamela’s or Bob’s Red Mill.

Extra flavor boosters can help subdue any curious flavors gluten-free flour mixes may lend baked goods. For sweet baked goods try vanilla extract, almond extract, ginger, cinnamon, or citrus zest. Onion or garlic powder, dried herbs, and Parmesan cheese can be used in savory baked goods such as pizza crust. “Use xanthan gum, which mimics gluten by binding ingredients in baked goods so they don’t turn into a plate of crumbs,” Fenster says. A rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum for every cup of flour in cake; 1 ½ teaspoons for every cup in muffins and quick breads, and 1/4–1/2 teaspoon for each cup in cookies.

Tap into gluten-free recipes online

Deliciousliving.com has a gluten-free recipe section with hundreds of safe entrées, sides, snacks, and desserts sans gluten. (Head to the gluten-free corner). There are also a burgeoning number of gluten-free foodies out there blogging about their kitchen adventures. Check out glutenfreegirl.com and glutenfreeday.com, as well as newhope360.com blogs, where you’ll find weekly gluten-free cooking tips and product reviews by Elisa Bosley, Delicious Living’s senior food editor—whose son has gluten intolerance.