Going gluten-free is easier than ever before. Although it is a huge lifestyle change and may seem impossible at first, you will become an expert label reader and a professional hidden gluten locator before you know it.
The good news is, there are thousands of delicious gluten-free products on the market and countless resources to help you along your journey.
While I feel like an expert on all things gluten-free, I want to be very upfront in letting you know that I am not a medical professional. Always follow the advice of your doctor and dietician and ALWAYS read labels and use your best judgment.
I am simply the mother of an amazing daughter who is an extremely sensitive celiac. She and I began our gluten-free journey more than 20 years ago and we continue to learn new things as celiac disease and gluten-free products continue to evolve.
My hope is that by reading this, you will be a little more comfortable with your gluten-free journey.
Let’s start with the basics. Going gluten-free means you need to avoid the grains wheat, rye, barley, triticale and all their derivatives.
Seems easy enough, right? The tricky part is, these four grains have many aliases. Wheat may be listed simply as “wheat” on a list of ingredients, but it may also be listed as one of its aliases: durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, farro, flour, graham, kamut, semolina, or spelt.
Oats are no longer a grain listed on the “avoid at all costs” list because in their natural form, oats are gluten-free. This issue with oats comes with cross contamination and typically being grown beside wheat. Therefore, it is recommended that the only oats a person on a gluten-free diet eats, are oats that are labeled as gluten-free.
Gluten is a master of disguise but, don’t fear, education is its kryptonite.
Gluten is found in breads, baked goods, crackers, pasta, cereal, sauces and a whole lot more. Fortunately, wheat is one of the “Top 8” allergens and must be listed on ingredient labels.
Unfortunately, just because something is wheat free, does not mean it is gluten-free. I’ll repeat that – “wheat free” does not mean “gluten-free”. Malt is wheat free, however, malt is made from barley the majority of the time, therefore, malt is not gluten-free. See, master of disguise.
So, while wheat being listed as an allergen on a food label is helpful, it does not save us from gluten in other forms.
Let’s focus on the positive. Many foods are naturally gluten-free! Fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, fish, nuts, beans and seeds that are unprocessed are all gluten-free. Butter, unprocessed cheese, milk, yogurt (plain) and most ice cream (without add-ins) are all gluten-free as well! Also, there are far more gluten-free grains than non-gluten free grains.
The following grains are all gluten-free:
- Buckwheat (kasha)
- Corn (corn flour, cornmeal, grits)
- Cassava (tapioca)
- Grits (corn)
- Kasha (buckwheat)
- Rice (basmati, brown, enriched, white, wild)
- Tapioca (cassava)
In addition to the grains listed above, there are also many flours that are naturally gluten-free. To avoid cross-contamination, you should only purchase flour products that are labeled gluten-free. These flours include:
- Almond flour
- Amaranth flour
- Brown rice flour
- Buckwheat flour
- Chickpea flour
- Coconut flour
- Millet flour
- Tapioca flour
- White rice flour
As you are becoming an expert label reader, you will come upon ingredients that you have absolutely no idea what they are or where they come from. The following ingredients are typically considered safe for someone on a gluten-free diet. Make a cheat sheet of “safe” ingredients and carry it with you until you have mastered this list.
- Caramel colors
- Citric Acid (lactic, malic)
- Dextrin (unless wheat is noted)
- Distilled vinegar
- Guar gum
- Mono and diglycerides
- Natural flavors
- Oat gum
- Silicon dioxide
- Spices (pure spices with no other ingredients added)
- Starch (food starch)
- Xanthan gum
- Yeast extract
When you make your first gluten-free grocery trip, you may feel as if 99.9% of the items in the grocery store contain gluten. Stay positive and know that there are gluten-free items scattered throughout the aisles and if you’re lucky, your grocery store might have a dedicated gluten-free aisle like mine does!
It’s probably a good idea to make a list with specific items that you’ve researched, including brand names, before setting out for your first gluten-free shopping trip. This way, you’ll come home with everything you need, and I’m sure you’ll find some hidden treasures that you didn’t know were gluten free along the way.
While reading labels will become a way of life for you, there are some foods that you will just automatically know are not gluten-free.
Generally speaking, the following foods typically contain gluten, and are off limits, unless they are explicitly labeled gluten-free:
- Baked goods (brownies, cakes, cookies, pie crusts)
- Breads (bagels, cornbread, croissants, flatbread, flour tortilla, naan, pita, rolls, sandwich)
- Breading (bread crumbs, fish fry, panko)
- Breakfast foods (biscuits, crepes, french toast, pancakes, waffles)
- Cereal (even corn and rice cereals often contain malt or other wheat derived flavorings)
- Crackers (Goldfish, graham, pretzels, Ritz, saltines)
- Energy bars
- Granola (cross-contaminated oats)
- Imitation seafood or meat (veggie burgers, imitation bacon, imitation crab)
- Lunch meat
- Pasta (couscous, dumplings, gnocchi, lasagna, macaroni, ramen, ravioli, spaghetti)
- Salad dressing
- Sauces (cream, soy, thickened)
- Soup (bouillon, canned, mixes)
Additional foods to be leery of:
- Brown rice syrup (often contains barley)
- Candy / candy bars
- French fries (seasoning or cross-contamination from frying)
- Medications and supplements (many use wheat as a binding agent)
- Potato chips (multi-grain, seasonings or flavorings)
- Pre-seasoned meats
- Processed foods, even fruits and veggies may have non-gluten free additives
- Self-basting turkeys
Please remember to always read the label. If a product does not explicitly say “gluten-free”, the ingredients may have changed and what was once gluten-free, may no longer be. You are now on your way to becoming a gluten-free connoisseur.
Good luck on your gluten-free journey!
The Gluten Free Style