Gluten helps food keep its shape by providing moisture and elasticity. Scientifically, gluten refers to the proteins found in some grains, and it's the element that provides a chewy texture and allows bread to rise. (1) If you are avoiding gluten, it can be challenging to know what you can buy from the grocery store. Here's a list of foods that are naturally gluten-free as well as some snack items you can enjoy on a gluten-free diet.
For more help, check out some popular gluten-free meal services.
While some people may choose to follow a gluten-free diet for the benefits of increased energy, weight loss, and improve health; eating gluten-free is essential for people with some medical conditions. These medical conditions include:
Food to Buy on a Gluten-Free Diet
Finding gluten-free food requires you to look carefully at the nutritional content of food and the ingredients. Here are some items you may buy from the store on a gluten-free diet, separated into food groups.
Condiments, Sauces, and Spices
It's easy to overlook this category because many spices, sauces, and condiments are naturally gluten-free. However, sometimes manufacturers will add ingredients that contain gluten as flavor enhancers, stabilizers, or emulsifiers. Some of these ingredients include wheat flour, malt, maltodextrin, and modified food starch.
Some gluten-free spices, sauces, and condiments that you can always have are:
You want to double-check the following items for gluten-containing additives:
There's a wide variety of gluten free beverages. However, much like the sauces, some are mixed with gluten-containing additives. Gluten-free beverages include:
Keep in mind that you want to consume beverages that have added sugar in moderation. It's important to double-check the ingredients in pre-made smoothies, distilled liquors, and beverages that contain mix-ins and added flavorings. Additionally, you should avoid malt beverages, non-distilled liquors, and beers and ales made with grains that contain gluten.
Fats and Oils
Most oils and fats are naturally gluten-free. You do want to check cooking sprays and oils with added flavors or gluten-containing additives. However, you can safely enjoy:
Similarly, you should be able to enjoy most dairy products. You'll need to look out for those that contain modified food starch, malt, and thickening agents as these additives may contain gluten. Some gluten-free dairy food products include:
If you purchase ice cream, processed cheese products such as cheese sauce, or flavored milk; you want to check the ingredient list for additives.
Many proteins are also naturally gluten-free. Unfortunately, there are some gluten-containing ingredients that are often paired with protein sources and added as marinades, rubs, or sauces. These ingredients are malt vinegar, flour, and soy sauce. Gluten-free protein options include:
It is important to double-check the Ready-to-Eat protein in TV dinners; proteins that come with sauces; ground meats; lunch meat; meat substitutes; and processed meats such as bacon, salami, sausage, pepperoni, and hot dogs. In the grocery stores, you'll need to avoid seitan and any breaded meat.
Fruits and Veggies
There are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that you can enjoy that are free of gluten. A non-exhaustive list would include:
The fruits and vegetables that you'll need to check twice are the ones that go through some sort of processing. For example, pre-chopped fruits and veggies may be cross-contaminated with gluten. Dried produce may contain gluten if they involve sweeteners or flavoring. Frozen produce is typically gluten-free when plain, but sometimes companies add sauces and flavorings. Canned produce with natural juices or water are likely to be gluten free, but you'll need to watch out for those canned with sauces.
There's no reason to be afraid of grains if you have a gluten sensitivity. Most grains are naturally gluten-free, while a select few do contain gluten (and oats are a bit iffy). When buying grains such as oats, it's important to look for ones labeled gluten-free just to be certain that they weren't processed in a facility that led to cross contamination with gluten.
On a gluten-free diet, you'll need to avoid barley, malt, rye, and all varieties of wheat including whole wheat. Look for these grains in snack foods, baked goods, cereals, pasta, crackers, and bread. Fortunately, some brands do make gluten-free bread.
Other gluten-free whole grains are oats, arrowroot, teff, amaranth, millet, tapioca, sorghum, buckwheat, wild rice, brown rice, and quinoa. In some cases, your oat products may be cross-contaminated with wheat, gluten, or rye. Even with a gluten-free diet label, there are some people with celiac disease who cannot tolerate these oats.
Snacks from the Store
Going to the store for snacks on a gluten-free diet can often take longer then you expect. You have to search for food labeled gluten-free and make sure that they were not made in a facility that also produces wheat. Additionally, not everything that is gluten-free is necessarily healthy.
There are plenty of gluten-free snacks that contain lots of added sugar, chemicals, and other additives. For someone with celiac disease, it is enough to avoid gluten-containing snack items. If you are using the diet to improve your health, you also want to look at other factors when it comes to your gluten free foods.
Some examples of gluten-free food items include:
Ingredients to Avoid
If you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, the following food labels could indicate that your product contains gluten:
As with any food allergy, it's important to contact the manufacturer if you aren't certain about a product.
FDA Requirements for a Gluten-Free Label
According to the FDA, "The [gluten-free] regulation defines "gluten-free" as meaning that the food either is inherently gluten free; or does not contain an ingredient that is: 1) a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat); 2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or 3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food. Also, any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm." (3)
Foods with certified labels can include:
According to the Celiac Disease foundation, the top gluten-free foods to consume fall into the categories of beans, dairy, fish, meat and chicken, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid wheat, barley, and rye.
Fortunately, you can find gluten-free alternatives for almost any snack food these days. If you get tired of granola and oatmeal, you can enjoy plain potato chips, macarons, chocolate mousse, gluten-free cake, popcorn, and french fries. Always check the label to make sure these items don't come from a restaurant or facility that also processed wheat, barley, or other things that may trigger food allergies.
Some snacks for a gluten-free diet include RX Bar Peanut Butter Chocolate, Sea Salt Cauliflower Crackers, Donut Protein Bars from Truwomen, Quaker Rice Crisps, Pitted Green Olives, GF Pretzels, Chips made from sweet potatoes, Multigrain Tortilla Chips, Kettle Corn, Oats, Cereal, and a Bag of Roasted Seaweed.
Some products you can find at your local supermarket for a gluten-free diet are Annie's Organic Fruit Snacks, Biena Barbeque Chickpea Snacks, Kind Nut Butter Whole Grain Clusters, Smart Flour Foods Garden Margherita Pizza, Wild Zora's Lamb Bar, Amy's Macaroni, GF Bagels,
Final Thoughts - Gluten Free Diet
The gluten-free diet requires some effort, but it's not so hard once you know what to look for. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, reading labels is extremely important when it comes to shopping at supermarkets. Do your research and find out as much information as you can about your favorite items. Additionally, you should consult a dietician to make sure that you are getting all of the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs on a gluten-free diet.
For someone with serious celiac disease living in a household with people who don't have celiac disease, it's essential to store gluten-free items separately from other foods, wash dishes thoroughly, keep storage areas and cooking surfaces clean, and avoid cross-contamination by toasting bread in different places.
Biesiekierski, J. R. (2017). What is gluten?. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology, 32, 78-81.
Bascunan, K. A., Vespa, M. C., & Araya, M. (2017). Celiac disease: understanding the gluten-free diet. European journal of nutrition, 56(2), 449-459.