People who start living a gluten-free lifestyle often wonder where to begin. Gluten can be hidden in many foods where you might not expect to see it. For many, one of the biggest challenges is avoiding foods that contain wheat. Fortunately, a growing number of gluten-free options are now available.
As always, remember labels are your friends. Assess your gluten-free diet to ensure you are getting sufficient nutrients. Working with a dietitian can help you achieve the balance you need to maintain a healthy and balanced gluten-free lifestyle.
What is Gluten?
Firstly, think of gluten as a “glue-like” ingredient that binds foods together to give them shape.
Gluten is a family of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. Glutenin and gliadin are the two primary proteins found in these grains and they play a role in giving gluten-containing foods like dough its elasticity and bread its spongy texture.
On its own, gluten is not a harmful substance. In fact, most people tolerate gluten perfectly well. The problem occurs when the body mistakenly recognizes gluten as a foreign invader and acts out against it.
Gluten can be Problematic
For some people, even a small amount of gluten can be problematic.
With celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, it can be difficult to get micro-nutrients into your diet and properly absorbed to receive the benefits. People with celiac disease have to be extra careful with gluten and cross-contamination risks.
It’s helpful if you take the time to familiarize yourself with these naturally gluten-free foods:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Fresh herbs
- Beans and legumes
- Plain meats—beef, chicken, fish without breading or broth.
What about Grains?
So many people think that gluten-free means no grains at all, but there are so many great gluten-free options out there. Rice, millet, quinoa, and buckwheat are just a few examples.
Many of these grains can be found in your local grocery store, but some may only be found in health food stores.
The following grains, legumes, seeds, and other starchy foods are naturally gluten-free: amaranth, arrowroot, beans, buckwheat groats (also known as kasha), cassava, chia, corn, flax, gluten-free oats, millet, nut flours, potato, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soy, tapioca, teff, and yucca.
10 Pantry Essentials for a Gluten-Free Kitchen
Scrutinize ingredients lists to identify the right gluten-free brands suited for you. Grocery stores are continually adding to their gluten-free aisles. For instance, here are my top 10 pantry essentials for a gluten-free kitchen.
- Baking soda and powder
- Brown rice
- Brown rice flour
- Gluten-free all-purpose flour
- Soy sauce and tamari that are gluten-free
- Gluten-free vegetable or chicken broth
- Gluten-free pasta
- Xanthan or guar gum
You can even easily find gluten-free pasta made from corn, quinoa, or beans.
Check out 15 Gluten-Free Flour Substitutes + Recipes.
Reading the Food Labels
Careful label checking may seem daunting at first, though you will find it a breeze with some practice. Take a quick scan at the bottom of the ingredients list to see if you can spot the words such as “contains wheat.”
Refrain from buying beer, soy sauce, and oats, not clearly labeled as gluten-free. As you go through the label, watch for any variations of wheat, barley, and malt.
Above all, being a great label detective is the way to avoid those troublesome gluten disguises.
Foods that can Contain Gluten
- Baking mixes
- Cake flour
- Candies and chocolate bars
- Cookies and cakes
- Flavored coffee and tea
- Fried foods
- Pizza crust
- Pretzels and chips
- Processed cheese
- Protein bars
- Salad dressings
- Sauces, marinades, gravies and soy sauce
- Sausages, burgers, and hot dogs
- Soups and broths
Gluten-Free Baking Substitutions
Have a favorite recipe and need to swap out certain ingredients?
One of the most significant changes when adapting to a gluten-free lifestyle is no longer relying on the usual cooking ingredients.
Here is a quick cheat sheet for handy baking substitutions:
Flour Substitutions: Gluten-free all-purpose flour
Thickeners Substitutions: Arrowroot flour
Binders Substitutions: Xanthan gum, or guar gum
I suggest you purchase gluten-free cookbooks to help you out.
Cross-Contamination in the Kitchen
If you or those you cook for have high sensitivity to gluten, take extra precautions to avoid contamination when cooking or storing foods. Use designated cutting boards, cooking surfaces, utensils, pots, and pans free from any traces of gluten. When grocery shopping, keep in mind cross-contamination can occur in bulk food bins.
Eating Out and Travel Tips
Most restaurants are happy to answer all your questions about food preparation steps and the corresponding ingredients list. The entrée you selected might appear perfect for you, but an element in the sauce may pose a problem for you. Therefore, it’s a great idea to ask questions.
More and more restaurants are also taking additional steps to designate gluten-free meal prep areas, pots, pans, and utensils to avoid any gluten cross-contamination.
Download the find gluten-free friendly restaurants near you free app.
When traveling call the local restaurant and ask if they have a gluten-free menu available online so you can view the menu options prior to arriving at the restaurant.
If you are concerned about any menu item, ask clarifying questions to be assured of eating your meal with added peace of mind.
Do not Assume that “Gluten-Free” Means “Healthy.”
Be careful if adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, not to rely strictly on gluten-free pre-packaged foods. These are often made with refined grains and heavy in sugar and often contain more calories than their traditional counterparts. This can cause weight gain, so be careful. Try preparing your own meals and stay away from prepackaged gluten-free items.
Lastly, and most importantly, if a gluten-free lifestyle is appealing and something you’d like to move forward with, I highly recommend talking with your healthcare provider for more information and getting tested if you suspect a gluten sensitivity.
Furthermore, if you are looking to learn how to cook and bake healthier gluten-free recipes, check out the online cooking course from Meghan Telpner, Academy of Culinary Nutrition.
*Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will be compensated if you click through and take action. This is to help support the blog and does not have any impact on my recommendations. Thanks for supporting Plant-Based Eva.