What is a Gluten-free Diet?
In the simplest terms, a gluten-free diet is a diet that doesn’t contain gluten.
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), as well as in products and ingredients made from those grains. All-purpose flour, graham flour and semolina – and foods such as breads, pasta and crackers that are made from these ingredients – are examples of such gluten-containing products. Even ingredients such as wheat starch, brewer’s yeast, malt, and soy sauce contain gluten. Gluten provides structure and texture to foods that contain it, such as cakes, breakfast cereals and macaroni. Gluten can also be found in gluten-free foods, such as oats (if not designated as gluten-free), if handled on equipment shared with gluten-containing foods.
Why Follow a Gluten-free Diet?
For most people, eating gluten-containing foods doesn’t pose a problem and these foods can provide important nutrients. However, individuals with celiac disease must avoid gluten entirely, since it triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine and can lead to a number of serious health problems. People may also avoid gluten if they have non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, of which the severity can vary. In recent years, many people have switched to gluten-free diets, even if they’re not officially diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder, if they feel that it benefits their health.
No matter what your reason for following a diet that’s gluten-free, it’s important to know some basics for healthy and successful gluten-free living.
How to Get Started on a Gluten-Free Diet
What can you eat on a gluten-free diet? Happily, quite a lot. To learn about your options, first become an educated label reader. Scheduling an appointment with a registered dietitian is a good next step.
Step 1: Look for products with “gluten-free” listed on the label. The FDA has strict guidelines governing the use of “gluten-free” on packaging, so anything with this claim should be safe. If a label doesn’t state “gluten-free,” assume that the product does contain gluten until you’ve conducted a thorough inspection (per Step 2).
Due to the risk of cross-contamination, look for gluten-free certification for oats and other naturally gluten-free foods that may be processed alongside gluten-containing grains. This is important for people with celiac disease and those with a severe sensitivity but may not be needed for others with less severe conditions.
Keep in mind, too, that gluten-free labeling isn’t a requirement for all foods. There are many perfectly safe gluten-free items that don’t state “gluten-free” on the label, especially fruits and vegetables.
One more reminder - “wheat-free” doesn’t necessarily mean gluten-free because barley and rye are wheat-free and contain gluten.
Step 2: Be sure to read full ingredient lists, keeping an eye out for primary gluten sources (wheat, rye, triticale, barley, oats) and less-familiar ones like malt, textured vegetable protein and yeast extract.
For any unfamiliar ingredients, do some research before purchasing, or bring those questions to your registered dietitian.
Wheat, wheat flour, semolina, triticale, durum, oats (not labeled GF), rye, barley, graham, malt (malt syrup, vinegar, extract), matzo
Some condiments (marinades, sauces, dressings, barbecue sauce, teriyaki), breadcrumbs, panko, soy sauce, bouillon, broth, hot dogs, lunch meat, gravy, soups, baked goods, spice mixtures, yogurt or ice cream with mix-ins, veggie burgers
Amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, corn, flax, legumes, millet, nuts, oats (labelled GF), potatoes, quinoa, rice, seeds, soy, tapioca, yucca, yams, fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, sugar, honey, most dairy products, oils, herbs
Gluten-free Food Shopping Tips
Here’s some great news: Whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, poultry, eggs, fish and seafood are almost always gluten-free. Just remember – if it has a label, read it. If any seasonings have been added (for example, broth injected into chicken breasts or spices added to meat), the label must list the ingredients.
While the majority of dairy products (including milk, yogurt and cheese) are gluten-free, label reading is still a must for these items. Flavored and other processed dairy items could contain gluten.
As you navigate the rest of the grocery store, be sure to keep checking labels. Luckily, a wide variety of gluten-free snacks, frozen treats and baked goods are now available and marked “gluten-free” for easy shopping.
Gluten-free Eating Tips
Gluten-free cooking may take some getting used to at first. For example, a recipe may call for all-purpose flour, so you’ll need to find a suitable gluten-free substitute such as Simple Truth™ Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour Mix. Explore our dietary lifestyle page for more resources for your gluten-free eating needs.
In addition to whole fruits and vegetables, pre-packed snacks like Simple Truth™ Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies and frozen Gluten-Free Extra Thin Crust Pepperoni Pizza are easy pleasers – for both adults and kids. For a special treat, top toasted gluten-free bread with peanut butter, sliced strawberries and a drizzle of honey.
Looking for an easy-on-the-wallet, fast-to-the table dinner? Ladle gluten-free spaghetti sauce over cooked Simple Truth Organic® Gluten Free Red Lentil Penne Pasta, top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and serve with a green salad. Or, try “brinner” (breakfast for dinner). Whip up an omelet packed with leftover roasted potatoes and vegetables (spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, etc.).
4. Safety considerations
You may be wondering: Is a gluten-free diet safe? For some followers, a gluten-free diet is medically necessary. Others may follow it because eating gluten-free feels beneficial to them. To prevent missing out on essential nutrients, base your meals around a balance of nutrient-dense, minimally processed, and naturally gluten-free options most often such as: Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, gluten-free whole grains (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, amaranth) and starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes, corn).
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.