Guide to being gluten-free
Going gluten-free might seem like the trendy thing to do; however, what you may not realize is just how difficult following a gluten-free diet can be. Even today, where gluten-free products are seemingly everywhere, gluten is hidden in tons of products, many that people would never expect. In this post, we are diving into what it means to be gluten-free, foods to focus on and avoid, our favorite gluten-free brands, and more!
What exactly does it mean to be gluten-free?
Going gluten-free means avoiding foods with gluten or ones that may be cross-contaminated with gluten. But what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a type of protein found in the grains like wheat, barley, and rye. As you can imagine, removing these foods significantly impacts one’s diet and even lifestyle.
Many people choose to go gluten-free for health reasons; whether they have Celiac Disease or feel that they are sensitive to gluten and feel better without it. If you are curious if you should go gluten-free we have a whole blog post on this!
Certified Gluten-Free vs. Gluten-Free
Here is where it gets confusing. You may notice that packaging promotes products as “gluten-free”, while others packaging will read “certified gluten-free”. Turns out, there’s a difference between the two.
Products labeled “gluten-free” by the FDA contain less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. To put this in perspective, that is around a single breadcrumb. This may seem like nothing, however, if you have Celiac Disease this may be a big deal depending on how sensitive you are and how many “gluten-free” products you are eating (this can really add up).
“Certified-gluten-free products” are carried out by a third party. These guidelines are similar in that the products must contain less than 20 ppm. However, the Celiac Support Association (CSA) requires that foods contain less than 5 ppm and that foods are free from oats even if gluten-free to avoid any chances of cross-contamination.
Foods to focus on in a gluten-free diet
The upside about a gluten-free diet is that it promotes a whole-foods plant based-diet which we generally recommend for optimal health. Gluten is not in fruits and veggies, nuts, fats, proteins, and select grains (unless it is being prepared that way which is something to be mindful of).
GF foods to focus on:
- Fruits (think: berries, apple, melon, or whatever your favorite fruit is)
- Veggies (the options are limitless between non-starchy veggies (leafy greens, brussel sprouts, etc.) and starchy veggies (carrots, potatoes, etc.)).
- Proteins – ideally high-quality but not a deal-breaker (think: grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs, organic ground turkey, wild-caught salmon etc.)
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds (all nuts and seeds are naturally gluten-free, but flavored ones can contain gluten)
- Healthy fats (think: avocado, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, etc.)
- Grains (rice, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, arrowroot, corn, millet, etc.)
While all of the above foods are naturally gluten-free, it is important to be mindful of how they are prepared and possible cross-contamination (which we will get into later. This is why reading food labels and asking questions to the food service operation is critical.
Foods to avoid on a gluten-free diet
Since gluten is a protein found in wheat, the primary foods to avoid are in the carbohydrate family (trust me, I am just as sad as you are!).
Foods containing gluten:
- Wheat (breads, pastas, crackers, baked goods, cereal, farro, etc.)
- Oats (very commonly cross-contaminated with wheat and barley which is why you must only look for and eat oats that are certified gluten-free – but note that even gluten-free oats can be problematic, particularly for those who are Celiac)
- Malt (beer, spiked seltzers – although some are produced to be gluten-free)
- Brewers yeast
Avoiding these ingredients, while not ideal, may seem simple; however, the reality is these ingredients are typically used in a ton of other foods that you would never expect, which is why I must reiterate to READ your food labels! In any case, we have compiled a list of foods below that are often sneaky sources of gluten.
Sneaky sources of gluten
- Seasoned snack foods (think: nuts and potato chips)
- Seasoned rice mixes
- Creamy soups, salad dressing, and marinades
- Processed lunch meats
- Processed meats (some hot dogs and sausages)
- Soy Sauce and Teriyaki sauces
- Imitation crab (often found in sushi)
- Some food colorings
- Some candies and icecreams
- Alcoholic beverages (not just beer but malt based beverages like seltzers! Look for certified gluten free label)
Now that we covered foods subject to containing gluten, let’s get into cross-contamination. For those of you that are not familiar, cross-contamination is essentially when a naturally gluten-free item becomes contaminated with a gluten-containing food item. If you are highly sensitive to gluten or Celiac, this is highly problematic in that you could react to something as little as a breadcrumb.
Common sources of cross-contamination:
- Fried foods (restaurants often use the same fryer to throw everything in leading to cross-contamination unless they clearly state they are using a separate GF frier)
- Other common areas of cross contamination are toasters, cutting boards, any kitchen prep surface and utensils, knives strainers, etc – this is why you MUST communicate clearly with the staff that you have a food allergy)
- Can be an issue in something as simple as someone double dipping before you and leaving crumbs behind or GF pasta being boiled in the same pasta as non-GF pasta
- Note that cross-contamination also happens in food production facilities which is why you should look for and avoid “processed in a facility with wheat” on food labels even if wheat or gluten is not listed on the ingredients
Gluten-free brands we love
The good thing is that nowadays gluten-free products are seemingly everywhere and a lot easier to come by than a few years ago. As a dietician, we search for the highest quality gluten-free brands and products to share with our clients:
Some of our favorite gluten free brands/products:
- Food for Life breads/wraps (not all are GF)
- One Degree Organics
- Simple Mills
- Quinn Snacks
- Lesser Evil Snacks
- Siete Foods
- Jovial Foods
- Eat Banza
- Bob’s Red Mill (not all are GF!)
- Forager Cereal
- Birch Benders
- Tolerant Pasta
- Mary’s Super Seed Crackers
- Hu Kitchen
- Enjoy Life
- Primal Kitchens
- Canyon Ranch Bread (not all are GF!)
The Bottom Line
Being gluten free is complicated, but not impossible! Once you get the hang of it and find your favorite gluten-free products, it feels a lot less restrictive, and on the upside, you will likely be feeling a lot better too! The main takeaway is to ALWAYS read the label and ask questions when eating out!
Thinking about going gluten-free or need help navigating the space? Click here to work with us!