The day we found out our daughter had to start a Gluten Free diet, my husband and I headed straight to Whole Foods. We spent FIVE hours strolling the aisles, spent hundreds of dollars and rushed home to prepare a smorgasbord of gluten free childhood delights we were sure our family would love - namely cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, and cookies. Sadly, the meal ended with ALL of us in tears. I mean we were literally all crying - it tasted horrid and we could not imagine eating this food for the rest of our lives.
Luckily, gluten free food choices have expanded and Going Gluten Free is much easier than it used to be. Here is a simple guide to get you starte.
What does Gluten Free Mean?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and derivatives of these grains. If you are on a gluten free diet, you must avoid any foods containing these grains or their derivatives
Grains Not Allowed on the Gluten Free Diet include:
- Wheat including but not limited to Bulgur, Coucous, Einkorn, Durum, Faro, Graham, Kamut, Matzo Meal, Semolina and Spelt.
- Barley is a grain and also used to make malt flavoring. It can be listed as barley, barley malt or just malt. Manufactures are not required to list barley as an ingredient so, although rare, barley malt can be simply listed as "flavoring.”
- Rye can be found in sandwich bread. It is common in German and Eastern European countries to use rye flour in bread with caraway seeds, and in pumpernickel bread.
- Triticale is a grain created from the crossbreeding of wheat and rye. It can be used in bread, cereal manufacturing, brewing and distilling.
Some, but not all, Safe Grains and Starches that are Naturally Gluten Free: The following grains are naturally gluten free and safe on the GF diet. Only choose grains and flours labeled gluten free. A small study published in 2010 tested 22 samples of inherently GF grains, seeds and flours for gluten contamination. None of the products tested were labeled GF. Of the samples tested, 32% were found to have gluten levels greater than the FDA proposed level of 20 ppm. The study was considered too small to make of determination of which grains are more or less likely to be contaminated but based on the study, only choose grains and flours labeled gluten free. Source
- Buckwheat - make sure it is not combined with wheat flour.
- Corn (Maize)
- Quinoa - new research is showing that some quinoa may be contaminated by barley. Make sure the quinoa is labeled gluten free.
Other Food/Ingredients that are Gluten Free in their Natural Unprocessed Form unless Otherwise Noted:
- Canola oil
- Citric acid – usually made from corn, beet sugar or molasses. Even if made from wheat, it is so highly processed that no gluten protein would remain.
- Dextrin - a partially hydrolyzed starch that can be made from corn, potato, arrowroot, rice, tapioca or wheat. If made from wheat will be labeled as such and is not safe on the gluten free diet.
- Dextrose - made from rice, corn or wheat starch but is so highly processed that it is gluten free regardless of the starch source.
- Glucose syrup
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein - if derived from wheat will be labeled as hydrolyzed wheat protein and is not gluten free.
- Maltodextrin made in the USA is made from corn, potato or rice.
- Meat (plain)
- Mono and Diglycerides are fats made from oil such as soybean, cottonseed, sunflower and palm oil.
- Spices - pure spices are gluten free.
- Whey – the liquid part of milk that is separated from solids when cheese is made. It is gluten free.
What about Oats? Oats do not contain gluten but are often contaminated with wheat so if you see them in an ingredient list you should not consider the product gluten free. The only exception is gluten free food specially processed with certified gluten free oats such as Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oats. Current research indicates that pure uncontaminated oats consumed in moderation (up to 1/2 cup dry oats daily) are tolerated by most celiacs. Source
Distilled alcoholic beverages Distilled products such as alcoholic beverages do not contain harmful gluten peptides. Research indicates that the gluten peptide is too large to carry over in the distillation process. For this reason, wines and hard liquor/distilled beverages are gluten free. Beers, ales and largers made from gluten containing grains are not distilled and therefore, are not gluten free. There are many gluten free beers in the United States.
Vinegar Distillation successfully removes gluten from the vinegar. One exception is malt vinegar made from barley that is fermented but not distilled and thus not safe for those on a gluten free diet.
Are “flavorings” gluten free? Under the FALCPA a flavoring derived from wheat must be labeled as "flavor (wheat)" or "wheat" will be included in the “Contains Statement” at the end of the ingredient list. However, seasonings and seasoning mixes can contain gluten. There are several taco seasonings that contain gluten.
The trickier issue is barley, which can be used as a flavoring. Some companies voluntarily list barley or malt flavoring, or malt extract but they are not required to do so. While it appears that there are rare cases in which barley or malt are used and not labeled, when in doubt call the manufacturer.
Caramel color is generally made from corn, but it can be made from malt syrup although this appears to be rare. When in doubt, double-check or go without.
Soy sauce is usually fermented from wheat and is therefore not safe on a gluten free diet. However, there are a few GF brands including Organic Wheat Free Tamari Soy Sauce Tamari by San JandLittle Soya.
Pharmaceuticals and Medications may contain gluten and there are currently no requirements for labeling gluten found in these items. Confirm the ingredients with your pharmacist or check Gluten Free Drugs.com a list that is maintained by a clinical pharmacist as a public service.
Cosmetics and Personal Hygene Anything that can be ingested through your mouth can be a source of gluten. This applies to, but is not limited to, Chap stick, lipstick and toothpaste. Play Doh contains gluten. Even bug spray and sunscreen can have gluten in them. Gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin, but how many times have you gotten sunscreen in your mouth?
Other Places where Gluten can be Hidden: Gluten can be hidden in many different places. Frequently overlooked foods that may contain gluten include:
- Brewers’ yeast, when it is a by-product of beer, is not considered GF.
- Brown rice syrup
- Breading and coating mixes
- Communion wafers
- Energy Bars
- Flour or cereal products
- Fried foods – can be contaminated from being fried in oil that has fried something with gluten in it.
- Imitation bacon
- Imitation seafood
- Processed luncheon meats
- Salad dressings
- Sauces, gravies
- Seasoned rice mixes
- Self-basting poultry
- Soup and soup bases
- Stuffing, dressing
- Thickeners (Roux)
- Vegetables in sauce
Reading Food Labels and Cross-Contamination:
Food manufacturers are not required to label a food that contains gluten. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires food makers to list the top eight allergens whenever they are used in a food regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Gluten is not one of the top allergens and is not required to be listed. Beware that products labeled wheat free are not necessarily gluten free. Because wheat is considered a top allergen, all foods that include wheat will be labeled as such. Food manufactures are not required to list gluten as an ingredient if it is not derived from wheat. Thus, a food product labeled wheat free may still contain gluten derived from spelt, rye or barley and therefore is not GF.
Even foods that are naturally gluten free can become contaminated with gluten when processed. Even if the product does not contain gluten ingredients, the food still may not be GF due to cross-contamination that can occur during the manufacturing process. In theory, if something is clearly labeled and all of the ingredients appear to be gluten free, then the item should be safe to eat. Unfortunately, cross-contamination can be an issue that is not found on the label. Once I purchased sun-dried tomatoes and the ingredients were clearly all gluten free. Nevertheless, I emailed the manufacturer to double check. I received an answer back that they could not guarantee the item to be gluten free because of the manufacturing processes. This may occur when machinery or equipment is inadequately cleaned after producing gluten-containing foods. Wheat flour can stay airborne for many hours and contaminate exposed preparation surfaces and utensils or uncovered GF products. This is an individual choice, but as a general rule we do not eat food that is manufactured in a facility that processes wheat or is made on the same lines as wheat with the only possible exception being if the food is certified GF by one of the agencies listed below.
What about products labeled Gluten Free? The FDA has proposed a less than 20 parts per million gluten free standard. However it has never gone into law so currently in the United States there is no definition for the use of the term “gluten free.” The only requirement is that the label be “truthful and not misleading.” Without a clear standard, food manufacturers are allowed to set their own limits for exactly what is and what is not gluten free.
What about the Gluten Free Certification Programs? Some companies seek certification from one of several gluten-free certification organizations. The Gluten Intolerance Group, the Celiac Sprue Association and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness have developed their own certification programs to help consumers identify safe gluten free food. GIG’s certification process is Gluten Free Certification Organization. They certify products to be GF that test to contain less than 10 ppm of gluten. This is also an individual choice, but I generally trust products that have gone through the GFCO program and are labeled as such. Be warned, some food manufacturers will label a product as certified GF when it really is not. Always look for an official label from one of the Certification Organizations.
As a general rule, I never eat anything processed until I check with the food manufacturer by calling or email to verify:
Is the product made in a dedicated GF facility?
If it is made in a facility shared with gluten-containing products, is it made on dedicated GF equipment?
What steps did the manufacturer take to prevent cross-contamination?
Is the product Certified GF by one of the recognized agencies and if not, does the manufacturer regularly tests to see if the product falls below the standard of 20 ppm?
When in doubt, Go Without! Do not eat a food if you are unable to verify the ingredients and the risk of cross-contamination.
Easy Gluten Free Food to Get You Started:
Going Gluten Free does not have to be completely overwhelming if you remember that all unprocessed vegetables and fruits, unprocessed or unmarinated meats, unprocessed rice and beans and most dairy products are naturally gluten free and good for you.
There are so many quality gluten free options that you can find satisfying gluten free substitutions in most grocery stores. That being said, realize you may not like the gluten free food the first time you eat it.
First of all, if your starting the gluten free diet due to an illness such as celiac disease, you may feel awful from being sick for a long time. My daughter remembers not wanting to eat in general because her stomach hurt so much. So no food tastes really good at this point.
Second of all, gluten free food is different. It takes time for your taste buds to change. I still remember the first time I baked a loaf of gluten free bread. I did not like the taste of it, but I also could not stand the smell of it baking. Start with some of the simple tested and true good gluten free food mentioned in our Gluten Free Pantry and give yourself time to feel better and time for your taste buds to adjust.
For the first few weeks when you are sorting things out, try some of these easy GF options.
Lunch and Dinner Ideas
- Any natural unprocessed meat.
- Baked potato
- A sandwich on Udi Bread - you can go gluten free and still eat your favorite GF sandwich toppings on Udi bread.
- Lunchmeat - Our family enjoys Hormel Natural Choice lunchmeats. For an easy lunch, roll some lunchmeat and cheese together and stick a toothpick in it.
- Lundberg Farms gluten free rice and risotto.
- Nachos - Tostitos tortilla chips with melted cheese on top. Click on the Tositos link to see a list of Frito Lay products that are gluten free!
- Peanut butter on some toasted Udi's bread or with some Snyders of Hanover GF Pretzels.
- Fruit and vegetables. Do not underestimate the value of fruit and veggies. We eat more of these than anything else.
- Cheese is a great option for anyone on a gluten free diet. Gluten is not included in the standard ingredients in cheese that include milk, enzymes and sometimes salt. Most processed cheese is also likely though not guaranteed to be gluten free. You might find wheat in the seasoning used for some shredded cheeses, but anytime wheat is used it must be clearly labeled. Frigo cheese sticks are great for kids. Our family also loves Gouda and sharp cheddar. Contrary to some popular rumors blue cheese is also considered safe for those on a gluten free diet.
- Chips are not necessarily healthy but many are gluten free. Click this link for Frito Lay Gluten Free List. Even better, try Food Should Taste Good chips which are certified gluten free and processed on equipment that does not process any gluten ingredients, and they taste wonderful. Eat them with hummus.
- Real popcorn. Most microwave popcorn is gluten free but save yourself the worry and time and make your own popcorn.
- Hard boiled eggs
- Kozy Shack pudding
- Kind bars.
- Ice Cream itself is gluten free but may contain products which are made from gluten so avoid ice cream sandwiches, cone products, cookie and ice cream flavors such as Oreo, and flavors which contain brownie pieces, cookie dough and cheese cake etc.
Setting up a Gluten Free Kitchen:
Setting up a Gluten Free Kitchen. Once you have a good idea of what gluten is, you need to go through your refrigerator, pantry and even your medicine cabinet and either get ride of everything that is not GF or clearly label it as not GF for someone else in the family to use. Even if your butter and jam is GF, in the beginning you will need to buy new dedicated GF containers of the same. You do not want to eat butter that may have been contaminated with a knife with gluten on it. The same may be true for sugar as well if someone dipped a measuring cup with wheat flour into the sugar jar.
Because of contamination issues, clean anything out of your kitchen that could have the residue of gluten on it. A good scrubbing or trip through the dishwasher will get most non-porous items such as glass, metal and Pyrex clean. Anything that can hold some residue of gluten should be replaced. The main items you are going to want to replace with designated gluten free items include:
- Cutting boards,
- Strainers – a good cleaning will probably be okay but it depends on how the strainer is made.
- Wood spoons,
- Bread maker if you have one,
- Grills - a lot of marinades contain soy sauce that is made with wheat. You may be able to bake off the residue, but I like being extra safe.
- Cookie sheets - a good scrubbing may get any former gluten residue off but I was a little too paranoid to use my old cookie sheets for my now gluten free cookies.
- Cleaning sponges or scrub brushes – you don’t want to clean your GF dishes etc. with a scrub brush that has been contaminated with gluten.
- Any other porous items.
After you have sorted through the food items and appliances, this is a good time to give everything in your kitchen a good wipe down including your refrigerator and the inside of your oven.
Only going Partially GF. Eventually you are going to have to decide how far to go on the gluten free lifestyle change. Most likely, similar to my family, only one or two eat gluten free. In our family, my oldest daughter was initially diagnosed with celiac disease. For a few years, we had a shared gluten and non-gluten free kitchen.
If you have very small children, it may be easy to just cook gluten free for them. I know some families with toddler and preschool-aged children who bake gluten free pizza for the little ones and still order carry out for themselves.
If you only go partially GF, you still need to buy a dedicated GF toaster, cutting boards, strainers, wood spoons, and any other porous items that could trap gluten and clearly label them GF. Buy dedicated cleaning sponges and scrub brushes for your GF areas and items. Clearly label all of your dedicated GF appliances etc.
Set up a dedicated gluten free area in your kitchen or pantry where you can put your gluten free toaster and products. Clearly label these areas and make sure they are above any areas that have wheat items. You do not want the crumbs from your wheat crackers to contaminate your GF area. Make it a rule that nothing with gluten on it ever touches the counter in your GF area of the kitchen.
Dedicate the top shelves in your refrigerator as gluten free and clearly labeled it as your “gluten free only” area. Keep separate and label all gluten free spreads, butters, and condiments. You do not want someone sticking a knife that has run over a piece of wheat toast in your GF butter dish.
Having these areas clearly labeled makes it easier on baby sitters, sometimes spouses and any company that you have over.
Going GF all of the way. Eventually more than half of my family went gluten free. I soon realized that, at a minimum, I have gluten intolerance. A few years later, we realized my middle child was also gluten intolerant so it became easier for our entire kitchen to become GF as well.
I think it actually means a lot to my GF kids to have a safe GF environment at home. No matter how good of a show the child puts on, it can be hurtful when other people eat gluten around them. Our kitchen is a safe haven where they don't feel constantly deprived and where they can eat anything in the refrigerator and pantry without worry. This also greatly diminishes the cross-contamination issues in our kitchen. We now just have one toaster, one jar of jam, one container of butter etc. After being GF for eight years, we also don’t eat a lot of bread and other things that could have wheat in them. It is easier and less expensive to stick with a diet that is naturally gluten free. Plus, it is easier for me to cook one meal every night.
My Favorite Kitchen Appliances for My GF Kitchen.
In the last eight years, I have gone from having no-idea how to cook to being a pretty good gluten free chef (at least to my family). Along the way, I have picked up a few new appliances that I consider essential. I really believe in the simpler gluten free lifestyle and that carries over into my kitchen, so I don't have a ton of appliances. But here is a list of my favorite appliances that I would be sad not to have in my GF kitchen. Of course the two appliances we use most are our toaster and coffee maker. This is a list of "extra" appliances that will help in your GF cooking. I even listed them in order of importance to me.
- Cuisinart Mini-Prep Processor This may seem surprising but I use my mini processor as much as anything else in my kitchen. It is great for grinding up a quick topping for baked chicken fingers, some almonds if I need to make some almond flour, chopping up an onion, making chicken salad. It is something that I would really miss if I did not have it.
- KitchenAid Series 5-Quart Mixer This would be my second most favorite appliance. I love my KitchenAid Mixer. I use it at least five times a week for making everything from a quick batch of GF brownies to perfectly whipped mashed potatoes. I even shred Cheddar Cheese with an attachment. If you can afford it, you will not regret buying it.
- Cuisinart Food Processor This appliance gets used 1 -2 times a week depending on the season. It is great for whipping up some hummus or Thai peanut sauce. You can also make GF bread dough in a food processor.
- Zojirushi BB-CEC20 Home Bakery Supreme 2-Pound-Loaf Breadmaker You might be surprised that I put this one last. I think a breadmaker is a nice luxury if you can afford it, but you can make bread without a bread maker. Having the bread maker simplifies the process - you just pour everything in and turn it on. If you have the time, you can be successful at making GF bread without a bread maker.
This list should get you started. If you want to see more of my favorite things, visit the Kitchen Accessories Section of my Gluten Free Mom's Store.
Still need to know more.
Gluten Free Food Lists Need some reassuring when sorting this out? There are some good resources that have done a lot of the work for you and you can find lists of GF food. You should always independently verify ingredients.
With over 25,000 products listed alphabetically by category, you are sure to find something you can eat. You are at the grocery store and want some taco seasoning. Just turn to that heading and there is a list of GF brands.
Published by Triumph Dining and containing 20,000 brand name and store brand products that are gluten free.
- My Gluten Facts An on-line resource for gluten free products and manufacturers.
Books about Living Gluten Free
- Celiac Disease (Revised and Updated Edition): A Hidden Epidemic by Peter Green I read the first version of this book when we were first diagnosed. Glad to see it has been updated. A very thorough explanation. While I was reading it, I keep thinking "wow, I have that. Wow, I have that too." It ultimately lead to me realizing that I also have celiac.
Gluten Free Cookbooks
There are some great gluten free cookbooks and some really not so great ones as well. The biggest difficulty with gluten free cookbooks is that you are unlikely to find just one that satisfies all of your cooking requirements. One cookbook may be great for baking treats and quick breads, while another offers good suggestions for main entrees, and yet another for baking bread. This can leave you with a stack of cookbooks and going crazy to mix up all of the different flours.
With all of the information available on the internet, you can have great success cooking gluten free without ever purchasing a cookbook. When I am looking for a new recipe, I do a search such as "Gluten free recipe for ___” and usually find a lot of great choices. Do not forget our very own Gluten Free Recipes page with new recipes being added weekly.
That being said, the following is a list of cookbooks that we turn to over and over again:
For Gluten Free Baked Treats we turn to:
For baking Gluten Free Bread with a bread machine we suggest:
Annalise G. Roberts. It has everything from great recipes, specific directions on how to set your bread machine and tips for when things just don't go right.
For Everyday Meals the easiest, healthiest and most affordable way to eat gluten free is to cook meals from whole foods. Being your classical processed foods and carry out Mom when we first started this diet, the concept of eating whole foods was new to me. Now we mostly eat whole natural foods. If this is a new idea to you as well, some great cookbooks to start with are:
- Celiac Disease Foundation holds an annual education conference and sends out a very informative quarterly newsletter that provides support, information and assistance.
- Celiac Sprue Association is the largest member-based non-profit celiac organization in the United States. Members receive Lifeline, their quarterly newsletter which contains gluten-free recipes, medical articles, contact information for gluten-free food manufactures, human interest stories, ads, and a variety of other items of interest to those with Celiac Disease & Dermatitis Herpetiformis.
- Gluten Intolerance Group mission is to provide support to persons with gluten intolerance's including celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, and other gluten sensitivities, in order to live healthy lives. They hold an annual education conference. The Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP) is one of their programs. Through it, you can find restaurants that provide gluten free meals.
- National Foundation for Celiac Awareness NFCA is a non-profit national organization that is affiliated with the leading researchers in the US who are working toward the goal of finding a cure for Celiac Disease. In addition to finding recent news on celiac disease, you can sign up for an email newsletterand they have aGluten Free Eventspage with various events across the United States.
- University of Chicago Celiac Disease CenterIs at the forefront of research to cure Celiac Disease.
- Houston Celiac Support Group has a great web site with tips on starting the gluten free diet, living with celiac disease etc.