If you eat gluten-free, a gluten-free foods list can be a valuable resource. Navigating stores and restaurants to find gluten-free food options may be challenging at times. This gluten-free foods list can help you know what to look for (and what to look out for) when choosing grains and other foods that may contain gluten.
Currently, using a “gluten-free” label is optional on food products sold in the U.S. All products that are labeled “gluten-free” must contain less than 20 parts per million gluten. The 20 ppm threshold was set because it is virtually impossible to reliably detect levels below this (it’s like finding a grain of sand in a swimming pool). Plus, research shows that most people with celiac disease, an immune response to eating gluten, can handle these small (<20 ppm) amounts of gluten with no ill effects.
All food labeled “gluten-free” meets these standards, but not all gluten-free food is labeled (especially products that are naturally gluten-free). The ingredient list on the package label is your best tool to be sure, and you can always contact the food company directly if you’re unclear. Here are some things to look out for when you’re buying gluten-free foods.
Gluten-Free Whole Grains: Oats, Cereals, Breads and More
Grains (including bread, pasta, rice, crackers), specifically whole grains, are an important part of a healthy diet. Whole grains are a good source of healthy carbohydrates, providing energy to get you through the day. Most whole grains are high in fiber, which keeps you full and helps with digestion. Though many grains have gluten, a wide variety are naturally gluten-free.
Naturally Gluten-Free Grains & Starches:
• Oats: But be aware that oats may be processed in a facility that also processes wheat. You’ll need to confirm your oats are labeled gluten-free or check with the manufacturer to rule out cross-contamination.
• Potatoes and potato flour
What to Avoid When Shopping for Grains:
If you’re not sure if your bread, crackers, pasta and other grain-based products are gluten-free, a quick look through the ingredients can help you tell. Avoid products that contain any of the following, as these are NOT gluten-free.
• Other forms/varieties of wheat that should also be avoided: whole wheat, spelt, wheat berries, kamut, durum, farro, farina, bulgur, graham, semolina, bromated flour • Barley
• Triticale (a cross between rye and wheat)
Gluten-Free Vegetables & Fruits
That’s right, gluten can even sneak into some of your fruits and veggies, though this is no reason to avoid them! All fresh, whole vegetables and fruits are naturally gluten-free and important to include in a gluten-free diet. Low in calories, fat and sodium and delivering a variety of vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables are a great source of antioxidants. Produce is also a top source of fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and keep you full.
But when you move out of the produce aisle and start looking at packaged produce, be wary. Some types of processed vegetables and fruits may be prepared or preserved with ingredients that contain gluten. Plain fresh and frozen (without sauce) vegetables are all gluten-free, but double-check ingredient lists on packages to be sure. When buying canned veggies, buy those packed with water or natural juices (typically the healthier option anyway). For dried and pre-prepped vegetables, double-check the ingredients to make sure there are no gluten-containing flavorings or stabilizers. The concern for gluten in fruit comes when fruit is canned, dried or (less likely but possible) frozen, as gluten-containing ingredients may be added during the process. Here’s what to look out for when selecting gluten-free fruit and vegetables.
What to Avoid When Shopping for Fruits and Vegetables:
- Hydrolyzed wheat protein
• Modified food starch: If the label doesn’t specify what type of starch is used, check with the manufacturer, as it may be wheat.
• Malt: Including malt syrup, malt vinegar, malt extract, malt flavoring
• Gluten stabilizer
• Maltodextrin: This is OK when made from corn, potato or rice starch. If it’s made from wheat, it will be labeled: you may have a reaction, though many claim the gluten is destroyed in processing.
• Potato starch/potato starch flour
• Distilled vinegar
• Mono- and diglycerides
• Oat gum
• Citric acid, lactic acid and malic acid
Most protein sources—both animal and vegetable proteins—are naturally gluten-free. Additional ingredients, such as fillers and flavor enhancers (including spices, rubs and sauces) are where gluten can sneak into your meats and veggie proteins. Use this list to help you decide which proteins can fit into a gluten-free diet.
Naturally Gluten-Free Proteins:
- Red meat: Fresh beef, pork, lamb, goat, bison, duck, etc. (Check any marinades.)
• Poultry: Fresh chicken and turkey (Check any marinades.)
• Seafood: Fresh fish, scallops, lobster, clams and more are all naturally gluten-free. (Check any marinades.)
• Tofu: It’s made from soy, which is gluten-free, but check for any additional ingredients with gluten.
• Nuts and seeds
Proteins That Need a Second Look:
- Processed meats: Including hot dogs, pepperoni, sausage, etc. These may have gluten added, so be sure to check the ingredient list and avoid those with wheat gluten, wheat starch or wheat dextrin.
• Cold cuts: It’s rare, but cold cuts may have gluten-containing ingredients added; cross-contamination can also happen at the deli on the meat slicer.
• Ground meat: Ground beef or ground turkey can have gluten added in as filler. Be sure to check the ingredients carefully.
• Vegetarian burgers and other meat substitutes: Some flavors and brands are made with ingredients that contain gluten. Be sure to check the labels.
Proteins to Avoid:
- Seitan: This vegetarian protein is literally gluten. So avoid this if you’re following a gluten-free diet.
Gluten-Free Sauces, Spices and Condiments
Sauces are one of the most common places gluten slips in unnoticed. Gluten-containing ingredients can be used as thickeners, stabilizers or flavor enhancers in many common condiments. Wheat flour is a common thickener in many sauces and marinades, which means they contain gluten. Be aware of the following sources of gluten that may not be super-obvious. And also watch out for cross-contamination once these items are in your home. For example, a knife used to spread mustard on wheat bread shouldn’t be dipped back into the mustard jar if you want it to stay gluten-free.
Sauces, Spices and Condiments That Are Usually Safe:
- Mustard: Some specialty or flavored mustards may contain gluten, so always check the ingredients.
• Mayonnaise: Typically not made with gluten, but check the ingredients to be sure.
• Dry spices: Most single-ingredient herbs and spices (think dried basil, garlic powder, chili powder) do not contain gluten, though because of cross-contamination concerns it’s best to look for specifically labeled gluten-free spices or check with the manufacturer.
Sauces, Spices and Condiments That Need a Second Look:
- Ketchup and Worcestershire sauce: Both of these condiments can be made using malt vinegar, which is not gluten-free. Double-check the ingredients.
• Barbecue sauce: Avoid BBQ sauces made with barley-based beer, soy sauce, malt vinegar, barley malt flour and possibly bourbon (see “Beverages” below), as these typically contain gluten.
• Soy sauce: Soy sauce is traditionally made with wheat, so it usually is not gluten-free unless otherwise marked.
• Malt vinegar: Malt vinegar isn’t just a French-fry dipper. It’s also found in some salad dressings and sauces and it’s not gluten-free. However, white vinegar, distilled vinegar and apple-cider vinegar are all gluten-free.
Gluten-Free Desserts & Sweets
Many sweets and desserts are made with wheat flour or other ingredients with gluten. As more companies are making gluten-free versions of products, remember that gluten-free sweets are not necessarily healthier for you than regular treats, but they will prevent a bad reaction if you’re sensitive to gluten.
Make at Home
Sweets That Are Usually Safe:
- Chocolate: Chocolate does not naturally contain gluten, though some manufacturers have add-ins that do contain gluten. There is also a risk of cross-contamination, so it’s best to check the label on chocolate.
• Hard candy and gummies: These candies don’t usually don’t contain gluten; avoid those listing “wheat flour” as an ingredient.
• Ice cream, sherbet, gelato, frozen yogurt: These treats are generally gluten-free, but steer clear of those with pretzels, cookie dough, graham crackers, brownie bites and other gluten-containing add-ins.
Sweets to Avoid:
- Grain-based desserts: Cookies, cake, brownies, pie, doughnuts, pastries, cheesecake, etc. are almost always made with gluten, unless marked “gluten-free.” Even crustless cheesecakes and fruit desserts may have wheat flour in the filling.
• Licorice: This sweet candy may be made with wheat flour and therefore is not gluten-free, unless otherwise noted on the packaging.
• Barley malt: Avoid sweets made with this ingredient, which is used to sweeten some candies and chocolates.
Gluten-Free Drinks and Beverages
There are plenty of gluten-free beverages, but you do need to pay attention to be sure you don’t slip up with a sip of gluten. Water, of course, is naturally gluten-free and is your best healthy way to stay hydrated. For all prepared beverages, be sure to check the ingredients, as variations and blends may contain gluten.
Drinks and Beverages That Are Usually Safe:
- Coffee and tea: These beverages are both naturally gluten-free, but if you’re sensitive to gluten it’s best to check and make sure there was no cross-contamination with your coffee beans or tea leaves, or added ingredients in blended beverages.
• Juices, sodas and sports drinks: Check the label to be safe, but these generally won’t have added gluten-containing ingredients.
Drinks and Beverages That Need a Second Look:
- Alcohol: Alcoholic beverages need to be navigated more carefully, as different varieties do contain gluten. Beer is made with hops, barley or rye—meaning it does have gluten and should be avoided, though many companies are coming out with gluten-free beer varieties. Cider is a good gluten-free alternative (it is made with fermented apples), as is wine, because it is made with grapes. Hard alcohol is generally safe: Those not made from grains, such as rum (made from sugarcane) and tequila (100-percent agave) are typically gluten-free. Other distilled alcohols (gin, whiskey, bourbon, vodka, etc.) may be made from grains, but the distilling process renders them gluten-free. However, reactions have been reported, so to be completely safe, experiment with a small amount or look for “gluten-free” labels.
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