Nowadays perusing grocery store shelves can mean getting inundated with the words “gluten-free” on everything from pasta to spinach to soda. That ubiquitous label only makes us more afraid of where gluten could possibly be lurking—if it’s in soy sauce, ketchup, and French fries, it could be anywhere, right? And if you actually have Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, your fears of any foods that aren’t blatantly declared GF might be reaching a fever pitch right about now.
If you’ve been wondering what you can safely eat—and what to avoid entirely—look no further. Here’s our complete guide to gluten in food, including a comprehensive list of gluten-free foods AND a list of foods to avoid that sometimes, or almost always, contain gluten. We also run down how to decode product labels and spot ingredients that might indicate that a particular item contains gluten. Let’s get to the bottom of this once and for all.
When you spot a gluten-free label on a jar of almond butter, it kind of messes with your mind, right? Almonds don’t have any wheat, so why would it even be a question? Well, cross-contamination with gluten products may be an issue in some cases, as well as fillers in items like ice cream, jams, and jellies. (Foods that may contain fillers are noted below with an asterisk, and a comprehensive list of ingredients to look out for in these cases is included here, too.)
Fortunately, many, many real foods are naturally gluten-free—and you really don’t have to worry about them at all! Here’s a rundown.
Whether they’re labeled gluten-free or not, fresh vegetables don’t have any gluten. Good thing—veggies should be the pillar of a healthy diet for everyone, including those who eat gluten-free. Consuming a wide variety is best, so take your pick of these:
The same goes for fresh fruits. When you pick up a banana, you should have no doubt in your mind it’s safe to eat. Enjoy everything from acai to watermelon!
Animal protein is a-OK. Just remember, if you’re ordering from a restaurant, avoid meat that’s breaded or prepared with other ingredients that potentially contain gluten (more on that later).
You have to give up most bread when you go gluten-free, but thankfully, cheese, butter, and everything listed below are generally in the safe zone. Whew! A couple of exceptions that may have gluten: processed cheese and bleu cheeses.
Yes! You can hold onto your grain game. A lot of people don’t know there are tons of gluten-free grains:
It keeps getting better, right? Gluten-free baking can be a little tricky, because gluten protein is the thing that gives most baked goods their spongy texture. But with these flour alternatives, you can still make delicious breads, cakes, and even cookies. Comb through our arsenal of GF recipes to get inspired!
More ways to keep your gluten-free diet healthy and satisfying—fats are vital for your body and brain, and naturally gluten-free, so don’t shy away from them! Fats also do a lot of the heavy lifting to add tons of flavor to any dish.
Speaking of beneficial fats, nuts and seeds also provide essential fatty acids and energy. Not to mention, they’re much healthier to snack on than conventional crackers you have to give up when you go gluten-free. Win-win.
Legumes are naturally gluten-free, but some dried varieties may have been cross-contaminated with gluten products. Canned legumes are generally safe as long as there are no added sauces, seasonings, or flavoring.
With fresh herbs, you’re good to go—your GF meals will never fail to be flavorful! As for dried spices*, make sure there are no fillers (see below).
Aside from the food groups above, there are a few miscellaneous items that you can pretty much trust are gluten-free:
At Thrive Market, we make shopping for gluten-free products totally easy. Visit our Gluten-Free value page and go from there.
Here are some of our most popular GF offerings:
Now the bad news—there are quite a few foods that you’ll have to give up when you quit gluten. But in some cases, you’ll still be able to find some gluten-free options of your favorite breads, pastas, and cereals.
Note: Remember that “wheat-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “gluten-free.” When in doubt, always check for the gluten-free label when it comes to these items.
Just like some foods like fresh fruits and veggies are undoubtedly gluten-free, there are some that are all about the gluten—namely grains and starches. Avoid the following.
You’ll probably have to say goodbye to a lot of your favorite carbs. More often than not, the following foods fall on the “avoid” list.
Ordering up a heaping bowl of spaghetti and meatballs at a traditional Italian restaurant might be off limits. But gluten-free pasta is a thing, so you can still have it at home. Just beware of conventional pastas and noodles in these forms:
It hurts to say this, but you’ll have to drop the bread basket! So even if you have to generally pass on the unlimited breadsticks and pancake stacks when you eat out, you’ll still be able to find gluten-free alternatives of some of these favorites.
Yup, anything lurking in the oh-so-tempting pastry case at the local coffee shop is dangerous. But on the bright side, going gluten-free gives you a good excuse to drop these high-calorie, fattening items altogether.
Most likely, these foods are made with gluten-containing ingredients, so it’s best to avoid them unless they’re labeled gluten-free.
Then there are those items that appear fair game, but might not be. For example, meatballs and veggie burgers may be made with breadcrumbs and flour. Cream-based soups and gravy are often thickened with flour, too. And while legumes and spices are naturally gluten-free, some dried varieties may have been cross-contaminated with gluten products. You may notice a trend here—the basic rule of thumb is, for any processed item, do a pass of the ingredients list to make sure you’re in the clear. Here are some of the foods that might need further investigation before indulging.
As if food weren’t enough to worry about! Gluten may be lurking in anything from shampoo to vitamins, and if you’re extremely sensitive, these products—even applied topically—might cause adverse reactions. Here are some everyday items that may be harboring gluten (but if you are extra sensitive, stick to trusted GF brands).
If you’re gluten-free, it’s good to know how to decode product labels. This list should help—*if you spot any of these ingredients in a product, it could mean there’s gluten inside.
So there you have it. While your approach to bread and pasta might never quite be the same again, now you know how to safely stay gluten-free. And you can take comfort in the fact that some of the most wholesome foods out there are right at home in a GF diet!
Photo credit: Paul Delmont and Alicia Cho
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