If you are new to gluten free eating or considering trying a gluten free diet, figuring out what foods you can and can’t eat can be totally confusing. When you start to look for it, gluten seems to be everywhere!
Here, we’ve gathered an easy starter list along with some tips and things to look out for when you’re starting on your gluten free journey. And rest assured, gluten free eating is exciting and delicious as can be!
Foods to avoid with gluten intolerance
The most important foods to avoid if you are steering clear of gluten are wheat, barley, and rye. Other grains like triticale, farina, spelt, and farro are derivatives of wheat and also contain gluten.
The big three (wheat, barley, and rye) are the most commonly found, but it is important to be familiar with all grains that contain gluten. This is because by UK law, gluten itself does not have to be labelled as an allergen, only the grain or derivative will be noted.
According to the Food Standards Agency, allergens must be emphasised in some way to differentiate from the rest of the ingredients. Usually, you’ll see allergens in bold. Keep in mind that even food that is labelled gluten free can still contain up to 20mg/kg of gluten. However, according to Coeliac UK, this level is safe for people who have coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity.
Gluten free foods you can eat
Since so many things are off-limits, a new diagnosis of gluten intolerance can feel so overwhelming. However, like with much in life, it is so much better to focus on what you can eat and can enjoy. And better yet, you’ll be without the symptoms that have been troubling you.
There is an ever-widening world of gluten free products which are easily on a par with their conventional equivalent. Not to mention the fact that far more foods are gluten free than contain gluten. You might find that cooking more at home will give you a greater confidence in gluten free eating. You even might discover a new favourite dish!
Gluten free Grains
While avoiding the big three grains is essential, there are many grains that do not contain gluten. Gluten-free bread products (bread, flatbread, crackers, cakes etc) are usually made with a combination of some of these grains, most often rice and millet. You’ll also find products that have always been made with these grains, such as rice noodles, buckwheat soba noodles, and corn tortillas.
These grains have their own benefits as well. Quinoa is very high in protein. Brown rice has a lot of fibre. Millet is rich in prebiotic fibre, which promotes good bacteria in your digestive system.
- Brown and white rice
- Wild rice
Grains Containing Gluten
Gluten is naturally found in some grains. Avoiding these grains is essential if you are gluten intolerant. Think of these grains as red flags to look out for. You’ll find barley malt in beer, Maltesers, and as flavouring in biscuits. You might find wheat in some sauces.
You will also see these foods on their own, for example, pearl barley, spelt kernels, and wheat berries. Often served in salad or soups, these are definitely foods to avoid.
When you’re doing your food shop, remember to always read the ingredient list carefully and do your research.
- Wheat (durum, semolina)
- Barley (including malt)
- Triticale (often found in cereal)
Fruits and Vegetables
All fruits and vegetables are gluten free. And according to the NHS, we should all be having 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
Here are some of the nation’s favourite fruit and veg (and a few of ours thrown in for good measure).
- Red peppers (and green! And yellow! And mini!)
- Green beans
- Mushrooms (button, crimini, shiitake, portobello!)
- Sweet corn
- Sweet potato
- Apples (all the varieties: Gala, Pink Lady, Cox, Bramley, Jazz!)
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, golden raspberries!)
- Melon (Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Canary)
- This list is, for all intents and purposes, endless
Bread, Crackers, Wraps, Baked Goods Containing Gluten
When we think of things containing gluten, bread is definitely the one that comes to mind first. From sandwich bread to bagels and water crackers to crumpets, whether savoury or sweet, these are some items that are the easiest to avoid as they clearly contain gluten. When looking for gluten free alternatives, don’t forget to check the free from aisle!
- Bread (white, whole wheat, sourdough)
- Rye bread
- Spelt bread
- Crackers and crispbreads (wheat, matzo, water crackers)
- Pita bread
- Whole wheat and white wraps
- Flour tortillas
- Bagels, crumpets, waffles
- Cakes, cookies
- Pastries, doughnuts
- Scones, pancakes
Gluten Free Condiments, Spices, and Dressings
There are lots of condiments, spices, and dressings that are gluten free, like those listed below. And the good news is that if you have a favourite that isn’t gluten free, chances are you’ll be able to find an alternative or with a little research be able to make your own. Have a favourite taco seasoning that includes gluten? Try making your own seasoning mix from dried herbs and spices.
- Apple cider vinegar, red and white wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar
- Most salsa
- Most dried herbs and spices
- Fresh herbs
- Gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
- Gluten-free mustard
Sauces And condiments containing gluten
You will find gluten lurking in places you won’t have thought of and one of the biggest culprits is the sauce and condiment aisle. Many dressings and condiments contain malt, which is a derivative of barley. While you should be able to find gluten-free alternatives, make sure you read the allergy labelling on your regular brands.
- Soy sauce
- Barbeque sauce
- Some salad dressings
- Gravy granules
- Some spice mixes (keep an eye out for yeast extract, another of our malt friends)
- Malt vinegar
- Some ketchup
- English mustard
- Some stock cubes
- Some pre-mixed marinades
Legumes are a food group we should all be eating more of. Not only are they suitable for people on gluten free and plant-based diets, but also are an excellent source of fibre, protein, and iron. And they are delicious and so versatile - hummus? Yes please. Pasta made from 100% yellow peas? Yum.
Now you may have noticed that our core products here at ZENB are indeed our 100% yellow pea pastas, which are naturally vegan and gluten free. And it would be remiss of us not to give it a special mention here. You can read more about our 100% Yellow Pea Pasta and why we (and our customers!) think it is so great.
- Yellow peas
- Lentils (red, green, puy)
- Butter beans
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Cannellini beans
- Adzuki beans
Wheat-based Pasta and Noodles
Conventional pasta and noodles usually are not gluten free. You will find that sometimes pasta is made with durum or semolina, which are both kinds of wheat. Egg noodles, used in stir frys, are also made with wheat. We’ve included orzo (tiny rice-shaped pasta) and couscous (also technically a pasta, made from semolina) on this list as well.
- Wheat pasta (sometimes called durum wheat, all shapes, including filled pasta)
- Semolina pasta
- Wheat-based egg noodles
- Ramen style noodle
- Udon noodles
- Orzo and couscous (including pearl couscous)
Animal proteins in their natural state are also totally gluten free. The key thing is to make sure you are buying a marinade-free product and if you prefer a flavoured yoghurt, check the ingredients.
- Meat (including beef and pork)
- Fish (including shellfish)
- Dairy protein like cheese and yoghurt
Snack Foods Containing Gluten
In snack foods, gluten usually appears in the form of barley malt or wheat. Biscuits come in with a double whammy: besides usually containing wheat, barley malt is often used for flavouring. Wheat protein can appear in energy bars. Some dry-roasted nuts have a coating that contains wheat. Some crisps (even potato crisps) have wheat in the flavouring. Chocolate bars, whether they contain a wafer or not, are something to be extra wary of as they are often prepared in environments where cross-contamination occurs.
- Cereal bars
- Some crisps
- Protein/energy bars
- Some dry roasted nuts
- Chocolate bars
Seeds and Nuts
Seeds and nuts are great sources of healthy fats, fibre, and other vitamins and minerals. A wide variety of nuts and seeds are now easily available at your local supermarket and so long as they aren’t coated with anything, they are gluten free. Try roasting your own walnuts to go on a salad or a make-ahead breakfast of chia seed pudding.
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
Drinks Containing Gluten
Yes, you even need to be careful about what you drink! Beer is made with barley malt and therefore should be avoided - this includes lager, stout, and ale. Barley malt can also be found in some sake and rice wine, as well as some other flavoured alcoholic drinks. Malt is the thing to look for, so dodge malted milk and keep a keen eye out for malt flavouring in hot chocolate.
- Beer (including lager, stout, and ale)
- Malted milk powder
- Some chocolate milk, including some hot chocolate powder
- Fruit and barley squash
- Sake and rice wine containing barley malt
- Flavoured cider containing malt
- Wine coolers flavoured with malt or hydrolysed wheat protein
- Some pre-mixed canned cocktails
Gluten Free Drinks
There are lots of drinks that are naturally gluten free - from water to wine. Trendier drinks such as La Croix and most kombucha are also made to be specifically gluten free. If ever in doubt, check the ingredients!
- Water, including sparkling and most flavoured water
- Fruit juice
- Fruit squash and cordials, such as lime and elderflower
- Coffee and tea
- Most kombucha
- Most fizzy drinks
- Most Wine
- Spirits (even spirits containing barley do not contain gluten, the distillation process removes it)
Healthy Fats and Oils
According to the NHS, healthy fats and oils are an essential part of a balanced diet. Fats help our bodies absorb vitamins D, A, and E. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning our bodies can only absorb them with the help of fats. These fats and oils, among others, are naturally gluten free!
- Olive oil
- Full fat yoghurt
- Nut butters
- Coconut (no added sugar)
Processed and pre-made foods are some that are the hardest to work out whether they contain gluten or not. Some clearly and obviously have gluten, such as breaded chicken. Some you might not have thought of, like your sausages. In this category, there is a bit of everything: wheat starch, the ever more ubiquitous malt flavouring, and outright hidden bread (looking at you, breadcrumbs in burgers!).
- Wheat-based meat substitutes (such as seitan)
- Some sliced meat/deli meat
- Some refrigerated and canned soup
- Some baked beans (keep an eye out for Worcestershire sauce which can contain malt vinegar)
- Some ice creams
- Some cereals
- Coated or breaded chicken and fish
- Sausages (often contain rusk made from wheat)
- Burgers (can contain breadcrumbs)
- Some processed cheese (some low-calorie and spreadable cheese may contain wheat starch)
- Some frozen French fries
Gluten Free Sweets & Treats
Now just because you have embraced a gluten free diet, it does not mean that there will be no more cakes. There are lots of treats that are naturally gluten free, such as amaretti, meringues, and almond flour based cakes. Of course, if you are buying rather than making your own, check the ingredient list.
- Original M&Ms
- Gluten-free labelled cakes and biscuits
Eating out when you are gluten free
Eating out can be another area that feels like it is a bit of a minefield. But take a deep breath, and remember all you need to do is plan ahead. When you find a place you’d like to go to, phone them. Be open and honest about your concerns and ask if they have a plan in place to cater to people who are gluten intolerant.
Many restaurants are now catering to the gluten free diet and will have a gluten free section on their menu. Some will even be able to make a dish gluten free, even if it isn’t listed as such. So the more you ask, the more you’ll know!
When you arrive, confirm again with your server, and enjoy your meal. Coeliac UK also have started a Gluten Free Accreditation scheme and have a really useful list of restaurants who have a plan in place and whose staff are trained in gluten free food safety
Starting out on a gluten free diet can be a bit staggering. The list of no-go foods is extensive and it does feel like gluten is in everything, particularly a lot of things that make our lives in the kitchen easier and more straightforward. But the real takeaway is that with a little time, getting to know the ingredients to look out for, and making sure you really get in the habit of reading labels, a gluten free diet can be satisfying and enjoyable.
In the last few years, food retailers have started to be so much better about providing alternatives and labelling ingredients. So, you might miss bread, but we can promise that you won’t miss pasta.
Please note that if you suspect you have coeliac disease, speak to your GP. More information and support can be found at www.coeliac.org.uk
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