Many people avoid gluten, a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye, due to personal preference or a medical condition.
Celiac disease, wheat allergy, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) all involve an adverse reaction to gluten and are treated with a gluten-free diet. These conditions are considered forms of gluten intolerance.
While both celiac disease and NCGS may lead to intestinal damage and cause symptoms like diarrhea, gas, and bloating, celiac is an autoimmune condition linked to other serious health effects, such as anemia, stunted growth, and neurological effects.
A wheat allergy refers to an allergic reaction to wheat proteins, the symptoms of which may be life-threatening. This condition is treated with a wheat-free diet, not necessarily a gluten-free diet.
Although people with wheat allergies must avoid wheat, most can eat other grains, including gluten-containing ones like barley and rye.
Meanwhile, people with celiac disease and NCGS must avoid all gluten-containing foods to control symptoms. Notably, many healthy foods are naturally gluten-free, and quite a few companies make scrumptious gluten-free products.
Here are 8 foods to avoid if you have a gluten intolerance, as well as 7 you can safely eat.
Foods to avoid
You should steer clear of the following foods if you have gluten intolerance.
1. Gluten-containing grains
Grains that contain gluten include:
- wheat berries
Note that oats are naturally gluten-free but may be contaminated with gluten during processing.
2. Most bread, crackers, and wraps
Most bread, crackers, and wraps contain gluten. The only way to know for sure is to read the ingredient list and check to see which grains are used.
If you have a gluten intolerance, avoid the following:
- white bread
- whole wheat bread
- potato bread
- rye bread
- sourdough bread
- wheat crackers
- whole wheat wraps
- flour tortillas
3. Certain condiments
Although condiments seem like unlikely sources of gluten, many popular ones harbor gluten. These include:
- soy sauce
- barbecue sauce
- salad dressings
- cream sauces
- spice blends
- gravy mixes
- malt vinegar
As an alternative, you can make your condiments from gluten-free ingredients or purchase ones that are certified gluten-free.
4. Most baked goods
Baked goods are typically made with wheat flour or other gluten-containing grains. As such, people with gluten intolerance should largely avoid these foods:
- soft and hard pretzels
- pancakes and waffles
5. Wheat-based kinds of pasta
Pasta is a staple food in many cultures. Although gluten-free alternatives exist, most traditional pasta is made with gluten-containing grains:
- gnocchi made with wheat flour
6. Some snack foods
Snack foods are a common source of gluten. Gluten-containing snacks include:
- granola bars
- cereal bars
- energy bars
- snack mixes
- candy bars
7. Certain beverages
Some drinks are made with ingredients that contain gluten, so it’s important to read the labels. Beverages that may contain gluten include:
- bottled wine coolers
- premade coffee drinks
- drink mixes
- commercial chocolate milk
8. Several processed foods and other items
Many processed foods and other popular items may also harbor gluten. These include:
- meat substitutes, such as veggie burgers and hot dogs
- prepared lunch meats
- processed cheeses
- egg substitutes
- canned soups and soup mixes
- puddings and instant dessert mixes
- certain ice creams
- breakfast cereals
- french fries and other fried foods
- flavored tofu
Summary: Foods that contain gluten include bread, pasta, crackers, baked goods, many grains, and several beverages and processed items.
Foods to eat
Though it may seem as if most foods are off-limits when you’re intolerant to gluten, many delicious and healthy foods are naturally gluten-free. Plus, quality gluten-free bread, pasta, and crackers are available in most grocery stores.
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If you’re gluten intolerant, you can enjoy the following foods.
1. Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free. However, keep in mind that certain products, such as battered vegetables and candy-coated fruit, may contain gluten. The following are some options:
- citrus fruits
- sweet potatoes
- butternut squash
- Brussels sprouts
Beans and lentils are gluten-free, which is why they’re commonly used to make pasta alternatives and other gluten-free products. They include:
- red lentils
- black beans
- kidney beans
- cannellini beans
- pinto beans
- adzuki beans
3. Gluten-free grains and grain products
Although many grains are off-limits for people with gluten intolerance, some grains are gluten-free. They include:
- wild rice
- brown rice
- gluten-free bread, crackers, and other baked goods made from these grains
To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, be sure to only buy products that have been certified gluten-free.
4. Animal proteins
Animal proteins like the following are naturally gluten-free:
- dairy products like yogurt and cheese
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are gluten-free and provide a nutrient-rich source of fat. What’s more, they can be made into gluten-free flour. Good choices of nuts, seeds, and butter include:
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
- peanut butter
- macadamia nuts
- almond butter
- Brazil nuts
6. Certain seasonings and condiments
The following seasonings and condiments are safe for those following gluten-free diets:
- apple cider vinegar
- fresh herbs like basil, rosemary, and cilantro
- most salsas
- most dried herbs and spices
- coconut aminos
7. Healthy fats and oils
Most sources of healthy fat, such as the following, are gluten-free.
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Summary: Foods that are safe to eat if you have a gluten intolerance include nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, dairy products, gluten-free grains, and legumes.
Tips for eating out
Many restaurants don’t offer gluten-free meals, so it’s important to know what’s safe to order if you have gluten intolerance and are going out to eat.
If you have celiac disease, NCGS, or a wheat allergy, you must inform the waitstaff. The restaurant is much more likely to take your condition seriously if they know you can’t have gluten for medical reasons.
In general, you should stay away from pasta, bread, and grain dishes unless the restaurant offers gluten-free options like brown rice pasta or gluten-free grains.
You’ll also need to steer clear of bread baskets. Instead, ask the waitstaff to bring a gluten-free appetizer like edamame, a caprese or simple salad, or crudités plate with hummus.
Fried foods, such as french fries, fried chicken, fried fish, and mozzarella sticks usually contain gluten, so you should avoid these foods as well.
When choosing a meal, keep it simple and use the following steps to create a gluten-free meal:
- Choose a protein source: fish, shrimp, chicken, beef, beans, plain tofu, lentils, etc.
- Choose a gluten-free starch or grain: potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, amaranth, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
- Choose a non-starchy vegetable: broccoli, cauliflower, pepper, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, green beans, etc.
Customizable salads and gluten-free grain bowls make great meal choices.
If you don’t trust the salad dressings or sauces used at restaurants, you can bring your own from home. Simply pour a small amount into a portable glass jar or bottle.
To ensure that you’ll have gluten-free options, it’s advisable to scan the menu before choosing to eat at a restaurant. You can also call ahead to discuss your options with the staff.
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Summary: When you go out to eat, check the menu for gluten-free items, and be sure to inform the server if you have gluten sensitivity.
How much gluten is safe?
For people with celiac disease, research suggests that the usual threshold for gluten consumption is 10 milligrams (mg) per day.
Having a diet with a gluten content of 20 parts per million (ppm) should put most people below the 10 mg threshold.
The amount of gluten in foods varies widely. “Gluten-free” products must contain fewer than 20 ppm of gluten, according to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling.
This means that to hit the 10 mg daily threshold, a person would have to eat 17 slices of gluten-free bread, if each slice contains 20 ppm. Or, for context, they could eat an amount of regular flour the size of a pen’s tip.
While the FDA has set guidelines about how much gluten many so-called gluten-free products can contain, there are no such rulings for alcoholic beverages or meat, poultry, or certain egg products, which are regulated differently.
As a result, anyone looking to limit their gluten intake needs to check labels carefully and consult staff at restaurants.
If you’re intolerant to gluten, you must avoid all gluten-containing foods.
Foods with gluten include many grains and most bread, pasta, and baked goods. Numerous condiments and processed foods harbor gluten as well.
It’s best to focus on the many delicious, healthy foods that you can eat. These include veggies, fruits, eggs, fish, dairy, nuts, and seeds, as well as gluten-free grains.