Gluten Free Diet: Building the Grocery List

Reviewed by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
The Gluten-Free Diet: Building the Grocery List


Gluten is a type of protein found in common grains such as wheat, barley and rye, as well as foods made from these grains. Consuming even the smallest amounts can damage the intestines of someone with celiac disease. Because of this, individuals with celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet. Others eat gluten-free out of choice. Whatever your reason for following a gluten-free diet, here are a few key points on building a grocery list.

Build Your Grocery List

Grains and flours that are gluten-free and considered "safe" to eat include rice, wild rice, corn (maize), sago, soy, potato, tapioca, beans, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, teff, Indian ricegrass and uncontaminated oats (labeled as gluten-free oats).

Other naturally gluten-free foods include milk, non-fat dry milk, 100-percent fruit or vegetable juices, vinegars (except for malt vinegar), and fresh fruits and vegetables. Also OK are single ingredient foods — such as butter, eggs, lentils, peanuts, seeds, tree nuts, fresh fish and shellfish, honey and water. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, choose vodka and gin, wines and gluten-free beers.

Oats are, by nature, gluten-free. However, they nearly always become contaminated during processing or distribution with other gluten-containing grains. If tolerated, up to about a ½ cup of dry gluten-free oats per day may be included in the diet.

Keep It Off the List

Gluten-containing foods include wheat (einkorn, durum, farro, graham, Kamut, semolina, spelt), rye, barley and triticale. Malt products such as malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are generally made from barley and, thus, contain gluten. Other foods to avoid include beers, ales and lagers that are made from gluten-containing grains and commercial oats not specifically labeled gluten-free.

Avoid processed foods and any ingredients that may contain wheat, rye, barley or malt (always read the label). These foods include bouillon cubes, brown rice syrup, candy, cold cuts, hot dogs, salami and sausage, communion wafers, drugs and medications, supplements, french fries, gravy, imitation fish, licorice, matzo, modified food starch, pudding mixes, rice mixes, salad dressings, sauces, seasoned snack foods (tortilla chips, potato chips, etc.), seitan, self-basting turkey, stuffing, dressings, soups, soy sauce, thickeners and vegetables in sauce. Some of these foods can be found in gluten-free varieties. In 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines that manufacturers must follow for labeling foods "gluten-free." When in doubt, check with the food manufacturer or go without.

This list is not complete. You may want to discuss gluten-free choices with a registered dietitian nutritionist or physician who specializes in celiac disease. An RDN can help you understand what foods are safe to eat and what foods to avoid in order to eat a nutritionally adequate, gluten-free diet.

In the Aisles

At the grocery store, be sure to read food panels carefully. Start by looking for the words gluten-free. Under the FDA rule, a food can be labeled gluten-free when the unavoidable presence of gluten in the food is less than 20 parts per million. A food labeled gluten-free may contain wheat starch if the food contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. If you have a severe gluten sensitivity, do not eat foods containing wheat starch that are not labeled gluten-free.

When a product is not labeled gluten-free, look for these six words in the ingredient list: wheat, rye, barley, oats, malt (unless a gluten-free source is listed, such as corn malt) and brewer's yeast. If these ingredients are listed, don't buy it. Also, do not eat foods labeled "contains wheat" listed next to the ingredients.

Food products that seem as though they might be gluten-free, such as rice mix, may have traces of gluten if the manufacturer makes other products with gluten in the same facility. Read all product labels each time you purchase a product as the manufacturer may change an ingredient.

Finally, don't hesitate to speak to your grocer about grains you would like to have available in your store.

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