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Gluten-Free Diet: Building the Grocery List

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: November 08, 2021

Reviewed: August 25, 2023

The Gluten-Free Diet: Building the Grocery List

Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It's also found in 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. Here are a few tips on building a grocery list and navigating the aisles.

Build a Gluten-Free Grocery List

There are many grains and flours available that don't have gluten. Some safe choices to add to your grocery list include rice, wild rice, corn (maize), sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, teff and gluten-free oats*. These grains may be found intact, like when you buy a bag of rice, or ground into flour. Some other gluten-free flours you may come across include soy, potato, tapioca, garbanzo bean and arrowroot.

Other foods that are naturally gluten-free include single ingredient foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, butter, eggs, lentils, nuts and seeds, fish and poultry, honey and water.

*Oats are, by nature, gluten-free. However, they are often contaminated with other gluten-containing grains during processing. Many individuals with celiac disease are able to tolerate about a ½ cup of dry gluten-free oats per day.

What to Keep Off the List

While the names of some foods give clues to their ingredients, such as whole-wheat crackers or rye bread, other foods in your pantry may surprise you. Always read the ingredient list on the label of processed foods and avoid foods that contain wheat, rye, barley or malt.

Malt products such as malted milk powder, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are generally made from barley and contain gluten. Triticale is a lesser known hybrid of rye and wheat, which should be avoided. There also are several varieties of wheat, including einkorn, durum, farro, graham, Kamut, semolina and spelt, which should be avoided.

These ingredients may make an appearance in foods like bouillon cubes, brown rice syrup, candy, deli meats, hot dogs, communion wafers, drugs and medications, supplements, french fries, gravy, imitation fish, matzo, modified food starch, rice mixes, salad dressings, sauces, potato chips, seitan, self-basting turkey, soups and soy sauce. Many of these foods are available gluten-free as well, but it’s important to always check the label. 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.

In addition to food, if you’re of legal drinking age and choose to drink, avoid beers, ales and lagers unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free. This includes any foods that use beer as an ingredient, like beer cheese soup.

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 to eat a nutritionally adequate, gluten-free diet.

Navigating the Grocery Store 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. Some foods labeled gluten-free may also contain wheat starch. If the food is gluten-free it should state, “The wheat has been processed to allow this food to meet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for gluten-free foods.” 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 words in the ingredient list: wheat, rye, barley, oats and malt (unless a gluten-free source is listed, such as corn malt). If these ingredients are listed, don't buy it. Also, do not eat foods labeled "contains wheat" listed next to the ingredients. Brewer’s yeast may or may not contain gluten and should be avoided unless the label states it is gluten-free.

Food products that seem as though they might be gluten-free, such as a rice mix, may have traces of gluten. Read all product labels each time you purchase a product — even if you’ve had it before — 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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