Gluten is the collective name for a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye.
Although most people can eat gluten without any issues, it may be harmful to individuals with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (1, 2).
Those with gluten disorders may experience symptoms like digestive discomfort, headaches, fatigue, weight loss, and dermatitis after eating gluten (3).
Other people may also benefit from removing gluten from their diet.
Fortunately, if you have a gluten-related health condition, removing gluten from your diet will likely improve your symptoms.
This article provides 12 simple tips to help you eliminate gluten from your diet.
Wheat, barley, and rye are popular gluten-containing grains. However, there are plenty of gluten-free grain alternatives.
Examples of gluten-free grains include (4):
- brown rice
Despite its name, buckwheat is a grain-like seed that’s unrelated to wheat and naturally gluten-free. Buckwheat can be enjoyed as a cereal or used in recipes for gluten-free baked goods (5).
Oats are naturally gluten-free but may contain traces of gluten from exposure during processing. If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, choose oats with a certified gluten-free label (6).
SUMMARYTo avoid gluten exposure from common grains, choose gluten-free grain alternatives like quinoa, brown rice, or buckwheat.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates gluten-free claims on food packaging.
A product claiming to be gluten-free must comply with the FDA gluten-free definition by containing less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. The European Union (EU) has similar legislation for food products labeled as gluten-free (7, 8).
What’s more, many third-party organizations have established gluten-free certifications for food manufacturers. These are additional certifications, and the food product must still comply with governmental regulations.
For example, the Gluten Intolerance Group established the Certified Gluten-Free label, which requires products to contain 10 ppm or less of gluten. This organization requires ongoing testing and annual inspections to ensure compliance (9).
SUMMARYThe FDA and EU regulate products that claim to be gluten-free. Additionally, some third-party organizations have established gluten-free certifications.
All fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free.
Gluten-free diets may lack micronutrients like folate and magnesium unless gluten-containing products are replaced with other nutrient-dense foods. Including more fresh produce in your diet can help you acquire these nutrients and eliminate gluten (10).
Here are a few ways to add more fresh produce to your diet:
- ask for a lettuce wrap in place of bread
- use spiralized veggie noodles in place of regular pasta
- opt for a salad instead of a sandwich
- use roasted potatoes or butternut squash for a gluten-free side dish
- choose a side of fresh fruit or roasted vegetables
- add a piece of fruit to your breakfast or eat it as a snack
- use sweet potato slices in place of bread
Some processed fruits and vegetables, such as frozen or canned products, may contain gluten as a food additive or thickening agent. It’s best to check the label for gluten or wheat if choosing canned, frozen, or dried fruits and vegetables.
SUMMARYEating more produce is a great way to eliminate gluten and optimize your intake of nutrients that may otherwise be lacking in a gluten-free diet.
Evaluate your current pantry items and clean out any products that may contain gluten.
The best way to identify if a product contains gluten is to read the ingredient list. Throw out or donate items that contain grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Check for lesser-known gluten-containing ingredients like malt vinegar, brewer’s yeast, and seitan.
Eliminating gluten from your diet can be difficult if other household members don’t require the same dietary restrictions.
In this case, consider dedicating a section of your pantry to gluten-free items. This also helps avoid potential cross-contamination and accidental gluten exposure.
You can also avoid accidental exposure by using a separate toaster and washing cutting boards and utensils before preparing your meals.
SUMMARYClean out any items in your pantry that contain wheat, barley, or rye. If other household members don’t require the same dietary restrictions as you do, you can dedicate a section of your pantry to gluten-free items to avoid accidental gluten exposure.
Gluten may be present in certain beverages, especially those containing alcohol.
Beer is a common source of gluten because it’s produced by fermenting gluten-containing grains like wheat or barley. However, there are some gluten-free beers on the market made from ingredients like sorghum or rice (11).
If you want to drink alcohol on a gluten-free diet, opt for distilled liquors like vodka or gin. Typically, wine is also free from gluten. That said, wine coolers may contain malt barley, a gluten-containing grain.
Most non-alcoholic beverages like coffee, tea, and sparkling water products are gluten-free. Nonetheless, some drinks like pre-made smoothies, coffee drinks, or milkshakes may contain gluten, so it’s best to check the label.
SUMMARYAvoid gluten-containing beverages like beer, wine coolers, and some pre-made smoothies. Instead, choose gluten-free beverages like water, coffee, and tea.
If attending a social event, consider bringing your own gluten-free dish.
Accidental gluten exposure is common at social events. Even if a dish is inherently gluten-free, cross-contamination during cooking may pose a risk to people who require strict gluten elimination.
Offer to bring a dish to share with others. Having at least one gluten-free dish to enjoy can reduce social stress and limit potentially harmful gluten exposure.
SUMMARYSocial events may pose a risk for gluten exposure. Bringing a gluten-free dish from home is a great way to ensure a safe food environment without too much fuss.
Gluten-free diets are more likely to be deficient in nutrients like zinc, calcium, and fiber (10).
Nuts and seeds are naturally gluten-free and are great sources of these nutrients (12, 13).
Nuts and seeds to add to your diet include:
- macadamia nuts
- pumpkin seeds
- flax seeds
- chia seeds
- sunflower seeds
You can add nuts or seeds to gluten-free oats, finely grind nuts to use in place of wheat flour, sprinkle seeds over your salad, or blend nuts into nut butter to enjoy with apple slices or celery sticks.
SUMMARYNuts and seeds are naturally gluten-free and are great sources of zinc, calcium, and fiber, all of which are nutrients that gluten-free diets may lack.
There are many different wheat varieties, which can make it difficult to read food labels. Look for these wheat varieties when assessing a label for hidden sources of gluten (4):
- khorasan (Kamut)
- spelt or farro
Many types of wheat flour also have different names like semolina, farina, or graham flour. All of these flours contain gluten and must be avoided if you follow a gluten-free diet.
Moreover, common food additives may contain hidden sources of wheat like maltodextrin, caramel color, and modified food starch.
Evaluating the allergens statement on a food label is the easiest way to identify whether a product contains wheat and gluten. This is because the FDA requires foods to clearly state if they contain any of the top eight allergens, such as wheat, on the food label (14).
SUMMARYThere are many different names for wheat like durum, kamut, and spelt. Evaluate the ingredient list and allergens statement on a food label to identify and eliminate sources of wheat.
Food manufacturers can add gluten to processed foods to improve texture, mouthfeel and shelf life. For example, lunch meat, sausage, baked goods, french fries, and seasoned rice mixes may all contain hidden sources of gluten.
What’s more, processed gluten-free products are often higher in fat, sugar, and sodium than regular products. Thus, while these products are gluten-free, they may not be a favorable replacement for whole foods (15).
Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, and seeds, are naturally gluten-free. Focus on eating more of these whole foods while limiting your intake of processed food.
SUMMARYFood manufacturers may add gluten to food products to improve texture and shelf life. Limit processed foods and eat naturally gluten-free whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins.
Restaurants are increasingly offering gluten-free meal options. However, these meals typically come with an added cost, as well as the risk of cross-contamination.
Cooking more meals at home can help you eliminate gluten from your diet, all while benefiting your overall health.
In fact, people who eat home-cooked meals at least 5 times per week eat significantly more fruits and vegetables and are 28% less likely to be overweight than those who eat home-cooked meals less than 3 times per week (16).
Create a weekly meal plan to stay accountable. Stock your kitchen with gluten-free staples like fresh produce, nuts, seeds, legumes, protein sources like eggs and fish, and various gluten-free grains.
SUMMARYDining out on a gluten-free diet can be expensive and may increase your risk of cross-contamination. Eating more home-cooked meals is a safe option that also benefits your overall health.
Condiments and sauces often contain hidden sources of gluten. Food manufacturers can add gluten to condiments to act as a stabilizer, thickener, or emulsifier.
Condiments that may contain gluten include:
- soy sauce
- salad dressing
- malt vinegar
- barbecue sauce
- pasta sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- teriyaki sauce
Reviewing the allergens label on these condiments is helpful. It’s important to remember that even if a condiment is wheat-free, it may contain gluten from barley or rye. For example, malt vinegar is not gluten-free because malt is derived from barley (4).
SUMMARYMany condiments contain added sources of gluten. It’s best to read labels thoroughly and choose only condiments labeled as certified gluten-free.
Following a gluten-free diet may feel isolating. In fact, people with celiac disease may be more likely to suffer from feelings of loneliness, depression, and social phobia (17, 18, 19, 20).
Joining a gluten-free community is a great way to find resources, community recommendations, and support from other people with similar dietary restrictions.
The National Celiac Association has various chapters around the United States that offer conferences, small meetings, and support for individuals living with celiac disease.
SUMMARYFollowing a gluten-free diet may feel isolating without the right support. Join a gluten-free community to help navigate local restaurants, share recipes, and find support.
Most people can eat gluten without any side effects.
However, certain individuals, including those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, need to avoid it, as it can cause harmful symptoms.
Along with carefully reading nutrition labels, you can also eliminate gluten from your diet by eating more whole foods, increasing your intake of gluten-free grains, and cooking more meals at home.