Starting a gluten-free diet can be difficult. It’s easy to default to gluten-free packaged foods. People go on this diet and eat three meals and snacks from these packaged foods. You know—the gluten-free muffins or brownies or cereals or pizza. These are often made with refined grains and heavy in sugar and often contain more calories than their traditional counterparts. The result: you may start to gain weight if this is the main change you make to your diet. So think of these as “on occasion” foods. It’s just like with any diet. A candy bar is just a candy bar—gluten-free or not.
Gluten is in so many different foods because there are so many ways companies can use gluten. You need to get used to playing food detective. While food companies are required to list allergens on the label (e.g. eggs, nuts), they are not required to do this with gluten. While you can look for “gluten-free” on the front of the package, you should also flip it over and read the ingredients label. (It’s also not enough if a food says “wheat-free.”) Reading labels and checking for cross-contamination is a must for people with celiac disease.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation you need to look for: wheat, barley, rye, malt, brewer’s yeast and oats. Oats are often contaminated with gluten, so they have to specifically be certified gluten-free oats. Gluten-free flours, such as millet or amaranth, should also be bought certified gluten-free. If the label lists an ingredient you’re not familiar with, wait to eat it until you can confirm that it’s safe.
You probably know that a whole-wheat bagel is not gluten-free, but you might be surprised that some of your other favorite foods aren’t either. Watch out for flavored nuts and chips (the seasoning often contains gluten), energy bars (with non-gluten-free oats), creamy soups (flour may be used as a thickener), candy, salad dressings, marinades and soy sauce. If you’re vegetarian, you might eat a lot of fake meats (veggie bacon!), but know that these are often made with seitan, which is wheat gluten.
A gluten-free diet takes work and some planning, especially in the beginning as you’re getting used to a new way of eating.