Getting the hang of the gluten-free diet isn’t as overwhelming as it might seem when you know the ground rules. Whether you are new to the gluten-free diet or have been following it for years, the information here provides a go-to resource for safe foods, unsafe foods and foods that might fall in a gray area. These guidelines, compiled by a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), are intended to provide a good start down the road to a healthy, happy gluten-free life.
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Ground rule 1: Get going with naturally gluten-free foods.
Some manufacturers may choose to use the gluten-free label on these foods and beverages, but it is not necessary for these foods to be labeled gluten-free to be safe:
- Fresh, canned or frozen fruits.
- Fresh, canned or frozen vegetables without sauce.
- Plain meats—beef, chicken, fish and pork without breading or broth.
- Plain dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Nuts and nut butters. (Check labels to make sure there is no wheat added to packages of nuts.)
- Beverages such as bottled water, pop and fruit juice.
Ground rule 2: Keep your eyes on the gluten-free label.
The 2014 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gluten-free labeling rule set the standard for what the words “gluten-free” mean on the food label. The FDA governs most packaged foods, shelled eggs and dietary supplements.
Manufacturers are not required to label their foods gluten free. However, manufacturers who choose to use the gluten-free label must meet the specifications outlined in the rule.
Some companies have a unique gluten-free symbol on the packaging, while others may simply have the printed words “gluten free” on the front or back of the package. You can also look for symbols of third-party gluten-free testing and certification. However, it is not necessary to limit yourself only to products that have these certifications. You can buy any product labeled gluten free. You can read more about third-party certification of foods here.
Phrases you might see on package labels that mean the same thing as gluten-free include “free of gluten” and “no gluten.” Phrases such as “not made with gluten-containing ingredients” or “no gluten-containing ingredients” do not mean the same thing as gluten-free. The phrase “low gluten” is also not defined and not regulated.
Look for the gluten-free label on any grain product you purchase, including flours made from these grains. In addition, nut and bean flours should also be labeled gluten free. While these are considered naturally gluten-free foods, they are at risk for cross-contact with gluten.
Beans and legumes may also be at risk for cross-contact with other grains. Whenever possible, purchase beans and legumes labeled gluten-free. Spread dry beans out on a cookie sheet and pick through them, removing any foreign materials. Rinse both dry beans and canned beans under running water before cooking. You can read more about beans and legumes here.
Even when a product has a gluten-free label, it’s still wise to scan the ingredient list to ensure that the food does not include any gluten-containing ingredients. Occasionally, foods are incorrectly labeled gluten-free by the manufacturer. This appears to occur most often with malt and wheat-based soy sauce. You can read more about issues with misbranding here.