Getting the basic gluten-free diet right 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 those that fall in a gray area. Follow the guidelines below compiled by our experts and you will be on your way to a happy, healthy gluten-free life.
Safe: Gluten-Free Foods
Foods made from whole grains (and grain-like plants) that do not contain harmful gluten, including:
- Corn in all forms (corn flour, cornmeal, grits, etc.)
- Plain rice in all forms (white, brown, wild, basmati, enriched rice, etc.)
- Amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat (kasha), cassava, flax, millet, quinoa, sorghum, soy, tapioca, teff, polenta and fonio
- Flours made from gluten-free grain, nuts, beans and coconut, including buckwheat flour, millet flour, almond flour, chickpea flour, amaranth flour, brown rice flour and coconut flour. Look for products labeled gluten free to avoid cross-contamination.
- Glucose syrup
- Maltodextrin (even when it is made from wheat)
- Oat gum
- Silicon dioxide
- Starch and food starch
- Citric, lactic and malic acids
- Sucrose, dextrose and lactose
- Guar and xanthan gums
- Tapioca flour
- Potato starch flour and potato starch
More gluten-free items
- Milk, butter, margarine, real cheese, plain yogurt and most ice cream without gluten-containing add-ins
- Vegetable oils, including canola
- Plain fruits, vegetables (fresh, frozen and canned), meat, seafood, potatoes, eggs, nuts, nut butters, beans and legumes
- Distilled vinegar (see “malt vinegar,” below)
- Distilled alcoholic beverages are gluten free because distillation effectively removes gluten. They are not gluten free if gluten-containing ingredients are added after distillation, but this rarely happens.
- Mono and diglycerides
- Spices. If there is no ingredient list on the container, it contains only the pure spice noted on the label. However, be aware that spices and seasonings are two different things. See below for more information on seasonings, which may contain gluten.
Unsafe: Gluten-Containing Foods
- Wheat in all forms, including spelt, kamut, triticale (a combination of wheat and rye), durum, einkorn, farina, semolina, cake flour, matzo (or matzah) and couscous. Wheat is found in many bread, cakes, cereals, cookies, crackers, pretzels, pasta and pizza crusts, but it can turn up in other products, too. Read labels to be sure.
- Most ingredients with “wheat” in the name, including hydrolyzed wheat protein and pregelatinized wheat protein. Buckwheat, which is gluten free, is an exception.
- Barley and malt, which is usually made from barley, including malt syrup, malt extract, malt flavoring and malt vinegar.
- Rye, which is most often found in bread products. It is not typically used to make ingredients.
- Breaded or floured meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables, when the breading is made with wheat. Also meat, poultry and vegetables when they have a sauce or marinade that contains gluten, such as soy and teriyaki sauces.
- Foods that are fried in the same oil as breaded products are not considered to be safe on the gluten-free diet.
- Licorice, which is made with wheat flour, and other candies that contain wheat or barley.
Possibly Safe: Check these items’ labels for gluten
- Beer is gluten free when made from gluten-free grains. Beer made from barley and processed to remove gluten is not considered gluten free but rather “gluten removed.”
- Dextrin can be made from wheat, which would be noted on the label, and would not be gluten free.
- Flavorings are usually gluten free, but in rare instances can contain wheat or barley. By law, wheat would have to be labeled in foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Barley is usually called malt flavoring. In extremely rare instances, neither barley nor malt is specified when used in a flavoring.
- Modified food starch is gluten free, except when wheat is noted on the label, either as “modified wheat starch” or “modified starch (wheat).” In other instances, the “Contains” statement at the end of the ingredients list may include wheat.
- Wheat starch is allowed in gluten-free foods if the wheat starch has been processed to remove the gluten protein. In addition to a gluten-free label, the packaging of any product using safe wheat starch will note that it has been processed to meet FDA gluten-free standards. Wheat starch in foods that do not also have a gluten-free label are not safe on the gluten-free diet.
- Oats are considered safe on the gluten-free diet if they have been specially processed to prevent cross-contamination by gluten-containing grains. These oats are labeled gluten free. Mainstream oats, including those commonly used in breakfast cereals, are not considered safe unless they are labeled gluten free. Oats are allowed as an ingredient in products labeled gluten-free as long as the final food meets the FDA gluten-free standard. This includes granola, granola bars, cookies and other products. Products that are made with oats but do not have a gluten-free label are not gluten free.
- Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can contain gluten, although most are gluten free. Check with the pharmaceutical company.
- Processed cheese (spray cheese, for example) may contain gluten. Real cheese is gluten free.
- Seasonings and seasoning mixes can contain gluten. Wheat will be noted on the label as required by law.
- Soy sauce is usually fermented from wheat. Only soy sauce made without wheat is gluten free. Look for soy sauce with a gluten-free label.
Gluten: Special Cases
- Caramel color is almost always made from corn, and most companies in North America use corn because it makes a better product. Malt syrup can be used but rarely is, so caramel color is almost guaranteed to be gluten free. However, if a product contains caramel coloring made from wheat, the label must reflect this according to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is a phrase that under federal regulation should not be used on a food label. Food processors have to identify the “vegetable.” So you might read “hydrolyzed wheat protein,” which would not be gluten free, or “hydrolyzed soy protein,” which is gluten free.
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