Are you wondering which foods are gluten-free and which are not? That’s no surprise the gluten-free diet is extremely tricky, and gluten can hide in some very unexpected places.
If you’re just starting out on the diet, it’s understandable to get confused and even bewildered by food labels and ingredients lists. Of course, there will be lots of foods that are off-limits on the gluten-free diet. However, there are also plenty of foods you can eat.
The following list, which I’ve broken down into eight categories (fruit and vegetables, meat, milk and dairy products, breads and snacks, dry goods and mixes, condiments, prepared foods and beverages), will explain what you need to know to choose safe products in each category, and provide you with suggested safe brands and products.
1. Gluten-Free Fruit and Vegetables
If you love fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re in luck: with very few exceptions, they’re all gluten-free. You can indulge all you wish with berries, fruits, greens and vegetables you find in the fresh produce section of your local grocery store.
There are, however, a couple of places where even products sold in the produce section can gluten you.
Some stores sell jars of processed fruit that contain other ingredients you’ll need to check. Most of it is gluten-free, but occasionally you’ll run across something suspect.
In addition, many stores sell cut-up fruit in containers. Before purchasing this fruit, double-check on where workers cut it up—a few stores use the deli counter for this, which means the fruit is at risk for cross-contamination from the sandwiches and other products made there. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem at most stores.
Finally, if you’re very sensitive to trace gluten, you could find that certain fresh fruits and vegetables seem to cause symptoms. You’re not imagining things—the problem is gluten cross-contamination at the farm itself.
Gluten-Free Canned and Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Most canned fruits and vegetables are considered gluten-free, but some are not… and the more ingredients, the riskier the product. You’ll also need to read labels or contact the manufacturer to determine if a particular product is processed in a shared facility or on manufacturing lines shared with gluten-containing products.
Single-ingredient frozen fruits and vegetables (e.g., frozen peas or frozen green beans) generally are safe, but you should read labels or contact the manufacturer with questions about the potential for gluten cross-contamination during processing. I’ve run across single-ingredient frozen vegetables that are processed and packaged on lines that also are used for wheat products.
Frozen fruits and vegetables with multiple ingredients (e.g., prepared side dishes) may or may not be safe—many contain gluten ingredients. You’ll need to contact the manufacturer to be sure.
2. Gluten-Free Meat, Poultry, and Fish
Like fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat and fish generally are safe on the gluten-free diet. This includes fresh cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and fish at your local grocery store or butcher.
However, you’ll need to beware of meats and poultry with added ingredients that make them into ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat dishes—most of these are not safe to consume on the diet since the store might use unsafe sauces or even breadcrumbs. I’ve found that information on the ingredients in these ready-to-use products frequently is lacking, so I’d advise steering clear.
In addition, some chickens and turkeys include a broth or liquid intended to “plump” it that may or may not be safe. The label must disclose the presence of this broth, so you’ll need to contact the manufacturer to determine if it contains gluten or not. Your best bet is to choose poultry that isn’t packed with a broth or additional liquid.
I also avoid choosing meats on “naked” (i.e., without plastic wrap covering them) display in refrigerator cases, since many of those display cases also contain foods with bread crumbs and other gluten ingredients. The display cases contain fans to move the air around, and the fans also can blow loose crumbs onto your naked meat. When in doubt, pick something pre-packaged.
Gluten-Free Ham, Hot Dogs, Sausage, and Other Meat Products
There are plenty of hams that are considered gluten-free to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) definition of 20 parts per million, but only some seem to be specifically labeled “gluten-free.”
Many hot dogs also are gluten-free to 20 ppm, and some—like Applegate Farms’ hot dogs—actually carry a gluten-free label. Applegate Farms and other manufacturers also make gluten-free bacon.
Be extra careful with sausage. Many sausages contain bread crumbs as a filler, so check labels carefully before buying sausage, even though there are some gluten-free sausage brands out there. In addition, even if the sausage you’re considering doesn’t include a gluten ingredient, it may have been manufactured on equipment that also processes gluten-containing sausage, so ask about that.
There are plenty of gluten-free deli meats on the market: Hormel and Hillshire Farms both make packaged gluten-free meats, and all of Boar’s Head’s products are gluten-free. However, you’ll need to beware of cross-contamination that can stem from shared slicing machines at the deli counter, so your best bet is to stick with pre-packaged meats instead of having the product sliced behind the counter.
3. Gluten-Free Milk and Dairy Products
Most milk and many dairy-based products are gluten-free, but as always, there are exceptions.
Plain milk—regardless of whether it’s regular, skim or even heavy cream—is gluten-free. Flavored milk, however, may not be safe, and you’ll need to check ingredients to make sure. Malted milk products, including malted milkshakes, are not safe since malt is made with barley.
Plain yogurt is safe, and I’ve had good luck with the Chobani and Fage brands. Many flavored yogurts—but not all—also are gluten-free. You’ll need to check ingredients to be sure. Some yogurts come with cookies and granola, and you should avoid those.
The refrigerator case at the supermarket also carries eggs, which are gluten-free, butter, which is gluten-free, and margarine, most of which are gluten-free (always check the ingredients on margarine and shortening). You’ll also find products such as Kozy Shack tapioca pudding, which is labeled gluten-free.
Some milk substitute products (such as soy milk and almond milk) are gluten-free, and some are not. Be particularly careful of gluten-free-labeled Rice Dream rice milk (found in the dry-goods section of the supermarket, not the dairy section), as it’s processed with barley enzymes and many people report reacting to it.
Gluten-Free Cheese and Ice Cream
When purchasing cheese, most options should be safe. However, watch out for “beer-washed” cheeses, which seem to be a new fad among cheesemakers. In addition, a few manufacturers use wheat as a catalyst when making bleu cheese, so you’ll need to contact the specific maker to determine if a particular bleu cheese is safe or not (this tends to be a problem only for those who are particularly sensitive to trace gluten).
Lastly, beware of cheese that’s been cut up and repackaged at the individual grocery store. In many cases, this repackaging takes place in the deli section on the same cutting boards where the staff makes sandwiches. I’ve been badly glutened by repackaged cheese. Look instead for cheese that was packaged at the manufacturer—you may have to purchase more of it than you’d like, but cheese freezes well.
In the case of gluten-free ice cream, beware of ice creams that contain chunks of cookies, dough or an unsafe candy (here’s the gluten-free candy list). Check the ingredients and avoid anything with a gluten-sounding name like “Cookies and Cream” or “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” unless it’s specifically labeled gluten-free.
Obviously, ice cream sandwiches are out unless you can find some that are specifically labeled gluten-free. But you can buy frozen fruit pops and other ice cream treats that are gluten-free—for example, Dove Ice Cream Miniatures are a staple at our house.
4. Gluten-Free Bread, Snacks, Cereals, and Pasta
When it comes to bread, you have no choice but to choose from among the various gluten-free bread brands. Fortunately, many grocery stores these days carry frozen gluten-free bread, and you can order online to get your particular favorite.
I periodically run across claims that people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can eat bread with ingredients such as sprouted wheat or Einkorn wheat (an ancient form of wheat). Don’t believe them. If the ingredients on the bread include wheat, do not buy that bread—it’s extremely likely to make you sick.
If you’re looking for baked snacks like cookies or cakes that normally would contain wheat, you’ll obviously have to stick to gluten-free labeled items. Again, we’re fortunate that most stores carry at least a handful of gluten-free cookies and may even carry such products as gluten-free bagels and gluten-free frozen waffles in their freezer sections.
Also, there’s now a wide variety of gluten-free pretzels available for snacking, along with many different energy bars that are labeled gluten-free.
Several manufacturers, including Kettle brand, make gluten-free chips (especially gluten-free potato chips) and label them as such. You’ll also find many brands of gluten-free corn chips—look for those specifically labeled gluten-free.
If you want something sweet, multiple candies are considered gluten-free to 20 parts per million; see the list of gluten-free candy for those considered safe.
Gluten-Free Cereal, Pasta Choices Improving
You’ve got multiple choices when it comes to gluten-free cereal: many major brands now are making some favorites, such as General Mills’ Chex, gluten-free. Here’s a comprehensive list I’ve developed of gluten-free cereals, including cold, hot, granola and kid-friendly products: Gluten-Free Cereal Options
As with bread and snacks, don’t buy a cereal unless it’s specifically marked gluten-free.
The same goes for pasta—if it’s not labeled gluten-free, don’t buy it. Fortunately, there are plenty of gluten-free pasta options available, in sizes and shapes ranging from fettuccine to linguine.
You can choose pasta made from corn, rice or more unusual gluten-free grains, such as quinoa. Many people have a favorite brand (you’ll need to do some experimenting to discover your own), and it’s possible to create pasta dishes that taste just like the gluten originals.