Gluten is a term that refers to a mixture of different proteins that are found in some grains including wheat, barley, and rye.
Its purpose in these grains is to store energy for germination and seedling development (1).
In food, gluten helps to provide structure and moisture retention. It also helps bread rise by trapping gas bubbles during cooking.
For most people, gluten does not cause any significant health problems.
However, for a small number of people with a condition known as celiac disease, those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, it must be avoided.
This can be problematic as many processed foods include hidden gluten-containing ingredients that can be hard to identify.
If you are following a gluten-free diet, here is a list of foods to avoid and alternatives to help guide your food choices.
What Foods Do You Avoid on a Gluten-Free Diet?
Certain grains and ingredients made from these grains must be avoided.
Grains to Avoid
- Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
Wheat and Grain Containing Derivatives to Avoid
Here are the terms you will want to look for in foods. Some are terms to describe alternative forms of the grains listed above. Others are derivatives that may be added to processed foods.
- Malted barley flour
- Malted milk
- Malt syrup
- Barley malt extract
- Malt vinegar
- Malt flavoring
- Wheat berries
- Brewers yeast
- Wheat starches
Products to Avoid
Many processed foods contain gluten. Here are some of the most popular foods to avoid. Fortunately for people with celiac disease, many gluten-free versions of these foods are now available.
- Wheat flour
- Wheat protein
- Wheat starch
- Malt beverages
- Baked goods
- Many snack foods
100+ Naturally Gluten-Free Foods
While it may seem like many foods must be avoided, a large number of foods are naturally gluten-free.
Be cautious because some foods may still carry the risk of cross-contamination depending on how they were processed.
These foods can cause a reaction in those with celiac disease and others who are sensitive to gluten.
The term “gluten-free” on a food package or label is regulated by the FDA and is trustworthy (2). When in doubt look for products displaying this label.
Another helpful tip is to look at allergen statements on the nutrition facts label.
This will disclose if the food contains any sources of wheat. Look specifically for the term “contains” followed by wheat.
While intended for anyone with a wheat allergy, this will help you identify if a questionable ingredient needs to be avoided.
Below, you’ll find a list of 100 foods that people on a gluten-free diet can eat.
Foods at risk of cross-contamination or that should be avoided will be identified within each category.
Naturally Gluten-Free Grains
- White and Brown Rice
Grain Products to Watch Out For
Although oats are naturally gluten-free food, some oats can become contaminated during processing.
Check food labels and only select oats that are clearly labeled gluten-free.
Raw fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free. Rich in gut health-promoting fiber, fruits and vegetables are a necessity in any healthy diet.
- Green beans
- Potato starch or potato flour
- Bok Choy
- Bell peppers
- Sweet potatoes
- Leafy greens
- Corn / popcorn
- Fresh herbs (basil, parsley)
Vegetable Products to Watch Out For
Fresh vegetables are an important part of a gluten-free diet.
Most plain canned and frozen vegetables are safe, however, check the nutrition label just to be certain.
Avoid canned or frozen vegetables with added sauces, seasonings, or flavorings unless the package is specifically labeled gluten-free.
Fruit Products to Watch Out For
Fresh fruits are also an important part of a gluten-free diet.
Canned and frozen plain fruits should be safe.
Much like with frozen and canned vegetables, avoid those with added sauces or flavorings unless the package specifically states that the item is gluten-free.
Dried fruit may be contaminated during production similar to oats. Look for dried fruits that are labeled gluten-free.
The primary ingredients in fruit spreads are fruit, sugar, and pectin, a fruit-derived starch that acts as a thickener and does not contain gluten.
Just to be safe read the ingredient list to ensure there are no hidden wheat-containing products.
Look for the “contains” label if there is any doubt.
Fresh, raw animal proteins and eggs are naturally free of gluten and great for people with celiac disease.
Here is a list of animal proteins to purchase.
Seafood and fish
Animal Proteins to Watch out For
Some protein foods are difficult to assess because there is no nutrition label to look at ingredients or potential allergens.
With the rise in popularity of gluten-free diets many products now advertise using packaging labels that they are gluten-free including cold cuts purchased at the grocery store deli counter.
Double-check and ask if you have questions.
Other processed meats such as hot dogs and sausages may contain wheat products added as a filler or thickener so be sure to check ingredient labels.
Likewise processed meats like pepperoni, salami, and liverwurst may contain gluten unless specified on labels that they are gluten-free.
Also, avoid breaded proteins and use caution with microwavable meals as many contain wheat-based ingredients.
Most plant-based protein sources can fit in a gluten-free diet including soy proteins, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Soy-Based Proteins and Meat Substitutes
- Kidney beans
Nuts and Nut Milks
- Nut milks including almond milk, coconut milk, and soy milk
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Plant Proteins to Watch Out For
Avoid seitan, which is another name for wheat gluten.
It is often used as a substitute to mimic the texture of meat.
Also, check that any vegetarian-based products do not contain soy sauce as this can be another hidden source of gluten in your diet. Read packaging labels if you are not sure.
Most dairy products are naturally gluten-free. Here is a list of dairy foods to enjoy.
- Plain yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Sour cream
Dairy Products to Watch Out For
Avoid malted milk drinks as malt is produced with wheat. Be sure to check ingredient labels on flavored yogurts and milk for gluten-containing thickeners or additives.
Also, check ice cream labels for the same reason. Added flavorings may contain gluten.
Sauces and Condiments to Watch Out For
Traditional soy sauce is made with wheat and should always be avoided. Tamari is usually gluten-free food but checks ingredient labels to be sure.
Watch for modified food starch.
It is normally produced from corn but can also be made from wheat.
If you see modified food starch on a nutrition label in a sauce or condiment check if a product “contains” wheat to be certain.
Single-ingredient spices should be fine.
Check spice blends for ingredients like wheat flour, hydrolyzed wheat protein, or malted barley flour. All of these should be avoided.
Maltodextrin, while having malt in the name is not made with malt and is generally considered safe for individuals with celiac disease (3).
- Salad dressings
- Flavor enhancers
Fats and oils are naturally gluten-free. Be sure to check cooking sprays and oil blends.
- Coconut oil
- Butter and ghee
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
There are many gluten-free beverages and sodas that can be enjoyed by individuals with celiac disease without worry. Use caution and check labels on smoothies and coffee beverages.
- 100% fruit juices
- Sports drinks
Gluten-Free Beer Varieties
Beers, lagers, ales, and other alcohol made from gluten-containing grains must be avoided. Malt beverages like wine coolers also must be avoided.
Wine and brandy are generally gluten-free but check labels to be sure.
Some people with gluten sensitivity have a reaction with gin, whiskey, bourbon, whiskey, and vodka. Look for liquor distilled with something other than wheat, barley, and rye to be safe.
One last word of caution. Avoid “gluten-removed” beer.
This is a beer that is produced with gluten-containing grains than processed so it does not react in the body.
However, this has not been scientifically validated and may be unsafe, especially for those with celiac disease.
Choose gluten-free beers instead as they are produced with non-gluten-containing grains (4).
You will find a large assortment of gluten-free food dessert products including brownies, chocolate, cookies, and other sweet treats at grocery stores.
Remember that gluten-free does not mean calorie-free.
These items still contain excessive amounts of sugar and saturated fat and should be consumed in moderation, especially if you are following a diet for weight loss.
The Last Word
For people with a diagnosis of celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there are a large variety of foods available to eat while maintaining a gluten-free diet.
These foods provide all of the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health.
Many fresh fruits and vegetables, oats, and other whole grains, proteins, legumes, nuts, and seeds are naturally gluten-free foods and beneficial for your health.
Avoid wheat, barley, and rye, and check packaging labels looking specifically for the regulated term “gluten-free.”
Also, check allergen labels at the supermarket to see if a product “contains” wheat and avoid those as well.
Focus on eating fresh, whole, unprocessed foods and read ingredient labels.
By following these tips you should have no problem maintaining a gluten-free diet.
- Shewry, Peter. “What Is Gluten—Why Is It Special?” Frontiers in Nutrition, vol. 6, 2019. Crossref, doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00101.
- “Gluten and Food Labeling.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/gluten-and-food-labeling. Accessed 17 June 2020.
- “Nutrition: Confusing Gluten-Free Diet Ingredients.” National Celiac Association, nationalceliac.org/celiac-disease-resources/confusing-gluten-free-diet-ingredients. Accessed 17 June 2020.
- “The Truth About Gluten-Free Beer.” Eat! Gluten-Free, celiac.org/eat-gluten-free/2017/05/03/the-truth-about-gluten-free-beer. Accessed 17 June 2020.