Gluten-Free Food

Have you been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance and you’re seeing all your favorite comfort foods pass before your eyes, taunting you because you can’t have them anymore?  

Keep scrolling to find you exactly what gluten is and why its a problem and a complete list of what you can and can't eat.  There is lots of info here and links out to more info in case you want to go deeper.

First we’ll talk a little bit about gluten.  What it is, the obvious places you’ll find it and the not so obvious places that gluten hides.  Then we’ll get into the BIG, LONG list of gluten-free food. 

I think when you reach the bottom of the page you’ll feel a lot better about this whole thing than you did at the top of the page,

and you’ll have some good, practical tools to take with you as you continue on your journey.

Gluten-Free Food is Just Food

I remember once telling my husband that I could literally live on pasta, I loved it that much.  I could eat it every day and never tire of it.  On that too sunny spring day so many years ago as I sat staring at my celiac test results, mourning every plate of spaghetti, lasagna, mac and cheese that I would never eat again, I had no idea about the world of new and interesting food experiences that would open up before me.

I’m hoping that I can take the mystery out of this whole landscape of gluten-free food and make it just a little less daunting.  Gluten-free food is not something mysterious or weird or special.  It’s just food that happens not to contain a specific protein – gluten.

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gluten-free foods: Pinterest image with an assortment of naturally gluten-free foods.  Text: gluten-free foods.  What to eat.  What not to eat.
Gluten-Free Food: Overhead shot of a plate with grilled salmon and lemon slices on top. Side of vegetables in mushroom sauce.Gluten-Free Salmon Dinner with Stir-Fry and Fresh Herbs
Gluten-Free Foods: Column A made with bread, column B made with fruits and vegetables.

Think of it this way, you take all of the food in the world and divide it into two piles.  One pile is foods that contain gluten, and the other pile is foods that don’t.  Now you can pick anything you want from the second pile, the gluten-free food.  Remember column a and column b from Aladdin?  It’s kind of like that.

What is Gluten?

Gluten-Free Grains: field of green grain on blue sky background.

Gluten is a protein that is found in 3 grains: wheat, rye and barley.  That’s it.  Seems like it should be pretty easy to avoid three things doesn’t it.  Well it does get easier, but the challenge is that these grains, especially wheat, have made their way into a significant part of our diets.  In fact wheat is the second highest grain in terms of world production right behind corn and just ahead of rice.

Why is Gluten A Problem?

Well it’s kind of a long story, but in a nut shell, not everyone can digest gluten.  No one really knows exactly why, but there is some speculation that it has to do with how our digestive systems evolved, depending on what part of the planet our ancestors come from.

Wheat first made it’s debut in the Fertile Crescent, near present day Turkey about 10 thousand years ago and slowly expanded throughout the known world.  People who lived farther away from that area of the world did not develop the capacity to digest gluten.  This could be why we see higher incidence of celiac disease and gluten intolerance in places where wheat was not a big part of the local diet until relatively recently.  It gains in prevalence as you move north through Europe, culminating in places like Ireland, Scandinavia and Iceland where oats were the staple grain for many years.  Similarly, we are seeing gluten issues in Asian countries where rice is the traditional grain of choice and wheat was only introduced more recently.

What is Celiac Disease?

If you have Celiac Disease you have an autoimmune condition that causes your body to react to gluten.  This means that if you eat food that contains wheat, rye or barley, your body will produce an antibody that will damage your small intestine leading to all kinds of symptoms and health problems.  It also means that your food cannot come in contact with these grains.  So your pizza can be made with gluten free flour, but if the board that it's made on is dusted with wheat flour then you may have a reaction.

What is Gluten Intolerance?

Also referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), gluten intolerance means that even though you don’t have an autoimmune disease, your body has difficulty digesting gluten.  You may experience mild or severe gas, bloating, pain and bathroom issues. 

Is it an allergy?

Not exactly.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which is different than an allergy.  Some people however are allergic to wheat.  With a wheat allergy the symptoms may be different but the diet is pretty much the same.

Foods to Avoid

This is the short list:

Just remember the acronym


It stands for barely, rye, oats*, wheat.  

That’s it.  Four things

  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oats*
  • Wheat

*Three things really because oats are technically gluten free but because they are often grown and processed along with wheat, you need to get certified gluten free oats if you’re going to eat oats.

Wheat by another name

Of course, it couldn’t be quite that simple, wheat actually goes by several alias’s so you need to know what they are:

  • Farina
  • Farro
  • Spelt
  • Triticale

And wheat is rarely eaten in its natural form.  Wheat, and to a lesser extent, rye, barley, and oats, are ground and refined and turned into flour and then transformed into a whole slew of products that fill our diets, not the least of which is my beloved pasta. 

Did you ever stop to think how much of the supermarket is taken up by wheat products?

The most obvious is the bakery section.  There you find:

  • Bread
  • Buns
  • Wraps / tortillas
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  •  Croissants
  • Bagels
  • Muffins
  • Tarts
  •  Pies

Continue on and you’ll find full aisles of:

  • Crackers
  •  Breakfast cereal
  •  Granola bars
  • Energy bars
  • Pretzels
  • Baking mixes
  • Pancake mix
  • Pasta
  • Couscous

Tricky things to watch for*:

  • Soya sauce
  • Worchestershire sauce
  • Some steak and barbeque sauces
  • Seasoning mixes

*Many sauces, soups, seasonings and other packaged goods have gluten.  If a food has a label, check it to be sure.

Gluten-Free Foods

Happily, soon after that day that I sat staring at my test results mourning my loss, I found out that there is actually more that I can eat than what I can’t.  And even more to celebrate, gluten-free pasta exists!  It’s real, and it’s pretty good!  Pizza too!

Gluten-Free Pasta: There is so much to know about gluten-free pasta.  Different types, how to cook it, fun serving suggestions and recipes and even how to make your own from scratch!

Gluten-Free Pasta: Plate of pasta with roasted cherry tomato sauce.

Gluten-Free Pizza: Ordering in, eating out, making your own.  Click here for everything from easy lunchtime personal pizza to creating your crust from scratch.

Gluten-Free Pizza: Pizza topeed with green herbs.

You're welcome!

Naturally Gluten-Free Foods

Naturally gluten-free food is simply food that, in it's natural form, does not have the gluten protein in it, and that is really the bulk of all food that is grown on planet earth.

The word “natural” can be a bit difficult to define.  Various regulatory agencies have created definitions for food labelling.  Here is what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has to say.  For our purposes I think of it as a continuum.  Whole foods like fruits and vegetables are in their most natural form.  Some foods have been mechanically processed like grinding grains into flour.  I would consider that to be minimal processing.  Other foods have been significantly chemically altered or even created entirely in a lab.  Those I would consider highly processed. 

You'll see this graphic throughout NaturallyGluten-Free as a way to illustrate where on the continuum a particular gluten-free food may sit.  There is nothing scientific about it, just an approximation based on the amount of processing or processed ingredients a food contains. 

Focus on Whole Foods

Have you ever heard the advice given by many doctors and nutritionists to stick to the outside aisles in the supermarket?  That is sound advice for us too.  Bakery aside, the perimeter of the store is where the “whole foods” are generally displayed and most of these will be naturally gluten-free food:

  • All fresh vegetables
  • All fresh fruits
  • All fresh cuts of meat, fish, poultry, seafood.

Gluten-Free Meat, Fish, Poultry and Seafood:  Protein is an important part of your gluten-free diet.  Click here to learn what to look for in animal based protein and alternatives.

Gluten-Free Meat: raw salmon filets on a wooden cutting board topped with lemon slices.

Gluten-Free Fruits and Vegetables: An apple a day may just keep the doctor away.  And the best part is, they're naturally gluten-free.  Plants are the foundational gluten-free food.  Click here to find out what to look for.

Gluten-Free Fruits and Vegetables: assortment of fresh vegetables.

The Refrigerator Section

Most of what you’ll find in the coolers and the dairy case is naturally gluten-free.  Just check the labels to be sure. 

  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • cream
  •  Fruit juice
  •  Plant based milks (almond, soy, coconut, oat*, rice)
  • Most yogurt
  • Most cheese
  • Most ice-cream

Celiac and Lactose Intolerance:  Most dairy products are gluten-free yet many people with celiac find they have trouble digesting dairy.  Click here to find out why and what to do.  Hint - it may not be forever.

Gluten and Dairy: Yogurt parfait with mint and raspberries.

When you get into the center aisles you can still find a lot that is naturally gluten-free

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans, peas and legumes
  • Dried fruit
  • All the other grains…wait, what?  There are other grains?  You bet, and they are versatile and delicious and naturally gluten-free.  Go here to find out all about them.

Gluten Free Grains

What do you think of when you think of grains?  What about whole grains?  Is wheat the first thing that comes to mind?  Whole wheat bread, whole grain crackers, rye bread, bagels, croissants. I think I knew there were other grains, but didn’t really give thought to the variety until I had to take wheat, rye and barley off the table.  Gluten free grains include:

  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  •  Sorghum
  • Teff
  • Oats*
Gluten-Free Foods: Millet and amaranth cereal with berries in a teal bowl with assorted berries.

Millet and Amaranth cereal with nuts and berries

Gluten-Free Grains: For more on gluten free grains, how to buy them, how to use them and how they fit into controversy around the gluten-free diet, go here.

Gluten-Free Grains: Buckwheat salad topped with peaches and goat cheese.

Items made from gluten free grains

  •  Gluten free pasta
  •  Rice noodles
  • Soba noodles
  • Rice crackers
  • Corn tortillas
  • Gluten free crackers
  • Gluten free bread, buns, wraps
  • Gluten free cookies, granola bars
  • Gluten free breakfast cereal
  •  Gluten free oats and oatmeal
  •  Other gluten free grains you can use in recipes or cook as a hot breakfast cereal

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Frozen Food

The frozen foods section has oodles of gluten-free food choices.  Of course the days of keeping a few frozen pizzas in the freezer for emergencies are over.  There may be gluten free ones, but they’re expensive and frankly quite gross. But if you steer away from the processed prepared meals and focus on whole, frozen vegetables and fruit you’ll find lots to choose from.  Frozen is much healthier than canned, it’s convenient, you don’t have to worry about buying more than you can eat, and I love the frozen berries with yogurt. Don’t forget to check the packages.  And remember, choose organic if you can.

  • Frozen peas
  • Frozen beans
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Frozen cauliflower
  • Frozen squash
  • Frozen brussel sprouts
  • Frozen strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, black berries
  • Frozen melons, bananas, grapes, cherries
  • Frozen fish, meat or poultry.
Gluten-Free Food: Frozen berries in grocery freezer case.

Things to watch out for:

Gluten-Free Food: Frozen vegetables in grocer freezer case.

Stay away from anything breaded or battered.  Be careful of anything pre-seasoned, or as in the photo to the left, anything that's had pasta or other gluten grains snuck in.  My husband recently pick up frozen veggies not realizing they had barely grains mixed in.  Always read labels to be sure the producers haven’t snuck any gluten-containing additives in there. 

Cans, Bottles, Jars

When you get into these sections you start to get into more processed items, and since this is NaturallyGluten-Free I’d like to mostly steer you away from here.  But there are some convenience products that have few ingredients and can serve as sides or as ingredients in your recipes.  Some that I keep in my pantry are:

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Canned corn
  • Canned chickpeas
  • Jarred salsa
  •  Jarred jams and jellies
  •  Peanut butter
  •  Applesauce
  • Salsa
  • Hot sauces
  • Ketchup
  •  Mustard
  • Vinegar*
  • Pickles
  • Oils like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, peanut oil.
  • Salt, pepper, spices*

Gluten-Free Products:  For the most part I recommend whole foods and avoiding packaged gluten-free products.  Reality is though that some convenience items can fit well into a naturally gluten-free lifestyle.  Click here for tips and reviews on products I recommend. 

Gluten-Free Products: Grocery aisle with

Things to watch out for

Read all labels just to be sure.  Popular condiments that contain gluten are: soya sauce, Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, many barbecue sauces, some mustards.  You need to look for gluten free versions of these.

Most pure spices will be gluten free but spice mixes often contain gluten. 

Also watch out for ready made canned or packaged items like soups, broth or stock, stews, chilis etc.  Read the labels carefully. 

Packages, Boxes and Bags

Much of this is minimally processed as well as naturally gluten-free and part of a healthy diet:

  • Dried beans, peas, lentils
  •  Gluten free grains like: Corn, Popcorn, Rice
  •  Dried fruit: raising, currants, cranberries, apricots, cherries
  •  Nuts
  • Seeds

More highly processed and less healthy but still technically naturally gluten-free in that they don’t contain any gluten:

  •  Sugar
  •  Icing sugar
  • Baking soda
  •  Baking powder
  •  Food coloring
  • Corn and other starches

Packaged and Processed Gluten-Free Foods

Gluten-Free Products: Grocery aisle with natural foods signage overhead.

These are items that in their familiar form contain gluten, but food manufacturers are producing gluten free versions.  Sometimes you’ll see these in a special gluten-free or “free-from” section.  These products in my opinion are a mixed blessing.  I’m thrilled that I can get gluten free pasta, wraps, bread, buns, cookies, cakes etc. but there are a few things to keep in mind:

Gluten is the springy protein that allows baked goods to rise and gives them their structure.  Without gluten, other processed materials are often substituted like gums and highly processed starches.  I’m not going to tell you not to eat these things, but moderation is a good approach.

Read the labels and try to choose products with as few ingredients as possible and avoid anything you can’t pronounce, or as Michael Pollen, food journalist and author would say, avoid anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

The Organic Section

Gluten-free and organic are not synonymous, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can have anything in this area.  However, in the name of taking a more “natural” approach to eating which to me means avoiding a lot of unnecessary additives and keeping the ingredient list short, organic is a good choice.  These foods tend to use less pesticides in growing and fewer chemicals in processing.  They are just in general cleaner choices.  As always, check the labels.  

So was I right?  Do you feel better now that you know that gluten-free food is not weird or hard to find.  It's just food.  

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