Smart Shopping for a Gluten-Free Diet

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Shopping for food

Grocery shopping for a gluten-free diet has one main rule: Don’t pick up anything containing barley, rye or wheat. But there’s more you need to know when you make your shopping list. Gluten can appear in unexpected aisles, and even foods that would otherwise be gluten-free can be contaminated on their way to the shelf or your table.

By preparing, reading labels, and asking questions, you can fill your cart with items that are healthy and safe for you and your family. Here’s how.

Get Back to Basics

Many whole, fresh foods are naturally gluten-free. These include fruits; corn, potatoes, and other vegetables; lentils and other beans; meat, poultry, and fish; eggs; dairy products; nuts; and rice. And although wheat is off-limits, many other whole grains get a green light. Amaranth, quinoa, millet, and sorghum are all appropriate for a gluten-free pantry.

Look for the Label

If a food is labeled “gluten-free,” manufacturers must adhere to strict standards to ensure there is no gluten in that product. If a food lacks this label, you may have to become a bit of a gluten sleuth. Besides looking for barley, rye, and wheat, check the ingredient list for triticale, modified food starch, semolina, spelt, and malt. All signal the presence of gluten.

Seek Out Bakery Alternatives

It’s true you must avoid bread, cookies, and other products made with white, wheat, or all-purpose flour. But these same items can be baked using substitute flours and starches, including those made from rice, buckwheat, tapioca, flax, nut, potato, or corn. An increasing number of gluten-free prepared bakery products are hitting stores nationwide. Or you can buy non-gluten flours and prepare them yourself at home.

Cross These Off Your List

Gluten lurks in some surprising places. Avoid these products unless they’re specifically labeled gluten-free:

  • Processed meats such as cold cuts, salami, and sausages

  • Soups, gravies, and bouillon cubes

  • Salad dressings, soy sauce, and vegetables in sauce

  • Some candies, including licorice

  • Beer

  • Energy bars

  • Vitamins, herbs, and other over-the-counter supplements and medications

Cut Cross-Contamination

Just because a product is naturally gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s OK to eat. Packaged products like rice mixes may actually have traces of gluten because of the way they’re manufactured. If you’re unsure, contact the company that makes the food.

In another example, oats—which don’t contain gluten on their own—might be processed nearby or shipped with wheat. For this reason, they’re off-limits for most people on a gluten-free diet. If you’d rather not eliminate oats from your table, look for those that are “certified gluten-free” or “pure, uncontaminated”—but still, limit your intake to no more than a half-cup per day.

Contamination can even occur in the grocery store. Avoid buying gluten-free products stored on a shelf below flours or fresh baked goods in loose packaging. And steer clear of bulk bins with scoops that may be shared. Trace amounts of gluten may transfer to your purchases.

Get a Helping Hand

Besides the wider availability of special gluten-free products, more stores than ever are creating gluten-free sections. And online and mobile tools are making it even easier to separate the wheat from the non-wheat.   

 Key Takeaways:

  • If a food isn’t labeled “gluten-free,” check the ingredients for barley, rye, wheat, triticale, modified food starch, semolina, spelt, and malt.

  • An increasing number of gluten-free prepared bakery products are hitting stores. You can also buy non-gluten flours for baking.

  • Gluten lurks in some surprising places, such as processed meats, soups, salad dressings, soy sauce, some candies, vitamins, and over-the-counter medications.

  • Avoid buying gluten-free products stored on a shelf below flours or fresh baked goods in loose packaging.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 26
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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