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Gluten Free Alternatives: A Complete Guide to Going Gluten-Free in 2023

Gluten Free Alternatives: Going gluten-free has become an increasingly popular dietary choice over the last decade, with more and more people adopting a gluten-free diet to manage health conditions like celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Even those without an intolerance to gluten are opting to cut it from their diet in an effort to generally improve health and wellbeing.

But one of the biggest obstacles for those new to a gluten-free diet can be finding tasty, nutritious alternatives to replace gluten-containing foods like bread, pasta, cereal, and baked goods. Fortunately, the market has exploded with a wide variety of delicious gluten-free swaps made from ingredients like rice, quinoa, buckwheat, almond flour, and more.

This complete guide to going gluten-free will cover everything you need to know, from the health benefits of eliminating gluten to how to stock your pantry, read labels, and cook gluten-free while avoiding contamination in your kitchen. You’ll also find a list of the best substitutes for all your favorite gluten-containing foods and recipes.

What is Gluten and Why Go Gluten-Free?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine. This can cause gastrointestinal distress, along with symptoms like fatigue, headaches, anxiety, and more. The only treatment for gluten-related disorders is adopting a strict 100% gluten-free diet.

But gluten-free diets have grown in popularity even among those not diagnosed with a gluten-related medical condition. Some opt to cut out gluten hoping it will provide relief from digestive issues like gas, bloating, and constipation. For others, going gluten-free is an effort to eat cleaner or lose weight. Gluten-free products are now easy to find, providing more choices to those avoiding gluten.

Gluten Free Alternatives: Health Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet

For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the health perks of cutting out gluten are clear. It stops the immune system from attacking the small intestine and causing damage and inflammation. Symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, and nutrient deficiencies improve on a gluten-free diet.

There are also several potential benefits for healthy individuals without gluten intolerance:

  • Increased energy – Some report higher energy levels after eliminating gluten from their diet. This could be related to reduced inflammation.
  • Weight loss – Gluten-free substitute foods often have fewer calories. Avoiding baked goods high in refined wheat flour may also contribute to shedding extra pounds.
  • Improved cholesterol – Studies link gluten-free diets with decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Better digestive health – Eliminating gluten may relieve gas, bloating, and constipation.
  • Clearer skin – Gluten may trigger hormonal changes that worsen acne. A gluten-free diet helps some people achieve clearer skin.

However, more research is still needed to confirm these possible benefits in the general population without gluten sensitivity. Any positive effects also depend on overall diet quality. A gluten-free diet heavy in refined carbs and sugar may negate the hoped-for health perks.

Risks and Challenges of Going Gluten-Free

While research substantiates the benefits of gluten elimination for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, there are some drawbacks to consider for healthy individuals adopting this diet as a lifestyle:

Nutrient deficiencies – Gluten-free flours and grains often have fewer B vitamins like folate, iron, and fiber compared to wheat-based foods. This can raise the risk of deficiencies.

High blood sugar – Many gluten-free products have a high glycemic index, which causes blood sugar spikes. This may increase diabetes risk.

Unhealthy fats – Pre-packaged gluten-free goods tend to be higher in unhealthy fats like saturated fat. This could negatively impact cholesterol and heart health.

Weight gain – Some gluten-free substitute foods are higher in calories than wheat-based options. Eating too many could lead to weight gain.

No improvement in digestion – Cutting out gluten only helps digestive health for those with an intolerance. For others, it may not make a difference.

To avoid potential downsides, pay attention to nutrition labels when buying packaged gluten-free items. Choose whole, minimally processed fresh foods without gluten instead of refined gluten-free snacks.

Tips for Transitioning to a Gluten-Free Diet

Switching to gluten-free is a big change. Here are some tips to transition smoothly:

  • Consult a doctor – Get tested for celiac disease before cutting out gluten. Those with celiac should not remove gluten until properly diagnosed.
  • Read labels – Scan ingredient lists carefully to look for hidden sources of gluten like malt vinegar, soy sauce, salad dressings, etc.
  • Toss/donate gluten products – Get rid of any obvious gluten-containing foods in your kitchen like wheat flour, pasta, cereal, etc.
  • Stock up on staples – Shop for gluten-free pantry basics like broth, oils, spices, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, legumes, etc.
  • Find gluten-free groceries – Search for gluten-free specialty stores or sections in major supermarkets to find gluten-free bread, pasta, baking mixes, etc.
  • Meal plan – Planning weekly meals and snacks makes sticking to the diet much easier long term. Rely on naturally gluten-free whole foods.
  • Read labels carefully – Check both ingredients and allergen warnings for any sign of gluten, even on foods labeled gluten-free.
  • Avoid cross-contamination – Prevent crumbs and traces of gluten from contaminating your gluten-free foods with proper storage and prep.

Read also: Are Smarties Gluten Free? Your Guide to Enjoying This Classic Candy Safely

How to Read Labels and Identify Hidden Gluten

Avoiding products with gluten requires you to become an expert at reading ingredient labels and spotting hidden sources of gluten. Here’s what to look for:

Obvious sources – Wheat, barley, rye, malt, brewer’s yeast, triticale. Oats are often cross-contaminated too.

Less obvious grains – Durum, einkorn, farina, graham, kamut, semolina, spelled.

Starches – Wheat starch, starch (unless specified gluten-free).

Flours – Any unknown flour may contain gluten.

Additives – Dextrin, stabilizers, fillers, maltodextrin, etc.

Proteins – Cereal protein, hydrolyzed vegetable/wheat/plant protein.

Alcohol – Beer, ale, lager, malt beverages, some vodkas.

Other – Soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, salad dressings, broths/stocks.

Check both the ingredients list AND allergen info for any mention of wheat, rye, barley, or malt. When in doubt, call or email the manufacturer to confirm a product is gluten-free.

Stocking a Gluten-Free Pantry

Stock up on these gluten-free staples:

  • Grains/flours – Rice (brown, white, wild), quinoa, teff, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, arrowroot, almond meal, coconut flour, gluten-free oats.
  • Bread – Gluten-free bread, rolls, bagels, flatbreads, tortillas. Choose whole grain options.
  • Pasta – Gluten-free noodles, spirals, penne, and fusilli made from rice, quinoa, buckwheat, or corn.
  • Cereals – Gluten-free oats, cornflakes, rice cereals, granola.
  • Baking – Gluten-free baking powder, xanthan gum, yeast, baking soda, chocolate chips, and extracts.
  • Snacks – Popcorn, potato chips, gluten-free pretzels, nut butter, dried fruit, nuts/seeds.
  • Condiments – Oils, vinegar, sauces, mustards, nut butter, jams. Check for hidden gluten ingredients.

Avoiding Cross-Contamination in the Kitchen

To prevent trace amounts of gluten from contaminating your gluten-free foods:

  • Keep gluten-free and gluten-containing ingredients/products separate. Designate specific shelves or areas in the pantry, fridge, and freezer for gluten-free foods.
  • Thoroughly wash hands before preparing gluten-free items. Soap helps remove trace gluten proteins.
  • Use separate prep tools like cutting boards, colanders, and utensils for gluten-free cooking. Color code for easy identification.
  • Clean all appliances thoroughly before using them for gluten-free prep. Check for crumbs in toaster ovens, on countertops, and in knife blocks.
  • Cook gluten-free pasta, grains, etc. in fresh water to avoid traces of wheat flour in cooking water.
  • Store gluten-free flours, and baked goods separately. Use sealed containers to prevent airborne wheat dust from contaminating.
  • Check condiments, and spreads for gluten ingredients. Butter and jam from shared containers may pick up traces of gluten from knives.
  • Avoid aluminum pans and baking sheets lined with flour. Use parchment paper or foil instead.

-Remind family and friends not to contaminate your gluten-free foods. Educate them on the importance of proper prep and separation.

Gluten-Free Substitutes for Common Foods

From bread to baked goods, here are the best gluten-free swaps for all the foods you love:

Gluten-Free Bread Replacements

Look for bread made with a blend of gluten-free flours like rice, millet, sorghum, quinoa, arrowroot, and tapioca flours. Try brands like Schar, Canyon Bakehouse, Franz, or Udi’s. For a whole grain option, make sure the first ingredient is brown rice flour instead of tapioca starch.

Alternatively, sub rolls, tortillas, or lettuce wraps for bread at lunch and in sandwiches. Cassava flour tortillas or coconut wraps make good substitutes. For toast or bread crumbs, use thick-sliced gluten-free bread, rice cakes or corn crackers.

Gluten-Free Pasta Swaps

Rice pasta and quinoa pasta provide an easy swap for traditional wheat pasta. Brands like Banza and Jovial offer gluten-free pasta made from chickpeas or brown rice for extra protein and nutrients. For lasagna noodles or ravioli, look for gluten-free corn pasta. Zucchini spirals, spaghetti squash, or bean threads like mung bean noodles also work as pasta alternatives.

Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Options

Choose from pre-made gluten-free pizza crusts, pizza doughs or pizza crust mixes from brands like Against the Grain, Caputo’s, and Bob’s Red Mill. You can also make the crust from cauliflower, nuts, chickpeas, tapioca, or rice flour. Lettuce-wrapped pizza bakes or flatbread pizza on gluten-free pitas offer easy gluten-free pizza fixes.

Gluten-Free Breakfast Cereal Replacements

Try hot cereals like gluten-free oats, cream of buckwheat or millet, or quinoa flakes. Look for gluten-free granolas with ingredients like rice flour, quinoa flakes, and millet or good gluten-free cold cereals like EnviroKidz, Erewhon, or Nature’s Path. You can also substitute yogurt, cottage cheese, or chia pudding.

Gluten-Free Crackers/Chips/Pretzel Alternatives

Good savory gluten-free snacks include rice crackers, popcorn, bean or veggie chips, and pretzels made with gluten-free flour. Brands like Simply 7, Blue Diamond Nut Thins, and Snyder’s of Hanover offer gluten-free crackers, chips, and pretzels.

Gluten-Free Cakes and Cookies

Almond flour, coconut flour, and gluten-free oat flour make great bases for cakes, cookies, and bars. Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury sell gluten-free mixes. Taste still falls short of gluten-containing treats, but new gluten-free recipes are improving texture.

Gluten-Free Recipes

Gluten-Free Breakfasts

  • Veggie gluten-free omelet
  • Smoothie with spinach, peanut butter, and gluten-free oats
  • Buckwheat crepes filled with Greek yogurt and fruit
  • Baked apples or pears with chopped nuts and cinnamon
  • Hard-boiled eggs smashed with avocado
  • Cottage cheese or ricotta topped with nuts and fruit
  • Eggs over sautéed greens with quinoa

Gluten-Free Lunch Ideas

  • Big salad with quinoa or legumes and vinaigrette dressing
  • Lettuce wrap “sandwiches” with sliced deli meat, cheese and veggies
  • Roasted veggie and hummus rice bowl
  • Baked potato stuffed with chili or baked beans and cheese
  • Zucchini lasagne with tomato sauce and goat cheese
  • Leftover roasted chicken and veggies over mixed greens

Gluten-Free Dinner Recipes

  • Grilled salmon or chicken with roasted asparagus and quinoa
  • Stir fry made with sliced meat or tofu and veggies over rice noodles or quinoa
  • Chicken fried in coconut oil with mashed sweet potato and spinach salad
  • Turkey or bean chili served over a baked potato, sweet potato, or rice
  • Portobello “burgers” with sweet potato fries
  • Shrimp fajitas on corn tortillas with sautéed peppers and onions

Delicious Gluten-Free Desserts

  • Chia pudding made with coconut or almond milk
  • Dark chocolate sorbet or gelato
  • Mixed fruit salad tossed in orange juice
  • Rice pudding with cinnamon, raisins, and whipped coconut cream
  • Fruit skewers with melted dark chocolate
  • Pumpkin custard baked in ramekins
  • Banana “ice cream” – blend frozen bananas and cocoa powder

Eating Out Gluten-Free

Dining out gluten-free requires extra care and planning:

  • Research the menu before going to a restaurant and note gluten-free options
  • Ask about how foods are prepared and the risk of cross contamination
  • Request modifications like plain grilled meat or fish with veggies instead of breaded entrees
  • Ask for dressings, sauces, and spices on the side to check for wheat, soy sauce
  • Look out for soups thickened with flour, breaded toppings on salads
  • Choose gluten-free side dishes like baked potato, rice pilaf, steamed veggies
  • Be aware that flavorings or thickeners in gravy may contain gluten
  • For dessert opt for sorbets, fruit, or flourless chocolate cake
  • When unsure, don’t hesitate to ask questions about ingredients and preparation

Eating at entirely gluten-free restaurants is safest for those with celiac disease, but most restaurants can accommodate a gluten-free diner with care and communication.

Kids and Gluten-Free Diets

Following a gluten-free diet as a child or teen requires some special considerations:

  • Work closely with your pediatrician to ensure age-appropriate nutrition. Pay attention to calorie, vitamin, mineral, and fiber intake.
  • Help kids stick to the diet by planning fun gluten-free school lunches they’ll look forward to. Pack lots of fresh fruits and veggies, naturally gluten-free snacks, and thermoses with soup or chili.
  • Make things like pizza, nuggets, or mac-n-cheese with gluten-free bread crumbs, pasta, and flour at home for kids missing their favorite foods.
  • Look for gluten-free kids’ products like cereal, crackers, cookies, waffles, pancakes, etc. Many big brands now offer gluten-free lines.
  • Get kids involved in preparing gluten-free meals and treats to make them feel included. Bake gluten-free cookies together and let them decorate.
  • Explain the gluten-free diet to teachers and school staff to enlist their help in preventing cross contamination at school and during class parties.

With creativity and planning, kids can thrive on a gluten-free diet while still enjoying all their favorite foods. The diet often becomes second nature over time.

Is the Gluten-Free Diet Right for You?

If you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease or NCGS, take time to analyze if going 100% gluten-free is your best option:

  • Do you experience digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms after eating gluten-containing foods that might point to an intolerance? Or do you feel fine eating gluten?
  • Could symptoms be related to another condition like irritable bowel syndrome? Work with a doctor to properly diagnose.
  • Will the challenges of sticking to a strict gluten-free diet long-term negatively impact your quality of life? Does the benefit outweigh the inconvenience?
  • Are you ready to carefully read every label, ask questions at restaurants, and prevent cross contamination at home? It’s a big commitment.
  • Could you achieve desired

Read also: Enjoy a Fun Gluten Free picnic Food with These Tasty Ideas

FAQs about gluten-free diets:

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It helps give elasticity to dough, acting like glue that holds baked goods together.

What health conditions require a gluten-free diet?

Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are two conditions where eating gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction, causing damage to the small intestine. The only treatment is adopting a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance?

Common symptoms include digestive issues like bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, as well as fatigue, headache, anxiety, joint pain, and rashes. Symptoms may take hours or days to appear after eating gluten.

Can gluten intolerance appear later in life?

Yes, you can develop gluten intolerance at any age, even if you’ve previously been able to eat gluten without issues. A triggering event like surgery, pregnancy, infection, or stress may cause celiac disease or NCGS to develop.

What happens if you have celiac disease and keep eating gluten?

Continuing to eat gluten with undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease causes damage to the small intestine and can lead to serious complications like malnutrition, osteoporosis, infertility, and certain cancers.

How much gluten can you eat on a gluten-free diet?

People with celiac disease should avoid ingesting any gluten. Even tiny traces found in cross-contaminated foods can trigger symptoms and intestinal damage. The FDA’s gluten-free labeling rules require products to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

What grains and flours contain gluten?

Wheat, barley, rye, spelled and triticale contain gluten. Oats are often cross-contaminated too. Safe gluten-free grains include rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and sorghum.

What foods and ingredients usually contain gluten?

Bread, baked goods, pasta, cereals, beers, ales, and lagers are obvious sources. Soy sauce, salad dressings, stock cubes, sauces, and gravies often contain gluten too.

Is corn gluten-free?

Yes, corn does not naturally contain gluten. However, corn-based ingredients could potentially be cross-contaminated. Ensure any corn products are labeled certified gluten-free.

Are grains and flours like rice, quinoa, potato, and tapioca gluten-free?

Yes, these whole grains and flours are naturally gluten-free. Look for packaged products using these gluten-free ingredients certified gluten-free to prevent contamination.

What vitamins and nutrients are important on a gluten-free diet?

Gluten-free grains often have fewer B vitamins, iron, and fiber than wheat-based foods. Add supplements if needed. Focus on getting ample calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3s from foods or supplements.

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