For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, following a strict gluten free diet is essential. But cutting out all forms of wheat, barley, and rye – which contain the protein gluten – can seem daunting. Wheat especially can feel irreplaceable, as it’s used to make so many staple foods like bread, pasta, and baked goods. Thankfully, there are many tasty gluten free wheat alternatives available today.
What is Gluten and Why Do Some People Need to Avoid It?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. It acts as a “glue” that helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a binding agent. For most people, gluten doesn’t cause any issues. But for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, and even long term complications like malnutrition and osteoporosis if left untreated.
The only treatment for celiac disease is following a strict lifelong gluten free diet, eliminating all sources of gluten. For those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a gluten free or reduced gluten diet may help manage symptoms.
Gluten Free Wheat Substitutes and Alternatives
Cutting out all wheat without substitutions would mean missing out on staple carb sources. Thankfully, innovative food companies have created a wide variety of wheat-free alternatives to traditional wheat-based foods:
Gluten Free Flours
Replacing all-purpose flour in recipes can be tricky, as wheat flour has unique properties. A blend of flours is often needed to achieve the right texture in gluten free baked goods. Some examples include:
- Rice flour – Made from finely milled rice. Light texture but can be crumbly. Often blended with other flours.
- Tapioca flour – From the starchy tuber cassava. Provides chewiness.
- Sorghum flour – Adds whole grain nutrition. Can have a slightly bitter taste.
- Potato starch – Used in small amounts to add elasticity.
- Almond flour – Nutty, dense flour substitute. May need to adjust baking times.
- Bean flours – Chickpea, lentil, or fava bean flour adds protein and fiber.
- Oat flour – Ensure the oats are certified gluten free to avoid cross-contamination.
Many companies sell premade gluten free flour blends optimized for baking. Cup4Cup, King Arthur, and Pillsbury are popular options.
Gluten Free Breads and Baked Goods
Thanks to creative gluten free flour combinations, bread fans don’t have to only eat sad, crumbling slices. Look for gluten free breads at grocery stores from brands like Canyon Bakehouse, Schar, and Udi’s. Or find gluten free bagels, English muffins, tortillas, and more.
For home bakers, baking mixes like Bisquick and Betty Crocker have gluten free versions to make pancakes, pizza crusts, and other goodies. Gluten free cookie mixes are abundant too. Just check labels to ensure no wheat.
Gluten Free Grains and Cereals
There are plenty of nutrient-rich gluten free whole grains to include in a wheat-free diet:
- Brown rice – Swap out white rice for its whole grain cousin.
- Quinoa – This “supergrain” has lots of protein. Use in pilafs or breakfast bowls.
- Corn – Naturally gluten free. Eat off the cob, or try polenta.
- Buckwheat – Despite the name it’s wheat free. Use for pancakes or soba noodles.
- Millet – Nutty, versatile grain. Good in salads or stir fries.
- Sorghum – Hearty cereal grain. Cook as a side dish.
- Amaranth – Similar to quinoa. Makes a porridge.
Many oat products are now certified gluten free too, but always check labels. Choose gluten free oatmeal, granola, and muffin mixes.
Gluten Free Pastas
Thankfully wheat isn’t the only way to make noodles. Try pastas made from:
Popular brands like Barilla, Banza, and Jovial offer a variety of gluten free pasta shapes. For a nutrient boost, pick ones with added veggies like spinach or tomatoes.
Gluten Free Wheat Substitutes For Baked Goods
Certain flours impart the soft, airy texture wheat brings to cakes, cookies, and quick breads. Options include:
- White rice flour – Gives the lightest texture
- Sorghum flour – Adds whole grain benefits
- Teff flour – Nutty, protein-rich flour
- Arrowroot starch – Helps replicate wheat’s stretchiness
Substitute 25% of the wheat flour in recipes with your gluten free flour of choice. Boost binding by adding an extra egg.
Xanthan gum or guar gum are often added to gluten free baked goods too for a better rise. Start with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cup of flour.
Tips for Following a Gluten Free Wheat Free Diet
- Read all labels carefully. Wheat and gluten can hide in unexpected places like soy sauce and salad dressings. Look for a certified gluten free label for assurance.
- Avoid cross-contamination. Thoroughly wash utensils, pans, and hands after preparing regular wheat foods to avoid gluten exposure.
- Choose whole foods. Fill your plate with produce, lean proteins, dairy, beans, nuts and gluten free whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat.
- Look for gluten free menus. Many restaurants now offer gluten free dishes and options. Checking online menus ahead helps avoid uncertainty.
- Bring snacks. When traveling or out for the day, pack gluten free snacks like fresh fruit, nuts, or gluten free energy bars in case you can’t find safe options.
- Enjoy naturally gluten free foods. Foods like meat, fish, vegetables, eggs, milk, cheese, and fruit don’t contain gluten naturally. Focus on all the delicious gluten free options rather than what you have to eliminate.
- Experiment and find alternatives. Part of the gluten free journey is discovering new favorite foods. Explore gluten free flours, ancient grains, and alternative baking methods to make gluten free eating exciting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is wheat gluten free?
No, wheat contains gluten and is not safe for a gluten free diet. Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat and related grains rye and barley.
What are some good substitutes for wheat flour?
Rice flour, almond flour, coconut flour, buckwheat flour and bean flours like chickpea or lentil flour are good options. For baked goods, a blend of flours helps achieve the right texture.
Are gluten free products more expensive?
Gluten free specialty products do tend to cost more than wheat-based ones. Focusing on naturally gluten free whole foods can help save money. Buying gluten free products on sale also helps.
Is corn gluten free?
Yes, corn does not contain gluten. Corn and corn-based foods like tortillas, grits, polenta, and corn flour are safe for gluten free diets. Just check labels for cross-contamination.
Are oats gluten free?
Oats themselves are gluten free, but are often cross-contaminated with wheat during growing and processing. Look for oats and oat products labeled “gluten free” to ensure safety.
Can you make bread without wheat?
Yes! Gluten free breads substitute wheat flour with a blend of fluten grains like rice flour, sorghum flour, potato starch, and xanthan gum. The texture may differ from regular bread but can still be delicious.
What crackers can I eat on a gluten free diet?
Look for crackers specifically labeled gluten free, made with corn, rice, or nut flours instead of wheat. Brands like Blue Diamond, Simple Mills, and Mary’s Gone Crackers offer gluten free versions.
Is sourdough bread gluten free?
No, regular sourdough still contains wheat flour and gluten. But some brands make gluten removed sourdough using enzymes to break down the gluten. Always check labels to verify gluten free status.
This covers the essential info on living gluten free wheat free. Remember to focus on all the naturally gluten free foods you can enjoy rather than feeling limited. With some creativity and flexibility, following a wheat free diet can become second nature.