A Guide to the Gluten-free Diet

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A Guide to the Gluten-free Diet

a guide to the gluten-free diet

First off, it’s important to note that making the transition to your new gluten-free diet can feel overwhelming. This, is normal. If you are newly diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, you just discovered something major about your body and the way it handles nutrients. Changing your diet is a huge undertaking both physically and mentally.

In the times you feel overwhelmed it’s important to be kind to yourself, surround yourself with a loving and understanding community, tap into resources to make the going a little easier, and remind yourself that this process absolutely worth it for your health and well being.

Inside this guide:

1. What is gluten, and where is it found?

2. What is cross contamination?

3. Gluten-free cooking

4. Eating out gluten-free

5. What to do if you accidentally get glutened

6. Additional advice & resources

What is gluten, and where is it found? The gluten-free diet

Gluten – n.

/ˈɡlo͞otn /  A type of protein found in wheat that acts like a glue and helps foods (like baked goods, pasta, etc) maintain their shape.

As you get started with your gluten-free diet, it’s important to know how to keep an eye out for hidden or not-so-obvious sources of gluten. Eventually, you will become fluent in reading food labels as it’s often your first line of defense when shopping for groceries. But until then here are a few handy lists to keep in mind when you head to your local supermarket.

Common sources of gluten:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Malt
  • Whole oats, oatmeal, oat bran, oat flour (unless specified “gluten-free”)
  • Durum
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Kamut
  • Spelt
  • Semolina
  • Farina
  • Farro / faro
  • Graham
  • Seitan
  • Bulgur
  • Matzo
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Malt flavoring
  • Maltose
  • Triticale (wheat and rye hybrid)

Foods that typically contain gluten:

  • Pastas / noodles
  • Bread
  • Pastries / baked goods
  • Crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Cereal
  • Granola
  • Flour tortillas
  • Beer (unless specifically gluten-free)
  • Sauces, gravies, marinades, and salad dressings
  • Breading mixes
  • Breakfast foods (like pancakes and waffles)
  • Soy sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce

Foods that may contain gluten:

  • Soups
  • French fries
  • Candy
  • Preseasoned meat (or preseasoned anything)
  • Potato chips
  • Granola bars
  • Starch
  • Processed lunch meats
  • Condiments

Logos and labels that help you identify gluten-free food

Gluten-free logos and labels are a great way to quickly identify whether a product has been tested, and certified, gluten-free. The groups below run gluten-free certification programs:

  • Certified Gluten-Free
  • National Celiac Support Association
  • National Sanitation Foundation

How the certification programs generally work: restaurants and food brands submit to have their facilities / products tested to make sure they are truly gluten-free. If they pass these audits and tests, they receive a stamp of approval in the form of a gluten-free logo. Click here to learn more about these programs (and to see what the logos look like).

Use Nima to test your food for gluten!

What is cross contamination? The gluten-free diet

Being an expert in food label reading will help you be able to keep new sources of gluten from coming into your house (and body). But what about gluten that may still exist in your house?

You’ll hear the terms “cross contamination” or “cross contact” a lot in the gluten-free world. Cross contamination happens whenever gluten is transported from one food item to another (usually unintentionally). What this typically means is that a truly gluten-free item can be contaminated with gluten from an outside source if the proper care isn’t taken.

Here are a few scenarios where cross contamination can happen:

Shared utensils

  • The same knife being used to slice a loaf of wheat bread and a loaf of gluten-free bread. This may transport crumbs from the wheat-bread onto the gluten-free bread and make it no longer gluten-free.
  • This could also happen with: pots, pans, cutting boards, tupperware, etc.

Shared kitchen appliances

  • The same fryers are used for onion rings (battered in gluten-containing flour) and gluten-free french fries. The oil carries gluten from the onion ring batter to the french fries, thus making them definitely not gluten-free.
  • This could also happen with: toasters, microwaves, ovens, etc.

Shared surfaces

  • A restaurant makes your gluten-free sandwich on a counter where wheat bread sandwiches are made.

Shared containers

  • Something as simple as using the same jar of mayonnaise can cause cross contamination. Even if you change the knife you’re using, often times there is already lingering gluten in the jar because the knife was double dipped.

Now that you know some of the situations that can cause cross contamination, it’s important to learn how to avoid it. The next two sections will offer some tips on how to reduce the risk of cross contamination in your home and in restaurant situations.

Gluten-free cooking. The gluten-free diet

Whether you’re an expert chef or someone who just gets by, learning how to cook gluten-free can be intimidating. Learning to cook gluten-free not only means learning to make new dishes and adjust old ones, it also means preparing your space (kitchen, house, pantry) in a way that allows you to prepare truly gluten-free food. Here are some tips for preparing to cooking gluten-free:

Have a discussion with your household

If you live with other people, it’s a important to have an open discussion about how you want to handle gluten in your house. If the whole household needs to be gluten-free – this is an easy conversation that should end in you taking action to make your house completely gluten-proof.

If the people you live with aren’t or don’t need to be gluten-free this conversation is especially important and a little more complex. If they don’t already know, explain why you need to be gluten-free, and then help educate them about cross contamination and how mindful you need to be in order to keep your food completely free of gluten.

Next, collectively decide how you want to go about creating a safe gluten-free eating environment. Some ways that you could go about it:

1. Have a completely gluten-free house

Sometimes it’s easier to have your house completely gluten-free, even if it’s not required by all diets. The cons: some of your household will need to give up their favorite gluten-filled foods. The pros: this significantly cuts down your risk for cross contamination and accidental glutening. Ultimately this is the healthier choice for you if you need to be absolutely gluten-free.

2. Have a gluten-free “zone”

Some households will choose to compromise by creating dedicated gluten-free zones. This means physical space – like counter top space, fridge space, and pantry space. As well as claiming dedicated gluten-free items – like utensils, cutting boards, toasters, jam jars, butter, pots, pans, etc. The cons: this can be difficult to manage, especially at the beginning. Mistakes may be made as there is a learning curve and you may experience multiple glutenings before getting the system right. The pros: your family and friends won’t need to change their diets and can keep their gluten-filled foods.

Once you figure out what system you want to have in place, you can plan these next steps accordingly.

Audit your pantry

This means get rid of gluten containing foods!

If your household is going to be completely gluten-free, then it’s pretty simple. Sift through your pantry and your fridge and throw out all foods that contain gluten or have been contaminated by gluten (i.e. jelly jars and sticks of butter). If you’re unsure if a product has gluten or not, do some research online. Often times a quick google search will yield some good info. But, if you are still unsure after researching, you may want to throw it out anyway. Better safe than sorry.

After you’re done throwing out all gluten containing food, be sure to thoroughly clean your pantry, your fridge, and any other areas that came into contact. This is important step to ensuring you don’t accidentally contaminate your new beautiful gluten-free food!

If your household is not completely gluten-free, then do all of the above steps to your gluten-free “zone”. Don’t be afraid to claim you space and make sure that your food is far enough away from any gluten-containing food. It is also very important to thoroughly clean (and continue to clean) any areas where you prepare food.

Treat yourself to some new kitchen supplies

Regardless of whether your house is completely gluten-free or not you will need to replace some of your kitchen wares. Why? The gluten proteins can stick surfaces, especially if those surfaces are porous. Examples include:

  • Wood utensils or cutting boards
  • Plastic tupperware with scratches

If you end up having a household that is not completely gluten-free, you will need to have your own dedicated gluten-free kitchen tools and appliances.

  • Toaster
  • Microwave
  • Cutting board

Treat yourself to some new kitchen supplies

Regardless of whether your house is completely gluten-free or not you will need to replace some of your kitchen wares. Why? The gluten proteins can stick surfaces, especially if those surfaces are porous. Examples include:

  • Wood utensils or cutting boards
  • Plastic tupperware with scratches

If you end up having a household that is not completely gluten-free, you will need to have your own dedicated gluten-free kitchen tools and appliances. Here are a few things you should consider making dedicated gluten-free:

  • Toaster
  • Microwave
  • Cutting board
  • Pots
  • Pans
  • Tupperware (glass is best)
  • Any wooden utensils (serving / mixing spoons, etc)

Research some gluten-free brands

…and get excited! Whether you’re looking for pre-made food and snacks or gluten-free foods to make your own dishes, the selection of good, delicious gluten-free food is ever expanding. Here are just a few of the amazing brands out there now who serve tasty gluten-free foods:

Premade

For homemade meals

Alternative gluten-free flours that you can use:

  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat
  • Cornmeal
  • Flax
  • Rice, soy, corn, potato, bean flours
  • Hominy
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Soy
  • Tapioca
  • Teff

Tap into some great gluten-free resources

You are not alone. There are a bunch of people who have paved the gluten-free way for you in the culinary world! There are a ton of blogs, cookbooks, support groups, informational websites, and more, to help you along in your gluten-free journey.

You don’t need to know everything right away. And you don’t have to do this on your own. This is a process that will take some time… so having some sources for encouragement and advice can be really helpful. Click here or scroll down to visit our resources and advice section.

Eating out gluten-free. The gluten-free diet

Being gluten-free does not mean that you can’t ever eat out again. There is an ever growing selection of restaurants that offer gluten-free options. With some research and candid conversations – you can learn how to find the best gluten-free restaurants for you. Eventually you’ll find restaurants that are your “go-to” and you’ll work out a system for finding new places that works for you. Until then, here are a few tips:

Research ahead of time

There’s a lot of information out there for different restaurants. Some may have just a simple website without a menu, some may link to a Facebook or Twitter page for ever-changing menu items.

As you’re looking for information about a particular venue, make certain to visit the restaurant’s website. Read the menu carefully online. Are there any special labels for gluten-free or other items? How friendly does it feel to you? Maybe it explains carefully that there are no substitutions. Think about the words you worry about — for gluten-free folks it may be words like “crispy” or “fried” on a menu that also contains battered items; for dairy-free folks, words like creamy or rich may raise your curiosity. Does it look like there are other items on the menu that might work? Is there nothing? The menu gives a lot of information up front that can let you know if it will be worth it to step in the door.

Call ahead

If the menu doesn’t explicitly meet your needs (for example, it’s not 100 percent dedicated gluten-free) or doesn’t expressly say it can accommodate on the menu, but you think they may be able to do so, it’s worth reaching out to the restaurant before you go.

Don’t assume that just because you see brussels sprouts on the menu that they aren’t coated or fried in a shared fryer. Review the menu and put together all of your questions. If you have a few days, it can help to email the restaurant (you can often contact restaurants via their Facebook page, which provides an indication of how soon they often respond to people). If you have less time, it’s better to call. In some ways, if you can email, it may be the better way to ensure you can be clear about your dining needs, especially if they are complex. Then there is also a paper trail you can bring with to the restaurant to better explain your previous conversations. You can still follow up with a telephone call as needed.

If you do call, try to call earlier in the evening or during an off-time. Don’t expect an immediate answer, especially if you’re asking about menu changes, substitutions or other accommodations. Restaurants who are open to providing services to people with various dietary needs may want a little bit of extra time to research. As always, thank the staff for helping you. By contrast, if you don’t get a great answer or feel uncomfortable after the call, make certain to incorporate this into your overall decisions you make while dining there.

See what other people have to say

Read blogger travel guides, Yelp, Foursquare, Google, TripAdvisor, HappyCow, local restaurant guides – basically anywhere that might have information on gluten-free, free-from or vegan options. Search through those reviews for better context about what the experience is like. Sometimes places will show up under gluten-free or vegan in Yelp or TripAdvisor, only to read someone saying “there’s no vegan options” or “don’t go here if you’re gluten-free.” It’s important to dig in a little. For more specialized apps, like Happy Cow, the reviews may be more specific.

Communicate with restaurant staff

Once you arrive, if it is counter service or casual, make certain to ask for any special menus or accommodations you need. If you’re going someplace with a host where you’ve made a reservation, remind them of your special needs when you check in. Ask if there are separate menus for gluten-free or allergen-friendly dining. If you’ve had a phone or email conversation with staff, remind them who you are and what you need.

You have to listen, too – if a server explains that it isn’t possible to have a dish prepared to your needs, don’t push it. If a server points you in a different direction, ask them why. Great servers talk to the kitchen and have a good sense of what’s possible. If they don’t think they can pull it off, believe them. Don’t be too intimidated if the chef offers to come out and speak to you. She is likely focused on doing her job well and making certain you are entirely satisfied. You can also ask (politely) to speak to the chef. You may have to be patient and wait a short while, especially on a busy night, but it may help to convey your needs better.

Learn some food lingo

For times when you’re not in control, such as a work dinner where you didn’t get the chance to provide any input on venue selection, or last minute decision to eat, you may have to do some digging into the menu. It helps to have a really good food and cooking vocabulary. You’ll need to know that if it’s a soup, it may have started with a roux (flour and butter). The same goes for mac & cheese (chefs may be making a gluten-free mac & cheese with GF pasta but forget their cheese sauce starts with a roux or is topped with a bechamel). If it’s a house-made aioli and you avoid egg, you need to ask for it, no aioli on a plate. Basic knowledge of how dishes are made can provide some extra insight as you order.

Let Nima take the first bite

Nima is an additional tool to help you make an informed decision about your meal. After you’ve done your research and talked to the restaurant, test with Nima to have the peace of mind that your dish is safe. Learn more about the Nima sensor here.

What to do if you get glutened - the gluten-free diet

No system is perfect. Even if you do everything exactly right, you will likely get gluten in your system (“glutened”) every once in a while. There are often elements and circumstances completely outside of your control that will affect your ability to stay completely gluten-free. It’s ok. Deep breath. Let’s talk about how to take care of you when you accidentally get glutened.

Rest

If you are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease, it is likely that your body is struggling because of the gluten exposure. Just like when you’re sick with a cold or the flu, it’s important to take it easy and sleep in order to let your body heal.

Repair

You may be tempted to stop eating all together. Fight this temptation. Your body needs nutrients to heal. Make sure to feed yourself with healthy and rejuvenating foods. Some recommendations include: plain gluten-free toast or crackers, ginger (to help settle your stomach), or other foods that you feel confident are safe.

It’s also extremely important to stay hydrated. So drink lots of water! Unsweetened coconut water can also help replenish your body’s electrolytes along with provide essential vitamins like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Reinforce

If you feel comfortable, digestive enzyme supplements can help with some of the symptoms of gluten exposure. This could mean taking specific digestive enzymes like GlutenEase or picking up a probiotic supplement / drink at your local grocery store.

Reflect

During this time of physical healing, it’s also important to tend to your mental health. This is not a time to beat yourself up or obsess over the details of things. What’s most important right now is to let yourself rest, and to be kind to yourself.

Once you’re feeling physically better, you can go about figuring out what went wrong so you can learn from the experience. Remember that this is a learning experience. There will be ups and downs, you will get through it, and you will be stronger and more knowledgeable the next time around.

Advice & resources - the gluten-free diet

Blogs

Websites and forums

Apps

Blog posts from the Nima community

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