Living Gluten-Free with Ryan Bove: The Basics of a Gluten-Free Diet

This is the first post in a series of posts by founder Ryan Bove, covering various topics related to gluten-free eating and celiac disease. We start off general: the basic components of a gluten-free diet. For the complete guide to Gluten-free 101, we definitely recommend checking out Celiac.com’s Beginners Guide to Going Gluten-free.

At the highest level, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Going on a gluten-free diet means avoiding these grains and all their derivatives. Given that you are only avoiding these three grains, you would think it would be relatively simple to follow a gluten-free diet. The challenge is that under the current labeling laws, these grains can be listed under a variety of names, and hidden gluten is a major concern. A good place to start is to read the safe and unsafe ingredient lists from www.celiac.com, but when in doubt, check with the manufacturer or avoid any questionable products.

The Safe Stuff

As you can see, this lists are exhaustive and very, very long. Now that you have seen the variety and complexity of the gluten-free food list as well as the three primary culprit grains wheat, barley, and rye, lets look at some of the more common food sources that you can eat assuming that you do not have any cross-sensitivities and there is no cross-contamination/hidden gluten issues. They are:

  • Rice, potatoes, tapioca, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, almonds, quinoa, arrowroot, beans, chickpeas, chestnuts, coconuts, corn, honey, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, sorghum,  soy, teff, and oats (as long as you make sure they are certified gluten-free, as there is a high risk of cross-contamination).

As a side-note, many of these ingredients make for a great gluten-free beer.

Anyway, wheat, barley, rye, and oats are some of the most commonly cultivated grains in the United States and Europe, but this has not historically always been the case. Wheat and barley were the best suited grains for commercial farming so they have proliferated the diets of the Western World. However, in certain geographies and at certain points in time, many of these foods have been used to create amazing culinary dishes, such as the quinoa dishes of South America, millet dishes of Africa, pure buckwheat soba noodles of Japan, and buckwheat Crepes from France. Going gluten-free does signify a change in diet, but it does not mean the absence of flavor.

The Dangers of Hidden Gluten

Beyond cutting wheat, barley, and rye, a gluten-free diets also means avoiding hidden gluten in sauces, processed foods, and other items such as toothpaste. Currently, companies are not required to explicitly list gluten on their packaging. Hidden gluten is tricky and can find its way into many seeming safe ingredients.

For example, two additives that may or may not be gluten free are caramel color and natural flavors, but there are many more. To find out for a new product, you can usually call the manufacturer or check their website. Other risky items are soy sauce and risotto. You would think soy sauce is gluten free because it is soy, but many times it is processed with wheat. You would think risotto is gluten-free because of rice. However, risotto i  usually made with chicken broth, which may or may not be made with gluten or wheat.

In Closing

Eating gluten-free certainly restricts food options and can be a challenge, but with proper research and preparation it is more than manageable. Always stay on the safe side, and check with the manufacturer if you’re in doubt about anything. In future posts we’ll discuss other important topics related to gluten-free diets, but for now I recommend you make go make yourself a tasty gluten-free meal (check out our post here for some of our favorites) and drink a gluten-free beer.

Cheers.