How to Find Gluten Free Foods
When I was diagnosed with celiac disease in January of the year 2000, probably the most immediate need that I had was to find healthy, gluten free foods that I could eat without triggering a gluten reaction.
I suspect that you might be faced with the same or similar problem so I thought that I’d start this series off by talking about how you go about finding gluten free diet food.
This article is the first in my “Getting Started Right” series for new gluten-free eaters.
When most people are first diagnosed with a disease like celiac or a condition like gluten sensitivity that requires them to eat gluten-free they will usually be overwhelmed by what happens next!
They go to the grocery store and suddenly they are faced with literally thousands of different processed food products and non-processed foods that they must choose from in order to only have gluten free diet foods in their gluten-free diet plan.
And. they have no idea even where to begin.
So, I’d like to start by talking about how to find foods without gluten that don’t require you to use a testing kit of some sort. (If you are curious about what a testing kit is, we have reviewed the “GlutenTox Home” testing kit… just click the link… it will open in a new window.).
First and foremost, I believe that is a good idea to have a plan.
I’d begin by sketching out a list of what you would like to eat.
Then, start looking for foods that are gluten free in each of the 4 categories I’ve listed below. Look for those that are in your “what I would like to eat” list.
After you have completed the entire planning process (there are other articles later in this series which will get into more detail), you may find that there is enough variety in your plan that you can repeat the plan for each subsequent time period without needing to deal with “food boredom.”
Personally, I would make it a short-term plan. Say for a week or two… and then build up to a month after you become accustomed to the process. And then to maybe a quarter (3 months) at the most if you are really comfortable with the procedure.
One good thing about doing it this way is that you can make sure you get your favorite foods into your gluten-free menu.
Once you have done that, you will have the beginnings of your own, personal, gluten free diet plan.
And, now, you can begin to search for foods that will fit nicely into your plan.
In order to do that you will need to learn how to identify foods that are actually gluten free.
Other than through experimentation/testing there are only 4 ways to tell if something is actually gluten-free. They are:
I briefly review each of the 4 ways to tell in the following sections.
Whole foods are foods that you would find in a farmer’s market, a roadside food stand or in the produce section of your local supermarket or other grocery store. Normally, they are not packaged.
Unless the product being sold is one of the grains that produce naturally occurring gluten, the food item is probably gluten-free.
The gluten producing grains are:
- Rye; and,
Almost all hybrids of these grains produce gluten. In fact, I know of no hybrids that don’t produce gluten.
If they (whole foods) have been packaged, you need to be concerned about what is called cross-contamination from the packaging or the inserts in the packaging. Printer ink can be a major source of cross-contamination as can be employee hands and clothing in packaged whole foods.
Cross-contamination occurs when something contaminated with gluten touches a food which normally does not contain gluten. Cross-contaminated food will cause a gluten-reaction just like a food that contains a gluten-producing grain or by-product.
There are several different sites which provide gluten-free food lists. If you enjoy surfing the internet you might look around, or you can use ours.
Here at Elegantly, Gluten-Free, we have a Gluten-free food list in 4 parts:
You can find it through the menu on each page or click here for my <list of gluten free foods>.
We try to update the master food lists at least once or twice each year.
There are problems that routinely occur with some foods such as oats or bulk dried foods such as dried beans that are frequently contaminated by gluten-producing grains.
This is a form of cross-contamination like I talked about above.
The market place deals with these situations through certification of the product as being gluten-free.
This certification is extremely expensive and most companies do not bother with it but the certification agencies are available to companies who have a financial advantage by being certified as gluten-free.
Here are some links that will explain more about the certification process.
- The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America
- The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness
- The Public Health and Safety Organization
If you would like to find out more, I suggest that you Google the phrase “gluten-free certification organization” or similar.
How to Figure Out If It is Legally Gluten-Free
There are many governments that strictly control notification of gluten content. This notification is usually in the form of labeling on the packaging. Most whole foods are unpackaged and even if they are, they typically make no gluten-content claims.
However, almost all processed foods are packaged. The governments become involved only if the labeling makes gluten-related claims such as “gluten-free” or “reduced gluten.” As a working rule, I don’t buy packaged products that don’t make gluten claims. In my 1st and 3rd books, I cover how to find out if a manufacturer/food processor’s product is gluten-free.
There are many legal jurisdictions around the world. I am not able to spend the time necessary to identify and evaluate the laws and food-related regulations around the world. So, I’m going to focus on the United States of America and the European Union.
I believe the glutenfreepassport.com food labeling page link will provide you quite a bit of useful information if you are in other parts of the world.
First, the way both the U.S. and the EU regulate gluten content of foods is via labeling rules/regulations. There are specific statutes in both jurisdictions that either have specific laws or regulations based upon laws which control the identification of gluten content in packaged foods.
Packaged foods may be either processed or non-processed. If it’s in packaging of any kind and contains a label, it is probably subject to the laws and/or regulations of the legal jurisdiction.
While it is true that in the United States labeling laws and regulations have now been enacted which require food producers who state that their food is gluten-free to adhere to very strict guidelines, many foods that are not so labeled are in fact gluten-free.
One of the first things you going to discover that as soon as the phrase “gluten-free” (U.S. or EU) or “very low gluten” (EU) goes on the label the price is going to go up anywhere from 10 to 100% or maybe more.
I know that it may seem unreasonable, but, it costs food processors a lot of money to remove gluten from their products and/or to prevent contamination of the foods they prepare. Marketplace pressures are forcing the price down but gluten-free/very low gluten labeled foods still cost a lot to produce and they will probably never be comparable in price to processed foods which are not so labeled.
Neither the U.S. nor the European Union control the gluten content of foods which are not labelled as “gluten-free” (U.S. or EU) or “very low gluten” (EU). The European standards are measured in “mg/kg” and U.S. standards are measured in “ppm” which is “parts per million.”
Note that the measurements are equivalent and 1 mg/kg = 1 ppm.
My next post in this series how to figure out if you need supplements in your gluten-free diet plan. Ti is called “Do You Need Supplements In Your Gluten-Free Diet?”