Gluten free label or no wheat vector icon template for gluten free food package or dietetic product yellow signs set

So you’re gluten-free. Whether you have Celiac Disease, your doctor has recommended you follow a gluten-free diet for another reason, you’re trying it on your own to see if it helps with some digestive issues, or you just plain don’t want to eat gluten anymore… you’ve decided to yeet gluten from your life in a big way. But what now? Where do you start?

First off, don’t despair! There are SO MANY great options, especially compared with what I had 17 years ago when I first stopped eating gluten (I actually full-on sobbed when I had my first slice of gluten-free bread).

The good news is that you should start to feel better pretty soon after you cut gluten out of your diet. If not, you’ll need to look at what you’re eating and keep an eye out for hidden gluten (see below). 

The bad news? Gluten-free versions of things you like can be a lot more expensive than their gluteny counterparts. C’est la vie.

Please note: I am not a doctor, and none of the following should be construed as medical advice. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any health concerns you have.

The Basics

Long story short, you’ll need to strike wheat, barley, and rye from your diet. Barley and rye are fairly easy to avoid, but wheat is a favorite ingredient and filler. Oats can be hit or miss for individuals (I can have them without trouble), but if you’re going to have them it’s important to know that a lot of times oats get processed alongside wheat so any oats not labeled as being “certified gluten-free” should be considered cross-contaminated – obviously this is not an issue if you don’t have Celiac or a gluten sensitivity. Certified gluten-free oats can usually be found in the specialty foods area of your grocery store (Bob’s Red Mill is one source). 

My best advice: Read the labels of absolutely everything you put into your mouth, period. You need to be aware of what you are eating in a way you likely never have before, and reading labels is your best defense against getting glutened. I still occasionally fall into this trap – I once got a bag of BBQ chips and didn’t notice until halfway through the bag that malted barley was an ingredient. DERP.

Hidden Gluten

Manufacturers love to hide gluten in places you might not expect. Hidden gluten can rear its ugly head as:

  • Modified food starch, unless the source is specified, as in “modified corn starch” or “modified food starch (corn)”. Modified food starch is *usually* gluten-free in North America, but it can be made from corn, waxy maize, tapioca, potato, or wheat.
  • Malt. Any time you see the word “malt” it’s a no go. Malted foods are made from barley. Malt color, malt flavor, malt vinegar (I KNOW 🙁), it’s all off-limits.

Another confusing thing in food labeling is “made in a facility that also processes wheat” or “made on shared equipment”. I avoid shared equipment, but depending on how lucky I feel that day I’ll sometimes still go for the shared facility (but I usually don’t feel very lucky, lol).

Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking

I find it easier to have a totally gluten free kitchen. Flour flies around and gets everywhere, so if you’re worried about cross-contamination I recommend against doing any gluteny baking in your kitchen. If you do, make sure you clean absolutely everything after each use of wheat flour. If cross-contamination isn’t an issue for you, then have at it! 

You can convert nearly any recipe to a gluten-free version with a little know-how and some luck.

For baking, you’ll always want to use a blend of gluten-free flours – each one has different properties. For example, almond flour has a higher fat content and will give you a moister end product – maybe not ideal for things like crackers but great for cakes. King Arthur’s Brand has a really good gluten free all-purpose flour that I like, but you can also make your own blends. My go-tos are almond flour, brown rice flour, white rice flour, and tapioca starch, but you can also get others like coconut flour, sorghum flour, buckwheat flour, teff flour, potato starch, potato flour (yes, these are different!), etc. I usually stay away from chickpea flour because I think it has a weird taste (and it’s also why I stay away from Bob’s Red Mill flour blends and mixes) but that’s probably just one of my own idiosyncracies coming out.

In addition to the flours, xanthan gum, guar gum, and psyllium husk powder are helpful for baking as they can give more structure (standing in somewhat for the gluten). A lot of 1:1 baking mixes will already have one of these in it (for example, King Arthur’s is called “Measure for Measure” and contains xanthan gum), but depending on what you’re baking you may have to add more (e.g. cake vs. bread).

Keep in mind that some folks can experience gastrointestinal upset when eating large quantities of gums, and psyllium husk powder is the stuff you find in Metamucil fiber supplements, so…

Here’s a handy chart I refer to often (sourced from Stay Gluten Free and copied here only in case the site ever goes away):

Xanthan Gum

Cookies 1/4 teaspoon/cup
Cakes & Pancakes 1/2 teaspoon/cup
Muffins and Quickbreads 3/4 teaspoon/cup
Breads 1-1 1/2 teaspoon/cup
Pizza Dough 2 teaspoon/cup
As thickener in liquids 1/2 teaspoon/ 8oz of fluid

Guar Gum

Cookies 1/4-1/2 teaspoon/cup 
Cakes & Pancakes 3/4 teaspoon/cup
Muffins and Quickbreads 1 teaspoon/cup 
Breads 1-2 teaspoon/cup
Pizza Dough 1 teaspoon/cup
Gravies & stews 1-3 teaspoon /quart
Ice cream & pudding 1-2  teaspoon /quart

Where to Find Gluten-Free Recipes

You can find gluten-free recipes pretty much anywhere, but some of them aren’t the best. A couple of sites I use frequently specifically for gluten-free recipes are Gluten Free on a Shoestring and King Arthur Baking Company (just search for gluten-free). But I also use NYT Cooking, Epicurious, Serious Eats, and Allrecipes to find things that sound good and then try to recreate them without that pesky gluten.

If you’re looking to make homemade bread, though, you really can’t go wrong with Gluten Free Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg M.D. and Zoë François.  It’s a book I go back to again and again and it has some really great recipes, including whole grain bread, challah, and brioche, and recipes like cinnamon buns that use the bread dough in them.

For cooking, you can look for gluten-free recipes/ingredients specifically, but you can look for paleo, which will almost always be gluten-free.

And no, I don’t get any kind of kickback for you clicking on any of the links above, I just want to share the love. 😉 

Eating Out Sans Gluten

Eating out can be daunting (and fairly fraught with uncertainty), but you can still enjoy a meal out as long as you know what to do and what to look out for.

  1. A cursory glance at the menu will give you an idea of which dishes might be safe. Obviously any pastas, breads, fried food, etc. are likely to be a no, so you can cross those out at options. Keep a couple of options in mind to ask about when the server comes around.
  2. Tell the server your situation.
    • If you are not eating gluten because you are Celiac or have a gluten sensitivity that makes you ill when you eat gluten, you can shorthand this to “I have a gluten allergy.”
    • If you are simply choosing not to eat gluten and cross-contamination isn’t an issue for you (and no judgement on that – folks like these mean more gluten-free options for folks like me!), PLEASE, for the love of all that is holy, do NOT tell the server you have an allergy. Allergy accommodations mean a LOT of extra work for the kitchen, and if the server later notices you taking a small bite of your friend’s gluten-containing dish just to taste, it makes them not take allergies as seriously as they need to. Instead, you can tell them “I’m avoiding gluten but it’s not an allergy.” That way they know that they don’t have to completely scrub down a cooking station to prepare your food, they will just ensure there aren’t any gluten-containing ingredients in your dish.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask a LOT of question at restaurants. You’ll feel like a pain in the ass, but this is your body and your health, and if they don’t want your questions then they don’t need your money either.
  4. Restaurants aren’t always well-versed on what has gluten in it (the number of times I’ve been asked if potatoes are ok… let’s just say I’d be a millionaire if I had a nickel every time). If you get the impression that they’re not sure or you get a wishy-washy answer (“I think it’s ok”), ask to speak with a manager. If you still have a bad feeling after talking with a manager, don’t eat there.
  5. If you’re trying to get something fried, ask whether the fryer is shared with foods that contain gluten. Unless you’re at a restaurant which specifically caters to the gluten-free crowd, it’s unlikely they will have a separate fryer. If you’re not Celiac, you can decide whether to take the chance on fried foods, but Celiacs should definitely avoid foods from shared fryers to avoid damaging your intestinal villi.
  6. There are an increasing number of restaurants who can make most or all of their menus gluten-free. When you do find one of these, it’s like a light shining down from above. Fried foods are back on the menu at places like these (instead of having a separate fryer, I’ve found that they usually make ALL of the fried foods gluten-free and just don’t advertise that fact to the normies).

Tips on different cuisines:

  • East Asian foods: Soy sauce, unless it’s specified as gluten free tamari, is made primarily from wheat, so unless they have a specific gluten-free menu, East Asian restaurants can be difficult and/or can result in less than exciting options (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been offered plain chicken breast and steamed vegetables at Chinese, Korean, or Thai restaurants). American Chinese food is especially difficult with the amount of fried foods typically on the menu. If you have a P. F. Chang’s near you, they’ve got a great gluten-free menu.
  • Mexican: Mexican is usually very easy. Avoid flour tortillas and other obvious gluten (like churros or other fried stuff) and you’re usually good. 
  • Indian: Indian is SUPER easy for gluten free. Just skip the samosas and the roti. Even dosa and pekora are usually ok. 

And that’s it!

So… that was a book, lol. But seriously, I’ve been at this for a really long time, so please don’t hesitate even a little to put any questions you might have into the comments. I know it seems really daunting at first, but it really does get better with time and experience.


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