If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease you have undoubtedly been told you must follow a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. This question and answer sheet was developed to help you successfully get started on the diet until you can schedule an appointment with a dietitian.
Q: What foods can I eat on a gluten-free diet?
A: Many, many foods are naturally gluten-free and at low risk of cross-contact with wheat, barley, and rye. These foods include fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, shell eggs, fresh meat, fresh poultry, plain milk, plain yogurt, hard cheeses, etc. Some foods such as dried beans, nuts, and seeds have some risk of cross-contact with wheat, barley, and rye so it is best to choose products that are labeled gluten-free. Other foods, such as naturally gluten-free grains and flours have a medium to high risk of cross-contact so it is important to always choose products labeled gluten-free.
Q: What does it mean if a food is labeled gluten-free?
A: If a food is labeled gluten-free it does not contain wheat, barley, or rye grain as an ingredient; it does not contain an ingredient made from a gluten-containing grain if the ingredient has not been processed to remove gluten; if it does contain an ingredient made from a gluten-containing grain, the ingredient has been processed to remove gluten; and the food as sold to you, the consumer, does not contain 20 parts per million or more gluten.
Q: Do foods labeled gluten-free have to be tested for gluten?
A: No, under the gluten-free labeling rule, foods labeled gluten-free do not have to be tested for gluten. If you are interested in how gluten-free foods are testing, please visit our sister site www.glutenfreewatchdog.org.
Q: What foods must not be eaten on a gluten-free diet?
A: If a food is NOT labeled gluten-free, read the ingredients list and in the case of wheat the Contains statement looking for the words wheat, barley, rye, oats (unless gluten free), malt, and brewer’s yeast (brewer’s yeast is often a by-product of beer brewing and as such will be contaminated with malt and grain). If you do not see these words on the label of a food regulated by the Food and Drug Administration the food is most likely free of gluten-containing ingredients. For foods regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (meat products, poultry products, and egg products) and NOT labeled gluten-free you also are looking for the ingredients modified food starch, starch, and dextrin. For more information on labeling laws and ingredients, please see the Resources page.
Q: What foods contain these ingredients?
A: These ingredients are found in foods that you typically think of as containing flour or grain, such as most regular brands of bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, cracker, and cookie products as well as products containing malt, such as malt vinegar and malted milk. These ingredients also are commonly found in many other processed foods, including soups, gravies, sauces, stock, bouillon, seasoned rice mixes, seasoned nuts, seasoned tortilla and potato chips, and vegetables in sauce. You must therefore read the ingredients list and Contains statement of all processed foods NOT labeled gluten-free.
Q: Does this mean I can no longer eat bread, pasta, or breakfast cereal?
A: Fortunately there are many manufacturers of gluten-free food. Gluten-free products are typically carried by health food stores. An increasing number of gluten-free products may be found in your local grocery store especially if it is a large chain with a natural foods section. If neither of these is an option for you, many products can be mail-ordered from manufacturer websites or amazon.com.
Q: What grain foods can I purchase in my grocery store that are naturally gluten free?
A: While there are plenty of grain foods you can buy in a regular grocery store that do not naturally include any gluten-containing ingredients, it is strongly recommended that you purchase only those grains foods that are labeled gluten-free. This recommendation is due to the risk of cross-contact with wheat, barley, and rye. Look for labeled gluten-free versions of oats, rice crackers, rice cakes, corn tortillas, corn tortilla chips, and rice noodles (among many other foods).
Please note: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only. The gluten-free diet is much more involved than what is presented here. It is very important that you schedule an appointment with a dietitian familiar with the gluten-free diet as soon as possible. For a state-by-state listing of dietitians who counsel persons with celiac disease, see the newsletter page.