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How To Start A Gluten-Free Diet: Tips For Beginners (Part 2)

*Disclaimer: Please be sure to consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet. This information is for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice.

If you missed Part 1, please click here to read it first.

In Part 1, we identified the 3 grains that harbor that troublesome protein called gluten. We know that gluten is present in most baked goods, and many other items made out of flour, like pasta, pancakes, etc. These are the more obvious foods to avoid, but we learned that it’s not quite as simple as that.

We found out that gluten can “hide” in many common processed food products. This is why it’s important to understand how to read nutrition labels, to determine if products are really gluten-free or not. We also discussed what cross-contamination is, and how to avoid it in everyday eating situations.

Now that we are clear on what to avoid, let’s move on to the fun stuff: everything we get to eat on a gluten-free diet!

Foods to safely enjoy on a gluten-free diet

Inside of refrigertor, fresh vegetables, and colorful containers
A healthy gluten-free diet is abundant in variety & nutrition!

The requirements of a healthy gluten-free diet are the same as for any other healthy diet plan. All bodies need protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber to function properly. A gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily more or less nutritious than a diet that includes gluten.

It’s important to remember that a healthy diet, whether it includes gluten or not, keeps heavily processed food items to a minimum. For optimum health and well-being, it is best to stick with as much whole and fresh food as possible.

It’s not the purpose of this post to discuss all the various types of dietary approaches, such as vegan/vegetarian, keto, paleo, etc. But within all of these, the foundation of a healthy diet includes plenty of fresh fruits & vegetables, good sources of protein, and whole grains/starches.

The good news is that the gluten-free diet is adaptable to all eating styles!

Here is a checklist to print from Coeliac UK for GF/not GF food categories, and reminders of things to check for hidden gluten. Handy to take to the grocery store for quick reference.

Whole grains

Close-Up of Variety of White, Black, Red and Brown Rice in Small White Bowls
There are so many other grains besides wheat, barley & rye!
RiceMany varieties, including: wild, black, red, brown, white, jasmine, basmati, arborio, calrose, Japanese sushi rice, Thai sticky rice
Oats*Be sure to only buy certified GF oats (due to risk of cross-contamination)
QuinoaHigh in protein, fiber, minerals, and B vitamins
CornCornmeal or polenta (stone ground is the most nutritious)
BuckwheatContrary to the name, it does not contain wheat, nor is it related to wheat at all! Groats can be cooked and eaten like rice, and ground buckwheat can be made into porridge. Has a very earthy, nutty flavor
TeffA very tiny seed grain, best used for porridge or as a thickener for soups and stews
MilletA mild and slightly sweet seed grain, a delicious swap for rice
AmaranthSimilar to teff when cooked, with a porridge consistency
SorghumMild flavor; it does require a long cooking time of about 1 hour

*Cooking tip: I highly advise getting yourself a rice cooker!

For many years, I have cooked all of my whole grains in a rice cooker (except for oatmeal, which is best cooked on the stovetop). It’s so easy! All you have to do is put the grains and the appropriate amount of water into the pot, plug it in, and press the button. You don’t have to bother with cooking times or worry if it is cooked enough.

Just use a rice cooker to cook your grains. You will have much less stress, and never be disappointed!

Fruits

Colorful fruits artfully cut, and beautifully arranged on a tray

All fresh fruits are completely gluten-free. Most canned, frozen, and dried fruits are as well, but be sure to read the ingredients list on the package to be sure.

Types of fresh fruit commonly available:

Pome fruitApples & pears
CitrusOranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines, kumquats
Stone fruitPlums, nectarines, peaches, apricots, cherries
TropicalMangoes, bananas, pineapple
BerriesStrawberries, raspberries, blueberries, passionfruit, grapes
MelonsWatermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew
“Veggie” fruitsTomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, bell peppers (red, green, yellow, orange)

Dried fruits are a welcome addition to any healthy diet. They are good in hot cereal, mixed into baked goods, on salads, and as a snack. Check the package label to be sure no gluten ingredients have been added (such as flour).

Some delicious dried fruits to try:

  • raisins
  • currents
  • cranberries
  • prunes
  • dates
  • figs
  • apricots
  • mango
  • pineapple
  • berries (blueberries, raspberries)

Vegetables

Assorted Colorful Vegetables Arranged on Round Stainless Steel Plate

All fresh vegetables are completely gluten-free. Be sure to check nutrition labels on any packaged (canned, bottled, frozen) vegetables.

Types of vegetables commonly available:

Leafy greenslettuce (romaine, butter, iceberg, green and red-leaf, spring mix, frisee, escarole), spinach, arugula, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, beet greens, watercress, dandelion, mustard
RootsCarrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, beets, fennel, celeriac, turnips, parsnips, radishes, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, daikon, ginger, horseradish, rutabaga
Summer SquashZucchini (Italian & Mexican), yellow zucchini or crookneck, pattypan, chayote
Winter SquashPumpkin, acorn, delicata, spaghetti, Hubbard, turban, butternut, sweet dumpling, kabocha, banana, butternut,
CruciferousBroccoli, broccolini, cauliflower (white, orange, purple), cabbage (green, red, napa, savoy, bok choy), Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe
StemsCelery, asparagus, bamboo shoots, rhubarb
OtherEggplant, okra

Legumes (beans/pulses)

Close up of colorful variety of dried beans, legumes

Fresh beans and peas are gluten-free, as are dried and cooked varieties.

Check ingredient labels on packaged products (canned, frozen, bottled). Plain canned beans can be a great time-saver, though they don’t taste as good as home-cooked.

Beans are low in fat but high in fiber, and pack a good amount of protein.

Interestingly, though peas and green beans can be eaten fresh, they are actually in the legume family. Also, we think of peanuts as being a type of nut, but they are a legume as well.

Common types of legumes:

  • chickpeas (garbanzos)
  • black beans
  • lima beans
  • kidney beans
  • cannellini beans
  • navy beans
  • black-eyed peas
  • peanuts
  • soybeans
  • Great Northern beans
  • lentils
  • pinto beans
  • snow peas
  • green peas
  • sugar snap peas
  • green beans

Nuts & Seeds

A Variety of Nuts in Clear Jars, Light Blue Tile Background

Nuts and seeds are a great source of good fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They add a nice crunch and flavor to oatmeal, salad, rice, and vegetable dishes.

Don’t forget about all of the wonderful butters made from nuts and seeds! My favorites are peanut, almond, cashew, macadamia, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, and tahini (sesame butter).

According to the AAAAI, many people who are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts don’t have any issues eating seeds. This usually includes macadamias and pine nuts, as well, which are also seeds. Of course, if you are allergic to nuts, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before eating anything potentially problematic!

Common types of nuts:

  • almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • cashews
  • walnuts
  • coconut
  • peanuts (technically legumes)
  • hazelnuts (aka filberts)
  • macadamias (technically seeds)
  • pine nuts (technically seeds)
  • pecans
  • pistachios

Common types of seeds:

  • caraway
  • chia
  • flax
  • pumpkin (pepitas)
  • hemp
  • poppy
  • sesame
  • sunflower

Protein

Little Boy Building with Blocks in a Living Room
The building blocks of protein are 9 essential amino acids that we must get daily from food: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine

Meat/seafood

The easiest way to safely enjoy meat is to buy plain, fresh cuts without anything added. Then you can use them in recipes, and add your own seasonings, flavorings, and sauces (including GF breading or batter).

Some to try:

  • beef
  • bison
  • lamb
  • venison
  • goat
  • chicken
  • duck
  • turkey
  • Cornish hen
  • tuna
  • salmon
  • flounder
  • halibut
  • cod
  • mackerel
  • sardines

However, when buying meat products, be sure to read labels carefully for gluten additives!

This article from Beyond Celiac discusses what to watch out for. The top no-no would be anything breaded or battered. Also highly suspect is anything marinated, or covered in sauce or broth. Read labels!

Also, watch out for meat products such as: deli slices, hot dogs, and sausages.

If you eat bacon, the plain type is GF, but check the label for seasonings or flavorings that might have gluten.

Eggs

Eggs are completely gluten-free (in their natural state). They can be a great part of any breakfast, lunch, or dinner. With so many ways to prepare them, it is hard to get bored with eggs! Try them fried (sunny side up, or over-easy), scrambled, boiled (soft or hard), or poached.

Eggs are a nice addition to a salad, a sandwich, or a rice bowl. They can also be used in so many different recipes.

When eating out at restaurants or social gatherings, be sure to ask how the eggs are cooked. Sometimes extra ingredients are added, and there is also the risk of cross-contamination.

Dairy

If you like dairy, the good news is that it is very rare to find any that aren’t gluten-free! Plain and pure milk products (cow, milk, sheep) are naturally GF.

The ones to watch out for are some types of dairy products that have added ingredients (such as some cheese spreads, or yogurt with granola). As always, check ingredient labels on packages!

Beyond Celiac says that all pure cheese is gluten-free. They note, however, that some brands of cottage cheese contain starch that could be made from wheat. I have seen this, so do be sure to read the label! Fortunately, though, most cottage cheese doesn’t have added ingredients.

Some cheese varieties to try:

  • Blue (Roquefort, gorgonzola, Stilton)
  • Brie (cow or sheep)
  • Cheddar (sharp or mild)
  • Cotija
  • Cottage
  • Farmer’s
  • Cream
  • Swiss (Emmental or Jarlsberg)
  • Feta (sheep or cow)
  • Mozzarella
  • Gouda
  • Havarti
  • Muenster
  • Parmesan
  • Ricotta
  • Romano

Fermented dairy products

These have the added health advantage of being probiotic. I highly recommend Nancy’s and Good Culture brands, as they are organic and made with live & active cultures.

For kefir, I love Lifeway plain organic grass-fed.

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sour cream
  • Cottage cheese

Plant-based protein

Good news for vegans: the GF diet is absolutely adaptable to a plant-based style of eating (or for anyone who wants to add more plant foods to their diet).

It is best to stay away from the many meat analogues now widely available, and better to stick with whole-food protein options. The fake burgers, hot dogs, and deli “meats” can be fun, but most are made with vital wheat gluten. They are high in protein, but off-limits to those on a gluten-free diet.

Honestly, these products aren’t healthy even for those who eat gluten! They are typically filled with all sorts of nasty fats, chemicals, and additives.

The healthy way to get protein on a plant-based diet is to incorporate plenty of whole grains, beans, tofu, tempeh, falafel, nuts, and seeds into your daily eating plan. This is completely attainable on a gluten-free diet!

*An important note about falafel: It is traditionally made using only chickpeas and/or fava beans, and spices, and served with tahini sauce. However, when eating in restaurants be sure to ask about the ingredients. Sometimes wheat flour is used as a filler, making it NOT gluten-free! When buying a falafel mix at the store, check the ingredients list to be sure it doesn’t contain wheat.

Other foods

These are some other foods that I enjoy on my GF diet:

SauerkrautLive fermented sauerkraut from the refrigerated section (rather than a can or jar)
Kim chiA traditional Korean food made with fermented vegetables
Nutritional yeastAdds a cheesy flavor to foods. Use in recipes, or sprinkled over foods
Gluten-free breadMost of the GF breads on the market don’t taste very good, and honestly, they’re not very healthy! Here are a few that I love, and highly recommend: Cook’s Sourdough, Katz, and Eban’s.
*Note: Cook’s is available at certain stores in Southern CA, but shipping from the website is quite expensive.
Both Katz & Eban’s are available on Amazon with free shipping (rather than on their websites, which charge for shipping)
Gluten-free cookiesI occasionally have a few cookies as a special treat. Most store-bought GF cookies have way too much sugar, and questionable ingredients.
Here are two that I like: Partake and Nairn’s Oat Grahams. I have been able to find both of these brands in-store where I live.

GF Flour

Pouring flour into a stainless steel mixing bowl
Making your own gluten-free baked goods is so rewarding!

It’s true that gluten-free baked goods don’t have the same taste and texture as their gluten counterparts. There are some ready-made GF baked goods to be found that taste decent, but they tend to be quite expensive. Most of them also seem to contain way more sugar and fat than I care to eat. I think manufacturers go overboard on these to make up for the lack of flavor and texture.

Making your own GF baked goods at home is much more economical, and the taste is so much better! There is quite a learning curve when first starting out baking with gluten-free ingredients. Without gluten, things don’t hold together in the traditional way, as with wheat flour.

But it really is worth it to experiment and learn. You will be happy to have fresh, delicious GF baked goods that actually taste good, and are healthy.

Here are the many gluten-free flours that are available:

  • almond
  • coconut
  • chickpea (bean)
  • rice (brown & white)
  • amaranth
  • sorghum
  • quinoa
  • buckwheat
  • cornmeal
  • millet
  • oat (be sure it is gluten-free!)
  • quinoa
  • tapioca
  • teff

There are also some gluten-free flour mixes at the store if you prefer. I like to buy them separately, though, and mix my own. It is less expensive, and you can change the type of flour you use, depending on the recipe.

The wrap-up

As a beginner to the gluten-free diet, it can be confusing at first. It’s difficult to think of having to give up many of the foods we have been used to eating our whole lives. We want to feel better, but we’re not really sure what we can safely eat, and what we can’t.

But we have learned that just because we have to cut out gluten, that doesn’t mean we only have a limited choice of foods we can eat. Actually, going gluten-free opens us up to a whole new world of choices!

We still get to enjoy a bounty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts & seeds, meat & seafood, eggs, and dairy, which are naturally gluten-free. Besides the 3 grains that we have to avoid, there are so many other whole grains we get to eat! This introduces us to new tastes and different cuisines we might not have ever explored before.

I hope that this information has helped to answer some questions you might have had about what you can safely (and deliciously!) eat on a gluten-free diet.

I wish you many years of renewed health as your body heals, and happy hours in the kitchen creating tasty gluten-free meals for yourself, and your loved ones.

I’m always here for you if you have any questions! Please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me by email on the contact page.

Assorted Colorful Vegetables Arranged on Round Stainless Steel Plate

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