Are you wondering which foods are gluten-free and which are not? That’s no surprise—the gluten-free diet is extremely tricky, and gluten can hide in some very unexpected places.
If you’re just starting out on the diet, it’s understandable to get confused and even bewildered by food labels and ingredients lists. Of course, there will be lots of foods that are off-limits on the gluten-free diet. However, there are also plenty of foods you can eat.
The following list, which I’ve broken down into eight categories (fruit and vegetables, meat, milk and dairy products, breads and snacks, dry goods and mixes, condiments, prepared foods and beverages), will explain what you need to know to choose safe products in each category, and provide you with suggested safe brands and products.
At the end, you’ll also find a summary of the list that you can print out and take to the grocery store. However, I recommend you read through the explanations on the preceding pages first, so that you have a firm idea of what to buy and what to avoid. It’s just really easy to make a mistake, otherwise.
Don’t feel like you need to master all of this overnight—there’s too much involved and too steep a learning curve. But believe it or not, shopping for gluten-free food eventually will become second nature to you, and you’ll know exactly which products to purchase without needing to refer to a list.
Gluten-Free Fruit and Vegetables
If you love fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re in luck: with very few exceptions, they’re all gluten-free. You can indulge all you wish with berries, fruits, greens and vegetables you find in the fresh produce section of your local grocery store.
There are, however, a couple of places where even products sold in the produce section can gluten you.
Some stores sell jars of processed fruit that contain other ingredients you’ll need to check. Most of it is gluten-free, but occasionally you’ll run across something suspect.
In addition, many stores sell cut-up fruit in containers. Before purchasing this fruit, double-check on where workers cut it up—a few stores use the deli counter for this, which means the fruit is at risk for cross-contamination from the sandwiches and other products made there. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem at most stores.
Finally, if you’re very sensitive to trace gluten, you could find that certain fresh fruits and vegetables seem to cause symptoms. You’re not imagining things—the problem is gluten cross-contamination at the farm itself.
Gluten-Free Canned and Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Most canned fruits and vegetables are considered gluten-free, but some are not… and the more ingredients, the riskier the product. You’ll also need to read labels or contact the manufacturer to determine if a particular product is processed in a shared facility or on manufacturing lines shared with gluten-containing products.
Single-ingredient frozen fruits and vegetables (e.g., frozen peas or frozen green beans) generally are safe, but you should read labels or contact the manufacturer with questions about the potential for gluten cross-contamination during processing. I’ve run across single-ingredient frozen vegetables that are processed and packaged on lines that also are used for wheat products.
Frozen fruits and vegetables with multiple ingredients (e.g., prepared side dishes) may or may not be safe—many contain gluten ingredients. You’ll need to contact the manufacturer to be sure.
Gluten-Free Meat, Poultry, and Fish
Like fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat and fish generally are safe on the gluten-free diet. This includes fresh cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and fish at your local grocery store or butcher.
However, you’ll need to beware of meats and poultry with added ingredients that make them into ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat dishes—most of these are not safe to consume on the diet, since the store might use unsafe sauces or even bread crumbs. I’ve found that information on the ingredients in these ready-to-use products frequently is lacking, so I’d advise steering clear.
In addition, some chickens and turkeys include a broth or liquid intended to “plump” it that may or may not be safe. The label must disclose the presence of this broth, so you’ll need to contact the manufacturer to determine if it contains gluten or not. Your best bet is to choose poultry that isn’t packed with a broth or additional liquid.
I also avoid choosing meats on “naked” (i.e., without plastic wrap covering them) display in refrigerator cases, since many of those display cases also contain foods with bread crumbs and other gluten ingredients. The display cases contain fans to move the air around, and the fans also can blow loose crumbs onto your naked meat. When in doubt, pick something pre-packaged.
Gluten-Free Ham, Hot Dogs, Sausage, and Other Meat Products
There are plenty of hams that are considered gluten-free to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) definition of 20 parts per million, but only some seem to be specifically labeled “gluten-free.”
Many hot dogs also are gluten-free to 20 ppm, and some—like Applegate Farms’ hot dogs—actually carry a gluten-free label. Applegate Farms and other manufacturers also make gluten-free bacon.
Be extra careful with sausage. Many sausages contain bread crumbs as a filler, so check labels carefully before buying sausage, even though there are some gluten-free sausage brands out there. In addition, even if the sausage you’re considering doesn’t include a gluten ingredient, it may have been manufactured on equipment that also processes gluten-containing sausage, so ask about that.
There are plenty of gluten-free deli meats on the market: Hormel and Hillshire Farms both make packaged gluten-free meats, and all of Boar’s Head’s products are gluten-free. However, you’ll need to beware of cross-contamination that can stem from shared slicing machines at the deli counter, so your best bet is to stick with pre-packaged meats instead of having the product sliced behind the counter.
Gluten-Free Milk and Dairy Products
Most milk and many dairy-based products are gluten-free, but as always, there are exceptions.
Plain milk—regardless of whether it’s regular, skim or even heavy cream—is gluten-free. Flavored milks, however, may not be safe, and you’ll need to check ingredients to make sure. Malted milk products, including malted milkshakes, are not safe, since malt is made with barley.
Plain yogurt is safe, and I’ve had good luck with the Chobani and Fage brands. Many flavored yogurts—but not all—also are gluten-free. You’ll need to check ingredients to be sure. Some yogurts come with cookies and granola, and you should avoid those.
The refrigerator case at the supermarket also carries eggs, which are gluten-free, butter, which is gluten-free, and margarine, most of which is gluten-free (always check the ingredients on margarine and shortening). You’ll also find products such as Kozy Shack tapioca pudding, which is labeled gluten-free.
Some milk substitute products (such as soy milk and almond milk) are gluten-free, and some are not. Be particularly careful of gluten-free-labeled Rice Dream rice milk (found in the dry-goods section of the supermarket, not the dairy section), as it’s processed with barley enzymes and many people report reacting to it.
Gluten-Free Cheese and Ice Cream
When purchasing cheese, most options should be safe. However, watch out for “beer-washed” cheeses, which seem to be a new fad among cheese makers. In addition, a few manufacturers use wheat as a catalyst when making bleu cheese, so you’ll need to contact the specific maker to determine if a particular bleu cheese is safe or not (this tends to be a problem only for those who are particularly sensitive to trace gluten).
Lastly, beware of cheese that’s been cut up and repackaged at the individual grocery store. In many cases, this repackaging takes place in the deli section on the same cutting boards where the staff makes sandwiches. I’ve been badly glutened by repackaged cheese. Look instead for cheese that was packaged at the manufacturer—you may have to purchase more of it than you’d like, but cheese freezes well.
In the case of gluten-free ice cream, beware of ice creams that contain chunks of cookies, dough or an unsafe candy. Check the ingredients and avoid anything with a gluten-sounding name like “Cookies and Cream” or “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” unless it’s specifically labeled gluten-free.
Obviously, ice cream sandwiches are out unless you can find some that are specifically labeled gluten-free. But you can buy frozen fruit pops and other ice cream treats that are gluten-free—for example, Dove Ice Cream Miniatures are a staple at our house.
Gluten-Free Breads, Snacks, Cereals, and Pasta
When it comes to bread, you have no choice but to choose from among the various gluten-free bread brands. Fortunately, many grocery stores these days carry frozen gluten-free bread, and you can order online to get your particular favorite.
I periodically run across claims that people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can eat breads with ingredients such as sprouted wheat or Einkorn wheat (an ancient form of wheat). Don’t believe them. If the ingredients on the bread include wheat, do not buy that bread—it’s extremely likely to make you sick.
If you’re looking for baked snacks like cookies or cakes that normally would contain wheat, you’ll obviously have to stick to gluten-free labeled items. Again, we’re fortunate that most stores carry at least a handful of gluten-free cookies and may even carry such products as gluten-free bagels and gluten-free frozen waffles in their freezer sections.
Also, there’s now a wide variety of gluten-free pretzels available for snacking, along with many different energy bars that are labeled gluten-free.
Several manufacturers, including Kettle brand, make gluten-free chips (especially gluten-free potato chips) and label them as such. You’ll also find many brands of gluten-free corn chips—look for those specifically labeled gluten-free.
If you want something sweet, multiple candies are considered gluten-free to 20 parts per million; see the list of gluten-free candy for those considered safe.
Gluten-Free Cereal, Pasta Choices Improving
You’ve got multiple choices when it comes to gluten-free cereal: many major brands now are making some favorites, such as General Mills’ Chex, gluten-free.
As with breads and snacks, don’t buy a cereal unless it’s specifically marked gluten-free.
The same goes for pasta—if it’s not labeled gluten-free, don’t buy it. Fortunately, there are plenty of gluten-free pasta options available, in sizes and shapes ranging from fettuccine to linguine.
You can choose pasta made from corn, rice or more unusual gluten-free grains, such as quinoa. Many people have a favorite brand (you’ll need to do some experimenting to discover your own), and it’s possible to create pasta dishes that taste just like the gluten originals.
Gluten-Free Prepared Foods: Frozen Foods, Soup, and More
If you’re looking for a gluten-free frozen dinner, you’ll almost certainly find one in your local supermarket that’s marked specifically gluten-free—Glutino makes some prepared meals, as do Amy’s Kitchen and Saffron Road, among many other manufacturers. Don’t purchase a frozen meal unless it’s specifically marked “gluten-free,” since most of those that aren’t labeled do contain gluten ingredients.
You also may be able to find some prepared foods in the dry-goods section of the supermarket that are marked gluten-free—for example, I’ve seen “just add water” pre-made Indian or Thai dishes in the ethnic foods section of the store. Thai Kitchen is one brand that makes some gluten-free dishes you could eat as a meal. Lotus makes several different gluten-free ramen noodles in several different flavors, if you’re looking for a quick snack.
Frozen pizza fans have plenty of gluten-free frozen pizza options, including vegan products and some that are gluten-free and casein-free. Many grocery stores stock at least one or two of these—in my local store, they’re in the “natural” foods freezer section, which is separate from the regular freezer section, but other stores stock them in the regular frozen pizza section. Look around for them: you might be surprised at what you find.
Canned Soups: Several Options Available
People new to the gluten-free diet often are surprised to learn that traditional flavors of canned soups frequently contain gluten—the flour is used as a thickener, especially in “cream” soup products. However, it’s possible to find some canned and boxed soups that are gluten-free.
Progresso makes some gluten-free soups, as does Pacific Natural Foods (which packages its soups in boxes, not cans). Some gourmet soup manufacturers, such as Bookbinders Specialties, also make some gluten-free soup options, but you’ll have to read labels and possibly make some calls to determine what’s safe and what’s not.
Gluten-Free Dry Goods: Baking Mixes and Supplies
It’s possible these days to purchase mixes for almost any baked product you want: gluten-free bread mixes, gluten-free muffin mixes, gluten-free pizza crust mixes, gluten-free cake mixes, gluten-free cookie mixes—you name it.
This is another area where you must be sure to purchase only products marked “gluten-free,” since if you don’t, you’ll almost certainly be purchasing something with gluten in it.
Baking Supplies: Many Are Gluten-Free, But Be Careful
To bake, you frequently need ingredients other than a gluten-free mix—and of course, some people want to bake from scratch, without a mix.
It’s possible to find gluten-free flour blends you can use for your baking projects, or you can use individual gluten-free flours. For example, Bisquick now produces a gluten-free baking mix. Companies such as Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills also package gluten-free flour products.
Just be certain to choose only those labeled “gluten-free”—gluten contamination of flour products can be very bad, and you’ll be safest sticking with brands that meet the FDA’s gluten-free labeling requirements.
Ingredients such as corn starch, yeast, baking powder, and baking soda generally are gluten-free, but it doesn’t hurt to check on specific manufacturers’ products before you buy. In addition, the same rule should apply for cocoa, baking chocolate and other flavorings—many are gluten-free, but double-check. When I need sugar, I use Domino Pure Cane Sugar, in the familiar yellow, navy and white package.
Gluten-Free Condiments: Oils, Sauces, Salad Dressing, and Spices
Buying gluten-free sauces and condiments can be tricky—many of these products contain gluten ingredients. In other cases, products you wouldn’t think to suspect, such as soy sauce, actually are made primarily of wheat.
Therefore, I urge a healthy dose of “buyer beware” when you’re shopping for condiments and sauces. In some cases, you’ll find products labeled “gluten-free,” but in the majority of cases, you’ll need to contact the manufacturer to determine if something is gluten-free or not.
You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a gluten-free tomato sauce to go with your gluten-free pasta; several brands, including Del Monte and Classico, offer options. In addition, Emeril’s and Hidden Valley Ranch both offer gluten-free salad dressing products, although you need to check ingredients on each package to be certain you’re choosing a safe flavor.
When it comes to ketchup, there are several gluten-free varieties. French’s yellow mustard is listed as gluten-free, as are many other mustards. The same goes for hot sauce: there are multiple gluten-free hot sauces on the market. If you need gluten-free soy sauce, look for either Kikkoman or San-J tamari-style soy sauces, which are gluten-free at least to the FDA’s proposed 20 parts per million standard, and will be marked as such.
There’s one caution for those who are super-sensitive to gluten or who react to gluten-based vinegars: almost all of these condiment products contain vinegar of some sort. Some of it is apple cider vinegar, which should be safe enough for most people, but some of it may be grain vinegar—you’ll need to check labels to be sure.
Gluten-Free Oils, Spices: Choose Fewest Ingredients
Most oils, including olive oil, corn oil, canola oil and other specialty oils, are considered gluten-free. However, it’s possible to run across gluten in some specialty oils—I saw a gift-boxed flavored olive oil recently that contained gluten. Your best bet is to stick with plain oils, and flavor them yourself if you want variety.
That brings us to spices. Fresh herbs and spices you can purchase in the produce section of the grocery store are perfectly safe, as far as I can tell, and I use these exclusively when I’m not growing my own spices.
If you prefer to buy dried spices, some companies produce reliably gluten-free spices, while for other companies, gluten cross-contamination are a problem (some manufacturers use gluten as an ingredient in some spice mixes).
Plain salt and pepper should be gluten-free, but watch out for those trendy flavored salts—a few contain gluten (sometimes in the form of smoke flavoring, which is made with barley).
Gluten-Free Drinks: Coffee, Tea, Sodas, Fruit Drinks, and Alcohol
Many of the most popular sodas are considered gluten-free to 20 parts per million, including long lists from Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co.
Fruit juices also are gluten-free providing they’re made with 100 percent real fruit. Therefore, orange juices and other citrus juices you find in the dairy section should be safe (although some sensitive people report reacting to some orange juices).
Fruit drinks, on the other hand, aren’t made completely with fruit, and may possibly contain some gluten ingredients—although the vast majority are safe, you’ll need to check with the manufacturer before purchasing to be certain whether they’re safe or not. Smoothies sold in the fruit juice section sometimes contain problematic ingredients like wheat grass or barley grass, so you’ll need to check labels and only buy smoothies that are labeled gluten-free.
Most tea is gluten-free, even flavored teas. However, a few do contain gluten ingredients, so check the list to be certain. Unflavored coffee is fine, but flavored coffees may not be gluten-free. Finally, some blended coffee drinks are safe and some are not, so again, you’ll need to check the ingredients. When I’m at a coffee house, I order a latté or a cappuccino, both of which contain only milk and espresso.
Gluten-Free Alcoholic Beverages
If you’re shopping for beer, you need to stick with gluten-free beer; other beers contain barley, which is a gluten grain and therefore unsafe on a gluten-free diet. Wine should be safe (unless you’re particularly sensitive).
When it comes to gluten-free alcohol, there’s some debate over whether alcoholic beverages derived from gluten grains, such as whiskey and gin, are safe or not. Many people report reactions to alcohol made from gluten grains. Fortunately, rum, tequila and gluten-free vodka made from potatoes or grapes all should be okay to drink.
One more thing: you’ll need to make sure any mixers you use for your drinks are gluten-free… some aren’t.
If you want a handy guide to take with you to the grocery store, this list of gluten-free foods can serve as a guide to what you should—and shouldn’t—add to your cart.
Gluten-Free Food List, Summarized
If you want a handy guide to take with you to the grocery store, this list of gluten-free foods can serve as a guide to what you should—and shouldn’t—add to your cart.
Fruits and Vegetables
- All fresh fruits and vegetables—those that are sold loose in the produce section of the grocery store—should be safely gluten-free.
- Watch out for pre-packaged fruit and vegetable products with more than one ingredient (including frozen and canned goods), which may contain gluten or be subject to cross-contamination in processing. On those, make sure to check labels for gluten-containing ingredients or for warnings that the product was processed in a shared facility.
Meats and Fish
- Fresh meats, poultry and fish with no added ingredients are safe if they’re kept away from gluten cross-contamination at the store (this type of gluten exposure can occur when fresh plain products are displayed next to breaded products in a glass display case, for example).
- Watch out for pre-packaged products, such as hams, bacon, sausages and lunch meats, since they may or may not contain gluten.
- Multiple manufacturers label their processed meat products gluten-free, so stick with those for the best results.
Milk and Dairy Products
- Fresh plain milk, butter, plain yogurt, fresh eggs and many cheeses are gluten-free.
- Some other products found in the dairy section, such as flavored yogurts, cottage cheese or puddings, may be labeled gluten-free.
- You can’t count on ice cream to be gluten-free, even if it doesn’t contain obvious gluten ingredients (chocolate chip cookie dough, for example). Stick with a brand such as Breyer’s that labels its products “gluten-free.”
Breads, Snacks, Cereals, Cakes and Pastas
- Almost anything you buy in these categories should be specifically labeled “gluten-free,” including cereals, breads, and snack foods.
- Most grocery stores carry a few of these gluten-free staples, and some—like Whole Foods and Fresh Market may boast a wider selection—but you may find the best selection online.
- Only buy frozen dinners or frozen pizzas specifically marked “gluten-free”—some larger supermarkets carry a nice selection.
- Many canned soups contain gluten, so check the ingredients and stick with those that are labeled “gluten-free.”
- Ethnic food sections in supermarkets frequently contain some prepared foods that are gluten-free. Look for Thai and Indian dishes that are marked “gluten-free.”
Baking Mixes and Supplies
- Any baking mix you purchase should be specifically labeled “gluten-free.” Remember that white flour (the primary ingredient in most mainstream mixes) is made from wheat, which is one of the three gluten grains.
- When you’re purchasing alternative grain flours like buckwheat (which is gluten-free), soy and rice flour, make sure they’re specifically labeled gluten-free (some are not safe).
- Many baking supplies, such as baking soda, sugar and cocoa, are considered gluten-free, but you always should check ingredients to make certain.
Condiments, Sauces and Spices
This can be a minefield—many products in this category contain gluten ingredients, and even single-ingredient products like spices can be subject to significant gluten cross-contamination.
- For spices, Spicely is certified gluten-free, and McCormick’s will clearly label any gluten-containing ingredients, but does not test for cross-contamination.
- Heinz ketchup and French’s yellow mustard are considered gluten-free, as are some popular salsa brands.
- Salad dressing can contain gluten ingredients, although many do not. Organicville salad dressings are certified gluten-free.
- Don’t buy soy sauce unless it’s specifically labeled “gluten-free.”
Coffee, Tea, Soda, Fruit Drinks and Alcohol
- Unflavored coffee and plain black or green tea should be gluten-free, but flavored varieties may not be—stick with those labeled “gluten-free” to be safe.
- The most popular sodas in the United States, including Coke and Pepsi, are considered gluten-free. AriZona bottled iced teas also are considered gluten-free, and the vast majority of energy drinks are considered gluten-free.
- Juice made from 100 percent fruit should be gluten-free, but fruit drinks made from fruit plus other ingredients may not be. Be particularly wary of green smoothies, since they can contain wheat and barley grass.
- You’ll need to buy gluten-free beer, since conventional beer contains gluten—safe brands will be prominently labeled “gluten-free.”
- Wine is considered gluten-free, although you should be wary of flavored wines.
- All distilled alcohol (vodka, whiskey, bourbon, etc.) is considered gluten-free even if it’s made from gluten grains, but many people react to gluten grain-derived alcoholic beverages. If you’re one of them, you should stick with alcohol not derived from gluten grains, such as rum or tequila, or with gluten-free vodka (made from potatoes, grapes or corn).
A Word From Tips For Healthy Living
Following the gluten-free diet may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’ve suddenly been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity and need to make the change in a hurry. There’s no question that the diet has a steep learning curve.
These days, many manufacturers prominently label gluten-free items, and your favorite grocery store may call out safe products through special tags on the shelves. Those labels, plus this list, should make your transition easier.
If you find you’re struggling with figuring out what foods you can eat, ask your doctor about a referral to a dietitian who specializes in the gluten-free diet.