Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping

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Alrighty, we have covered quite a bit already: learning what gluten is and the reasons people go gluten free, getting rid of all gluten products in the home, and cleaning your kitchen to prevent cross-contamination. Now, we get to the fun part – grocery shopping, sans gluten!

Here are a few handy guidelines that are a good starting point to gluten free grocery shopping:

1. The fresher the food, the more likely it is to be gluten-free.

2. The more processed a product is, the more likely it is to contain gluten.

3. The greater the level of convenience, the more likely it is that the product contains gluten.

You will always find exceptions to these rules, but they are a good starting point and way of thinking about gluten free grocery shopping. McDonald’s is pretty convenient, wouldn’t you say? Basically everything on the menu contains gluten except for some salads and drinks. It has been well-documented that the popular McRib sandwich has around SEVENTY different ingredients in it. Gross. Let’s stick to fresh foods and make our own meals so that we can control what goes in them.

Food Labels

We need a primer on reading and deciphering food labels before we can take our virtual trip to the grocery store. When a product says “contains wheat”, we know to stay away, but there are many other ingredients in there that contain gluten that aren’t wheat. When we grab a certain product and check the label, what exactly are we looking for since most of them do not say “gluten free”?

Things to look for that tell you to STAY AWAY:

1. Wheat – Obvious, but if there is anything “wheat” listed on there, other than buckwheat, put it back and move on. Other names for wheat might be bulgur, durum, couscous, dinkle, graham, kamut, seitan, semolina, and spelt. Avoid those and wheat germ, wheat grass, wheat starch, wheat gluten, wheat berry, and wheat nut.

2. Barley – Barley is often used as a thickener in soups and stews and is off limits as well. If “malt” is listed as an ingredient, it is made from barley and not safe to consume unless noted differently, so malt vinegar is a no-no. Maltose is barley, also.

3. Rye – Not as common as wheat or barley, rye often finds its way in to bakery items as well as rye whiskey.

4. Other miscellaneous ingredients to avoid – “Dextrin” can be made from wheat, but it should say whether or not it is on the label. “Maltodextrin” in the US is made from corn, potato, or rice but overseas it is sometimes made from wheat starch. “Caramel color” can be made from barley or other grain products, but it is usually safe to consume in the United States. Check with the manufacturer on “caramel color or coloring” before consuming. “Hydrolyzed vegetable protein/hydrolyzed plant protein/textured vegetable protein” could contain protein obtained from wheat, but most is made from corn, soy, or peanut. The label should specify if it is the version with wheat or not. “Modified food starch” can be made from potato, tapioca, corn, wheat, or other sources. Corn is almost always the source in North America, and if wheat is the source, it is required to be listed.

5. Latin terms – I haven’t personally seen these used in any stores in my area, but I figured I might as well cover all the bases and list them: Triticum vulgare, triticale, hordeum vulgare, secale cereale, triticum spelta. Avoid.

A couple other notes of interest: “Starch” on the label of a product in America means cornstarch and is safe to consume. Also, barley and rye are not in the major 8 allergens required to be listed on labels; that’s why it is important to know what to look for even if wheat is not listed. So even if a product does not say “Contains wheat”, it might still contain gluten.

We talked about PPM earlier and what it means for us gluten free eaters. Some products under 20 PPM might have one of these “forbidden” ingredients on the label because they use some process to extract the gluten down below 20 PPM. The FDA allows products with such ingredients to be used as long as the final product is below 20 PPM, so some that are listed as “gluten free” might not fit in your requirements for maintaining a gluten free diet.

Grocery Store

OK, now I think we are ready to take the virtual trip to your local grocery store! No, you don’t have to change groceries stores or travel 6 hours to buy gluten free groceries — your local one has everything you need.

Fruits and vegetables are the easiest part of the grocery run for gluten-free people, because they are all naturally gluten free. You can indulge in as many of them as you choose. I recommend a variety of fruits and vegetables in every gluten-free eaters diet to ensure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals these wonderful foods provide. A word of warning: If your grocery store sells jars of processed fruit in jars or containers, it would be a good idea to check with them to make sure they do not add anything gluten-ous to them.

Single-ingredient frozen fruits and vegetables are almost always safe, but checking with the manufacturer to make sure they aren’t processed around wheat is a smart idea. Many of the multiple-ingredient frozen fruit and vegetable prepared dishes do contain gluten, so read every label thoroughly and make calls if you are unsure of anything. Remember, less ingredients = more likely to be gluten-free!

The dairy section is also a gluten-free person’s best friend, but as always, there are items you need to stay away from. Plain milk – regular, skim, heavy cream – is gluten-free, but avoid the malted milk and malted milkshakes. Many flavored milks are gluten-free, but some are not, so read all labels carefully. Milk substitute products, such as soy, almond, and rice milk, are almost always gluten-free as well. Butter is gluten free and margarine is almost always gluten free. Cream cheese, sour cream, and cottage cheese are all usually safe as well.

Plain yogurt is gluten-free – you can go the websites of the brands and they will often have “gluten free” on the site. Chobani is a favorite in our house. As with the milk, many flavored yogurts are safe to consume, but some brands throw in cookies, granola, and other additions that contain gluten that we need to avoid.

Eggs, a personal favorite of mine, are naturally gluten-free. I have heard of instances of celiacs having issues with eggs from chickens who have been fed a diet full of grains, but this is so rare I wouldn’t worry about it. Eggs ARE one of the top 8 allergens in the world, so if you are gluten free and have issues after eating eggs, you very well could be sensitive/allergic to eggs as well.

Cheese was a big life-saver for me on my trip to Europe a couple years ago, but we need to exercise some caution with it, too (I say that for everything, don’t I?). Bleu cheese is sometimes made with wheat as a catalyst, so be particularly careful with it. Beer-washed cheese is also off limits, although it isn’t very popular in my area. If cheese has been repackaged by the grocer, be sure to check with them to make sure it wasn’t done in the deli area. If it was, cross contamination will likely affect the repackaged cheese.

Many types of ice cream are safe to eat, but be on the lookout for ones that contain cookie chunks, unsafe candy, or dough. A few also use a wheat-based filler, so check those labels! Ice cream sandwiches contain gluten unless otherwise noted.

If you are worried about gluten from animals on a grain-fed diet passing into your dairy, purchase grass-fed dairy products from the local grocery store or farmer’s market.

The Center

Even though you should be doing the majority of your grocery shopping on the outside of the store where they keep the healthy, fresh foods, there are many items in the center you will be purchasing still.

The grains that you CAN still eat on a gluten free diet include quinoa, amaranth, rice, buckwheat, corn, millet and sorghum. Most canned beans and legumes will be gluten free. Nuts are gluten free and a great part of a gluten free diet with their stellar nutritional profile.

Frozen Meat

Unprocessed meat and seafood should be gluten free, just make sure it isn’t breaded or uses a gluten-containing marinate.

Gluten Free Sections

Most large grocers now have a gluten free area where they sell gluten free pasta, cereal, flour, baking mixes, and snacks. While the gluten free area is incredibly helpful, we don’t want to go overboard purchasing unhealthy items there. Naturally gluten free will always be healthier than packaged gluten free foods, so make sure you are loading up on those before doing any damage in the gluten free section.

The Bakery

Don’t even walk by the bakery, there is literally next to nothing for a gluten free person to eat in the bakery section of the grocery store. Those sweet smells of fresh baked goods might be tempting as well, so just avoid the area altogether.

The big takeaway from this section: read labels thoroughly. If you still aren’t sure, ask someone who knows! Yes, all this label checking will feel strange at first, but it becomes second nature after a little while. If your local grocery store isn’t carrying a product you want – say, gluten free bread or gluten free frozen pizza crust – talk with the store manager and see if he can arrange something.

Buying Online

Purchasing gluten free items online can be cheaper occasionally, and it might be the best option if you live in a small town with no grocery stores. The bigger the city you live in, the easier it will probably be to find gluten free food. Some places online to shop for gluten free products are Amazon, Bob’s Red Mill, and

GF Pantry Items to Stock

Since we cleaned out your entire kitchen in last chapter, you are going to need to re-stock the pantry.

Here is a list of the gluten free flours and other pantry items I keep on hand at all times. I think everyone that cooks and bakes on a regular basis should have these flours:

  • Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
  • Brown Rice Flour
  • White Rice Flour
  • Garbanzo Bean Flour
  • Buckwheat Flour
  • Quinoa Flour
  • Sorghum Flour
  • Tapioca Starch
  • Potato Starch
  • Soy Flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Cornmeal
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • Yeast
  • Vanilla Extract
  • White Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Guar Gum

If you have those items and milk, butter, eggs, vinegar, and oil, you will have almost all the ingredients needed to make 90%+ of gluten free baked goods. I will go over most of these flours in detail in the Gluten Free Baking (Sec. 7) section.

Excited to do some gluten free baking with your new assortment of gluten free flours? Jump ahead to Section 7 to learn about the flours in Gluten Free Baking or Section 11 for Gluten Free Recipes.

Gluten Free Items are So Expensive! Do You Have Any Tips for Saving Money?

Yes, there is no doubt that items like gluten free bread, crackers, pasta, and the like are all more expensive than their glutenous counterparts. Is there anything we can do about this?

The first tip I can offer on gluten free products is to shop around. This isn’t exactly high-level, exclusive advice I’m offering, but it really can make a world of difference in some cases. I have two grocery stores both about 4 blocks from my place and I would always go to one and buy my $6.99 gluten free bread there. One day, I was walking past the other grocery store and decided to stop in. Guess what? Their gluten free bread – the same product – was $2 cheaper! In fact, many of the gluten free products at this new store were cheaper. Needless to say, I felt pretty silly about not checking out their prices earlier.

Coupons can also be a big help with gluten free products. Janelle from Gluten Freely Frugal posts coupons on her website all the time. Gluten Free Frenzy is also known for their gluten free giveaways.

And last but not least: Eat foods that are naturally gluten free! They are healthier, and be they don’t require extra effort to produce, they are naturally cheaper as well!

Move to Section 6: The Gluten Free Diet: Nutritional and Cooking Advice