You can’t shop the aisles of a supermarket, pick up a fast-casual restaurant menu, or scan a rack of food magazines without seeing it, the GF tag: gluten-free. No movement has consumed contemporary food like the gluten-free one. Once a heavily restricted survival diet for those who suffered from celiac disease, gluten-free has become a mode of eating of choice for most of us, a way to battle mild to moderate wheat allergies we’ve only become aware of, cut down on carbs, or just to eat healthier, and with more intention.
Along with ubiquity comes easy adoption, or relatively so. Thanks to a host of new food products, from raw ingredients like flours to prepared foods, it’s possible to like a gluten-free lifestyle without major disruptions in your daily life. You can go out to eat and cook pretty much the same types of foods you always did, without major inconvenience.
GLUTEN FREE IS THE NEW NORMAL. GET OVER IT.
Food writer Sarah Henry looks at the state of the gluten-free movement, and how it’s been mainstreamed.
GOING GLUTEN-FREE Going gluten-free does take some reflection. So here—for anyone thinking of taking up gluten-free eating for the first time, or being more conscious about gluten and its adjustments—we offer this guide. First, some definitions.
Gluten is kind of a catch-all name for particular types of proteins that are in many grains, including the most common types of cereal grains: wheat, rye, and barley, but also kamut, spelt, and other wheat relatives.
(Oats are technically gluten-free, but run into trouble from cross-contamination with wheat in milling facilities. What’s more, there’s a protein in oats that’s similar to the one in gluten and that can affect people with celiac disease. For non–celiac sufferers, it is now possible to buy oats that are certified gluten-free—scroll down for more on what you can buy, and what to avoid.)
The combination of proteins that makes up gluten coalesces into an elastic network that gives structure to pasta, breads, and other baked goods. So far, so good. The difficulty comes from all the sneaky gluten lurking in unexpected foods, like some vanilla extracts you might pick up, unsuspectingly, at the supermarket.
A QUICK LOOK AT CD
Celiac disease, commonly referred to as CD, is a genetic disorder. When someone with CD eats food containing gluten (even small amounts), they experience an immune-mediated toxic reaction that afflicts the small intestine, preventing the food from being absorbed. Even if they don’t experience immediate symptoms, damage to the small bowel can result.
If you’re thinking of going gluten free because you suspect you have a sensitivity to wheat and other grains, you should probably begin by talking to a health care provider. He or she might refer you to a gastroenterologist and/or require tests, which you should do—it’s never a bad idea to check in with a doctor before changing your diet.
A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO GOING GLUTEN-FREE The place to start.
WHAT CAN YOU EAT?
THE YES LIST
Grain-like plants that contain no gluten:
• Buckwheat (kasha)
• Corn, including corn flour, corn meal, grits, and polenta
• Rice (white, brown, and wild)
• Flours made from the above list, plus nuts, potatoes, beans and coconut. Make sure they’re labeled gluten-free, to avoid cross-contamination.
• Dairy products:
Milk, butter, margarine, real cheese, plain yogurt, and ice creams without gluten-containing add-ins like cookie dough
• Vegetable oils (including canola oil)
• Plain fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, potatoes, eggs, nuts, nut butters, beans, and legumes
• Distilled vinegar
• Mono and diglycerides
• Spices (if there are no ingredients listed, it means it contains only the spice or spices on the label)
THE NO LIST
• Wheat in all forms (spelt, kamut, triticale, durum, einkorn, farro, farina, semolina, cake flour, matzo, and couscous)
• Barley and malt, which is usually made from barley, including malt syrup, malt extract, malt flavoring and malt vinegar
• Breaded or floured meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables, when the breading is made with wheat
• Meat, poultry, and vegetables with a sauce or marinade that contains gluten, such as soy and teriyaki sauces
• Foods fried in the same oil as breaded products
• Licorice, which is made with wheat flour, and other candies containing wheat or barley
THE MAYBE LIST
• Beer is gluten-free when made from gluten-free grains. Beer made from barley processed to remove the gluten is not considered to be gluten-free
• Flavorings are usually gluten free, but in rare instances can contain wheat or barley
• Wheat starch is allowed in gluten-free foods if the wheat starch has been processed to remove the gluten protein
• Oats are considered safe on the gluten-free diet if they have been specially processed to prevent cross-contamination by gluten-containing grains. They should be specifically labeled gluten-free
• Processed cheese (spray cheese, for example) may contain gluten; real cheese is gluten-free
• Seasonings and seasoning mixes can contain gluten—wheat will be on the label, as required by law
• Soy sauce is usually fermented from wheat, but look for soy sauce labeled gluten-free
WHAT ABOUT BOOZE?
• Distilled alcoholic beverages and vinegars are gluten-free
• Wine and hard liquor beverages are gluten-free
• Beers, ales, and lagers are not gluten-free, though gluten-free beers are now available
WHEAT-FREE IS NOT THE SAME AS GLUTEN-FREE
Products labeled as wheat-free are not necessarily gluten-free. They could still contain spelt, rye, or barley-based ingredients.
A roundup of gluten-free recipes.