Going gluten-free can be a good idea for many people for many reasons, but it can also seem like a daunting task. As a nutrition coach, and a person who eats gluten-free myself, I am constantly answering if common foods are gluten-free or not. While there are more specialty options available now than ever, a few basics still trip people up.
These three common foods often cause the most confusion for clients making the shift to a gluten-free diet.
First, what is gluten?
Before we dive in, it’s helpful to know exactly what “gluten-free” actually means. Gluten is a protein found in certain grain products (wheat, barley, rye, spelt, etc.) that often leads to inflammation in the gut. To some degree, everyone is intolerant of gluten — some can just tolerate more of it in their system before they start to feel side-effects like digestive issues, migraines, fatigue, achy or swollen joints. But gluten and carbohydrates are not the same thing, as you’ll see.
Potatoes are the number one food most people research when they decide to go gluten-free. Even Wikipedia has a tab dedicated to explaining their chemistry. Potatoes are a vegetable, not a grain, and are thus gluten-free and safe for people who are intolerant or allergic to gluten. Be careful, though, when ordering fries, potato chips, or other processed potato products. Sometimes in the processing of these products, gluten can be added or cross-contaminated, especially if they are breaded or part of a dish with flour.
Oatmeal is another confusing option, but for a different reason than potatoes. Oats are technically a grain; but as we specified above, not all grains contain gluten. Oats are actually naturally gluten-free, regardless of whether they have the “Certified Gluten Free” label on the package. Again, though, cross-contamination can happen. If you are highly intolerant or allergic to gluten, you should always stick with certified gluten-free products. This designates that the processing/packaging methods have reduced possible exposure to gluten-containing products, lowering the chance for cross-contamination.
But if you’re gluten-free and craving some carbs for breakfast, oatmeal is a fine choice.
Rice, Rice Noodles, Rice Paper
Yep. Rice, rice noodles, and rice paper wraps are all gluten-free options, so order as much as your heart desires at your favorite sushi spot. It is important to always check the ingredients or talk to the server, however, as there are some rice noodles that have added wheat. And some typical toppings for rice noodles or that you may find in traditional Asian dishes may not be gluten-free, like soy sauce or seitan. Again, do your research; but the rice, itself, will digest without issue.
Potatoes, oatmeal, and rice/rice noodles are all GF, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Going gluten-free is really a commitment to dumping processed foods and choosing nature’s real options, like fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, and legumes. All of these options are naturally gluten-free and will fuel your body better than bread or enriched wheat products.