Walk into any grocery store or look at any restaurant menu these days and you’ll probably encounter the words “gluten-free”.
Gluten-free obviously refers to food that doesn’t contain gluten, but what does the diet really involve and who is gluten-free food intended for?
In this guide, we tell you everything you need to know about the gluten-free diet. We even throw in some recommendations for meal delivery companies that offer gluten-free food.
Gluten is a substance found in cereal grains, namely wheat, barley, and rye. A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes consumption of these cereal grains and their derivatives. The gluten-free diet is the only known treatment for people with celiac disease. It is also popular with several other groups, as we explain below.
The gluten-free diet is built mostly, but not exclusively, for people who suffer from celiac. Overall, there are broadly four reasons to go on a gluten-free diet:
- Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that affect about 1% of people, including about 3 million Americans.
- Gluten sensitivity, which is believed to affect around 18 million Americans. The symptoms for gluten sensitivity are similar to Celiac disease, e.g. fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and mood disorders. However, people with gluten sensitivity don’t experience serious intestinal damage.
- Wheat allergies, ranging from mild reactions such as hives to life-threatening reactions like anaphylaxis.
- Gluten ataxia, a rare autoimmune condition that can affect muscle control and even cause brain damage.
The gluten-free diet is easier than it sounds. As long as you follow the basic rules of avoiding certain grains, you can put anything on your plate. The one thing to constantly be alert to is processed food with added gluten.
Here’s what you can eat on a gluten-free diet and when to check the label:
- Gluten-free whole grains. With the exception of a few grains, most whole grains are actually gluten-free. These include brown and wild rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum, tapioca, and millet. When in doubt, check the label.
- Fruits and vegetables. All fresh fruit and veg are gluten-free. Some processed, frozen, and dried fruit and veg contain gluten, so again check the label.
- Proteins. Meat, poultry, fish, seafood, nuts, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds are all naturally gluten-free. Processed meats and sauces (such as soy sauce) may contain gluten, so check the label.
- Dairy. Dairy products are naturally gluten free. However, some milks, yogurts, cheeses, and ice creams may have added gluten, so as always check the label.
- Fats and oils: These are gluten-free, but always check the label to make sure there isn’t any added gluten.
- Beverages: Most drinks are okay, except those that contain wheat or barley such as certain beers and alcoholic drinks.
The golden rule of the gluten-free diet is to avoid the three grains that contain gluten: wheat, rye, and barley (or crossbreeds containing at least one of these grains). This sounds easy enough, but it actually requires time and effort. Always read the labels in the grocery store and look for the “gluten-free” symbol when eating out. If in doubt, ask.
For your own peace of mind, it’s good to know which sub-categories of wheat to avoid. Here are some of the most common ones to look out for: bulgur, durum, farina, farro, kamut, graham, spelt, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye).
Organizing a gluten-free diet might sound stressful, but the truth is you can eat most of the foods you’ve always enjoyed. The great thing about the gluten-free diet is it can be combined with other diets like low-carb diets, low-fat diets, or a vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian diet.
This is how the average day might look with a gluten-free diet:
- Breakfast – Oatmeal with honey and cinnamon and a side of fresh fruit.
- Morning snack – Peanut butter and apple slices
- Lunch – Grilled chicken breast with a side of quinoa and sautéed green vegetables
- With Lunch – Mixed berry smoothie
- Afternoon snack – Mixed nuts and seeds
- Dinner – Fried salmon with garlic mashed potato and wild mushrooms
- Dessert – Gluten-free chocolate muffin
Sun Basket offers a range of healthy meal plans, including a dedicated gluten-free diet plan. Sun Basket’s gluten-free meal plan includes clean proteins such as wild-caught seafood and antibiotic-free and hormone-free meats and organic eggs. The great thing about Sun Basket is that each recipe comes with one of its own signature sauces.
Each meal in Sun Basket’s gluten-free meal plan is carefully curated to contain just the right amounts of carbs, fats, and proteins. Each meal contains at least 20 grams protein and 5 grans fiber per serving. In addition, all Sun Basket’s recipes are rich in omega 3 and all those good types of fats that come from olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
Sun Basket’s gluten-free meals are suitable for people with mild gluten sensitivity. Because they are prepared in a facility that handles wheats and other foods that contain gluten, Sun Basket shouldn’t be used by anyone with celiac or severe gluten sensitivity.
Steak and sweet potato frites with kale and mushrooms (Sun Basket).
HelloFresh caters to people who want variety from their food delivery company. It offers a choice between a calorie smart plan, family plan, and classic plan, each of which can be customized to become gluten-free. Users get to select from a wide variety of recipes, many of which are marked gluten free.
It works like this: after selecting your meal plan, HelloFresh lets you choose your weekly delivery, with 15 new plans added each week. Each meal arrives to your door in its own wrapping, along with clear instructions on how to get the ingredients from the box to your plate in less than 30 minutes.
Grilled cheese and veggie jumble with cilantro chimichurri (HelloFresh).
Green Chef offers a dedicated gluten-free menu with recipes that go beyond just substituting for wheat and barley. It brings you five new recipes every week, with fresh ingredients delivered to your door daily along with easy-to-make recipes. Green Chef’s gluten-free meal plans are for two or four people.
The best thing about Green Chef is that its gluten-free menu gets updated every week. When we last checked in, we saw meals like grilled harissa-spiced chicken with carrot slaw, apricots, pistachios, quinoa, and a tahini sauce; pesto and mozzarella pork patties with sautéed peas, sun-dried tomatoes, and mashed potatoes; and salmon with parmesan sauce, dill-seasoned red beets, cauliflower, and capers.
Zucchini & corn fritters, with quinoa with avocado and lime zest, and pickled jalapeño (Green Chef)