How to Start a Gluten-Free Diet (Facts and Meal Plan)

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Rachel Alves, RD, Clinical Dietitian, reviewed and approved this article.

Are you thinking about starting a Gluten-Free diet? Whether you have been recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or have decided to try a GlutenFree Diet, this helpful How To Start a Gluten-Free Diet (Facts and Meal Plan) will provide an easy and accessible roadmap.

*Note- Always consult your physician before starting a gluten-free diet.

Womn reaching for grains

Perhaps you have been dealing with nagging digestive symptoms, discomfort, fatigue, or suspicion of being gluten intolerant. There are a multitude of reasons to remove gluten from your diet. You have come to the right place to learn more about a gluten-free diet.

How Many People Have Gluten Intolerance?

The gluten spectrum ranges from:

  • Celiac (an auto-immune disease)
  • Non-celiac gluten Sensitivity (a range of issues both digestive and autoimmune)
  • Wheat Allergy

According to Dr. Allessio Fasano, the directorof the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of Gluten Freedom that almost 20 million people in the United States are affected by some type of gluten sensitivity.

Autoimmune Disease and the Gluten-Free Diet

Many people around the world start a gluten-free diet for a multitude of reasons. I went gluten-free after being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. My Physician recommended I give up Gluten, and much to my surprise, along with my Hashimoto’s going into remission, my lifelong bloating, indigestion, and stomach pain disappeared.

A friend of mine was diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and went into remission on a Gluten-Free Diet.

*Important – Always consult your physician before embarking on a Gluten-Free Diet. Some blood tests that can help determine gluten intolerance must be administered while you regularly eat gluten.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains.

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn, bulgar, couscous), rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.

What is Gluten? | Celiac Disease Foundation

For some people, gluten must be avoided for life. The good news is we live in a time with lots of information, recipes, gluten-free products, and available resources to help you live a healthy gluten-free life. While it takes some navigating at the beginning, I can attest that after almost 20 years, I feel so much better being gluten-free that I would never even consider returning to eating gluten. However, when you first start a Gluten-Free Diet, it can be overwhelming. You may mourn for the foods you love, but in time, you will find delicious substitutions for all your favorite meals.

5 Reasons To Start A Gluten-Free Diet

Dermatitis Herpetiformas (DH)

A common reason to start a gluten-free diet is a diagnosis of Dermatitis Herpetiformas, a skin manifestation of gluten sensitivity. According to an article in Medicina 2020: ” Dermatitis herpetiformis is the skin lesion most frequently associated with Celiac Disease, appearing in up to 25% of cases. It is easily recognized and highly suspicious. Gluten is the agent mainly responsible for the condition, and its withdrawal is definitively the most effective treatment.”

Functional Bowel Disease

Many patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Functional Bowel Disease improve on a Gluten-Free Diet.

Bloating

Also, many people experience bloating and other digestive woes after eating gluten.

Celiac Disease

Often, families pursue a gluten-free diet when a child or family member is diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Because the danger of being exposed to gluten is so severe in Celiac, living in a Gluten-Free household is ideal. Since you don’t heal from Celiac Disease, you must adhere to a gluten-free diet for life. Even the smallest amount of gluten can cause a setback. Cross-contamination risk is present, so a 100% gluten-free household is the gold standard.

General Health

Some people remove gluten for health reasons, a Paleo or Keto style diet, or because they feel better without gluten.

White Kitchen with various grains and flowers

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease is a genetic disease affecting both children and adults that can have severe long-term health complications.

Dr. Alessio Fasano states, “Celiac Disease sets off an autoimmune reaction that can eventually lead to the complete destruction of the villi in the small intestines.”

This is no laughing matter; healthy villi are critical to proper digestion. If your villi are flattened due to Celiac Disease, you won’t be able to absorb nutrients in your food correctly and can become very ill. The good news is that your villi can heal once you stop eating gluten. Although other blood tests are administered, the definitive diagnosis for Celiac is a Small Intestine Biopsy. Untreated Celiac Disease can lead to severe medical conditions.

*Always consult a medical professional before starting a gluten-free diet.

10 Common Celiac Symptoms

Although Celiac Disease can be asymptomatic, common symptoms related to Celiac Disease include:

  • Malabsorption and Weight Loss
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Infertility
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Osteoporosis
  • Anemia
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin Manifestations

Two girls sitting at a table in the sunshine

Where is Gluten Commonly Found?

  • Bread
  • Bagels
  • Beer and Malt
  • Cookies
  • Cake
  • Pies
  • Muffins
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Cereal

The great news is there are Gluten-Free alternatives to all of these products.

Other Sources of Hidden Gluten

Always check the food label for hidden sources of gluten.

Gluten is not required by law to be labeled on packaged food, so unless an item or ingredient is certified as ‘gluten-free,’ have caution; it may not be safe for someone with Celiac Disease. – Rachel Alves, R.D.

  • Sauces and Gravies (often thickened with flour)
  • Candy
  • Breading
  • Rice Pilaf
  • Soups (flour is used to thicken the soup)
  • Beer
  • Barley Malt

Mayo Clinic List of Foods to Avoid with Gluten

In addition to foods in which wheat, barley, and rye are likely ingredients, these grains are standard ingredients in a number of other products. Also, wheat or wheat gluten is added as a thickening or binding agent, flavoring, or coloring. It’s important to read labels of processed foods to determine if they contain wheat, as well as barley and rye.”

Mayo Clinic

FOODS TO AVOID UNLESS LABELED GLUTEN-FREE

  • Beer, ale, porter, stout (usually containing barley)
  • Bread (unless labeled Gluten-Free)
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Cakes and pies
  • Candies
  • Cereals
  • Communion wafers
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Croutons
  • French fries
  • Gravies
  • Imitation meat or seafood
  • Malt, malt flavoring, and other malt products (barley)
  • Matzo
  • Pastas
  • Hot dogs and processed lunchmeats
  • Oats (unless certified GF Oats)
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces, including soy sauce (wheat)
  • Seasoned rice mixes
  • Seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Soups, bouillon, or soup mixes
  • Vegetables in sauce

You will discover that gluten lurks everywhere but will become adept at knowing how to find it! Also, there are delicious gluten-free alternatives.

Plate of sliced watermelon

What Foods are Naturally Gluten Free?

The great news is that many healthy foods are already naturally gluten-free. For example, fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, potatoes, rice, meat, seafood, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes are naturally gluten-free. Also, Dairy is gluten-free unless processed in such a way that a thickener is added to it that includes gluten. Check your labels! Look for the GF symbol.

Whole Foods Free of Gluten

  • Beef, Lamb, Pork, Ham (unless processed or packaged)
  • Seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Poultry
  • Fresh Vegetables
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Peanut Butter
  • Certified Gluten-Free Oats
  • Beans, Legumes and Lentils
  • Grains except for Wheat, Rye, and Barley, or cross-breeds
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Corn

Remember, if meat or seafood is processed or packaged with fillers or additives, such as cold meats, sausages, etc, they may not be gluten-free. Check labels and always ask the butcher.

Salad and Bowls Gluten Free of Blueberry's

Prepare Your Gluten-Free Kitchen

Step 1 – Remove all food with wheat, rye, and barley from your kitchen. Check all labels.

Step 2 – Buy a new Toaster or Toaster Oven, as breadcrumbs are hard to eliminate. Especially if you have Celiac even the slightest exposure is too much gluten.

Step 3 – Clean your oven and counters to remove gluten. Soap and water are perfect.

Step 4 – Shop for gluten-free products. Get excited about a new adventure! Gluten-Free Bread, Bagels, Pretzels, Snack Bars, Pizza Muffins, etc. are everywhere. Trader Joe’s and Costco have lots of Gluten-Free Options. Most grocery stores offer a designated Gluten-Free section.

Step 5Stock your refrigerator and pantry with healthy, naturally gluten-free food, such as fresh fruits, veggies, olive oil, beans, rice, gluten-free popcorn, nuts, seeds, yogurt, and dairy products.

Special Note – Avoid cross-contact with gluten and contamination through the air, equipment, hands, clothes, knives, gloves, and cutting boards. This is especially critical for Celiac and Wheat Allergy.

TIP– If you have the app Instacart, you can search Gluten-Free, and all kinds of options will be presented in the results.

Here is a list of Gluten Free Grains for Baking

  • Almond Flour
  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat – SOBA
  • Coconut Flour
  • Cornmeal and Corn Flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Flax
  • Gluten-free flours — rice, soy, corn, potato, and bean flours
  • Mesquite
  • Millet
  • Montina
  • Quinoa
  • Rice, including Wild Rice (except pre-packaged blends). Check labels
  • Sorghum
  • Soy
  • Tapioca Starch or Flour (great for thickening gravy, pies, etc)
  • Teff

TIP – There are many Gluten-Free Flour Blends that you can substitute when making your favorite pancakes, muffins, etc. Also, look for GF Baking Mixes in the Baking Section of your Grocer. Pamela’s has a delicious GF Cornbread and GF Pancake Mix that our family LOVES!

Setting a table with Mother and child

Sample Gluten-Free Menu Ideas

Breakfast Ideas:

Ultimate Chunky Peanut Butter Granola Recipe – This is a delicious, hearty granola!

Gluten-Free Oatmeal with Fresh Fruit (I love Bob’s Mills Old Fashioned GF Oats)

Easy Mango Chia Pudding Recipe– Tropically inspired and very nutritious!

Creamy Peach Banana Smoothie Recipe – Creamy and Yummy!

Smoothie with Yogurt, Fresh Fruit, Ground Flax, and Protein Powder

Gluten-Free Bagel and Cream Cheese

Eggs with a slice of GF Toast and Fruit

Greek Yogurt, Vanilla, Honey and Berries

Simple BEST Gluten-Free Vanilla Coconut Granola – Delectable Food Life

Gluten-Free Pancakes and Syrup – Make your own from scratch or buy a mix

Overnight Oats – So easy and versatile

cropped-Kale-Apple-Salad-

Gluten-Free Lunch Recipes

Salad with Roasted Chicken

Black Beans and Rice (and veggies)

GF Toast with Avocado and a Fried Egg

Gluten-free wrap filled with Roasted Turkey and Veggies

Healthy Canned Salmon or Tuna Salad

Homemade Amazing White Turkey Chili – Filling and full of delicious spices!

Gluten-Free Pasta with Pasta Sauce

Gluten-Free-Mashed-Sweet-Potatoes-in bowl with butter

Gluten-Free Dinner Recipes

Grilled Salmon and Veggies

Top Easy Family Friendly Gluten Free Dinner Recipes

Ultimate Italian Chicken Cacciatore Recipe – My husband and Dad’s fav!

Gluten-Free Pasta

Steak and Veggies

Honey Turmeric Chicken Thighs Baked – Pairs well with Broccoli and Rice

Stuffed Baked Potato

Chicken with Herbs de Provance – I always make this for guests

Mexican Fajitas and GF Corn Tortillas

Gluten-Free Dessert Recipes

Ultimate Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe – Great for Kids and Adults!

Sorbet

Ultimate Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles – Who doesn’t love these Cinnamon Wonders?

Ice Cream or Gelato

Coconut Ice Cream

Gluten-Free Cheesecake

Fresh Fruit

Easy Delicious Gluten-Free Fresh Peach Crumble – Delectable Food Life

I hope this How to Start a Gluten-Free Diet (Facts and Meal- Plan) has been helpful. You will find over time that eating gluten-free is easy, healthy, and delicious! For more ideas and recipes, join my mailing list. I send weekly recipes and tips to live your best gluten-free life!

*Discuss any medical conditions with your family physician, clinical dietician, or gastroenterologist.