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Safeguarding Your Gluten-Free Diet

Donuts, cupcakes, freshly baked bread, beer, pasta with sauce and creamy ranch dressing – all can be categorized as some of life’s most enjoyable guilty pleasures.  However, someone with Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity would probably disagree.  

Hummus with vegetables is a naturally gluten-free snack. However, the pita bread is not.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), about one percent of Americans have celiac disease and six percent have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. People with Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten as their bodies cannot absorb it properly. This leads to damage to the small intestine and side effects such as diarrhea, weight loss, constipation, anemia, loss of bone density, headaches and/or fatigue, among other possible symptoms. 

Many people who cannot tolerate gluten have become vigilant about changing their diets. As a result, more and more food manufacturers are creating and packaging gluten-free items and many restaurants are boasting gluten-free menus. But how can you tell if something you are eating is not gluten-free, even if it claims to be? Unfortunately, a gluten allergy does not elicit an immediate allergic response like a peanut or egg allergy. You may not even realize you have ingested gluten. That’s why it is vitally important to strictly avoid gluten, and heed the following advice when you need to follow a gluten-free diet: 

  • Always avoid wheat, rye and barley. They all contain gluten.
  • Other foods to avoid include ale and beer, any food that is breaded, canned soups, lunch meats, marinades and dressings, pasta sauce, seasoning mixes and soy sauce.
  • Focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits, vegetables, most beans, beef, all plain meats, poultry, fish and eggs; dairy products, including milk, butter, margarine, real cheese and plain yogurt; hummus, rice (in all forms), nuts, natural peanut butter, corn (in all forms), air-popped popcorn, quinoa, fresh or dried herbs, grits, natural ice cream, vegetable oils, all vinegar (except malt vinegar) and marshmallows, to name several.
  • When you choose gluten-free packaged foods, know all the different ways that manufacturers can label foods. Read all ingredients, warnings and fine print. Remember that wheat-free does mean gluten-free. Do not purchase or eat a packaged food that claims to be gluten-free but does not have a label or list of ingredients.
  • When dining out, call ahead to ask if the restaurant offers a gluten-free menu. Request details about their gluten-free menu options including ingredients and cooking, preparation and storage practices. Ask if they have completed a gluten-free training program such as GREAT Kitchens, and if not, ask them to complete the program. GREAT Kitchens is a comprehensive program that was developed by the NFCA to teach foodservice professionals how to properly prepare and serve gluten-free food. Additionally, be sure to specify how eating a meal that contains gluten will negatively impact your health.
  • Favor the following stores and brands that offer approved gluten-free packaged products: Whole Foods Market, Authentic Foods Supermarket, Gluten-Free Mall, Stacey’s Gluten-Free Goodies, Sweetness Allergy-Friendly Bakery, Babycakes NYC ™ and Bakery on Main.

Gluten-Free Resources
For more information on living a gluten-free lifestyle, visit: 

Free Webinar on July 15
You can also participate in an upcoming free webinar, Gluten-Free for All? Separating Facts from Fiction, sponsored by the NFCA on Tuesday, July 15, at 2:30 pm.  Learn more

 Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical dietitian with WakeMed. With questions for the dietitians, e-mail For individual nutrition counseling, call WakeMed Cary Hospital Outpatient Nutrition Services at 919-350-2358.