Whether you discovered you have a gluten sensitivity or were diagnosed with celiac disease, learning how to go gluten free can feel like a lot to learn in just a short amount of time. But we have good news -- these top 10 tips will help you adjust quickly, avoid common mistakes, and connect with others who are gluten free!
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. That means gluten is also find in foods that contain those ingredients, such as bread, baked goods like muffins and cookies, crackers, cereal, and more.
Sometimes gluten falls under other names for those ingredients such as triticale, spelt, semolina, or durum. We'll look at more hidden sources of gluten later in this post.
I definitely recommend subscribing to our newsletter to access our free resource library with a full list of hidden gluten ingredients and other resources for a quick and easy transition to gluten-free.
Reasons to go Gluten-Free
There are many reasons to go gluten-free. Here are a few common ones:
Celiac Disease is a lifelong autoimmune disease. For someone diagnosed with celiac disease, maintaining a very strict gluten-free diet is necessary for healing and long-term health.
This also includes avoiding trace amounts of gluten that can make its way into gluten-free food through cross contamination with gluten.
There are many symptoms associated with Celiac Disease, and some people with the condition have no symptoms at all. It's important to talk with your healthcare provider if you have family members with celiac disease or suspect you have a problem with gluten.
Someone with Gluten Sensitivity experiences uncomfortable symptoms after eating gluten-containing foods. These symptoms can be digestive, skin-related, or neurological like migraines or brain fog.
Gluten sensitivity is different from celiac disease in that it does not cause damage to the small intestine.
While there is more variability in the amount of gluten someone with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can tolerate, eating a super clean gluten-free diet won’t hurt, and for many, it will help!
Other health reasons
Hashimoto's Thyroiditis often responds well to a gluten-free diet. Avoiding gluten can also be part of decreasing overall body inflammation.
Gluten intolerance, supporting a family member who eats gluten-free, an elimination diet while breastfeeding an infant, or wanting to decrease processed foods in their diet are all reasons people choose to eat gluten-free.
Read on for my 10 best tips to beat the overwhelm and jump start your gluten-free journey.
BEST Gluten Free Tips for Beginners
1. Replace major sources of gluten first.
Making the switch to gluten-free can feel overwhelming, but if you stick to easy gluten-free swaps for foods you already eat, it will feel much more manageable.
Easy gluten-free swaps:
- Gluten-free bread for regular bread
- gluten-free crackers for crackers you already ate
- gluten-free pasta
- gluten-free versions of your favorite condiments and sauces
- gluten-free flour
Check out our Shop for my favorite gluten-free products!
2. Focus on naturally gluten-free foods.
There are so many delicious naturally gluten-free foods! Fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meats, fish, eggs, potatoes, and other root vegetables are all delicious, fresh, and naturally gluten-free!
Foods that are processed may contain gluten additives, so sticking with the fresh stuff from the start is the best way to beat the overwhelm.
3. Learn to navigate the grocery store.
The naturally gluten-free foods are kept along the outside of the grocery store (fresh produce, dairy and eggs, and meats and fish).
Many grocery stores also have a Natural Foods aisle or Gluten Free Foods section to help you with those easy swaps in tip #1.
4. Find hidden sources of gluten.
Just because gluten isn’t obvious doesn’t mean it’s gluten-free!
Commonly missed sources of gluten in food:
- Alcohol (see tip #6)
- Salad dressings
- Malt vinegar
The best way to stay truly gluten-free is to become an expert at reading labels.
5. Learn to read labels for gluten.
Now here’s the bad news — gluten can go by many different names. Sometimes labeled as natural and artificial flavors, caramel coloring, starches, malt, and more, gluten is not always obvious.
But here’s the good news — you can use our free printable “Ingredients to Avoid” list to help you find sneaky gluten. I recommend highlighting ingredients you know you won’t remember to make the list easier to navigate.
You can also look for gluten free labeling and certifications on products to simplify the label-reading process.
6. Learn which alcohols contain gluten.
Or better yet, focus on what you can drink!
Safe gluten-free alcohols include:
- Wines and brandy without added flavors and colors (that’s most of them)
- gluten-free hard cider
- gluten-free beer
- Spirits distilled from non-gluten grains (like potato vodka and pure tequila)
Always be wary of drink mixes (like margarita mix) and cocktails or other mixed drinks that were made in an unwashed shaker or blender.
And avoid these gluten-containing alcohols:
- Regular beer
- Spirits distilled from gluten-containing grains (like whiskey)
- Note: Some people say the distillation process adequately removes gluten. As someone very sensitive to trace amounts of gluten, I find that I still react to these alcohols. I recommend avoiding them, at least at the beginning of your gluten-free journey.
- Anything you're unsure of
7. Look out for cross contact (also called cross contamination).
Cross contact with gluten occurs when a gluten-free food is prepared on the same surface or with the same utensils as foods with gluten.
Common areas of cross-contact in your home:
- Peanut butter & mayonnaise jars where the utensils are double-dipped after spreading on wheat (gluten) bread and gluten-free bread
- cutting boards and food prep surfaces
- Eating and serving utensils
As a new gluten free eater, I greatly underestimated the power of a cross-contact reaction. My strong reaction to cross-contact is part of the reason my family eventually became an entirely gluten-free household.
Check out our tips for avoiding gluten cross contamination at home.
You also need to worry about cross contact at restaurants. The tips and resource below will help you to navigate this challenge safely!
8. Learn to dine safely in restaurants.
There are gluten-free apps that help you locate 100% gluten free restaurants (where you don’t need to worry about gluten at all) and others that gluten-sensitive and celiac diagnosed people trust to feed them safely.
Our How to find Celiac Friendly Restaurants post has you covered on the best apps, questions to ask, and meals to order!
9. Find easy gluten-free meals you enjoy!
I’m sure you already have meals you love to make and eat each week. Many of them can be made gluten-free with easy swaps. You may even find that they were gluten-free to begin with!
Some of my favorite easy gluten-free weekday recipes:
- Super Easy Paella Recipe
- Instant Pot Chicken Cacciatore
- Thai Chicken Soup
- Creamy Avocado Pasta
- Salmon Quinoa Salad
- Arugula Quinoa Salad
Explore more great gluten-free recipes in our Recipe Index!
10. Join a gluten-free support network
Whether you like facebook groups, connecting on instagram (my personal favorite since instagrammers show you exactly what they eat in all sorts of situations), or joining a blog community like Vibrantly G-Free, having people who get what you’re going through is so valuable.
It’s something I took way to long to embrace -- I wish I found more gluten-free friends online when I first went gluten-free! You can also share your own journey through blogging or creating a gluten-free foodie instagram account to help others.
Gluten Free Baking
Once you've mastered the basics above, your next step in "how to go gluten-free" is to explore gluten-free baking recipes!
Some of our reader favorites include Gluten-Free French Baguette, Gluten Free Chocolate Muffins, Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins, Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies, Gluten-Free Monster Cookies, Gluten Free Irish Soda Bread, and Gluten-Free Apple Coffee Cake.
- A strict gluten free diet is necessary for anyone with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
- Making easy gluten-free swaps for your usual favorite foods is a great way to beat the overwhelm at the start of your journey!
- Fresh produce, unprocessed meats, fish, and eggs are the safest gluten free foods and the easiest to source since they don’t require much (if any) label reading.
- Learning to read labels and avoid cross contact is necessary for anyone on a strict gluten free diet.
- Having a support group not only eases the emotional and social burden of the transition, but it’s also a ton of fun!
More Resources for going Gluten-Free
Ready to tackle the next step? Take a look at these other awesome gluten-free resources! Or explore our gluten-free resources page.
Looking for more support?
Check out our Free Resource Library! It has pages of useful information on how to go gluten-free, plus travel resources to help you jump back into your best life:
Share your best tips or questions for starting a gluten free diet in the comment section below!