Gluten-free foods: What to eat and what to avoid

Gluten can be ‘hidden’ in all sorts of products, in places that you'd least expect it. We take a look at common foods to include and exclude from a gluten-free diet.

Bread, pasta and grains on grey background

Gluten is a protein found in some grains, including wheat, rye, barley and spelt. In baking, gluten gives dough its elasticity and creates that lovely crumb-like texture in bread and cakes.

There are many foods, like unprocessed meat, fruit and vegetables, that are naturally gluten-free – and there are other ‘free-from’ foods that have been processed to remove the gluten, or are specifically manufactured to be gluten-free.

For people diagnosed with a condition called coeliac disease, gluten can cause damage to the small intestine, so a strict gluten-free diet is essential. This is because coeliac disease is a lifelong autoimmune condition caused by a reaction to gluten.

But, many people can experience discomfort and gut problems when eating gluten, regardless of whether they have coeliac disease. These people may have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, and often report feeling better when they don't eat gluten-containing foods.

If you are concerned about any symptoms, speak to your GP or healthcare practitioner to determine the cause.

See our top tips for a gluten-free diet.


Common foods that contain gluten

  • Bread, biscuits, pastries and cakes 
  • Chapattis
  • Pizza bases
  • Muesli
  • Couscous
  • Pasta
  • Taramasalata
  • Chinese soy sauce
  • English mustard
  • Semolina 
  • Battered and breaded foods 

Common gluten-free foods

  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Fresh meat
  • Fresh fish
  • Eggs
  • Milk, cream, crème fraîche and natural yogurt
  • Butter and vegetable oils
  • Plain potatoes (baked, boiled or mashed)
  • Plain nuts and seeds
  • Vinegars (including barley malt)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Tomato purée
  • Jam, honey and marmalade

rice, popcorn, seeds and dried fruit on grey background
Are oats gluten-free?

Yes – but you should check the label. Although oats contain a protein called avenin, which is similar to gluten, most people with coeliac disease can safely eat oats. The issue is that many of the oat products available in the supermarket are manufactured in factories that also handle grains such as wheat, rye and barley. This means that the oats may be cross-contaminated with gluten. When shopping for oats, always check that the label specifies that the product is gluten-free.

Is porridge gluten-free?

Sometimes – but you should check the label. It depends which cereal the porridge is made from – traditional porridge made from oats is not gluten-free unless the oats were milled in a gluten-free manufacturing plant. Porridge made from millet or quinoa (with no added gluten-containing ingredients) is gluten-free.

Is rice gluten-free?

Yes. Although it is a grain crop, rice is gluten-free and safe to eat.

Is cornflour gluten-free?

Yes. As its name suggests, cornflour is made from corn (maize) and is gluten-free. 

Is semolina gluten-free?

No. Semolina is made from wheat, so it contains gluten.

Is quinoa gluten-free?

Yes. Quinoa is the seed of a flowering plant related to spinach and chard. Although we use it like a grain, botanically it is a seed, and is gluten-free and safe to eat.

two bowls of quinoa with spoons on grey background

Is barley gluten-free?

No. Barley is a gluten-containing grain.

Is buckwheat gluten-free?

Yes. Buckwheat is the seed of a flowering herbaceous plant and not a grain, so it is gluten-free. However, some buckwheat products may be manufactured in a plant that also handles wheat, rye or barley, so there is a risk of cross-contamination. For this reason, you should always check the label to ensure the product is gluten-free. 

Is couscous gluten-free?

No. Couscous is made from wheat, which is a gluten-containing grain.

Is polenta gluten-free?

Yes. Made from cornmeal, polenta is gluten-free. 

Is baking powder gluten-free?

Sometimes – but you should check the label. Wheat starch may be added to baking powder to prevent it clumping together – if this is the case, the product will not be gluten-free. But, there are plenty of gluten-free products available that contain corn or potato starch instead, which will be suitable for those on a gluten-free diet.

Is popcorn gluten-free?

Sometimes – but you should check the label. Homemade popcorn with no added extras will be gluten-free, but you should double-check the labels of store-bought brands as the flavourings may include gluten.

Is spelt gluten-free?

No. Spelt is a form of wheat and as such contains gluten. 

bowls of grains on white table

Are potatoes gluten-free?

Yes. Potatoes are gluten-free, but if you are buying a potato product such as crisps, you will need to check the label to ensure no gluten-containing ingredients have been added.

Is cheese gluten-free?

Yes. Most cheese is gluten-free, but some soft, spreadable cheeses may contain added ingredients to help them spread. You should check the label to be sure.

Is gin gluten-free?

Yes – as well as other spirits and liqueurs. Even spirits made from a gluten-containing cereals are suitable for those on a gluten-free diet. This is because the distillation process removes any traces of gluten.

Is maize gluten-free?

Yes. Maize is another name for corn, which is gluten-free.

Is cider gluten-free?

Yes. Cider, as well as wine, sherry, port, spirits and liqueurs, is gluten-free. However, ales, beers, lagers and stouts are not gluten-free.

Is rye bread gluten-free?

No. Rye is a gluten-containing grain and is not gluten-free.

sliced bread on grey background

Are corn flakes gluten-free?

Sometimes – but you should check the label. Some manufacturers use barley malt extract as a flavouring, which makes the product unsafe for those with coeliac disease. However, gluten-free options are available in most supermarkets.

Are lentils gluten-free?

Yes. Lentils are gluten-free, but ready-made lentil products should be checked, as they could contain additives that are not gluten-free.

Is sourdough bread gluten-free?

No – unless made with a gluten-free flour. Sourdough made from a gluten-containing grain, such as wheat or rye, is not gluten-free.

A 2012 study suggested that sourdough made from gluten-free flour using a gluten-free starter may be a beneficial inclusion in the diet of those with coeliac disease. This is because the sourdough fermentation process appears to enhance the healing of the gut lining following the inflammatory reaction typical of coeliac disease.

Is soy gluten-free?

Sometimes – but you should check the label. There is a huge variety of soy products, some of which are gluten-free and some of which aren't. Chinese soy sauce is not gluten-free because it is traditionally made with wheat. Soya milk and plain soy yogurt are both gluten-free. Tofu and soya-based textured vegetable protein may be gluten-free, but you should always check the label to make sure.

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Have we missed an ingredient that you're not sure about? Leave a comment below...


This page was last updated on 10 July 2019.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.
 

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