Gluten Free

(Information dump! I’m constantly updating this page as I discover more.) Haha, I love gluten, but it doesn’t love me. Since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in February 2021, I’ve been trying to gather some tips for cooking and eating gluten free, as a reference for myself and also for kind family members and friends who want to make something that celiacs can enjoy.

*Note that each celiac’s sensitivity is different. Haha, I’ve been following a gluten free Facebook page, which is full of great tips, but also more ridiculous arguments than a YouTube comment section. Some people won’t eat anything unless it’s certified gluten free, and others are much less careful. And people argue over definitions and FDA requirements. This list is just what works for me.

Common Ingredients to Avoid

First off, what the heck is gluten? Basically it’s a protein in several types of grain that helps give elasticity and structure. It’s not a bacteria or virus that be burned off with heat. Even a tiny crumb of gluten can make someone with celiac sick. Here is a great, more comprehensive list from celiac.org. And luckily the FDA requires packaged foods to have the label “Contains: Wheat”–but they’re not required to say that it contains gluten if there’s no wheat. At least not yet.

Of course avoid these:

  • Wheat (including products that say “May contain wheat” or any of wheat’s derivatives, including flour, wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat, einkorn wheat)
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Triticale
  • Malt (including anything with malt in its name, like malted milk, malt extract, malt vinegar, malt flavoring, etc.)
  • Brewer’s Yeast (commonly in beer, so I don’t have to worry about that anyway)
  • Wheat Starch below gluten-free guidelines–it should be labeled if it is
  • Oats (unless they’re certified gluten free–oats are naturally gluten free but also usually grown alongside grains with gluten, and they get harvested and mixed together and cause issues for celiacs)
  • Soy Sauce (sometimes fine, but it’s often made with wheat)

Yes, These Ingredients Are Fine

Some of these sound confusing, but they’re all gluten free or at least there’s such a microscopic amount of gluten that they could be considered safe (some celiacs would fight me on these):

  • Maltodextrin
  • Modified food starch
  • Natural flavors or natural flavoring (that’s more of a gray area, but if they use wheat, rye, or barley, they’re required to disclose it if they label it gluten free)
  • Yeast
  • Autolyzed yeast extract or yeast extract (even though they’re sometimes made from spent brewer’s yeast, the NIH did a study and found that all yeast extract samples were under 10 ppm–and certified gluten free is under 20 ppm)
  • Buckwheat (even though it has “wheat” in the name, it doesn’t have any wheat)

Food Types that Generally Include Gluten

Of course this isn’t all-inclusive, but the easiest thing to think is, “Does this have flour in it?”

  • Pasta & Noodles
  • Any baked goods (bread, crackers, pretzels, pastries, cookies, cakes, croutons, etc.)
  • Cereal (most have flour or oats–also, most Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes have malt flavoring)
  • Sauces and gravies (many use flour as a thickener or soy sauce for flavor)
  • Flour tortillas
  • Many soups

You’d Be Surprised that These Contain Gluten

Some things obviously have gluten, but some are a surprise. I’m still adding to this list as I find more–plus, companies keep reformulating products, so you have to keep checking labels. Even occasionally things that say they’re gluten free have a disclaimer that they may contain gluten. This is probably because of cross contamination during processing (like a cornstarch manufacturer also makes muffins on a line right next to it or something).

*If you’re ever not sure if something is gluten free, just Google “is [product] gluten free?”. I’ve done that a lot. There are apps and gluten free stickers at stores, but they’re not infallible. Haha, neither is the internet, but the internet has tons of info readily available.

What can I cook for someone who has celiac disease?

Almost every recipe on this site has a gluten free option, and there are lots of naturally gluten free foods. But before you start–first off, you are very kind to think of them, and I’m sure they are so grateful. But you might want to check with them to make sure they’re okay with your bringing them something. Some celiacs would love it, but some are crazy sensitive and may not even trust another person with celiac to make them something from a non-gluten free kitchen–like they have to throw out all their wooden spoons that ever came in contact with gluten, cast iron, scratched nonstick pots and plastic tupperware that may hold any gluten. Also, if you have one food sensitivity, your body is more likely to develop more. So it’s wise to check if they have other food sensitivities. Many celiacs also can’t handle dairy, and sometimes eggs. But my doctor said that food sensitivities can change over time, and celiacs often heal and then are able to handle dairy (but not always).

Precautions you can take. My kitchen has both gluten and gluten free because I still want my family to enjoy all the wonderful gluten-filled foods (plus, making everything gluten free can be expensive). And I don’t want to cause my family to develop a sensitivity to gluten by removing 100% of their gluten.

  • Wash your hands often, and wipe surfaces thoroughly before and after cooking. I inadvertently made myself pretty sick one time because I hadn’t wiped my stove very well after making regular pizza, so there were a few specks of cornmeal from the crust on the stove. I was making scrambled eggs later and a piece fell onto the stove. I absent-mindedly flipped it back into the pan and immediately regretted it. I thought it might be okay because it was such a tiny piece. But I still got sick for several days.
  • Wash dishes in the dish washer, not by hand. Gluten gets stuck in bristles of brushes and sponges, so I prefer to wash dishes in the dishwasher. I have dedicated gluten free brushes for scrubbing vegetables and the very rare occasion when I have to hand wash something that was gluten free. And I have a dedicated gluten free pastry brush and rolling pin.
  • Use new containers of items that you’d spread on bread or tortillas. Peanut butter, mayonnaise, spreadable butter, jam, and even sometimes sour cream can be spread on bread or tortillas, then the crumb-covered knife double dips back in the container. You may also want to be careful with shredded cheese if your hands were ever covered in gluten and put in the bag later, like pizza cheese after handling dough or Mexican cheese after handling a lot of flour tortillas. Along those same lines, if you’ve ever used a measuring cup to measure flour and then put it into another container to measure out powdered sugar or something, you’d want to use a new bag.
  • Stick with fairly traditional flavors. The safest flavors seem to be the standard ones. When you start adding crazy flavors to chips, salad dressings, hot dogs, or whatever, you’re more likely to get a lot more ingredients and a lot more cross contamination. Apparently with a lot of things like flavored chips, even though they may look gluten free, they’re made on the same production lines as things with gluten and don’t get cleaned the best. Some celiacs may be okay with certain chips and some may not, depending on their sensitivity.
  • At larger gatherings, let anyone with allergies go first. If they can get their hamburger first before everyone has touched buns and subsequently everything else, the risk of getting sick is lower.

Meals/Main Dishes

With that all being said, it might seem intimidating to make food for someone with celiac. But there are tons of options! Almost every recipe on this blog has a gluten free option, but that doesn’t mean I’d want someone to make an exact recipe that I use.

  • Naturally gluten free meal options (always check labels, though, because products often get reformulated):
    • Chicken and Rice Soup (my go-to when I’m feeling ill) – Progresso is great if you’re not hungry, or this recipe if you are hungry
    • Meat and potatoes (like steak or pork chops and a baked potato)
    • Tacos with hard shells or corn tortillas (just make sure to use a gluten-free taco seasoning like McCormick)
    • BBQ Pork Ribs with corn on the cob and baked potatoes or rice (sometimes pork can be a little harder on the stomach if someone has stomach illness, though)
    • Chili on a baked potato
    • Many salads, like taco/sweet pork salad or strawberry bacon salad
    • Turkey with mashed potatoes and vegetables (just make sure the turkey hasn’t been stuffed, and if there’s any gravy, make it with corn starch instead of flour)
    • Lots of baked or grilled chicken (such as with herbs, Italian dressing, lemon-pepper, or BBQ sauce–or as a tin foil dinner with potatoes and corn)
    • Rotisserie chicken (homemade or from Sam’s Club) with salad and a baked potato
    • Salmon with risotto, wild rice, or potatoes
    • Many soups, such as pea soup with ham, loaded potato, mulligatawny, zuppa Toscana, tomato basil, or broccoli cheese (as long as they’re not thickened with flour)
    • Mountain Man Breakfast or Frittata (of course as long as they’re not thickened with flour)
    • Lots of egg dishes, like fried, scrambled, hard boiled, omelet, etc. with sausage and bacon
    • Kalua or pulled pork with bbq sauce, rice, pineapple, and broccoli
    • Fajitas with corn tortillas, cilantro lime rice, chips, and salsa or guacamole
    • Pot roast with potatoes, onion, carrots, and Jello as a side (just make sure your sauce ingredients don’t have flour)
    • Hamburgers, hot dogs, or bratwurst with potato chips and fruit salad (of course don’t include buns–but if they’re celiac, they’ll have gluten free bread at home for a bun probably)
  • Gluten free meals with a few stipulations:
    • Almost any Italian dish, just made with zoodles or gluten free noodles, such as spaghetti, lasagna, or alfredo (most Italian sauces are gluten free–just check the label if you’re using a jar). Sam’s Club also has great gluten free meatballs
    • Stir fry or teriyaki chicken, made with tamari or gluten free soy sauce like La Choy

Side Dishes

Basically you can have any meat seasoned with herbs, but what do you put with it? Well, celiacs have a lot of potatoes, rice, and corn. Lots of tortilla chips and corn tortillas.

  • Naturally gluten free side dishes (always check labels, though):
    • Potatoes
      • Baked or steamed potatoes with butter, sour cream, bacon, and chives
      • Mashed potatoes
      • Twice baked potatoes
      • Fries (baked or at least not fried in the same oil as gluten-containing items–avoid curly fries as they often are battered)
      • Fried potatoes, sparkling potatoes, country potatoes, or rosemary potatoes
      • Potato salad (made with a new container of uncontaminated mayo)
      • Potato wedges
      • Hash browns or tater tots
    • Rice
      • Plain white or brown rice (with butter and salt or seasoning)
      • Risotto
      • Wild rice
      • Ham fried rice (made with gluten free soy sauce)
      • Cilantro lime rice
      • Spanish rice (just make sure to check the label if you’re doing prepackaged)
    • Fruits & Vegetables
      • All fruits and vegetables are safe as long as they don’t have something added with gluten
      • Corn on the cob
      • Green beans and bacon
      • Salad (just make sure the salad dressing is gluten free)
      • Fruit salad
      • Baked apples
      • Jello and Jello salads
    • Chips and crackers
      • Many flavored chips that look gluten free may cause issues with celiacs. Seems like about half of celiacs can handle Doritos and the other half can’t. But for sure, these are safe:
        • Tortilla chips
        • Cheetos
        • Fritos
        • Original Lay’s and Ruffles
        • Lays Stax (NOT Pringles, though)
        • Kroger Original Potato Chips
        • Kroger Sour Cream and Cheddar Chips
        • Veggie Straws
        • Gluten free pretzels
        • Almond Thins
        • Milton’s Gluten Free Crackers (you can get a big bag at Costco)
  • Gluten free side dishes that require a gluten free product:
    • Gluten free pasta or pasta salad (I usually use Ronzoni, but Barilla is great–just more expensive)
    • Gluten free muffins (like Krusteaz cinnamon swirl, cornbread, or blueberry)
    • Gluten free garlic bread (I usually take a slice of gluten free bread and spread garlic butter on it from a dedicated gluten free container, then bake it at 425 for 4 minutes or so)

Desserts

This is the hard one. Most delicious desserts have gluten, but there are also several naturally gluten free desserts. And most desserts can be made with a cup for cup gluten free flour but it may not turn out exactly the same, of course.

  • Naturally gluten free desserts (always check labels, though):
    • Ice cream (just avoid ones with cookies, malt, etc.)
    • Ice cream bars and popsicles (these are also not certified gluten free, but they’re fine on my stomach)
    • Candy (most is fine except for licorice, some gummies, stuff with cookies or wafers, and malted stuff like Whoppers)
      • Most candy is fine, but here are some of my favorites:
        • Reese’s
        • Most M&Ms (peanut, peanut butter, almond, etc.)
        • Snickers
        • Starburst
        • Skittles
        • Hershey’s Nuggets
        • Bit o’ Honey
        • Root Beer Barrels
        • Butterfinger
        • Caramels
        • Milk Duds
        • Peanut Brittle
        • Swedish Fish
        • Almond Joy
    • Caramel corn
    • Muddy Buddies
    • Macarons (I don’t like macarons, but I know they’re made with almond flour)
    • Chocolate souffle
    • Baked apples
    • Pudding with whipped cream
  • Gluten free desserts with a few stipulations:
    • Rice Krispie treats if made with Malt o’ Meal Crispy Rice or another gluten free rice cereal (Kellogg’s Rice Krispies have gluten because of malt flavor)
    • Apple crisp if made with gluten free oats and cornstarch
    • No-bake cookies if made with gluten free oats and a new jar of peanut butter
    • Cheesecake if made with a gluten free cookie crust (like gluten free Oreos) instead of graham crackers
    • Chocolate cream pie if made with gluten free cookie crust (like gluten free Oreos)
    • Gluten free Oreos, Glutino cookies, or Great Value gluten free sandwich cookies
    • Cake or brownies made with gluten free mix

Snacks

For road trips or daily snacking, there are still lots of options. And of course, always check the labels.

  • Non-refrigerated gluten free snacks:
    • Chips and pretzels (as also mentioned in the side dish section)
      • Many flavored chips that look gluten free may cause issues with celiacs. Seems like about half of celiacs can handle Doritos and the other half can’t. But for sure, these are safe:
        • Tortilla chips
        • Cheetos
        • Fritos
        • Original Lay’s and Ruffles
        • Lay’s Stax
        • Kroger Potato Chips
        • Kroger Sour Cream and Cheddar Chips
        • Veggie Straws
        • Gluten free pretzels
        • Almond Thins
        • Milton’s Gluten Free crackers
    • Nuts like almonds, cashews, etc. (just make sure it doesn’t say, “May contain wheat”)
    • Some beef jerky, like Kroger Original or Teriyaki Smokehouse
    • Kar’s Sweet ‘n Salty Trail Mix
    • Cookies such as Gluten free Oreos, Glutino cookies, or Great Value gluten free sandwich cookies
    • Candy (see desserts section), such as M&Ms, Starburst, Skittles, etc.
    • Cereal for road trip breakfasts (excluding the really expensive ones):
      • Most Chex or knockoff Chex, such as Rice and Corn Chex
      • Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles
      • Lucky Charms
      • Most Cheerios such as Honey Nut
      • Honey Bunches of Oats – Chocolate (only the chocolate variety)
      • (Seems like about half of celiacs can handle Reese’s Puffs and the other half can’t–I haven’t tried yet)
  • Refrigerated gluten free snacks:
    • Old Wisconsin Turkey Sticks from Sam’s Club (tastes like summer sausage but in snack size)
    • String cheese
    • Fruits like apples (with or without caramel), Mandarin oranges, pears, berries, etc. (can also be non-refrigerated)
    • Celery with peanut butter from new jar
    • Veggie tray with carrots, olives, celery, cucumbers, and ranch dressing
    • Chicken salad or tuna sandwich filling made with new mayo and served with Milton’s crackers or cucumber slices
    • Yogurt (I don’t really like yogurt, but I know it’s popular)
    • Cottage cheese
    • Pepperoni slices
    • Lunchmeat slices
    • Bananas with peanut butter or Nutella from new jars
    • Salsa, guacamole, or bean dip with tortilla chips
    • Gluten free bread with peanut butter and jam from new jars

Restaurants

Any restaurant with gluten in it has a risk of cross contamination, no matter how great they’ve done in the past. But that’s the risk you have to take. With celiac disease, you have to be that person who asks tons of questions and requests that the employees change their gloves, and so on, because cross contamination is usually what gets you sick at restaurants. Ugh, I hate having to be that person and having to be the center of attention, and the person where the group says, “Yeah! That restaurant sounds great! Oh, wait, Sarah can’t go there… Guess we won’t do it.” Ugh. But luckily there are several chains that are generally considered safe.

Tips for eating out

  • Check the app “Find Me Gluten Free” when you’re traveling, to see how well each location does. Some managers are better at enforcing allergy protocols than others. Every time I eat out, I feel an obligation to post a review on Find Me Gluten Free for other celiacs. You can also check local Gluten Free Facebook pages like the Gluten Free Utah Facebook page, which has lots of help.
  • Ask if they have a fryer that only does fries. This is known as a dedicated fryer. Most places don’t–they also fry chicken strips and other things in it, so your fries get crumbs on them. I’ve gotten sick from that before. So when I find somewhere with a dedicated fryer, I get very excited.
  • Always let them know that you have an allergy to gluten (or you’re ordering for someone with a gluten allergy). Not everyone knows what celiac is, so I say I have an allergy to gluten. Sometimes they have certain protocol to follow, and sometimes you have to ask them to change gloves or wipe down surfaces.
  • Some restaurants don’t consider themselves safe for celiacs. Some places are kind of always a no-no because there’s just too much flour in the air or cross contamination, like Papa John’s even though they have a gluten free crust. If you’re nervous, you can call ahead and ask the manager or go online and check out their menu beforehand.
  • Better safe than sorry. If you’re nervous about a place, I’ve learned that it’s better to say no and just get a soda than to try something out and then be sick for a week or two. Also, sometimes I’m willing to try if I can find something that’s totally naturally gluten free, like when I had to go to Olive Garden. They’re apparently notorious for mixing regular noodles in with gluten free on accident, so I got the salmon with Zuppa Toscana. I don’t think I had any symptoms after.
  • Keep in mind grills and condiments. Some places grill burgers on the same places where they warm buns. Or if they put mayo on your burger, it’s using a big spatula that they’ve used on regular buns. So I generally ask for no mayo, just to be safe.

Safer restaurants for celiacs (I’m always adding to this, and I’m sure other celiacs would fight me on these, but this is my experience of what works for me. *Oh, and if you’re ordering for a celiac, always let the employees know that you have an allergy to gluten, so any protocol they have would be great, like changing gloves and so on):

  • Red Robin – They’re great at lots of allergies. Most locations also have a dedicated fryer so you can enjoy their fries. And their gluten free buns are amazing! Here’s their allergen menu. I love the Monster Cheeseburger or the guacamole bacon burger and fries (although the last time I went, the menu crossed out the bacon like it had gluten in it…).
  • Costa Vida – I used to love Cafe Rio, but almost everything has gluten there–although they’re apparently getting better slowly. But Costa Vida is cheaper, has a good loyalty program, and almost everything there is gluten free. They do gluten free very well. If you tell them you have a gluten allergy, they’ll immediately change their gloves, and the corn tortillas are in a separate container. Here’s their allergen menu. I love the steak salad with corn tortillas.
  • Papa Murphy’s – Basically the only large pizza chain I can handle. They change their gloves with every order anyway, but I still let them know I have a gluten allergy. The gluten free crust only comes in one size (medium) and isn’t way amazing–I think it’s Udi’s, which a lot of chains use. I’ll often order an extra gluten free pizza to put in the freezer so that I can have one if my family is having Papa John’s–I don’t want to prevent them from having any other pizza ever again. When you order, just order a medium pizza and get the gluten free crust. I love to get sausage and black olive.
  • Culver’s – They have a pamphlet at the cash register if the employee isn’t sure what you can have. But most of their frozen custard is gluten free, and I think I heard that their gluten free bun is the same brand as Red Robin, Rotella. I’m not sure if any locations have dedicated fryers, but I’d just get the burger and save the money on the fries to use toward frozen custard. Here’s their allergen grid. I love the Original ButterBurger with a gluten free bun and Raspberry Concrete or Turtle Sundae.
  • In’N’Out – The only thing on their menu with gluten is their bun. So that means the fryers are dedicated, so the fries are safe. And if you tell them you have a gluten allergy, they mark it right at the register and on your receipt so everyone knows to be extra careful. They don’t have gluten free buns, so you have to order your burger “Protein Style”–basically wrapped in lettuce. But it’s delicious. And the shakes are also gluten free. Here’s their allergen menu. I like the Protein-style Double Double (with no spread) with fries and a drink, maybe even a strawberry shake.
  • Jersey Mike’s – A sandwich chain that’s generally regarded as safe. You can even order gluten free cookies to go with your sandwich. The gluten free bread for the sub is pretty good too, although a little dry–so maybe ask for extra juice. The allergen menu is a little clunky for finding gluten free, though. I liked the Original Italian sub with gluten free bread and a bag of Cheetos. I also hear Firehouse Subs does well, but I haven’t tried them yet.
  • Tucano’s – A Brazilian place where they bring meat around to your table until you tell them to stop. Haha. It’s awesome! I’ve even eaten at the salad bar and done fine because everything is labeled if it’s gluten free. It’s great for special occasions, but a little pricier. But you can join their birthday club and get a free meal with another paying adult. Their regular menu marks which items are gluten free. I’ve also heard Rodizio is great for gluten free, but they’re more expensive.
  • Five Guys – Like In’N’Out, the only thing they fry in their fryer is fries, so you’re safe ordering them. And the fries are much better than In’N’Out, and they fill up the cup then add an extra scoop in the bag (which of course makes the bag greasy). Let them know you have an allergy to gluten, and it’ll mark it at the register and on your receipt. They don’t have gluten free buns, but if you ask for no bun, they’ll ask if you want the burger in a bowl or in a lettuce wrap. Also, remember that a regular hamburger here includes two big patties. And if you live in Utah, DO NOT get the fry sauce because the allergen menu says it has gluten. Here’s the allergen menu. I like the hamburger in a lettuce wrap with ketchup, onions, tomato, and pickles and of course fries.
  • More to come as I try out more places (like I’ve heard Outback does well, Zao, and a few other burger places, but I haven’t tried them yet)

What happens when a celiac gets sick?

You know, when I first was diagnosed with celiac, I’d hear people talk about “getting sick” after eating somewhere, but I didn’t know what that meant. Like throwing up or what? Well, I’m learning more and more as time goes on and as I read what people write on the Gluten Free Utah Facebook Page. But one thing’s for sure–everyone is different, and every exposure to gluten is different. Some people throw up almost immediately after. I’ve never thrown up. But I’ll tell you what happens to me. So if you don’t want too much information, haha, then you better stop reading.

First of all, I feel like my stomach is now generally more sensitive to everything, like grease or too much dairy. Some celiacs say it takes them forever to get over a regular stomach virus because their system is already compromised, whereas their family may be over it in a day. Anyway, if I have gluten, it generally takes me 3-4 hours after eating to get sick. And then it depends on how much gluten I had. If I just had a tiny bit of cross contamination, I might just be really nauseous for 24 hours and have some diarrhea, maybe with a small rash or eczema-looking thing on my hands or wrists. Sometimes I get a rash and sometimes I don’t. And it can take forever for the rash to go away–like a few months.

But if I’ve had a little bit more gluten, it can get pretty bad. It always seems like Day 2 is the worst. Celiac causes pretty bad inflammation, which affects a lot of stuff. The worst is the burning pain in the upper abdomen right under my sternum that radiates to my mid back. Sometimes it feels like I’m painfully starving when the pain is there, maybe like really terrible indigestion. And since I’ve had some sciatic nerve pain in previous years off and on, the inflammation sometimes pushes on the sciatic nerve so that there’s pain in the lower back and down my leg. And often with a bad gluten exposure, all my joints will hurt really bad.

Then of course with the bad gluten exposure, there’s the digestive stuff. Like nausea, pretty bad diarrhea, and gas that gets trapped and is painful. With bad gluten exposure, the only thing I can handle is peppermint tea to help with nausea and sometimes some very broth-filled soup like chicken and rice. And lastly, there’s a brain fog and exhaustion–I get very irritated and tired, and it’s very hard to think. It seems like with the worse exposures to gluten, I feel pretty terrible for 4-5 days. And then it takes several more days to feel fully recovered. During the recovery time, I’m often very sensitive to dairy and eggs, so I try to avoid them. So it may be 1-2 weeks until I’m all back to normal. That’s why trying one suspicious food is not worth it–not worth a week of misery.

But I’m very grateful that after we die and then are all resurrected, we’ll have perfected bodies and won’t have to deal with illnesses or imperfections anymore. What a wonderful gift from God.

Beef/Hamburger

You can make a lot of great weeknight meals with hamburger, and a lot of special dishes with steak or roasts. Whatever your craving, beef is what’s for dinner. 🙂

Using Ground Beef (Hamburger)

Using the Fancier Cuts (steak, roasts, etc.)

Chicken

Whether you’re looking to use chicken breasts from your freezer or a rotisserie chicken, here are several ideas for your main course:

Using Chicken Breasts

Using Thighs, Legs, or Whole chicken

Using a Rotisserie Chicken