Ten years ago, eating gluten free was mostly a foreign idea—and not an easy choice. Compounding a lack of education and awareness about gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley), early rounds of gluten-free products were pretty subpar: Bread fell apart like sawdust, baked goods failed to rise, and pasta was tough, soggy, or nutritionally barren (or all three).
Thank goodness the gluten-free product landscape has radically evolved. “When I first started eating gluten free in the early 1980s, there were very few GF foods. Rice cakes became my bread,” says Tricia Thompson, RD, founder of Gluten Free Watchdog (glutenfreewatchdog.org), a website that keeps tabs on gluten-free claims. Now, “more companies are incorporating the alternative grains—quinoa, buckwheat, teff, sorghum, and more—into their gluten-free foods to increase the nutritional quality of the diet.”
Indeed, today’s gluten-free baking mixes taste and perform much like their gluten-containing counterparts, worthy GF pastas have returned to the table, and upgraded snacks feature nutrient-rich ancient grains, beans, and nuts. Most GF products also sport a Certified Gluten-Free label, which ensures they haven’t been contaminated by gluten throughout the manufacturing process.
Whether you’re just starting to eat gluten free or you’ve been eating this way for years, here’s what to look for in products sold at your natural foods store for optimal wheat-free wellness.
Make the transition
No longer does GF eating mean forgoing beloved foods, such as bread and pasta, or always preparing your take-along snacks at home. Trusted natural brands help make the gluten-free life a good life. You can now find GF fluffy bread, moist brownies and muffins, delish pastas, and treat-like nutrition bars. Remember: No gluten doesn’t have to mean no fun.
Look for: Gluten-free baking blends that can be used as a 1:1 ratio with regular flour. Also seek new-generation quick-cooking pastas made with nutrient-dense grains, as well as portable, satiating snacks, such as nutrition bars made with pea protein or seeds to help you feel more satisfied.
Try: Ancient Harvest Quinoa Supergrain Mac & Cheese; Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour; Cup 4 Cup Gluten Free Flour; Kind Maple Pumpkin Seeds with Sea Salt; Nii Bar Almond Chocolate Chip
In addition to incorporating more naturally gluten-free foods into your day—fruits and vegetables, eggs, yogurt, and lean proteins, such as fish or poultry—buy products that contain simpler, nutritient-dense ingredients, such as chia, flaxseed, beans, nuts, and gluten-free grains: brown rice, millet, and oats.
Look for: Certified-gluten-free oats. Oats are a fiber-rich and tasty ingredient in cereals and granola, but they can be gluten-contaminated if processed in the same facility as wheat. Also choose cereals fortified with seeds and ancient grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat groats.
Try: Enjoy Life Perky’s Crunchy Rice Cereal; Purely Elizabeth Ancient Grain Hot Cereal Organic 6-Grain; TeeChia Sustained Energy Cereal
Embrace the future
The next wave of gluten-free eating looks beyond just an absence of gluten. In vogue are GF products with simple ingredients and those that build on old-world staples, such as beans, quinoa, and even responsibly raised meat. Pining for pasta? Go for it, as long as it’s made from navy beans or chickpeas rather than durum wheat. Seeking a snack? Reach for dried bananas or spiced, dehydrated pinto beans. Also look for nut-based foods that use almond flour in lieu of white rice, potato, or tapioca flours.
Look for: Gluten-free pastas and baking mixes with minimal ingredients listed on the Nutrition Facts panel. New brands use beans and other legumes for a high-protein, high-fiber dish.
Try: Banza Chickpea Pasta; Snack Out Loud Crunchy Bean Snack; Epic Chicken Jerky Currant + Sesame BBQ; Tolerant Organic Red Lentil Rotini