How to Eat Gluten-Free in 8 Easy Steps

If you're diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you'll need to learn to eat gluten-free since doing so is essential to your long-term health. Or, you may decide to try a gluten-free diet even without a diagnosis—especially if you believe eating gluten-free may help you manage another health condition.

Regardless of your reasons for choosing a gluten-free diet, this can be tricky with a massive learning curve, especially at first. But if you follow these eight steps—preferably in order—you should be well on your way to safely eating gluten-free.

Clean Out Your Kitchen

bread in toaster

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Before starting the gluten-free diet, you need to clean out your kitchen and get rid of everything you no longer can eat. Foods containing gluten most often include bread products, baked goods, pasta, many frozen and canned foods, some ice creams, and snack foods.

Gluten appears in many places you wouldn't expect. If in doubt, give away or dispose of everything, especially wheat flour and baking mixes. When doing so, you'll need to be careful not to breathe any airborne flour, which could make you sick.

You'll also need to replace any open condiments since they're likely to have been cross-contaminated with gluten (when someone touches the tip of a squeeze bottle to bread or sticks a used sandwich knife in a jar, the bottle or jar could make you sick). The same goes for spices you've used in baking since those likely have been cross-contaminated by wheat flour.

Donate unopened gluten-containing packages, jars, and cans to a food bank or hand them over to a friend. Alternatively, if you're planning on sharing a kitchen with family members or housemates who don't eat gluten-free, you'll need to segregate those products.

You'll need a new toaster since it's possible to get symptoms from the tiniest morsel of gluten. You'll also need new plastic and wooden utensils and non-stick pans if you use them. Replace all these kitchen tools when gluten-free since you can't clean them thoroughly enough to keep yourself safe.

This is a challenging, emotional process for some people—you may find yourself mourning the foods you used to enjoy. If that's the case, it can help to focus on the positive effect the gluten-free diet will have on your health. Also, if you can afford it, use this opportunity to treat yourself to a new kitchen tool you've been coveting.

Start With Fresh Produce and Meats

fresh produce

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Many people think they need to drop wheat from their diets to go gluten-free or even just bread. But it's, unfortunately, a lot more complicated than that. As you no doubt learned from cleaning your kitchen, gluten appears in foods ranging from soups to sauces, and it's not always apparent from the ingredients.

There are many foods you can eat on the list of gluten-free foods. But by far, the best way to avoid making common mistakes when first going gluten-free is to limit your diet to unprocessed foods at first.

Unprocessed foods are products you find in the supermarket that don't have ingredients lists printed on their labels. For example, fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meat, poultry, and fish are examples of unprocessed foods.

On an unprocessed food diet, you can eat whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, unseasoned meat, poultry, pork and fish, dairy, and eggs. Shop around the edges of the supermarket and in the fresh produce and meat departments.

If you can handle dairy products and are not lactose intolerant, you can add dairy products. Eat as simply as you can, using only fresh herbs, salt, and pepper for seasoning your foods.

The safest grain to add to your diet is plain rice. Try grains such as corn in moderation, if at all, and don't introduce packaged foods—including those labeled "gluten-free"—until you have a better feel for the diet and how it affects your system.

Expand to Include Gluten-Free Labeled Products

gluten-free pastries
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Once you've mastered the basics, foods clearly labeled "gluten-free" represent the best way to start expanding your gluten-free diet. Manufacturers aren't required to label foods "gluten-free," but many do.

When you're still learning how to stay gluten-free, you shouldn't count on your ability to read labels—stick with products that market to the gluten-free community. You'll find gluten-free versions of practically everything you want on supermarket shelves, including bread products, pizzas, waffles, beer, ice cream, yogurt, soups, and candy.

Be careful not to go overboard with gluten-free-labeled products because many people find they experience renewed gluten symptoms when they eat too much of these products.

In some cases, symptoms could result from unhealed damage in your intestines. However, the culprit is the tiny amounts of gluten still present in the "gluten-free"-labeled food in most instances.

If you begin adding gluten-free-labeled foods to your diet but then start experiencing renewed (or even new) symptoms, or if you don't feel particularly well, cut back on these products, especially anything you've added recently.

Learn to Read Food Labels

To expand your diet—and to figure out which of your old favorites you might be able to include—you'll need to learn to find gluten on food labels.

You'll probably become a bit of a detective, learning to search for the meaning of various terms you'll find on different products. You'll also get quite an education on the other ingredients that make up processed foods—some of which are hard to pronounce.

Ingredients That May Mean Gluten

  • Flour
  • Triticum
  • Hordeum
  • Spelt
  • Malt
  • Pasta
  • Vegetable protein
  • Dextrin and maltodextrin (may be wheat, but not common in the U.S.)

Manufacturers can label something "gluten-free," but food labeling laws do not require disclosing gluten-containing ingredients on food labels. Suppose something has no prominent gluten ingredients listed but doesn't carry a "gluten-free" label. It might contain barley or rye or be subject to gluten cross-contamination at the food processing facility.

In addition, keep in mind that wheat-free does not equal gluten-free, so don't be fooled by foods labeled "wheat-free"—they're probably not safe. Instead, consider getting a gluten-free app to help guide your choices on processed food products, ingredients, and restaurants.

Several apps provide lists of gluten-free products you can access while in the grocery store. A subscription-based app lets you scan a product's UPC to determine if it's gluten-free or not.

Make Your Home Gluten-Free

medicine cabinet

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As you get more skilled in following the gluten-free diet, you should consider removing sources of gluten that lurk elsewhere in your home. For example, many hair products contain gluten.

If you've ever gotten shampoo in your mouth in the shower, or if you touch your hair and then your mouth, you should consider getting gluten-free shampoo and other hair products. Also, check out your toothpaste to see if it is gluten-free.

Making your bathroom and medicine cabinet gluten-free can be challenging, as well. Cosmetics and prescription medications frequently contain gluten and cause significant symptoms if you're not careful.

Even art supplies and common household building materials can contain gluten, such as drywall and spackling compound. Therefore, you should stick with gluten-free craft supplies.

Learn to Eat Out Gluten-Free

woman eating rice noodles in restaurant

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Until you feel confident following the gluten-free diet—and ideally until any symptoms have largely disappeared—you should stay far away from restaurants. That's because restaurants—especially fast-food restaurants—pose a significant risk for gluten cross-contamination.

It's common for even experienced gluten-free people to inadvertently consume gluten when eating out at restaurants. Still, no one wants to eat at home forever. Once you have a better idea of how to eat gluten-free and where gluten can hide, restaurant dining won't present as much of a challenge.

When you first try dining out gluten-free, be aware that many servers and even some chefs aren't very familiar with the gluten-free diet, and mistakes are (sadly) pretty common.

Stick with a restaurant (or a chain) that features a gluten-free menu since restaurants with gluten-free menus are more likely to have spent time on staff education. It is also wise to discuss your needs with your server, the chef, or a manager. Additionally, you can use gluten-free restaurant apps to find the best options.

Be careful letting your guard down, even in a restaurant that has successfully served you. Gluten-free restaurant cards can help you talk to restaurant staff about what to do and what to avoid doing.

Consider Bringing Your Own Food

backyard party

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Once you go gluten-free, friends and relatives may offer to cook for you. But, you may be better off bringing your food unless you trust that person to avoid all gluten ingredients and cross-contamination.

As you know by now, this diet has a ridiculously steep learning curve—it's not something a friend can master overnight, no matter how much that person wants to do so or how hard they're likely to try.

Bringing your food to gatherings allows you to focus on the company instead of constantly worrying about getting sick. You'll be more relaxed and your friends won't be concerned about making you ill.

Holidays can be particularly tricky emotionally when you're gluten-free. To cope with them, always make sure you have something with you that's both gluten-free and delicious. Don't be afraid to treat yourself—you shouldn't be deprived when everyone around you is enjoying good food.

Fill your plate first at gatherings since cross-contamination from other guests can be a risk due to utensil and serving spoon-sharing.

Learn From Mistakes

Man with a stomach ache

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As you learn to navigate the gluten-free diet, you'll make mistakes (and potentially get sick from them). In the worst cases, your symptoms may return for a day or even for a week or more.

Unfortunately, once you go gluten-free, your body will be primed to make a big deal out of any little bit of gluten you consume. Most people (although not all) find they react badly to small amounts of cross-contamination.

It will take some time—months probably—to learn your level of tolerance for gluten cross-contamination and what you can eat without getting symptoms.

It's tempting to beat yourself up for those mistakes mentally—especially if you're miserable physically. But if you can manage it, try to view them as a learning opportunity, and focus on avoiding making that same mistake twice.

A Word From Verywell

Going gluten-free is a significant lifestyle change, but it's one you can manage if you take it to step by step. Your best bet to avoid the common mistakes people make when going gluten-free is to master these steps in order. Keeping your diet as gluten-free as possible will likely have real, noticeable benefits for your health.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Melini V, Melini F. Gluten-free diet: Gaps and needs for a healthier dietNutrients. 2019;11(1):170. doi:10.3390/nu11010170

  3. Food and Drug Administration. Gluten and food labeling.

  4. Thompson T, Grace T. Gluten in cosmetics: Is there a reason for concernJ Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(9):1316-1323. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2012.07.011

  5. Lerner BA, Phan Vo LT, Yates S, Rundle AG, Green PHR, Lebwohl B. Detection of gluten in gluten-free labeled restaurant food: Analysis of crowd-sourced data. Am J Gastroenterol. 2019;(114)5:792-797. doi:10.14309/ajg.0000000000000202

  6. Ciacci C, Ciclitira P, Hadjivassiliou M, et al. The gluten-free diet and its current application in coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis. United European Gastroenterol J. 2015;3(2):121-135. doi:10.1177/2050640614559263

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.