How to Go Gluten-Free and Vegetarian

5 Steps to Change Your Diet

gluten-free vegetarian chopping veggies
There's plenty to eat when you're gluten-free and vegetarian. Yuri Arcurs/Getty Images

Becoming a vegetarian is one thing, going gluten-free is another—but both at once? Duel diets may sound daunting—after all, you'll have two lists of food restrictions to manage. But even so, it is possible to navigate a gluten-free vegetarian diet. There are tips, tricks, and simple recipes to help you enjoy the process and avoid common pitfalls.

These are five essential steps to help you adjust your diet so that you savor your meals and stay healthy while going vegetarian and gluten-free

1. Avoid Gluten and Animal Products

It may sound simple, but if you are going gluten-free while also going vegetarian, you'll need to avoid foods that contain animal products and those that contain gluten. Learning to identify foods that fall into those categories is the first step of your diet overhaul.

Find Gluten-Free Foods

Going gluten-free is more complicated than simply avoiding bread and pasta. Gluten sneaks into a wide variety of foods, and many of them may surprise you. You should learn to identify the different ways that manufacturers use gluten in foods so that you can target and avoid those products.

For example, some canned soups and spice mixes contain gluten. Even a few ice cream brands (especially less-expensive or low-fat varieties) use wheat starch as an ingredient. And if you're sticking to a whole foods-based diet, you'll still need to watch out for wheat, barley, and rye in places you don't expect and under names you wouldn't suspect. Gluten can hide on food labels under many different names, including:

  • Bulgur
  • Malt
  • Farro
  • Triticale
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Seitan
  • Vegetable protein
  • Caramel color
  • Natural flavors
  • Modified food starch

Once you know which foods to avoid, you'll want to learn which foods to consume. Fresh, unpackaged fruits and vegetables are gluten-free, so try to build your diet around those. When you eat manufactured food products, stick with those that are labeled gluten-free.

It may be helpful to print a list of gluten-free foods to take with you when you shop for groceries.

Find Vegetarian Foods

Fortunately, it's usually easier to identify animal-sourced ingredients than it is to avoid gluten. If you simply steer your grocery cart away from the meat counter and read labels carefully, you're on the right track.

Keep in mind, however, that there are different types of vegetarians. Most are ovo-lacto vegetarians, meaning that they avoid meat, poultry, seafood, and fish but consume eggs and dairy. There are also ovo-vegetarians who avoid animal products but eat eggs. And there are lacto-vegetarians that avoid animal products but consume dairy.

In general, most vegetarians avoid ingredients derived from animals such as:

  • Animal shortening
  • Gelatin
  • Lard
  • Pepsin
  • Tallow
  • Vitamin D from animal sources

If you've decided to follow a vegan diet, you avoid animal products in every form. Anything with dairy products or egg products would be off-limits. Avoid ingredients such as:

  • Albumin
  • Beeswax and honey
  • Whey
  • Casein and caseinate
  • Lactose and lactic acid
  • Lecithin (unless it comes from soy)

Gather resources such as vegetarian food lists, recipes, and cooking tips to familiarize yourself with an animal-free diet.

2. Prep Your Kitchen

It can be easy to grab an ingredient that doesn't fit into your diet when you're cooking in a rush. The best way to avoid doing this is to clear your kitchen of foods that contain ingredients you're avoiding.

Pick a day to check every box, bag, and can in your cupboards and fridge. Read the ingredients lists on each and set aside all products that aren't compatible with a vegetarian and gluten-free lifestyle.

If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you'll need to go even further, since the slightest bit of gluten cross-contamination could make you sick.

Follow these steps to clean out your kitchen:

To prepare for the vegetarian or vegan part of your diet, follow these steps:

If there are any gluten-containing/non-vegetarian family favorites you need to keep around for loved ones who aren't on board with your new diet, create a special place for those items so you don't have to think twice to avoid them when cooking for yourself. Everything else, as long as it's unopened and it hasn't expired, can be donated.

3. Cook Nutritious Meals

To make sure you are getting the necessary calories, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals you should take some time to establish nutritional goals and learn new cooking techniques.

Establish Nutritional Goals

Because so many foods are off-limits on a diet that excludes both animal proteins and gluten, there are some nutrients you'll need to be especially careful to fit into your diet from other sources. These include protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and certain B vitamins.

Find out how much of each of these nutrients you need and make a list of foods that will provide you with the recommended daily allowance of each. Many people find it helpful to meet with a registered dietitian to make sure they are getting important micronutrients. You can also check USDA guidelines to see how much is recommended for you based on your age and gender.

To get enough protein, pack your diet with these gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan protein sources:

Also note that fortified cereals can be a good source of nutrients, so look for gluten-free cereals that are also vegetarian. Nature's Path and Van's both offer fortified gluten-free vegetarian cereal options.

Learn Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes

You're not likely to stick to a food plan if you don't find meals satisfying and enjoyable. Learning to cook nutritious meals at home will help you to stay healthy without breaking the bank.

Consider any of these gluten-free recipes that are also vegetarian.

Breakfast Recipes

Lunch or Dinner Recipes

Desserts and Snacks

4. Become a Smart Consumer

Of course, you won't always be able to cook at home. There will be times when you need to eat on the run and your options may be limited.

To avoid going hungry in a situation where the food you can eat is scarce, make sure you always bring along a gluten-free vegetarian/vegan snack, such as:

  • Shelled nuts
  • Gluten-free vegetarian/vegan snack bars, such as Larabars or Kind bars
  • Gluten-free vegetarian trail mix or cereal

Also, keep in mind that the explosion of interest in both gluten-free and vegetarian lifestyles has led to a proliferation of pre-packaged and processed foods designed for both types of diets. Be aware that not all gluten-free products are compatible with a vegetarian diet and not all vegetarian (or even vegan) products are compatible with a gluten-free diet.

There are multiple frozen dinners that are both gluten-free and vegetarian. Check out options from:

  • Amy's Kitchen
  • Saffron Road
  • Evol
  • Tandoor Chef

In addition, you'll find gluten-free frozen pizza that's also vegetarian and even vegan gluten-free frozen pizza. Look for pizzas from:

  • Amy's Kitchen
  • BOLD Organics
  • Daiya
  • Whole Foods

When you're shopping for processed food products, make sure to read labels carefully to check for not-so-obvious gluten and animal ingredients. This is especially important if you react badly to gluten. Even if a label says "gluten-free", the food may have some trace amounts of gluten.

5. Learn to Eat Out

Eliminating gluten and animal protein (and dairy, if you're going that far), is likely to make it tough to navigate a restaurant menu or potluck dinner party. It's tough, but not impossible.

Here are some tips for eating out that will allow you to follow your diet without missing out on delicious food or time with friends.

  • Learn ways gluten can sneak into a dish. For example, in some restaurant kitchens, the same water used to boil pasta may be reused to steam veggies. Don't hesitate to ask your server about such potential sources of gluten in foods. Most will be happy to check with the chef but be insistent if you feel uncertain.
  • Do your homework. Before you visit a restaurant, call ahead to find out which menu items will be in sync with your diet. That way you won't need to feel self-conscious about taking longer to order because you're trying to decode the selections. You also won't have to feel self-conscious about quizzing the server.
  • BYOF. If you'll be dining at a friend's home, ask what you can contribute to the menu. This will be trickier if your host is serving a sit-down dinner rather than having a potluck or barbecue. In any case, don't expect your friend to cook something special for you. Instead, bring your own food—and be sure to prep enough to share.

A Word From Verywell

Following the gluten-free diet can be challenging, and when you add a vegetarian or vegan diet you may find it overwhelming to restrict so many foods. But remember that many of the most healthy and delicious foods are compliant on both food plans. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and gluten-free grains are packed with nutrition.

If you still feel lost and hungry navigating your gluten-free vegetarian/vegan diet, consider consulting with a nutritionist to help you iron out the details and make sure you get enough of the right foods to eat. And always check with your healthcare provider to discuss dietary changes or supplements.

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