The Gluten-Free Diet 101: What It Is and What to Eat

Gluten-Free Shrimp Pad Thai

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

A Note From the Editors

The Spruce Eats does not endorse this diet; rather, we are providing some information that can contribute to your decision. Please talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet.

The gluten-free diet is increasingly popular, and with the number of gluten-free products on supermarket shelves, and restaurants offering gluten-free menu items, going gluten-free is easier than ever. But, what exactly is the gluten-free diet, , who needs it, and is it a plan for weight loss?

Gluten-Free Diet Basics

The gluten-free diet is a treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten, which is a protein found naturally in grains including wheat, barley, and rye, and in foods made with those products. An estimated 1 in 100 people worldwide have celiac disease, which renders them incapable of absorbing certain nutrients, including iron, vitamins A, D, E, and K, vitamin B12, and folate, resulting in multiple health issues including anemia, soft bones, and reproductive problems.

Some people have a sensitivity to gluten, also called gluten intolerance that, while uncomfortable, is a much less-severe condition than celiac disease and does not involve the immune system. A gluten-free diet can be helpful to people with gluten sensitivity. The diet works by removing all products containing gluten from a person's diet. 

The rules of this diet are simple: no gluten-containing foods are allowed in any amounts, including bread, pasta, and baked goods made from wheat flour, as well as packaged foods that contain wheat-based additives, such as certain sauces, soups, snack foods, and seasonings. Following this diet requires becoming adept at reading nutritional labels to make sure foods don't contain hidden gluten. Indeed, this sort of intense ingredient scrutiny is a major part of the lifestyle associated with the diet. 

Basically, on this diet, anything that contains wheat, or may have come into contact with wheat, must be avoided. Foods that are allowed include meats, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and nuts, as long as they don't contain added gluten in any form. Certain grains, such as rice, corn, and quinoa, as well as certain starches and flours not made from wheat, are also fine.

There's no evidence that the gluten-free diet will produce any particular health benefits, such as weight loss, for instance, among those who don't suffer from these disorders, other than the fact that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is known to be good for your health in general.

Other benefits, such as better sleep, improved mood, or increased athletic performance, are sometimes touted as benefits of this diet, but there's no evidence to support these claims, except insofar as the diet relieves the symptoms of celiac or other gluten-related disorders. In fact, going gluten-free may have adverse effects on those who don't suffer from a gluten-related disorder.

Pros and Cons


  • Patients with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity will experience fewer symptoms and, possibly, better health.
  • Consuming more lightly processed and fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein foods, whole (gluten-free) grains, and fewer highly-processed and packaged foods is generally good for you. 
  • The gluten-free diet is compatible with other diets, such as vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, and others.
  • It's increasingly easy to find and identify gluten-free products on supermarket shelves.


  • A gluten-free diet can be low in fiber, vitamins B12, D, and folate, as well as iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
  • There is a concern that gluten-free breads, cookies, muffins, etc., are higher in calories and fat and lower in fiber than their traditional counterparts.
  • Gluten-free products are more expensive than their conventional counterparts, which can make the diet difficult for those on a limited budget.
  • The diet has no confirmed health benefits, including improved energy and weight loss, for those who do not suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
  • Can make family dinners and dining out difficult.
  • There's a learning curve associated with cooking, and especially baking, without gluten.
  • Gluten-free replacements don't have the same flavor and mouthfeel as their conventional counterparts.

What to Eat on the Gluten-Free Diet

On the gluten-free diet, you're free to eat fresh meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fats, and oils. Additionally, you're free to enjoy gluten-free grains and starches such as the following.

Gluten-Free Grains and Starches

  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Sorghum
  • Tapioca
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Teff
  • Arrowroot
  • Oats (provided they're labeled as gluten-free)

Gluten-free flours such as rice, soy, corn, potato, and nut flours are also fine.

Here's a one-day sample meal plan, followed by a number of recipes you could enjoy while on a gluten-free diet. 





What Not to Eat on the Gluten-Free Diet

On the gluten-free diet, you need to avoid wheat and all foods made from wheat, as well as the following.

Foods With Gluten to Avoid

  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye).
  • Other varieties of wheat must likewise be avoided, including:
  • Durum
  • Kamut
  • Einkorn
  • Spelt
  • Emmer
  • Farina
  • Semolina
  • Graham flour, and other flours made from wheat.

Oats processed in plants that also handle wheat can be contaminated with gluten, so oats not specifically labeled gluten-free must be avoided. 

Additionally, though, numerous foods include seasonings, thickeners, and additives made from wheat. Sauces like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, salad dressings, and even some mustards, can contain gluten. So can processed meats, veggie burgers, french fries, chips, various snack foods, candy, and granola, as well as canned and instant soups, and gravies. 

Cross-contamination can also be an issue, at home, in restaurants, and at the grocery store. Knives, toasters, cutting boards, containers, and bulk bins that have touched gluten-containing foods must be kept separate from gluten-free foods to avoid contamination. 

Are Oats Gluten-Free?

While oats themselves do not naturally contain gluten, oats can become contaminated with gluten during manufacturing due to contact with grains that do contain gluten or because they are processed on machinery that is also used to process grains containing gluten. Some manufacturers take steps to ensure that their oats are not cross-contaminated with gluten, and they will label their packages accordingly. Therefore, when purchasing oats, it's important to look for labels that state that the product is gluten-free.

Bottom Line

The gluten-free diet is the only tool to managing celiac disease, which affects approximately 2 million Americans. The diet also prevents discomfort some people experience from eating foods with gluten. It includes meats, dairy, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains that don't contain gluten.

The chief concern with this diet is making sure to get enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber while avoiding excess fat and sugar. Gluten-free replacements can also be expensive. 

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats 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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