Is Vegan Gluten Free? What You Need to Know From a Dietitian

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Is vegan gluten free? Simply put: no: vegan foods are not automatically gluten free. However, it is possible to make a vegan diet gluten free.

You’ll have to know where gluten comes from and ways to replace those sources with appropriate gluten free choices.

Learn all about how the differences and more in this article written by a dietitian (aka: a credentialed nutrition expert) who happens to be vegan!

Disclaimer: This article is not providing personal medical or dietary advice. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your health, before adding a supplement, or making major dietary changes. See our Disclaimers for more details.

This post was originally published on 3/22/22. The updated date is listed above.

Is Vegan Gluten Free?

No, ‘vegan’ does not mean gluten free, but a vegan diet can exclude gluten when gluten containing foods are omitted.

Put in another way: gluten free vegan diets can be created, but not all gluten free diets are vegan.

Was that confusing?

Lets try to back up a bit!

To better understand, we’ll look at the differences between the two diets, and how they might overlap if you need to combine them.

What is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is one that does not include any animal products. This means the diet is devoid of meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, food coloring from insects, and any foods derived from these categories.

Additionally, many ethical vegans avoid ingredients that have been tested repeatedly on animals but are not from animals. One example is certain artificial food colorings(1).

That leaves vegans with the choice to consume plenty of plant based foods including:

  • legumes
  • grains
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • other foods without any ingredients from an animal.

My awesome guide goes over crucial things you need to know about vegan diets (don’t forget to bookmark this on!) !

What is a Gluten Free Diet?

A gluten free diet is a diet that excludes gluten. Gluten is a umbrella term for proteins found in certain grains (2). It is one component that can help bread rise.

Grains that contain gluten, and thus, should not be eaten on a gluten free diet include:

  • wheat
  • rye
  • barley
  • triticale
  • Oats if they had cross contamination with wheat, barley, or rye. Oats also contain ‘avenin’ a protein or other substances that may cause a reaction in some, especially those with celiac disease. So don’t forget to talk to your doctor and dietitian about oats if you require a gluten free diet. (2).

Always check the ingredients list to make sure none of these ingredients are present if you are looking for a gluten free product.

Another popular product that contains gluten is vital wheat gluten that can be made into something called gluten steaks (any other vegans familiar with this term?).

Finally, unlike a vegan diet, gluten free diets may include animal products.

I know, it’s a bit confusing because there are lots of products and restaurants that include vegan and gluten free options! Still, the two terms are definitely not interchangeable.

Who Should Not Eat Gluten?

If you have Celiac disease, you should not consume gluten.

Celiac disease is a autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the small intestine when gluten is eaten (3).

This can cause poor absorption of nutrients, that could lead to nutrient deficiencies, and certain long term health complications.

Individuals with a wheat allergy should also avoid wheat (which contains gluten). Talk to your doctor about what you can eat and what you should avoid if you have a wheat allergy or celiac disease.

Don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, but feel bad after eating gluten? It’s possible that you have a gluten sensitivity (also sometimes called a gluten intolerance).

But it’s extremely important to talk to a doctor before you completely eliminate all gluten containing foods.

There are several reasons (other than gluten) that can cause symptoms. Why needlessly cut out yummy and nutritious foods, like whole grains if you don’t actually need to?

Furthermore, a 2022 Cochrane review suggests there might be a slight increased risk of type 2 diabetes for those avoiding gluten without a medically necessary reason – such as having celiac disease. However, it should be noted that this review was given a low to very low certainty of evidence, and we need more research(4).

I speculate that some of this benefit has to do with whole grains containing more fiber than refined options.

Finally, while it is a personal choice, if you don’t have a condition that requires you to be gluten free, you will be limiting your options even further as a vegan.

Unless I have to exclude gluten because of a medical condition, I (for one) will not go gluten free for my own sanity!

How Can A Vegan Diet Be Made Gluten Free?

list that displays naturally gluten free foods that are vegan

Now that you know the difference between vegan and gluten free, how can you make a vegan and gluten free diet?

Well, simply put, you’d be left with a 100% plant based diet that excludes gluten.

That means you can eat gluten free veggies, fruits, nuts, and starches that are gluten free.

You would need to avoid foods like wheat, rye, barley, triticale, gluten containing oats, and gluten flour or “steaks,” or any foods that contain contain these ingredients.

For example, soy sauce often contains wheat, making it not suitable for gluten free diets.

What Should Vegans Eat If They Can’t Have Gluten?

First of all (and I can’t say this enough): Make sure you talk to your doctor about whether or not it is necessary to cut out gluten. If it is necessary, you’ll also want them ask them about what you should be looking for when purchasing gluten free products.

They can also help you you determine if you need higher amounts of certain nutrients that may be harder to get on a gluten free diet. Seeing a dietitian knowledgeable in this area can be especially helpful.

Nutrition wise, foods containing gluten can be very nutrient dense. One of the biggest foods you may give up on a gluten free vegan diet is bread.

Whole wheat and even certain refined enriched wheat bread may have important vitamins and minerals, such as iron, riboflavin, thiamine, folic acid, and niacin.

Additionally, if you consumed, whole grain bread often, you may be missing out on an important source of insoluble fiber (a type of fiber that helps with regularity).

So when you ditch the gluten, don’t forget fully plant based (vegan) and gluten free rich sources of these nutrients in your diet.

We’ve compiled examples of plant based foods that are also gluten free for the nutrients we mentioned (disclaimer: this is not a comprehensive list. Always check the label to make sure the product is gluten free as per your doctors instructions):

  • Iron – Vegan Gluten Free Examples: beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy, nuts, quinoa pair with a vitamin C rich food (ie: oranges, lemon, etc)to increase absorption.
  • Riboflavin – Vegan Gluten Free Examples: portabella mushrooms, dry roasted almonds(5), vegan “milk” fortified with riboflavin (make sure the milks you choose are gluten free of course!) .
  • Thiamin- Vegan Gluten Free Examples: black beans, rice enriched with thiamin, acorn squash(6).
  • Niacin- Vegan Gluten Free Examples: Marinara sauce, Brown rice, dry roasted peanuts (7).
  • Folic Acid – Vegan Gluten Free Examples: FYI: folic acid is synthetic and can be in foods fortified with it (of course, you’ll need to look for gluten free options if you’re gluten free).
    Naturally occurring folate is found in a variety of plant foods, such as fruits vegetables, and beans (8) (especially dark green leafy ones).
  • Insoluble fiber -Vegan Gluten Free Examples: beans, lentils, nuts.
  • Protein – Vegan Gluten Free Examples: legumes (including beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy, peas), quinoa, nuts.

Lastly, some individuals may need additional supplementation on top of a healthy diet. For example, vegans must have a plan in place to get adequate vitamin B12. Talk to your doctor about supplement questions.

I hope this article was super informative for ya!
If you found it helpful, you might be interested in some of my other posts in the Vegan Food and Nutrition Library (blog). I also have a podcast featuring other vegan identifying dietitians.
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