Ah, gluten. The thing that has evoked so much hype in the nutrition world over the past few years!
As a vegan, you may be wondering: can I eat it? Is it healthy?
What is vegan and what is not on a gluten free diet?
Find out these answers and more in this detailed article written by a vegan Registered Dietitian Nutritionist!
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.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the umbrella term for proteins found certain grains. Gluten is one component that can help bread rise. Grains that contain gluten include:
- Oats if they had cross contamination with wheat, barley, or rye. Learn more here.
Always check the ingredients list to make sure none of these ingredients are present if you are looking for a gluten free product.
Gluten is often found in commonly sold breads, cakes, muffins, pastries, breakfast cereals, and the like.
Another popular product with gluten is gluten flour or vital wheat gluten that can be made into gluten steaks (something many vegetarians and vegans may be familiar with).
Who Should Not Consume Gluten?
Celiac disease is a autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the small intestine when gluten is eaten.
This can lead to poor absorption of nutrients, that could lead to nutrient deficiencies, and certain long term health complications.
And finally, individuals with a wheat allergy should avoid wheat (which contains gluten) however, some may be able to eat other gluten containing foods, like barley. Talk to your doctor about what you can eat and what you should avoid if you have a wheat allergy or if you have celiac disease.
if you have concerns after eating gluten, but do not have celiac disease or wheat allergy, it is possible that you have a gluten sensitivity (also called a gluten intolerance).
Seek out help from a Doctor and (ideally) dietitian to help you get to the root cause of your concerns, as other ingredients in gluten containing foods, another condition etc, could be the cause.
What Are Gluten-Free Foods?
As mentioned before, gluten-free foods must be free of wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and oats that have been contaminated with any of the aforementioned foods.
Since many of these products are commonly found in breads, desserts and cereals, there is a whole market for gluten free foods!
Gluten free bread products might replace the gluten with other flours or starches, such as:
- Tapioca starch
- Rice flour
- Nuts (ie: almond flour)
- Potato starch
- Corn starch
- Quinoa flour
- Gluten free oat flour
And while some of these may be more obvious, the following foods should not have any naturally occurring gluten (unless they have been in cross contamination with gluten) (source: Celiac Disease Foundation):
- Legumes (beans, lentils, soy)
- Buckwheat Groats
- Gluten-Free oats
- Fish and Seafood
Some individuals may need to avoid some of these grains listed above, only consume certified gluten free labeled ones, etc. Again, its important to talk to your doctor about what you should avoid.
Is Vegan Food Gluten Free?
Vegan food is not necessary gluten free! Still, there are several options within the vegan space that are gluten free.
A vegan diet is one that avoid all animal products, as well as products that contain animal derived ingredients (ie: such as whey (a type of milk protein) in cereal).
So, check out the list in the previous section for all the vegan foods that do not contain animal products – those are vegan options!
Ok, but lets say that you are a vegan who has to stop consuming gluten for health reasons, but you miss bread, the food that pops up in our mind most when we think of gluten (am I right?).
Is Vegan Bread Gluten Free?
Vegan bread can be gluten free, but it is not always gluten free.
From what we have seen in the US, gluten free breads (whether fully plant based diet friendly or not) are still a novelty in general.
- contain any type of wheat, rye, barley or a crossbreed of these grains
- any ingredient derived from any of the aforementioned grains that hasn’t undergone processing to have gluten removed or,
- any ingredient derived from any of those grains with gluten removal processing, and it contains at or over 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten.
You can also look for the certified gluten free label, which has strict standards for gluten-free products. You can learn more about this certification here.
Gluten Free Vegan Breads
Disclaimer: This list is not meant to be an endorsement of these brands. Also, product formulations are subject to change. Always check the ingredients label to determine if they are gluten free. This list does not mean that the brand is certified gluten free. It is important to talk to your doctor about what you should look for in gluten free bread.
Here is a list of brands that contain some breads (FYI: this does not mean the entire line is vegan) that are gluten free and vegan:
And of course, there are many fully plant based bread recipes that are gluten free!
What Should Vegans Eat If They Can’t Eat Gluten?
Aw, great question!
First of all, if you haven’t taken away anything so far, know this: it’s important to talk to your own doctor and Dietitian 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.
Nutrition wise, foods containing gluten can be very nutrient dense. Because vegans already have several restrictions in the first place, its really important to talk to a doctor if you absolutely need to give up all the gluten containing foods.
One of the biggest foods you may give up on a gluten free vegan diet is… you guessed it: bread!
Whole wheat and even refined enriched wheat bread may have important vitamins and minerals, such as iron and B vitamins (riboflavin, thiamine, folic acid, and niacin).
Additionally, if you consumed, whole grain wheat bread often, you may be missing out on an important source of insoluble fiber (a type of fiber that helps with regularity), and noteworthy protein source.
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 fully plant based foods that are also gluten free for the nutrients we mentioned about (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, seeds, 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, vegan “milk” fortified with riboflavin.
- Thiamin- Vegan Gluten Free Examples: black beans, rice enriched with thiamin, acorn squash.
- Niacin- Vegan Gluten Free Examples: Marinara sauce, Brown rice, dry roasted peanuts, enriched white rice.
- Folic Acid – Vegan Gluten Free Examples: where as folic acid is the nonsynthetic, naturally occurring folate is found in a variety of plant foods, such as fruits vegetables, and beans (especially dark green leafy ones). There are also vegan products fortified with folic acid, you just have to read the label!
- Insoluble fiber -Vegan Gluten Free Examples: beans, lentils, nuts.
- Protein – Vegan Gluten Free Examples: legumes (including beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy, peas), qunioa, nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Lastly, as you may recall, some individuals may need additional supplementation on top of a healthy diet. Ask your doctor about what is best for your unique needs.
In Summary: Is Vegan Gluten Free?
Vegan does not automatically mean gluten free! Gluten free vegan products will be devoid of the many forms of wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and certain oats that have been in cross contamination with gluten (some other foods may apply too, consult your doctor).
People with Celiac disease should be on strict gluten free diets. If you have any concerns about gluten, you should talk to a doctor and (ideally) Registered Dietitian .
Did you find this article helpful? We hope you can confidently answer the question if someone asks you: ” is plant based gluten free? ”
And since your still here, why not poke around on our blog? We cover a plethora of topics from How to Transition to Veganism to Weight Loss on a Vegan Diet.
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May the fork be with you…