Gluten: What is It, Which Foods Have It and How Do I Avoid It?

August 06, 2018

Gluten: What is It, Which Foods Have It and How Do I Avoid It?

Gluten is a big topic of conversation in the natural health and nutrition field. There are differing opinions about whether or not it is something significant that we should pay attention to. Here I will share my experience with patients, my overall conclusion, as well as some basic information so that you can take steps to remove it from your diet should you see fit or if it was recommended to you by your practitioner. Use what is useful to you.


Gluten is a protein found in some grains. It is only found in the category of GRAINS. Not all grains contain gluten. The following is a list of gluten-containing grains:

  • Wheat
  • Rye 
  • Barley
  • Spelt 
  • Kamut
  • Triticale (less commonly consumed by the general public)



Outside of these grains, there is also the topic of Contamination. For example, oats do not inherently contain gluten but out in the fields and in transportation, they may become cross-contaminated if they are grown next to a field containing wheat. This is very common. If you are wanting to avoid gluten 100%, I would stay away from oats just to be sure. If you are just wanting to reduce some gluten but not be so strict, you might be able to get away with consuming oats without much trouble. It all depends on your goals and current health status. 



If you are eating whole foods (veggies, fruits, animal protein, olive oil, butter, etc.), you don't need to worry about gluten. Whole foods themselves don't contain gluten. Only the whole grains delineated above. 



  • Bread
  • Pizza
  • Pasta
  • Flour Tortillas
  • Breading
  • Cookies
  • Baked goods and pastries
  • Pita Bread
  • Couscous
  • Alcohols such as Whiskey, Beer, and Scotch or any made from Barley, Rye, or Wheat


Lots of processed foods contain gluten. Anything breaded typically contains gluten as the breading is made from wheat. (Nowadays there are other types of breading such as chickpea breading, etc. They will usually specify "gluten-free".

Anything in a package needs a closer look. ALWAYS look at the ingredient list in the back of a label. Remember, the front of the label is marketing, the back will give you the data. Always look at the ingredient list and look out for any of the aforementioned grains or any ingredient that says wheat. Here is a general list of other processed foods that may contain gluten. It will tell you on the label in the back on the ingredient list. Always look there to verify:

  • Soups
  • Ice Cream
  • Sauces
  • Salad Dressings
  • Chocolate
  • Meatballs
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (found in vegetarian meat replacements)
  • Soy Sauce (although there are now some wheat-free soy sauces at the supermarket)
  • and lots more.




When in doubt, ask. Better to be safe than sorry. Depending on the city, the restaurants are more or less aware of gluten sensitivities and may or may not be knowledgable in that area. Some restaurants are prepared and have a whole separate gluten-free menu or might identify those items on their menu. Other places not so much. I've often found that some waiters have no idea what gluten is. I remember asking one waiter if there was a gluten-free option for bread and he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. He offered me white bread instead (which is simply wheat bread that has been bleached). Obviously he had no idea so simply asking will not always suffice. You have to know what you are avoiding so you have control of the situation. In those cases, a bun-less burger or salad would suffice. 



Some people start finding all sorts of substitutes for their favorite wheat products such as gluten-free pizza crusts, breads, cookies, etc. While it is a good first step when getting off of wheat, these bread substitutes should have very few simple ingredients. There are such breads and tortillas made from almond flour or coconut flour, and many things you will be able to make at home. But you should also look out for the fact that some "gluten-free" options are actually not very healthy at all. For one, they contain a ton of ingredients and substitutes and aren't simple to make or digest (you'll end up feeling tired or bloated after eating them which is a  sign your body isn't assimilating that food well). And secondly, you will still end up eating way too many refined carbohydrates and that is not a good idea for overall health. These things have to be consumed in moderation and the simpler the ingredient list, the better.   

Lastly, I'll mention that when someone starts looking at this transition, it can oftentimes seem overwhelming because you never realized how many things have gluten. Take it one step at a time. At the same time, as you get used to the transition and the results in increased energy, reduced bloating, and many other symptom changes, you will be motivated to keep going and over time you will find a nice groove to avoid such ingredients. 

My successful action has been to do it gradually. If you consume gluten 3 times a day, go down to 1 time a day for a week or so, and then every other day, and keep dropping down until you get the hang of it. For others, you might need to cut it out completely from the start because you might have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease (severe gluten intolerance verified by blood test) or by some instruction by your health care practitioner. In these cases, look for recipes using key words like Keto or Paleo recipes. You will find many delicious, healthy, gluten-free options to get you on the road to living a gluten-free lifestyle.


Be well, 

Mariela Villaverde, L.Ac., MAOM

The Functional Co. 

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