By Erik Marcus
It’s easy to follow a gluten-free vegan diet. You can find an incredible variety vegan gluten-free foods sold just about everywhere.
Are Vegan Foods Gluten-Free?
You should have no problem eating gluten-free as a vegan. While many vegan foods contain gluten, many more are gluten-free.
Gluten is a protein found in many grains. It’s especially abundant in wheat. If you’ve ever baked bread from scratch, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the dough becomes stretchier during kneading. That’s because the purpose of kneading is to stretch out the dough’s gluten proteins. The fact that bread is chewy rather than crumbly has everything to do with its gluten content.
As with breads and breakfast cereals, many vegan meats also contain gluten. Any vegan meat listing seitan in its ingredients is gluten-based. Seitan is in fact pure gluten (plus some water, salt, and spices), and it’s gluten that gives seitan-based meats their meaty chewiness.
Gluten and Celiac Disease
Unfortunately gluten plays havoc with some peoples’ digestive systems. This is especially true of people diagnosed with celiac disease, who should treat gluten as if it’s poison and avoid even the tiniest amounts. Among celiacs, gluten produces an allergic response that inflames the intestines and bowels. With repeated exposure to gluten, the lining of these organs breaks down, causing serious and potentially life-threatening consequences.
Like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder—meaning that the body is attacked by its own immune system. But if you’re going to suffer the misfortune of contracting an autoimmune disorder, celiac disease is clearly the best one to have. That’s because celiacs can avoid any problems by simply ridding their diets of all traces of gluten. And while that restriction is certainly a drag, countless people with more serious ailments would be delighted to trade places with someone suffering from celiac disease.
Do You Have Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is notoriously under-diagnosed. Up to 90 percent of people suffering from this condition don’t know they have it.
Sometime around 2010, gluten-free diets became something of a fad. The trend arose because large numbers of people became convinced that they’re gluten sensitive. But rather than getting themselves tested, they simply stopped eating gluten-based foods.
The resultant mass-experiment with gluten-free eating undoubtedly caused a number of undiagnosed celiacs to cut gluten from their diets, and consequently witness vast improvements to their health. But at the same time, only about one percent of people actually have celiac disease. So the overwhelming majority of participants in the gluten-free craze probably gained no tangible health benefits.
That said, gluten is certainly one of the harder food ingredients to digest. People with digestive problems may well feel better if they cut back on gluten, even if they don’t suffer from celiac disease. And there’s always the placebo effect to take into account. Undoubtedly, at least some people who claim improved health after going gluten-free have no measurable gluten sensitivity.
Growing awareness of gluten intolerance has created a thriving market for gluten-free products. These foods have greatly benefited celiacs as well as everyone else who wants to avoid gluten.
Which Grains Contain Gluten?
Now let’s move on to exactly which foods gluten intolerant people must avoid. Gluten is present in each of these grains:
- wheat, including these relatives or varieties:
These grains show up in a wide variety of vegan foods. You can find them in breads, pastries, cereals, and pasta. And, as we’ve already seen, many vegan meats also contain gluten.
Barley’s presence on this list is bad news for beer-lovers, since most beers contain malted barley. But thanks to the growing popularity of gluten-free diets, many breweries now make gluten-free beer. Several of these offerings are surprisingly good.
Many celiacs can tolerate oats, because oats contain a different form of gluten than is found in other grains. If you have celiac disease, ask your doctor to run a blood test to check for oat sensitivity.
Which Grains Are Gluten-Free?
Luckily, there are plenty of gluten-free grain varieties, which celiacs can eat to their heart’s content:
- buckwheat groats
- oats (but gluten contamination is widespread)
- wild rice
Note that many celiacs react to even trace amounts of gluten. People with severe gluten sensitivity must take extreme measures. They commonly must avoid food made at facilities that store or process any gluten containing grains.
Gluten-Free Vegan Cookbooks
If you want to avoid gluten, there’s you don’t have to limit your cookbooks to gluten-free titles. Most vegan cookbooks (apart from titles specifically devoted to baking) contain relatively few recipes featuring gluten-based ingredients.
But if you are looking for a gluten-free vegan cookbook, you’re in luck. Allyson Kramer wrote four such cookbooks that cater to vegans who follow a gluten-free diet:
- Great Gluten-Free Vegan Eats
- Great Gluten-Free Vegan Eats From Around the World
- Naturally Lean
- Sweet Eats for All
Apart from the recipes themselves, Allyson’s cookbooks offer extensive information about living a gluten-free lifestyle that goes far beyond the scope of this short guide.
There are several other gluten-free vegan cookbooks in print. Some recent titles:
- The Complete Gluten-Free Vegan Cookbook, by Justin Weber
- Gluten-Free Vegan Baking for Every Occasion, by Sara McGlothlin
- Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking, by Cara Reed
- Vegan Treats: Easy Vegan Bites and Bakes, by Emma Hollingsworth
- Gluten-Free & Vegan for the Whole Family, by Jennifer Katzinger
Gluten-Free Vegan Packaged Foods
More vegan gluten-free packaged foods exist than ever. Here are some products worth trying:
- Barilla: Gluten-Free Spaghetti
- Blake’s: Crispy Treats
- Orgain: Organic Protein Powder
- YES: Plant Protein Bar
You can find countless more gluten-free items at your local natural foods store.