Anyone thinking about transitioning to a vegan diet will likely have a lot of questions along the way and many new restrictions with their food.
If you’re someone who also follows a gluten-free diet, trying to determine how these two systems fit together can be even more challenging.
Does vegan mean gluten-free? Vegan and gluten-free are two completely separate diets and there is no crossover at all.
A vegan diet doesn’t contain any animal products or byproducts, and a gluten-free diet contains no gluten, but the two are not interchangeable and they mean different things.
Although not the same thing, it is possible for a vegan to follow a gluten-free diet as well, with some extra effort.
To ensure you do it the right way and learn what it means to be gluten-free, we’ve created this simple guide to help you out.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a structural protein and a general term for the different kinds of proteins that are found in wheat.
The most common forms of wheat that contain gluten are rye, barley, durum, emmer, wheatberries, semolina, faro, farina, spelt, graham, and einkorn, but there are others.
As the name suggests, gluten acts as a glue and it helps to give structure and shape to many foods. If you notice that a certain food is chewy rather than flaky, you can usually thank gluten for this unique texture.
Although helpful, some people can’t tolerate gluten in their foods and they might look at eliminating them from their diets.
Gluten can be hard to get rid of as it’s found in many foods, and not just the usual suspects.
Soups, sauces, baked goods, bread, pasta, beer, food coloring, and salad dressings are just a few of the places where gluten might be found, and it’s often a hidden ingredient.
If you’re a vegan trying to avoid gluten as well, you may find your already restricted diet becomes even more so.
Is Gluten Bad For You?
Gluten is one ingredient that’s gotten a bad rap in recent times, with people assuming that ditching it will help them become healthier overall.
However, unless you’re dealing with a gluten allergy or severe intolerance, there’s no evidence to suggest that we need to get rid of this natural protein from our diets, and especially not if we’re vegans.
For some people, giving up gluten is a must, as they’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease. This autoimmune disease affects only 1% of people worldwide, and it occurs when your body thinks gluten is a foreign threat.
The body then attacks the gluten, while also attacking areas like your gut wall and it can lead to serious symptoms like anemia, weight loss, depression, and digestive issues.
Others might simply have a gluten intolerance which can show up with symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea, that occurs shortly after eating something that contains gluten.
These people may benefit from cutting gluten out of their diet as well, but won’t be as sensitive to the ingredient as someone with celiac disease.
For a vegan, you’re adding even more restrictions to your diet by cutting out gluten as well as animal products, and it may not be necessary. If you’re unsure of what to do, speaking to a doctor and being tested for celiac is the best way forward.
Otherwise, you should be able to continue eating gluten comfortably without issues.
Is Gluten-Free Food Vegan?
Gluten-free does not mean vegan and there’s no instance where you could regard one as the other.
However, it is possible for vegan products to be gluten-free and gluten-free ones to be plant-based, so if you have to shop for something that meets both requirements, it takes some work.
The most common foods containing gluten that are also enjoyed by vegans eat are bread and cereals because the protein is found in grains.
Other vegan-friendly products, like plant-based meats, might also contain gluten, and this is easy to find by looking for ‘seitan’ on the ingredient list. Seitan is made of 100% gluten and it helps to give the chewy texture of real meat to these plant-based alternatives.
Another common query people have is whether gluten means organic, and this is also a misconception.
Organic foods are those that have been certified as being made with only organic ingredients, including crops that are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Gluten refers to a specific protein found in certain foods, so a portion of food can easily be gluten-free but not organic, or vice versa.
Tips For Staying Away from Gluten
Once you learn about just how many products contain glutenous ingredients, you realize how important it is to educate yourself on how to find them.
We’ve got some helpful tips that can help to determine which foods are okay to eat and those you should avoid if you’re following a gluten-free diet.
Learn glutenous ingredients
Gluten isn’t labeled as ‘gluten’ in an ingredients list, so you need to know how to find it. Barley, bulgur, faro, hydrolyzed wheat protein, and durum are just a few ingredients you might find that contain gluten.
Sometimes, it’s not just the ingredients list we need to be concerned with.
Those with a gluten allergy or severe intolerance will also want to avoid foods that have been processed or packaged with other gluten-containing products, and you can usually find this disclaimer under the ingredients list.
Look for certification
Gluten-free foods are usually stamped with the Gluten-Free Certification Organization label, which means they’ve been independently tested and certified to be gluten-free.
If you’re in the supermarket and wondering what products are okay to eat, using this stamp as a guide until you learn to read the ingredients list will help you get started.
Eat more fresh produce
As a protein that’s only found in certain grains, you can be guaranteed a gluten-free treat if you stick to fresh products.
Fruits and vegetables are easy snacks and ingredients for all kinds of meals, plus they’re loaded with nutrients, and there’s no need to check any labels.
Bring your own food
If you’re going somewhere and unsure about what gluten-free options they’ll have for you, it might be better to bring your own.
A plate of gluten-free snacks you can share with others is the best way to ensure you’re fed but in a way that includes your friends and family.
Find tasty gluten free alternatives
There’s never been a better time to follow a gluten-free diet, as so many brands now have a gluten-free version of their most popular products.
There are gluten-free versions of pasta, bread, sauces, and cereals, but it may take some trial and error to find one with a flavor and consistency that you like.
Planning a Diet That’s Right for You
Whether you’re gluten-free, vegan, or a little bit of both, it’s worth taking the time to learn the various ingredients that might impact your food choices.
For someone who follows both a vegan and gluten-free diet, this means some extra work, but you’ll soon get the hang of choosing ingredients that are right for you.
A restrictive diet, whether it’s gluten-free or vegan, can take some work to get used to and it requires a better understanding of what’s written on food labels.
If you have more questions about eating a plant-based diet that’s also free from gluten, these FAQs might be able to give you a push in the right direction.
Is Tofu Gluten-Free?
Regular tofu is usually classified as gluten-free, but some flavored varieties can contain glutenous ingredients like soy sauce.
The only way to tell what’s in your tofu is to read the ingredients and look for warnings about cross-contamination that can occur during processing.
Is Rice Gluten-Free?
Rice does not contain any gluten, and this includes all forms like Arborio, white, brown, and wild rice, so people with gluten intolerance or allergy can readily enjoy them.
This is good news for vegans who also follow a gluten-free diet as it gives them a healthier source of plant-based carbohydrates they can eat with their meals.
Can Celiacs Drink Almond Milk?
Unflavored almond milk is usually gluten-free, but you should check the ingredients list before consuming it.
However, flavored almond milk may be made with some form of glutenous product, so sticking to unsweetened and unflavored plant milk is the healthiest option.
Lorraine Pinnix is a passionate nutritionist and loves seeing people living healthy, and fulfilled lives. She believes that food is an essential piece of staying fit and strongly believes in going vegan. PureGrowthOrganic is a passionate work that details her research in helping you go on complete organic diets. She is available for questions, comments, and follow-ups.