What foods do you avoid on a gluten-free diet?

A gluten-free diet involves avoiding foods that contain gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, following a strict gluten-free diet is essential to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Why Do You Need a Gluten-Free Diet?

There are a few key reasons someone may require a gluten-free diet:

  • Celiac disease – An autoimmune disorder where gluten triggers damage to the small intestine. Going gluten-free helps heal existing intestinal damage and prevent further harm.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity – Some people experience gluten-related symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain and fatigue without having celiac disease. Removing gluten from their diet helps resolve these issues.
  • Wheat allergy – An allergic response to wheat proteins, distinct from a gluten reaction. Avoiding wheat and gluten helps manage allergy symptoms.
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis – A skin condition characterized by itchy rashes. A gluten-free diet can help clear up these rashes.

For those with celiac disease especially, adhering strictly to a gluten-free diet is the only treatment option. Even small amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms and promote intestinal damage over time.

Foods to Avoid on a Gluten-Free Diet

When following a gluten-free diet, it’s important to avoid all foods and beverages that contain gluten. This includes:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Triticale
  • Malt
  • Brewer’s yeast

As well as any products made with these grains, such as:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Beer
  • Ale

It’s also important to watch out for hidden sources of gluten in processed foods, such as malt vinegar, soy sauce, salad dressings and seasonings. Always check the ingredients label when purchasing packaged products.

Avoiding Wheat

All forms of wheat must be avoided on a gluten-free diet. This includes:

  • Durum
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Farro
  • Graham
  • Kamut
  • Semolina
  • Spelt

As well as any products made with wheat flour, wheat bran, wheat germ, cracked wheat or hydrolyzed wheat protein.

Avoiding Rye

Like wheat, all types of rye and rye hybrids are prohibited on a gluten-free diet. Watch for these types of rye:

  • Caraway
  • Pumpernickel
  • Triticale

Any foods containing rye flour, rye bran or rye grain should also be avoided.

Avoiding Barley

Barley often turns up in soups, stews and other grain-based foods. Those following a gluten-free diet need to avoid:

  • Hulled barley
  • Pearl barley
  • Scotch barley

As well as any products containing barley malt, extract or flour.

Naturally Gluten-Free Foods

While many common grains and starches contain gluten, there are still ample nourishing gluten-free options to include in your diet, such as:

  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Sorghum
  • Arrowroot
  • Tapioca
  • Teff

All fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts and seeds are naturally gluten-free too.

Gluten-Free Grains and Starches

There are many gluten-free whole grains and starches to incorporate into a well-rounded diet:

  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Cornmeal
  • Polenta
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Sorghum
  • Oats*

*Some people with celiac disease may not tolerate oats. Choose certified gluten-free oats if including in your diet.

Fruits and Vegetables

All fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free, including:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Melons
  • Stone fruits
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Leafy greens
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Root vegetables
  • Zucchini
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocados

Opt for fresh or frozen fruits and veggies whenever possible.


Protein foods are a key part of a balanced gluten-free diet, including:

  • Meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Choose unprocessed fresh cuts of meat and poultry, as well as canned tuna, salmon, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Unsalted nuts and seeds make great gluten-free snacks.


Most dairy products are naturally gluten-free, including:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese

Opt for plain varieties whenever possible, as flavored dairy products may contain gluten. Always verify the ingredients.

Common Gluten-Containing Foods to Avoid

While many nutritious staple foods are naturally gluten-free, there are also many foods and products that contain gluten and should be avoided. This includes:

Bread and Bakery Products

  • All breads containing wheat, rye or barley
  • Bagels
  • Biscuits
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Muffins
  • Pies
  • Croissants
  • Pretzels
  • Pastries
  • Donuts

Pasta and Noodles

  • Wheat pasta
  • Spelt pasta
  • Semolina pasta
  • Udon noodles
  • Soba noodles
  • Ramen noodles


  • Wheat breakfast cereals
  • Granola with wheat, rye or barley
  • Muesli with wheat, rye or barley
  • Oatmeal unless certified gluten-free

Beer and Malt Products

  • Beer
  • Lagers
  • Ales
  • Porters
  • Malted milkshakes
  • Malt vinegar
  • Barley malt

Other Wheat Products

  • Wheat germ
  • Couscous
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Seitan
  • Roux
  • Soy sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce

Processed Foods

  • Processed meats with fillers
  • Packaged rice/grain mixes
  • Canned soups
  • Flavored nuts
  • Trail mixes with barley
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Frozen dinners

Always check the labels of packaged, canned and frozen products for wheat, rye, barley, malt or ambiguous ingredients like “natural flavors.”

What About Oats?

Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are often contaminated with gluten during growing and processing. While purified oats are safe for most gluten-free diets, some individuals with celiac disease may be sensitive to a protein in oats called avenin.

It’s best to choose certified gluten-free oats if including oats in your diet. This ensures the oats were not cross-contaminated and provides assurance if you have celiac disease.

Choosing Certified Gluten-Free Oats

Look for these labels when purchasing oats:

  • Certified gluten-free
  • Certified pure oats
  • Certified gluten-free oats

Avoid oats labeled “produced in a facility that also processes wheat.”

Introducing Oats Safely

If you have celiac disease, introduce oats cautiously under medical supervision. Try a small amount such as 1⁄4 cup dry oats per day and monitor symptoms. Limit intake to 50-70g dry oats per day.

Being Careful With Barley

While barley does naturally contain gluten, some alcoholic beverages processed from barley may be safe depending on gluten content. They include:

  • Distilled alcoholic beverages from corn, potatoes or grapes
  • Wines
  • Ciders
  • Pure spirits like vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, brandy

Always check the label and investigate processing methods if unsure. Malt beverages and grain alcohols are not permitted.

Distilled Alcohols

Distilled alcohols like vodka, gin, rum and whiskey are typically safe on a gluten-free diet if derived from gluten-free grains or substances like potatoes or grapes. The distilling process removes gluten.

Beer, Ales and Lagers

Conventional beer is not gluten-free because it is made from barley malt. Gluten-removed and low-gluten beer options are controversial and probably not safe for those with celiac disease.

Wine and Cider

Wines and ciders are made from grapes, apples, rice and other gluten-free ingredients, so they are permitted. However, some wine coolers may contain malt barley.

Following a Strict Gluten-Free Diet

Following a strict gluten-free diet is essential for managing symptoms and intestinal healing if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Here are some tips:

  • Read labels – Check ingredients lists on all packaged foods for wheat, rye, barley and malt.
  • Watch out for cross-contamination – Choose foods processed in dedicated gluten-free facilities when possible.
  • Cook more meals at home – Prepare foods yourself using naturally gluten-free ingredients.
  • Communicate with wait staff – Ask about gluten-free options and preparation procedures when eating out.
  • Check pharmaceuticals – Call manufacturers to verify medications and supplements are gluten-free.

Being Vigilant About Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination is the inadvertent presence of gluten due to shared equipment or facilities. Risks include:

  • Shared toasters
  • Double-dipping utensils
  • Cutting on contaminated surfaces
  • Shared fryer oil
  • Shared grills

Request dedicated prep areas in restaurants and avoid bulk bins with scoops at grocery stores.

Reading Food Labels

Reading labels is crucial to identify hidden gluten sources like malt, fillers and thickening agents. Look for these high-risk phrases:

  • “Contains wheat”
  • “May contain wheat”
  • “Processed on equipment that also processes wheat”
  • “Manufactured in a facility that also handles wheat”

Call the manufacturer if ever unsure about ingredients or processing practices.

Eating Out Gluten-Free

Dining out gluten-free requires extra diligence. Do your research and ask the right questions, like:

  • “What are your gluten-free options?”
  • “How are gluten-free foods prepared here?”
  • “Do you have dedicated gluten-free prep areas?”
  • “Does this dish contain soy sauce or wheat-based thickeners?”

Ensure wait staff understands what you can and cannot eat.

The Bottom Line

Following a strict gluten-free diet means avoiding all foods and beverages containing wheat, rye, barley and their derivatives. Read all product labels carefully, watch out for cross-contamination and communicate your dietary needs when eating out.

While many common grain products contain gluten, there are still ample nutritious gluten-free options to create a balanced diet. Focus on incorporating naturally gluten-free whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts and seeds.

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