When you first start gluten-free shopping, you quickly realize there is a complexity to it that was not there during your gluten shopping days. Suddenly, all the shelves you used to happily pluck products off of, are mostly off limits. At first, it sort of feels like there is nothing left to buy and you’re reminded of the words of the late great comic, John Pinette.
“Do you know what has gluten in it? EVERYTHING!”John Pinette, Stand-up comedian, actor, and Broadway performer
Luckily, that is not the case. Over the past 5 years, the demand for gluten-free products has exploded so they now occupy more shelf space at grocery stores everywhere. The popularity of gluten-free food is not slowing down either. With the increased demand, more and more gluten-free products are now available but we still need a strategy to ensure we are optimizing the time and money we spend shopping to get the best, gluten-free products for us. These 10 basic gluten-free shopping tips will help get you started and make shopping a breeze.
10 Basic Gluten-Free Shopping Tips
1. Always start with a list.
Your list will keep you on track and make sure you get all the ingredients you need to make the gluten-free recipes you have planned. Menu planning allows you to take advantage of seasonal produce at peak freshness, sales, coupons, and helps you plan nutritionally balanced meals. This is a key tip especially for those of us living gluten-free on a budget.
2. Do your research.
Research specific products while you’re making your list so you know exactly what to get and can pre-confirm that it’s gluten-free. You can look up ingredients on manufacturer websites and call, chat or email questions if you can’t find the information you wanted. It is your right to know what’s in the food you eat.
You can also join gluten-free groups on Facebook so you have a community to consult. The more informed you are, the less time you will spend looking for product and reading labels in the grocery store aisle.
3. Shop the outer aisles.
This is where some of the products that are naturally gluten-free are stocked. Items like vegetables, fruit, deli, dairy, meat, and fish. Stock up on these items – especially when produce is seasonally in their prime both taste and price-wise. If purchasing deli meat or prepared meat products like burgers, confirm that there is no gluten in the filler or breading. In other words, read the label (see tip #6).
4. Check for a gluten-free section.
Some grocery stores will combine “specialty diet” and “health food” items in specific areas of the store. Within those areas, there may be a gluten-free section. Ask an associate at the store if they have a section for specialty diet items like gluten-free or ask for assistance in locating gluten-free items.
5. Look for Gluten-Free certification.
Gluten-Free certification can give you some assurance that the production of the product meets the strictest of gluten-free standards. Do I still give the label a glance to confirm? Yes, I do (see tip #6).
6. Always read ingredients on the label.
You must always read the ingredients on the label. It’s just worth repeating. Learn the names of alternative sources of gluten and the the difference between “contains” and “may contain” so you fully understand the listed ingredients on products before you buy them. Even if it’s a product that appears to be gluten-free – it’s better to take the extra minute to review the label rather than take it home and potentially make yourself or a loved one sick.
7. Wheat-free DOES NOT mean gluten-free.
Some products will make the fact that it is wheat-free very prominent on the label, but it can still contain barley, rye, or spelt which contain gluten. Always read the label (see tip #6).
8. Buy whole gluten-free grains that are naturally gluten-free.
Grains like brown/white rice, quinoa, corn meal, buckwheat, and wild rice are readily available and gluten-free. You don’t have to worry about hidden gluten or paying a premium for them, so win-win.
9. Avoid Bulk Food Sections.
Unless the bulk food section is dedicated to gluten-free products, there is a high chance of cross-contamination. You don’t know if items containing gluten have made their way into the gluten-free bin, if the same utensils were used to take products from both gluten and gluten-free bins, or if the bins themselves have been used for both gluten and gluten-free products without proper sanitation.
10. Use gluten-free shopping apps.
Gluten-free apps can find sales on the products you are looking for and they can also help scan the label to look for gluten in the ingredients. Do I still check the label myself? Yes, I do. Some of these apps rely on crowd-sourced info and the way a product is manufactured – and the ingredients that are used – can change frequently especially when they are new on the market.
If you are unsure about a product, don’t buy it. Take the time to research it before investing your hard-earned money. Try not to stress about it. Even though shopping for gluten-free food can be overwhelming at first, it gets better. It gets easier. It all becomes second nature with practice.
What is your approach to gluten-free shopping? Do you have any other tips to share with the GFF community? Please let us know in the comments.
Happy shopping sugar plums.