Going gluten-free may be a lifestyle choice for many, but for at least three million Americans with celiac disease, finding the best gluten-free foods to eat is a necessity. That’s because when a person with celiac disease (which is an autoimmune disorder) consumes any amount of gluten—the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye—the immune system will attack and damage the small intestine. This alters and inhibits the absorption of many essential nutrients in the body. If left undiagnosed or poorly managed, celiac disease can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, health conditions, and complications.
In addition, it’s estimated that about 18 million individuals in the US may have non-celiac gluten intolerance, which is a term used to describe individuals who do not test positive for celiac disease, but have similar symptoms to those who do and also find symptom relief by omitting gluten from their diets.
Right now, there is no validated clinical evaluation for proving gluten intolerance; it is primarily diagnosed by process of elimination and anecdotal reports. But before you cut gluten out of your diet and start shopping for gluten-free foods, there are some things you should know about the protein first.
Why is gluten important in food?
Gluten plays a key function in food by helping to maintain its shape and providing structure. The best way to understand what gluten does is by thinking of the chew found in a bagel or pizza crust, or the elasticity you can see when you twirl pasta noodles. Without gluten, many breads, pastas, and baked goods would lack this integral aspect of texture and mouthfeel, which adds so much to the eating experience.
But thanks to increased demand for gluten-free products, innovative producers, and increased access to gluten-free grains, there are a number of high-quality products on the market that are delicious whether you have to go gluten free or not.
Here, I, a registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist, have put together a list—with some input from my colleagues and clients—of some of the best gluten-free foods that taste great, without any sacrifice.
The best gluten-free foods, according to a registered dietitian
Best gluten-free breakfast cereal: Forager Project
Forager Project originally launched as a non-dairy yogurt brand, but it recently came out with an organic, gluten-free cereal that we can’t get enough of. This O-shaped cereal is made from cassava root and navy beans providing gut-healthy fiber that is completely grain free. It comes in four flavors: lightly sweetened, cinnamon, strawberry, and chocolate. In addition to its great flavor, it is exceptionally crunchy, certified organic, vegan/dairy free, soy free, gluten free, and Kosher. But the best part is that unlike most other sweetened cereals, Forager Project’s has minimal added sugar. In fact, each cup contains only two to four grams total, plus a single serving has four grams of fiber and four grams of protein (primarily from peas).
Best gluten-free crackers: Mary’s Gone Crackers
Mary’s Gone Crackers is not new to retail shelves, but the company recently came out with some innovative, new flavors. All are great, but the Seaweed & Black Sesame variety is a favorite! The company makes three main types of crackers: original, super seed, and real thin, and all are certified gluten free, nut free, non-GMO verified, vegan, and organic.
Best gluten-free tortilla: Siete Foods
Siete Foods was founded by a Mexican-American family in Texas inspired by health reasons to make grain-free versions of the traditional flour and corn tortillas they frequently enjoyed. All products are gluten, dairy, and soy free, vegan, and non-GMO, so they don’t contain the preservatives found in many other similar products. For a nutty and buttery flavor, opt for the almond-flour tortillas, while the cassava-flour tortillas will be the best pick for a traditional tortilla swap. Pro tip: Check out their cassava-based, burrito-size tortillas, specifically made bigger for all those yummy fillings.
Best gluten-free pasta: Jovial
Jovial is a family-owned company founded by a husband-and-wife team who had a young daughter with gluten intolerance. In addition to pasta made from the ancient einkorn grain (recommended for those with gluten sensitivity, but not celiac), the company produces a line of 100 percent organic gluten-free pastas made from either brown rice or cassava, both made in Italy. The brown rice is a personal favorite, but the cassava is a close second and a great pick for those looking for something entirely grain free. What’s extra special about this gluten-free pasta compared to others is Jovial’s method of using traditional bronze dies to press the pasta and its low-and-slow drying techniques instead of taking modern shortcuts.
Best gluten-free bread: Schär
For more than 35 years, Schär has been one of the leaders in terms of research and development of high-quality, gluten-free products and baked goods—the company is named after a doctor, Dr. Anton Schär, who began experimenting and producing gluten free products for his patients (primarily children) with digestive issues in the early 1920s. In fact it houses a research center in Trieste, Italy dedicated to testing new ingredients and combinations that maintain high nutritional integrity and taste. (It also has an established international scientific committee to further build on its expertise.)
To this day, their products stand out as some of the best, but the breads are consistently mentioned time over time as a favorite among bread-lovers who follow gluten-free diets. Choose from sliced bread, bagels, and rolls with lots of options within each category—the ciabatta rolls are a must-try! And the Rustic Loaf is also a great sourdough option made with ancient grains. What’s more, Schär’s sliced breads are higher in fiber than most other gluten-free breads, and come in a variety of options including deli-style, multigrain, and white.
Best gluten-free snack: Yolélé
Yolélé is a company credited with introducing the US market to the West African super grain fonio, a very tiny, gluten-free member of the millet family with a low glycemic index. As part of its product line, the company makes truly irresistible chips made from a base of fonio and cassava, and flavored with bold, vibrant, West African flavors including the anti-inflammatory super green moringa and tangy baobab. All chips are vegan, Kosher, certified gluten free, non-GMO, void of potatoes and peanuts, and contain zero trans fat (and very low saturated fat). In addition to being great for snacking straight out of the bag, they’re also delicious added to a wrap or sandwich for some crunch, paired with your favorite dip, or used as a base for a twist on traditional nachos.
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