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Gluten Free Grocery Shopping

Updated on May 30, 2013

In my last post, I discussed My Gluten-Free Lifestyle Tip #1: Focus on What You CAN Eat. Now that you have Famous Dena's Short List in hand, it is time to head to the grocery store.

Your best insurance for remaining gluten-free is to prepare your own meals as often as possible. While many restaurants are beginning to support gluten intolerant customers, ensuring that your restaurant experience is safe is always a bit of a gamble. My best example of this is my recent lunch out with friends at a restaurant that offers an extensive gluten-free menu. This restaurant is very health conscious and respectful toward gluten intolerance and even serves gluten-free menu items on different plates than their regular menu items so patrons are aware of the difference. After extensive dialogue with the waiter on gluten-free possibilities, we ordered the lettuce wraps as an appetizer. When it came time to order our entrees, I opted for the gluten-free Sichuan beef. At that moment, it occurred to our waiter that the lettuce wraps he brought us were not the gluten-free version. "Come to think of it," he said, "the sauce isn't gluten-free, either." That being the sauce he so expertly whipped up for us at our table. This, of course, was brought to our attention only after I had enjoyed half of a gluten-riddled lettuce wrap with gluten-riddled sauce. So the waiter gave the lettuce wraps to my friends and ordered up a gluten-free version for me. He offered to remake the sauce at our table assuring me that, this time around, it would be gluten-free. He started whipping things up, took the soy sauce off the table and dribbled it into the sauce. "Is that soy sauce gluten-free?" I asked. "Oh, no it is not," said our very kind but not-too-sharp waiter. He started over again with new dishes and gluten-free soy sauce. Third time is a charm, I guess. It was too late anyway; I had already been "glutened" by the suspect lettuce wrap. I was sick for two days after that. The point of this dialogue is to illustrate that, no matter how supportive the restaurant world is, you cannot be guaranteed gluten-free dining unless you cook it yourself with food you purchased from the grocery store. In fact, try my gluten free asian lettuce wraps for a more nutritious, savory, and safe alternative to the restaurant variety!

Shopping for groceries takes a bit longer to accomplish when one must avoid gluten. Recall, in my post on how to get started, that I noted that gluten is found in most processed foods.This includes, but is not limited to the following:

  1. Baked goods (of course)
  2. Breakfast cereals (except those labeled gluten-free such as some versions of Chex)
  3. Deli-style cold cuts
  4. Prepared sauces
  5. Some brands of ketchup
  6. Prepackaged spice mixes
  7. Frozen vegetables that include the handy sauce
  8. Imitation seafood
  9. Many salad dressings
  10. Canned soups and broths
  11. Processed cheese type "stuff" (spray cheese, etc.)
  12. Licorice and many other candies
  13. Most frozen prepared meals
  14. Many brands of jerky
  15. Some brands of Blue Cheese
  16. Many brands of sausage
  17. Soy sauce
  18. Some brands of mixed nuts

You need to avoid all of these products and stick to the good stuff like fresh whole meats and seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Focus on the real thing and nothing that is processed. Instead of deli turkey, buy a real turkey breast and roast it yourself. Slice it thin and eat the real thing.

Your best bet is to consider the layout of the average grocery store. All of the packaged, processed foods are usually found in the center aisles. The produce and meat sections can be found on the outer perimeter. Shop on the outer perimeter for most of your groceries. Of course you will need some of the basic pantry items found on the inner aisles but save those items for last. Focus on your main menu items (meats, fruits, vegetables) and then go in for the rest. This part of your shopping experience requires your patience and attention to details.

Keep in mind that some brands of ketchup contain gluten and others do not. This is the case for most packaged foods so you need to read labels to ensure a gluten-free life. You will become more and more familiar with products that work for you but I must caution you to continue reading labels for all packaged items you buy. Companies can change the ingredients in their products without notice so what was once gluten-free could well contain wheat, barley, rye or their derivatives the next time your purchase it. You must be vigilant about this and accept the fact that grocery shopping will take longer to accomplish. It just will.

To save time at the grocery store, remember these tips:

  1. Fresh meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables are naturally gluten-free and should be the main focus of your gluten-free life.
  2. Shop the outer perimeter of the store where you will find the produce and meat and seafood sections.
  3. Many grocery stores have a gluten-free aisle. Shop there to be safe.
  4. If you must have processed foods, read all labels before purchasing.
  5. Better yet, avoid processed foods and live a better life for it.
  6. Make your own salad dressing or opt for your own seasoned vinegar (no malt vinegar) or freshly squeezed lemon juice with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
  7. Fresh tomato slices are a great alternative to ketchup and contain a lot less sugar.
  8. Watch for items that seem like they should be gluten-free. Many packaged mixed nuts and trail mixes contain gluten for some reason.

Above all, try to avoid shopping when you don't really have the appropriate time to invest. In your past gluten-riddled life, you often made a quick stop at the grocery store on your way home from work because there was nothing at home for dinner. You were already starving, in a rush, and just needed to grab a few things. This scenario was treacherous, to say the least! You did not have the time or the mindset for the appropriate attention to strategic gluten-free shopping.

In your gluten-free life, you need to be prepared in advance at all times. I make a point of having boiled eggs on hand at all times. I also cook up a bunch of chicken breasts and other meats and have them at the ready. I always shop for groceries after I have had a little something to eat AND have the time to think ahead and peruse the store for exactly what will work with my gluten-free lifestyle.

Stay tuned for my next tip on preparing your own gluten-free lunches to save money and ensure a gluten-free lifestyle every day.

Gluten-Free Pantry


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    • FamousDena profile imageAUTHOR

      Dena Ross 

      9 years ago from Meridian, ID

      Absolutely right, Prozema. It took over 15 years to finally be correctly diagnosed as gluten-intolerant and it required me to change the way I eat in every way. It is so worth it, though, and I am a new person for it!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Sadly, DIY is the best way in the gluten free lifestyle. A dear friend of mine thought white bread wasn't made from wheat flour because it doesn't say "whole wheat." People don't understand nutrition sometimes until they have to.


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