How Can I Go Gluten Free if I’m Vegan?

In this post we look at how to become gluten free so you can live your life to the fullest without all the symptoms that come from gluten intolerance, or simply to avoid unnecessary gluten in your diet.

Hopefully some of the information here can help you to skip the years of struggle which I went through, and instead to find the quickest way to embrace a gluten free lifestyle.

When you rid yourself of the myriad of symptoms that come from eating gluten (if you’re intolerant or coeliac), you won’t believe the freedom and joy.

If you’re reading this post, you probably have good reasons for wanting to stop eating gluten, whether they be health concerns for the present or preventative measures to protect your health in the future.

In this post I will do my best to cover all the topics necessary so that you can start your gluten free lifestyle with ease, or if you’re already gluten free, provide you with some tips to help you navigate the gluten free lifestyle maze, but if there’s anything I forget to include, or if you have any questions, please go ahead and let me know in the comments.

For a comprehensive insight read the whole article, or, if you’re after some specific information, use the menu below to skip to the relevant section.

Where does Gluten Come From?

The word gluten is commonly used to refer to a family of proteins which are found in many common grains and their by-products.

But according to this article at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the word gluten should actually only be used for the proteins found in wheat as it refers to the proteinaceous matter which is left after wheat flour dough has been washed in either water, or a dilute salty solution to get rid of the starch and other soluble matter.

The substance which is left is full of gluten proteins (75 – 80%) and is described as having a rubbery consistency.

If the dough is made from another grain flour (barley, rye. . .), this process cannot be repeated, and therefore, it is not technically correct to label them all gluten, even though they are called gluten by most mainstream articles.

According to the article, the correct term for the whole family of proteins together is prolamins, named by TB Osborne who studied proteins from 1886 to 1928. He named proteins according to their extraction methods of which there were four:

albumins, which are water soluble, globulins, which are saline soluble, prolamins which are soluble in 60–70% alcohol, and glutelins which are insoluble but can be extracted in alkali.

Gluten is the main protein in wheat and is not one, but rather a mix of hundreds of different proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin.

Sheaf of wheat
Image by Hans Braxmeier on Pixabay

In rye, the equivalent protein is secalin and in barley, hordein.

In another article over at the ncbi, gluten is indeed used to describe the family of proteins known as prolamins, mainly glutenin and gliadin, which are found in wheat, barley and rye. So in this respect there is a discrepancy as to whether the proteins from all three grains should be labelled prolamins or gluten.

For the purposes of this article, we will refer to gluten as the proteins present in all the grains which set up a reaction in non-coeliac gluten intolerance or coeliacs disease, and not differentiate between wheat gluten or the equivalent protein from rye or barley.

Common wheat contains between 8% and 15% protein, most of which is gluten, albumin and globulin. As already mentioned, the gluten contains many types of proteins, but the two most important ones are gliadin & glutenin.

Gluten gives the texture to pasta, cakes, biscuits etc. and because of its ability to improve the texture and taste of a product, it’s commonly added to processed foods, and in things where you might not have expected to see it, such as processed meat substitutes, thickeners, gelling agents in sweets and ice-cream, vegan butter, sauces, dressings and the list goes on. In fact, gluten can even be found in medicines, shampoos and makeup items.

Gliadin in gluten is very resistant to pancreatic juices and digestion in the gastrointestinal tract due to its high level of amino acids proline and glutamine. There can be up to 45 gliadins in one type of wheat and these (along with the glutenin), have to be digested in the small intestine, but they are not easy for humans to digest.

Gluten (as used in the lay man’s way, to replace the term Prolamins), is present in the main grains of our modern diet:

  • wheat
  • barley
  • rye
  • spelt

Do Oats Contain Gluten?

Although oats don’t actually contain gluten, they are a still a red-flagged ingredient if you have a gluten intolerance and special care should be used when including oats in your diet for two reasons.

  • Cross contamination: oats are usually grown in rotation with wheat or other crops, so in order to avoid cross contamination, always choose oats which are labelled as gluten free.
  • Oats contain their own protein substance called avenins, which is similar to gluten though in much lower quantities than gluten is present in wheat. Avenins have been found to occasionally cause symptoms in people with gluten intolerance or coeliacs disease.
Bowl of oats with fruit on top
Oast should be labelled gluten free
Image by cgdsro on Pixabay

There are three main gluten related disorders: Coeliacs disease (CD) (also spelt Celiac’s), Wheat allergy (WA) and Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance (NCGI).

This article focuses on NCGI, the least researched of the three, yet a common and rising occurence in modern times.

Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance

One of the difficulties in diagnosing NCGI is the fact that coeliac’s disease can be ruled out and then you’re left with symptoms which overlap with other digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease and IBS.

NCGI is defined as a clinical syndrome including intestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms which are alleviated upon the removal of gluten from the diet. It should be noted that a wheat allergy is not the same as gluten intolerance as a wheat allergy is a classic allergic reaction produced by the immune system in response to wheat, and not just the gluten within the wheat.

And while Coeliac’s disease is clinically a different situation to NCGS, the symptoms which are manifested can be similar.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance (NCGI & CD)

Symptoms of gluten intolerance will vary from person to person. These are some of the most common symptoms.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Bloated stomach & gas
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • General malaise
  • Fatigue & extreme tiredness
  • Cold shivers
  • Body aching
  • Headache
  • Brain fog
  • Vomiting
  • Dermatitis
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Iron deficiency anaemia

And the problem is, gluten deficiency symptoms don’t end there. Gluten can wreak havok wtih your body and actually trigger autoimmune disease.

What Other Health Problems can Gluten Cause?

How Can if I Tell I’m Gluten Intolerant?

Discovering that you’re gluten intolerant isn’t always an easy task.

This symptoms may start off obscure and gradually become more intense over time. The reaction to your food may be delayed by hours making it difficult to know what triggered you.

If you’re suffering from symptoms which you suspect could be cause by gluten, you can adopt a gluten exclusion diet to see if your symptoms improve.

Gluten Exclusion Diet

The simplest way to test your own reaction to gluten is to do a gluten exclusion diet where you cut out gluten from your diet altogether. You must be very strict to remove ALL traces of gluten from your diet, not just do a reduction.

If your body goes a period without gluten and then you re-introduce gluten, any reaction your body has, will be amplified.

Important Points when you start an exclusion diet

  • It needs to be for a long enough duration. Eliminate gluten from your diet for a period of 3 weeks before you assume you know the result so make sure you have a time window so that you can achieve your goal.
  • If you’re going on holiday, wait until after your hols to begin the exclusion diet, so that you can give it your best shot. You body needs enough time for your immune system to calm down. I know people who cut out gluten for a few days and then proclaimed that gluten wasn’t their problem because they didn’t feel any better without it when in reality they hadn’t performed the exclusion diet correctly.
  • It’s no good to eliminate major gluten sources if you leave incipient gluten sources in your diet, as this will lead to the possibly false conclusion that removing gluten from your diet didn’t help. I’ve seen this many times when the person involved says they’re eliminating gluten but in reality they’re only eliminating the obvious sources such as pasta, while still eating a biscuit with gluten, pouring salad dressing with gluten in it, eating a Chinese meal full of soy sauce etc. For it to be of value you need to take some extra time to look for all the hidden gluten in your diet.
Can you help me go gluten free if I'm vegan? Two people smiling and happy.
Freedom from gluten!
  • While you don’t need to tell everybody, it can be helpful if the people directly around you are on board with your test so that they don’t inadvertently contaminate your food or put you in temptation’s way by making you a pizza for example.
  • Take it seriously. Give it everything you can because this 3 week trial might just lead you to a complete recovery from the symptoms you’ve been feeling and what could be worth more than that?

Foods Containing Gluten

The lists below are offered as a guide but there are many more foods and ingredients that can contain gluten so please be vigilant and continue to learn about what you can and can’t eat.

Most Obvious Gluten Containing Foods List

  • wheat
  • bulgar wheat
  • barley
  • rye
  • spelt
  • triticale
  • pasta / lasagna
  • noodles
  • cous cous
  • seitan
  • bread (including flat breads, pitta pockets, wraps etc.)
  • pastries (including pies, cakes croissants etc)
  • crackers
  • flour tortillas
  • flour
  • pizza
  • breaded foods like onion rings, vegan fish fingers, vegan burgers etc
  • biscuits
  • white sauce, roux
  • cereals
  • beer
  • brewer’s yeast

Less Obvious Food that Contain Gluten

  • salad dressings
  • soy sauce
  • marmite
  • desserts
  • bottled sauces
  • processed soups
  • imitation meats
  • ice creams
  • veggie stock cubes
  • sweets
  • milkshakes
  • energy bars
  • nacho crisps
  • frozen chips
  • chewing gum

Hidden Gluten in the Ingredients Lists

  • malt in all forms (malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavouring, malt vinegar, etc)
  • starch or dextrin or maltodextrin unless labeled gluten free
  • farina

Ingredients that Might Contain Gluten

Other ambiguous ingredients can contain wheat fillers, making them non gluten-free. If you buy processed foods, for this reason it’s better to stick to gluten free products, but better still is to stay natural with whole ingredients so you don’t get any surprises from ingredients like these:

  • flavouring / natural flavouring
  • colouring
  • hydrolysed plant / vegetable protein
  • seasonings
  • vegetable starch / modified food starch

Gluten in Non-Food Sources

  • lipstick, lipgloss
  • toothpaste and dental care products
  • medicines
  • vitamins supplements
  • play-dough

Gluten Intolerance & Alcoholic Drinks

Beer & Gluten Intolerance

Beer is the most obvious drink which we have to give up when we discover that we have a gluten intolerance.

Luckily, there are gluten free beers available on the market, though they aren’t all the same (some have the gluten removed, others are brewed without gluten) and it’s best to check that you can drink them ok without a reaction by trying them out and noticing how you feel with different brands.

Spirits and Gluten Intolerance

Spirits are a cause for debate within the world of gluten intolerance. Science apparently says that all spirits (as long as they are unflavoured) are gluten free.

And if you Google the topic, the first pages you’ll find will tell you that distilled alcohol no longer contains enough gluten to cause an issue.

However, regardless of what those ‘official’ reports say, it’s also common for many people who suffer from gluten intolerance to also react badly to alcoholic drinks which are based on grain.

In my case, it immediately became clear that if I drank whisky or bourbon I reacted badly. And vodka also caused me problems, except for Smirnoff vodka which is brewed from potatoes. In fact, any alcoholic drink which was based on grain made me ill.

So when I read that all spirits are gluten free, I remain unconvinced due to the sheer evidence and my own personal experience.

Flavoured Spirits and Gluten Intolerance

Watch out for added ingredients in flavoured drinks as this is where you can get caught off guard. Get into the habit of checking everything out on the internet before experimenting, so as to be on the safe side.

Flavoured drinks may contain malt or have other gluten containing flavourings added after being distilled, which would be a source of gluten.

Other Alcoholic Drinks and Gluten Intolerance

Wine, Cava, brandy, Smirnoff and straight apple cider are the safest drinks you can choose if you find that you react badly to some of the other alcoholic drinks after becoming intolerant to gluten.

What to Avoid Doing When First Going Gluten Free

  • When you first give up gluten, don’t fall into the trap of buying all sorts of processed foods just because they’re labelled gluten free. The label gluten free doesn’t = healthy.
  • Your healthiest options are whole foods which you prepare yourself, but if you are going to include some processed gluten free products, make sure you read the label and check that the ingredients are wholesome.
  • Look out for added sugars in gluten free foods. To try and increase the taste (and addiction), many gluten free products are high in sugars. I would simply try to avoid as much as possible all processed foods.
  • Gluten free products tend to be more expensive than standard wheat products. Try to embrace a whole food lifestyle and avoid over spending on expensive products if you don’t need them. For example a gluten free flour blend can be quite expensive, whereas a pure chickpea flour which isn’t intended particularly for the gluten free market (but is naturally gluten free) is cheap as anything here in Spain.

What to Expect When Going Gluten Free?

When you first start to eat a gluten free diet there are a few things you can expect.

  • A steep learning curve as you discover which foods contain gluten and what you can or can’t eat.
  • A period of instability where you experience an easing up of your symptoms followed possibly by relapses of even more intense symptoms. This is because when the system if clear from gluten you’ll experience a relief from symptoms, but after have been clear, any tiny amount of gluten that re-enters your system may be attacked in double force by your immune system. Don’t panic. Find the source of contamination and avoid it in the future. You can’t get it perfect the first time round, it takes time. Go easy on yourself.
  • Your energy levels should start to pick up and your cramps, diarrhoea, pains etc subside. It can take a little while for the gluten to leave your system so have patience.
  • You may find some resistance among friends or family who imply that it’s ‘all in your head’. It’s difficult not to be annoyed by this kind of reaction from someone who’s supposed to be a friend but don’t let it get to you. Whatever you do, don’t get into discussions where you’re defending yourself. It’s your body and you know what it needs more than anybody else. Say whatever’s necessary for the person to leave you to make your own decisions, and leave it at that.
  • It’s a common misconception that it’s the quantity of gluten that makes you sick, so friends and family might try to get you to try a little pizza or have a sip of beer. It’s only their ignorance speaking, no matter how right they believe themselves to be. So explain to them that even cross contamination can make you sick, or if explaining is a waste of breath, just flatly refuse the offer of pizza. But stay strong.
  • Most people have no idea of what gluten actually is, so they may offer you a gluten free meal that’s loaded with hidden gluten. Beware of this and get into the habit of asking what the ingredients are if you suspect the chef doesn’t understand gluten intolerance.
  • When you’ve spent about a month gluten free, you should feel as though you’re being returned to a level of good health that you’d only had in your memory. You can fly on your own wings again!

How to Become Gluten Free and Still Eat Out

When you’re eating out in a restaurant, always make sure to let the waiter know that you’re coeliac or gluten intolerant, so that they know.

If in any doubt about their understanding of it, don’t be shy to ask for further details on the cooking prep.

Anything that comes from a fryer, like chips or vegan croquettes, will be cross-contaminated if the restaurant only has one fryer, (not to mention the vegan aspect if you in a non-vegetarian restaurant).

Plate of French fries
Chips can be a hidden source of gluten
Image by Hans Benn on Pixabay

So be sure to ask whether the restaurant has a fryer for separately cooking the chips and whether the chips are in fact home cut. If they’re not, they will need to read the ingredients to check that they’re gluten free.

Welcome to the world of eating gluten free. Yes, it can be difficult to embrace in the beginning.

Another example is when you check the menu and double check and decide that the only thing you feel safe eating is the salad. So you order it, only to forget that the dressing can a primary source of gluten.These things happen. Don’t beat yourself up, but also try to be vigilant.

In the beginning you’ll probably get caught out sometimes, but it’s a learning curve and eventually it will become second nature to you to check with the restaurant staff, read all ingredients and generally become hyper-aware of everything you eat.

Try to eliminate gluten completely and remember that even a tiny amount can be enough to make you ill whether they be in the food or from contact with a gluten contaminant.

Go-To Gluten Free Snacks

  • My go-to gluten free snacks are straightforward nuts like walnuts, cashews and almonds. I also like to make up a home mix of these nuts along with dried cranberries or raisons, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and more.
  • Olives or fruit slices are both great snacks.
  • You can get gluten free crisps for snacking but remember they’re not the healthiest snack you could choose.

F.A.Q.s Going Gluten Free

Will Going Gluten Free Help Me Lose Weight?

A gluten free diet will have many health benefits, but the objective of going gluten free shouldn’t be to lose weight. There is no correlation between gluten and weight gain.

However, weight loss can occur as a side effect of changing your diet if by giving up gluten you switch from eating many processed foods to eating more whole foods, or if for example you would usually eat pasta smothered in oil and you replace that habit with eating black rice with non oil.

Almost any change you make in your life will have a knock on effect into other areas of your life and so it is with diet. But any weight loss is not directly contributed to becoming gluten free.

I advise that you embrace a gluten free lifestyle for your health and that you look into a more healthy way of eating to promote weight loss, if that’s what you’re after.

Will Going Gluten Free Help with IBS?

In most cases, it is worth trying a gluten free diet to help alleviate symptoms of IBS, as gluten is difficult for humans to digest, and gluten has been found on occasions to be a trigger for IBS symptoms.

Furthermore, your IBS could actually be undiagnosed gluten intolerance.

Is Going Gluten Free Healthier?

For anybody suffering from any digestive disorder, giving up gluten will have a positive effect on their digestive system, though if there are other issues going on, giving up gluten alone will not necessarily result in a cure.

In fact the question of whether or not one should eat gluten is one of the common FAQ from people newly becoming vegan.

Ultimately it is a personal choice. However, gluten is difficult for a human gut to digest no matter what your situation, so anybody with gut issues should definitely give it a go on a gluten free diet and see how they feel after a month.

How Hard is it to Go Gluten Free?

There are two angles to this question. It can be hard mentally to adjust and it can be difficult in the sense of learning all the hidden gluten sources. I think the question refers more to the first point than the second.

And in regard to that, everything is relative: some people really struggle to go gluten free and they feel like they’re ‘giving so much up’. But if they change their mindset, going gluten free can be relatively easy.

If a person truly sees gluten as the cause of all their gut issues, lethargy, brain fog problems etc, and if they take time to allow their subconscious to realise that (for their system) gluten is a poison, then it will no longer be difficult to change their eating habits.

You can feel absolute joy that you’re no longer eating something that’s making you sick. What an incredible solution to be offered for a health issue! Wow! So I can cure myself!

Ask yourself, which would you prefer, the diagnosis that gluten is causing you health issues, so you can take action on it and regain full health, or to have the continued spiral of symptoms and endless tests without a specific conclusion?

Change your subconscious beliefs and you will no longer struggle to go gluten free.

If there’s something I’ve omitted from here, let me know in the comments below.


Conclusion on Going Gluten Free

You can absolutely claim back your health by going gluten free and I hope you can do it fast so that you no longer have to live with the symptoms of gluten intolerance.

Since giving up gluten and switching to a whole foods plant based diet I can honestly say that I’ve never been more in love with the food that I eat and the way it makes me feel.

When you first become vegan or gluten free, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying processed convenience foods, but I 100% checking out a whole foods diet instead.

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