Gluten-Free Vegan: Information, Foods, and Cookbooks

It’s easy to follow a gluten-free vegan diet. All over the world, you can find vegan gluten-free foods of every sort.

Is Vegan Gluten-Free?

Although thousands of vegan foods are gluten-free, quite a few vegan foods do contain gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in many grains. It’s especially abundant in wheat. If you’ve ever kneaded bread, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the dough becomes stretchier over the course of the kneading. This texture change arises from the strands of gluten lengthening during kneading. The fact that bread is chewy rather than crumbly has everything to do with the gluten it contains.

Beyond baked goods, many vegan meats also contain gluten, relying on seitan as a main ingredient. Seitan is pure gluten (plus some water, salt, and spices), and it’s gluten that gives seitan-based meats their meaty chewiness.

Gluten and Celiac Disease

Unfortunately gluten plays havoc with some peoples’ digestive systems. This is especially true of people diagnosed with celiac disease, who should treat gluten as if it’s poison and avoid even the tiniest amounts. Among celiacs, gluten produces an allergic response that inflames the intestines and bowels. With repeated exposure to gluten, the lining of these organs breaks down, causing all manner of serious and potentially life-threatening consequences.

Like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder—meaning that the body is attacked by its own immune system. But if you’re going to suffer the misfortune of contracting an autoimmune disorder, celiac disease is clearly the best one to have. That’s because celiacs can avoid any problems simply by banishing all traces of gluten from their diet. And while that restriction is certainly a drag, it’s far from the worst tribulation a person can suffer.

Do You Have Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is notoriously under-diagnosed. Up to 90 percent of people suffering from this condition don’t know they have it.

Sometime around 2010, gluten-free diets became something of a fad. The trend arose because large numbers of people became convinced that they’re gluten-sensitive. But rather than getting themselves tested, they simply stopped eating gluten-based foods.

The resultant mass-experiment with gluten-free eating undoubtedly led to a number of undiagnosed celiacs cutting gluten from their diets, and consequently experiencing vast improvements to their health. But at the same time, only about one percent of people actually have celiac disease, so the overwhelming majority of people participating in the gluten-free craze probably experienced no tangible health benefits.

That said, gluten is certainly one of the harder food ingredients to digest. People with digestive problems may well feel better if they cut back on gluten, even if they don’t suffer from celiac disease. And there’s always the placebo effect to take into account—certainly some people who get rid of gluten and claim their health has improved actually have no measurable sensitivity to gluten.

Growing awareness of gluten intolerance has created a thriving market for gluten-free products. These foods have greatly benefited everyone who is gluten intolerant.

Grains that Contain Gluten

Now let’s move on to exactly which foods gluten-intolerant people need to avoid. Gluten is present in each of these grains:

  • wheat, including these products or varieties:
    • bulgar
    • semolina
    • durum
    • farro
    • kamut
    • spelt
  • barley
  • rye
  • triticale

These grains show up in a wide variety of vegan foods (as well as plenty of non-vegan foods). In particular, these grains commonly appear in breads, pastries, cereals, and pasta. And, as we’ve already seen, many vegan meats also contain gluten.

Barley’s presence on this list is bad news for beer-lovers, since most beers contain malted barley. But because gluten-free diets have recently become so popular, some breweries now make gluten-free beer, and several of these offerings are surprisingly good.

Many celiacs can tolerate oats, because the gluten found in oats is of a different variety than that contained by other grains. If you have celiac disease, there are tests available to see if you are sensitive to oats.

Gluten-Free Grains

Luckily, there are plenty of gluten-free grain varieties, which celiacs can eat to their heart’s content:

  • rice
  • corn
  • buckwheat groats
  • oats (but gluten contamination is widespread)
  • quinoa
  • millet
  • sorghum
  • wild rice
  • teff

Note that many celiacs react to even trace amounts of gluten. They must therefore commonly avoid food made at facilities that store or process any gluten-containing grains.

Gluten-Free Vegan Cookbooks

If you want to avoid gluten, there’s really no need to limit your cookbooks to only gluten-free titles. Most vegan cookbooks (apart from titles specifically devoted to baking) contain relatively few recipes featuring gluten-containing ingredients.

But if you are looking for a gluten-free vegan cookbook, you’re in luck. Allyson Kramer wrote four such cookbooks that cater to vegans who follow a gluten-free diet:

Apart from the recipes themselves, Allyson’s cookbooks offer extensive information about living a gluten-free lifestyle that goes far beyond the scope of this short guide.

There are several other gluten-free vegan cookbooks in print. Some recent titles:

Gluten-Free Vegan Packaged Foods

Going gluten-free on a vegan diet has never been easier. An ever-growing number of gluten-free vegan products are hitting the shelves in grocery stores. Here are a some excellent products worth trying:

You can find countless more gluten-free items at your local natural foods store.


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