Food shopping for vegans without any food allergies or intolerances can sometimes be an arduous task that involves checking labels for rogue animal-based ingredients. But this has been made a lot easier in recent years as food manufacturers understand the benefits of clearly labelling their products as vegan. But such clear labelling is not always as common when it comes to food allergies. In this article, we’ll focus on the best vegan substitutes for people who are unable to consume gluten or are looking to reduce the amount of gluten in their diet.
First of all, we’ll explain briefly explain what gluten is and the various problems it can cause people. For more detailed information on gluten itself, check out our Is Gluten Vegan? article (it is, by the way).
What Is Gluten & What Is a Gluten Allergy?
Just as soy allergies and nut allergies are on the UK Food Standards Agency’s list of possible allergens, so too are “cereals containing gluten”. But there is sometimes confusion about what gluten actually is. According to AllergyUK’s Gluten Labelling Guidance, “gluten” is “the general name that collectively refers to the storage protein fractions (i.e. prolamins and glutelins) found in wheat and other related cereal grains (e.g. rye, barley), which are insoluble in water”. It goes on to suggest that gluten accounts for approximately “80% of the total protein in most cereals”.
Various illnesses of widely differing severity fall under the umbrella term “gluten intolerance” and they can be triggered when someone consumes gluten. The most common are coeliac disease (also known as celiac disease), which can be extremely serious, and the often less severe non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. The more general term “wheat allergy” can also sometimes be used though this can refer to other proteins present in wheat that might not necessarily trigger allergic responses for those with gluten intolerance.
Note that coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease rather than a food allergy. When people with coeliac disease consume gluten, their body attacks itself which can damage the gut lining and reduce the body’s ability to absorb the many essential nutrients it requires from food.
Reactions to gluten intake can vary depending on whether someone has coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and can range from diarrhoea and stomach cramps to lethargy. Skin rashes, mouth ulcers, problems with teeth and even loss of coordination can also occur in some cases, among many other possible symptoms. For more detailed information, check out the Coeliac UK site.
What Vegan Foods Contain Gluten?
There are lots of foods that should be avoided if you have a gluten intolerance or allergy, or more serious related condition, such as coeliac disease. Some are fairly obvious whilst others are less so but the following are all typically out of the question for any vegans wanting a gluten-free diet.
Because gluten is a type of protein it can be harder for vegans avoiding it to get all the protein they need, especially if they are looking to add muscle mass. Vegan protein powders or bars can help (check for gluten in these though), although there are also lots of natural vegan foods and plants that are both gluten free and also high in protein.
Most standard bread is made from wheat flour which contains gluten. There are various specialist gluten-free breads that are often made with alternative carbohydrate sources, such as maize starch, rice flour, quinoa flour or some combination of these (and/or others).
Pasta is also typically made from wheat flour and hence contains gluten. As with bread, there are various gluten-free pasta products available, usually in the free-from aisle of your supermarket or from specialist health food shops. These can be made from rice flour, maize flour, or even things like red lentil flour.
Seitan is made specifically from wheat gluten and hence is perhaps the worst possible food someone with an allergy to or intolerance of gluten could eat. It is used in various meat alternative products (such as vegan bacon).
Although gluten is most commonly associated with wheat, gluten (or the proteins that cause gluten intolerance that fall under the term) can also be present in barley, rye and some cultivars of oats. As such, many vegan breakfast cereals are very much off the menu. There is a growing number of gluten-free cereals available, however, which can be made from rice, maize bran, sorghum or other plants.
Cakes/Biscuits/Pastries/Other Baked Products
Many cakes, biscuits and other baked goods such as pastries contain wheat flour (or other ingredients that contain gluten). There are not loads of vegan-friendly, gluten-free cakes and biscuits around in your average supermarket, but there are some (which we’ll outline in the table below). You also need to watch out for crispbread, crackers, pretzels and other products that will often include rye, barley or wheat.
Many sauces and condiments use wheat flour as a thickening agent, with gravy being a common example. Another thing to watch out for is soy sauce as this can be made using wheat or other grains that contain gluten (though there is an increasing number of gluten-free options available). Annoyingly (for half the population of those avoiding gluten at least), Marmite is made using cereals that contain gluten and should be avoided.
Unless it is explicitly stated otherwise, it is likely that any beer you encounter in pubs or shops will contain gluten. That’s because most beers are made using barley, wheat or sometimes rye, all of which contain gluten. Beer can be made from corn or rice which should not generally contain gluten but these are relatively rare.
Some Food Additives
Some food additives contain gluten, such as flavourings made from wheat flour, and common additives such as maltodextrin might contain gluten as it can be made from wheat, though if it is made from corn (maize) or rice then it will not contain gluten (unless contaminated during manufacture).
Where to Buy Gluten-Free Vegan Food
Things have become a lot easier for those seeking to avoid gluten in recent years. Not only has labelling improved (though it’s still not always brilliant) but there has been a big increase in the number of gluten-free products that are available. Not so long ago there might be a token loaf or two of gluten-free bread in the free-from aisle of your local supermarket. These days there are usually plenty of options from which to choose. The same goes for all kinds of other foods from pasta to breakfast cereals and biscuits to bagels, with quality increasing too.
When shopping online, most supermarkets give the option to filter out products containing gluten. Sometimes (though not always) though you are only able to apply one dietary filter; this means that for vegans, you could have to choose either vegan or gluten-free products and thus end up having to check the details of each item.
Thankfully, if you shop at TheVeganKind Supermarket you can be sure that all the products they sell are vegan and so selecting the gluten-free filter allows you to purchase goods that are both plant-based and free of gluten. They also have a better selection than many mainstream supermarkets for many products such as breakfast cereals.
Best Gluten-Free Vegan Alternatives
There is a lot of excellent information about food and drink for those seeking to avoid gluten provided by Coeliac UK and they even have a Gluten Free Food Checker App (available to members) that allows you to scan barcodes to make sure a product is okay for you, among other features.
Here, though, we’ll give you a brief overview of some of the best Vegan Substitutions that work for those on gluten-free diets. We’ll list some of the brands/products that are specifically listed by the manufacturer as gluten-free but which are also fine for vegans to consume.
|Type of Product||Best Gluten Free & Vegan Options|
|Bread||Schär Wholesome Vitality Loaf Gluten Free; BFree Brown Seeded Bloomer; BFree Wholegrain Gluten Free Pitta Bread; Warburtons Gluten Free Protein Super Seeds Wraps; BFree Avocado Wraps; Schnitzer Organic Luten Free Ciabatta|
|Pasta||Doves Farm Organic Brown Rice Penne Pasta; Bare Naked Foods Protein Noodles; Explore Cuisine Organic Black Bean/Green Lentil/Edamame Bean Spaghetti; Clearspring Organic Gluten Free Red Lentil & Brown Rice Fusilli;|
|Beer||Skinny Brands Lager; Daura Damm Gluten Free Beer; Magic Rock Saucery Session IPA; Jubel Beer; Brass Castle Beers|
|Seitan||If you are seeking a vegan fake meat option that doesn’t contain gluten, clearly seitan is off the table. But most plain tofu is gluten free (i.e. that which hasn’t been coated in breadcrumbs or been processed in other ways that could introduce gluten-based ingredients).
Quorn have several gluten-free options (though note that not all of them are vegan so check the ingredients for egg or milk-based items).
|Cakes/Biscuits/Baked Goods||Elizabeth D (various from pecan pie to chocolate fudge brownies); Nakd Fruit & Nut Bars; Nairns Gluten Free Oat Bar Apple & Cinnamon; Nairns Gluten Free Ginger Biscuit Breaks; Lazy Day Foods (various including Chocolate Chip Shortbread); Pulsetta by Duncan’s (various)|
|Sauces/Condiments||Kikkoman Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce; Yutaka Organic Tamari Soy Sauce Gluten Free; Geo Organics Worcester Sauce; Follow Your Heart Vegenaise; Al-fex Natural Tahini; Clearspring Organic Gluten Free Teriyaki Sauce; Biona Organic Coconut Aminos Sweet Chilli/Original;|
|Food Additives||Corn flour; agave; baking soda; beta carotene; calcium carbonate; carnauba wax; citric acid; glucose; glucose syrup; vanilla extract; xanthan gum (among others)|
There are a growing number of vegan restaurants out there and even the established fast food chains who have built their businesses on selling cooked animal parts are offering vegan options. But how easy is it for vegans seeking gluten-free meals out on the town? Well, like many things, it’s easier than it used to be. A combination of increased awareness, better guidance from the authorities and, as a result, better labelling of menus and food industry practices have meant that there should be gluten-free options at most restaurants these days.
Obviously, the standards of restaurants differ greatly in general and this is certainly the case when it comes to the provision of allergy information and indeed taking the issue of food allergies seriously in the first place. But you can usually tell from a restaurant’s website and/or menu whether they are making good provisions for those with gluten intolerance and or allergies and if you are in doubt, be sure to speak to staff members or the manager.
Can Vegans Get Enough Protein Without Gluten?
As we discuss in our article on vegan sources of protein, there are numerous good protein-rich foods available on a vegan diet and many of them are free of gluten. Clearly, seitan isn’t an option for those who can’t consume gluten. But tofu is a good alternative that offers very decent levels of protein and is able to soak up the flavours of whatever it’s cooked in. You also have a wide range of legumes from which to choose including chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans and so on. In addition, unprocessed seeds and nuts in their natural form are both gluten free and excellent sources of protein (and other nutrients that can be tough to acquire on a vegan diet).
If you are seeking extra protein, for instance, if you are undertaking some serious physical training or you are recovering from injury, there are plenty of gluten-free options when it comes to vegan protein powders. For instance, most pea protein powders are gluten free, and when you mix those with (also gluten-free) brown rice protein powders, you will get a fine blend of the nine essential amino acids.
If you follow a balanced and well-planned vegan diet it is likely you will consume enough protein, but there’s no harm in boosting protein levels a little if you are seeking to build extra muscle bulk.
Gluten-Free Vegan Substitutes – Conclusions
Gluten is present in a lot of food products which can make things rather complicated for people with coeliac disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity or wheat allergies. The good news is that there are lots more gluten-free products available in most supermarkets than there were just a few years ago. As food manufacturers wake up to the issues caused by gluten for some people, the variety of gluten-free products is only likely to grow further in the coming years.
Clearly things can get tricky when eating out, but many restaurants take food allergies very seriously and you can usually get a good idea about an establishment by how they present their menus or by talking to staff. All in all, although a gluten-free vegan diet can be something of an inconvenience at times, things are getting easier, and they should continue to do so.