Smarter Gluten-Free Shopping
A grocery store expert offers insider tips
for your gluten-free shopping trips.
[Updated Oct. 2, 2015]
Navigating the supermarket aisles and figuring out which products are safe and healthy is a big challenge for anyone new to the gluten-free diet. The same goes for someone just diagnosed with a food allergy. Many readers have told us that their first foray into the grocery store literally brought them to tears!
So we asked Andi Jo Elbel, healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas, to give us her top tips for making healthy choices for smarter gluten-free, allergy-friendly shopping. Here’s her advice on how to shop like a pro.
1. Stick to the perimeter.
Many times, you’ll find the least processed items on the outer edges of the grocery store. Start your shopping there for fresh produce, dairy, meat, and seafood—foods in their whole, most natural form.
2. Check your ingredients for more than just gluten or your allergens.
Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, meaning your top three ingredients may make up the majority of your snack. To get more nutrients in every bite, avoid products that have sugar, salt or oil listed as one of the first three ingredients.
If a product contains any of the Big 8 food allergens (wheat, dairy, soy, egg, peanut, nuts, seafood, fish), it will be noted on the package as part of the ingredient list. A certified gluten-free label will tell you what’s not in the product (namely, gluten). Make sure there are plenty of gluten-free whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, or vegetables on the label when looking for healthier options.
3. Don’t walk by the tortillas.
There are plenty of delicious gluten-free choices in your grocery aisles for making healthy wraps. Options range from the traditional Mexican corn tortilla (check the label to make sure it’s gluten-free) to wonderful new varieties made from rice flour and other gluten-free grains. Try replacing the tortilla completely and making a wrap with leafy greens like collards, Swiss chard, romaine and butter leaf lettuce.
4. Plan ahead and DIY.
Craving a sweet and savory munchie? Luckily, you don’t have to wait for a new line of gluten-free products to hit the shelves. You can make healthy recipes at home to satisfy cravings.
Try this easy and nutritious sweet and spicy snack: Combine pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds. Place them on a pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle honey over the seeds and sprinkle them with cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes at 350°F.
5. Say yes to complex carbs.
Grocers regularly hear from shoppers who are trying to avoid carbohydrates. It’s important to know the difference between simple carbohydrates (such as white pasta, table sugar and fried chips) and complex carbohydrates (like beans and vegetables). Including a complex carbohydrate on your plate can give you a hearty and healthy meal without empty calories. A delicious example of healthy carbs is the sweet potato. Add it to your grocery cart and create an easy dinner by baking it and topping it with black beans, salsa, and chopped spinach.
6. Stock up your pantry.
Buy your favorite dried beans, peas, lentils, and gluten-free grains in large-serving packages. These items have a fairly long shelf life and they’re often relatively inexpensive considering the number of nutrients per ounce they offer. Use them to create budget-friendly, super-satisfying meals on the weekends that you can enjoy throughout the week. It’s a big timesaver. Note: Those with celiac disease and food allergies should always steer clear of the help-yourself bulk bins due to risk of cross contamination.
7. Ask questions while you shop.
You’re not alone in your grocery store. No one knows new products better than the staff who navigate the aisles daily, so ask them for help. If you’re shopping at a Whole Foods Market, find out if your store has a healthy eating specialist. This person is there to host tours, conduct demonstrations, and provide resources to gluten-free and food-allergic shoppers.