There are all kinds of new terms being used nowadays with regards to special diets. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation about them as well. You’ve probably heard of the saying, ‘you are what you eat. This makes it very important to understand and stay informed about what each diet entails and what it does to your body before diving in.
Two of the popular diets right now are vegan and gluten-free diets. A lot of people equate the two lifestyles and I’m not sure how this even started because there’s no real link between the two. If you are confused about how these two are related, you have come to the right place to find out.
So, do vegans eat gluten? Yes, they do. Gluten is not an animal product or by-product but rather a group of proteins found in many grains. Many vegan types of meat also contain it. That being said, some vegans may avoid gluten due to allergies, intolerances, personal preference, or some other diet goals.
An awareness of the vegan diet has risen dramatically in recent years. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of conflicting information about what is or isn’t suitable for vegans to consume. In this article, I’ll be covering a common misunderstanding and frequently asked question surrounding vegan and gluten-free diets. Many people assume that if you are one, then you are automatically the other. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll go over the differences between the two diets and some related topics and hopefully, by the end of this text, you will be able to make informed decisions about your dietary needs concerning these two popular diets.
Veganism VS Gluten-Free Diet
We’ve already seen that vegan and gluten-free diets are not the same; however, let’s take a step back in the following sections and try to understand what each diet entails and in so doing, I may well answer a lot of other questions you might have.
What Is Gluten?
It’s a group of proteins found in various cereal grains, including wheat and its hybrids, rye, barley, oats, and triticale. These grains commonly appear in a wide variety of foods, especially bread, pasta, and pastries. Gluten in foods gives them a glue-like consistency. For instance, if you pull a loaf of freshly baked bread, you’ll find that it’s is stringy and fluffy with a chewy texture. Beyond baked goods, many vegan types of meat also contain gluten. That’s because they rely on seitan as the base ingredient to provide them with their meaty chewiness.
What Is A Gluten-Free Diet?
It’s a diet that excludes all foods containing gluten, including bread, baked goods, cereals, pasta, etc. In fact, an ingredients list that includes barley, rye, triticale, wheat germ, wheat bran, bulgur, spelt, durum wheat, farro, and Kamut just to name a few, means that particular product contains gluten. Many gluten-free kinds of cereal are also often contaminated with gluten during processing, so pay attention to that.
What Is Veganism?
It is a lifestyle that seeks to eliminate (as much as possible) the use of animal products and by-products, as well as those that use animal-based ingredients in their processing due to health, ethical, and/or environmental concerns. Beyond food, veganism also extends to avoiding any clothing, upholstery, or activity that harms, exploits, or endangers animals.
Is Gluten Vegan Friendly?
Now that you understand what each diet entails, it’s time to see whether or not vegans can eat gluten. We’ve already determined that gluten is a naturally occurring element in plant foods, meaning it’s not derived from animals and is, of course, vegan-friendly.
Can You Be Vegan And Gluten-Free?
While it’s okay for vegans to consume gluten, some may choose to avoid it for reasons I will cover later. It’s definitely possible to be both vegan and gluten-free. This would entail avoiding all animal-based products and those that contain gluten. It may be a bit difficult to find viable food to consume but there are a good number of options out there if you know where and how to look for them. Some of the foods you can eat on a vegan gluten-free diet include:
- All fresh fruits and vegetables but make sure you check the canned, dried, pre-prepped, and frozen ones as they may contain gluten.
- Nuts and seeds
- Most brands of plain tofu and tempeh
- Grains that don’t contain gluten such as rice, teff, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, millet, sorghum, and amaranth
- Pure oats: These are naturally gluten-free but are often contaminated in processing. So, choose those that are gluten-free certified.
- Legumes, including lentils, peas, and beans
- Potato flour
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Almond flour
- Gluten-free bread using alternative flours such as buckwheat
- Gluten-free and vegan pasta
In addition to the above foods, there are also an increasing number of vegan gluten-free food products that are available in speciality supermarkets and grocery stores, including baking mixes, pizzas, microwave dinners, and so on.
Why Do Some Vegans Avoid Gluten?
While vegans can eat gluten, some avoid it for personal preference or in the hopes of leading a healthier lifestyle. Also, gluten is one of the hardest foods to digest; as such, people with digestive problems may feel better if they avoid it. That said, remember to talk to your healthcare provider before going completely vegan and gluten-free to ensure you maintain a balanced diet.
More seriously, some people avoid gluten due to medical conditions such as:
This is an autoimmune disease where eating gluten produces an allergic response that inflames the bowels. With continued exposure to gluten, the lining of the small intestines can break down and cause all manner of serious issues. Celiac disease is incurable and those diagnosed with it should treat gluten like poison. Be sure to avoid cross-contamination from shared utensils and the likes as even the tiniest amounts can make you sick.
Gluten Intolerance and Sensitivity
Unlike celiac disease, which is a bit rare, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance is a fairly common problem and is characterized by adverse reactions to gluten. When people with these conditions consume gluten, they may experience a range of issues, including abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhoea.
Other conditions that may warrant avoiding gluten are wheat allergy, Gluten Ataxia, and Dermatitis Herpetiformis.
Tips for Navigating Any Potential Challenges
Combining a vegan and gluten-free diet can be a bit challenging as it involves eliminating quite a number of common foods from your daily meals. The good news is it is doable and many are managing quite fine. If you are new to both of these diets, here are a few tips to help you navigate through:
- Explain your new diet to friends and family: It can be hard for some to understand what it entails to be both vegan and gluten-free, so try to explain your dietary choices/needs.
- When it comes to eating out, most restaurants are well-versed with both diets but it can be challenging if you combine the two. In that case, consider calling ahead to check if they can accommodate your needs.
- The risk of cross-contamination: This is a concern both at home and in restaurants as otherwise vegan gluten-free foods are likely to contain trace amounts of animal-based foods or gluten. Having separate equipment and utensils to prepare your vegan gluten-free food is a necessity, especially if you are a strict vegan and/or are have celiac disease. Larger restaurants often have a clear cross-contamination policy but are sure to double-check when ordering.
- Read food labels: Since gluten is often in the top 14 allergens, it’s likely to be clearly labelled on food packages. That being said, much of the store-bought gluten-free bread and pasta tend to use lots of ingredients, including additives, gums, and stabilisers, to try and mimic gluten. Look for products made with as few ingredients as possible and whose gluten and vegan status are obvious. Last, but not least, keep in mind that not all vegan meat alternatives are gluten-free.
Conclusion: Veganism & Gluten-Free Diets
As you can see veganism is totally different from a gluten-free diet and while there can be some overlap, these two dietary lifestyles are not interchangeable. I am personally vegan but not gluten-free, but I do like to take gluten-free challenges from time to time to try and live healthily. Like Oprah, I do love bread too much and I know what it does to my waistline.
Although vegan and gluten-free diets are unrelated, they can be combined to form a single eating regime as I have illustrated above. A vegan gluten-free diet offers several benefits. For starters, you get to have a healthy gut considering gluten is pretty hard to fully break down. Secondly, gluten is common in a lot of processed foods, which as we all know are not good for the body. So, by avoiding it, you get to live a healthier life. A vegan gluten-free diet means a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, which are undoubtedly good for the body.
It’s important to note, however, that a vegan gluten-free diet means you’ll be further limiting your dietary choices and cutting off twice as many potential sources of nutrients for your body. Therefore, while avoiding gluten is a must for anyone with the above mentioned medical conditions, the rest of the population should carefully consider whether going vegan and gluten-free at the same time is really in their best interest. Consult with your healthcare provider before cutting off all those foods.