Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and any products deriving from these grains. It can be found in food products, beverages and medication. While oats do not contain gluten, they are often manufactured on shared equipment and are thus unsafe for people with coeliac. Oats that are specifically labeled as gluten-free are okay on a gluten-free diet.
If you have coeliac disease, even traces of gluten are harmful and can eventually cause serious inflammation of the small intestine and increase your risk of further diseases. The only treatment of coeliac disease is a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet.
Some people have Non-Coeliac gluten intolerance, which means they experience physical symptoms in response to eating gluten. These individuals also require a gluten-free diet to keep symptoms at bay.
If you are starting a gluten free diet in China, check out our Ultimate Guide for China specific information to get you started.
Once you figure out what to eat (there is a lot), you will want to reduce the chance of accidentally consuming gluten both in your home and while dining out. There are many hidden sources of gluten in food and sauces. One example of hidden gluten was recently found in the soy milk used by some Starbucks shops in China. This example exemplifies the importance of checking labels on all processed foods, and asking food servers to show you labels when you are unsure.
Cross-contamination is another risk when avoiding gluten. This occurs when gluten accidentally ends up in your GF food via shared utensils/tools, wok pans and deep-frying oils. This is why french fries are usually NOT gluten free. Most restaurants use the same oil to fry breaded foods as they use for their fries. Be sure to question restaurant staff to ensure the food you order will be safe for you.
Cross-contamination can also be a risk at home. When cooking gluten free food, even breadcrumbs from shared toasters or cutting boards can be harmful. Be careful to wipe down surfaces and use clean utensils when preparing gluten free meals.
We have created this Restaurant Card to make it easier to talk to restaurant staff and servers. You can also check out our Ayi Guide which gives a great overview of how to safely prepare gluten free food on your own.
Gluten free grocery shopping can be daunting, so we recommend starting natural. Here is our list of healthy, naturally GF foods and ingredients that can be found almost anywhere – usually on the outside perimeter of any grocery store.
You will need to be a little more vigilant when purchasing processed foods. The following foods usually contain gluten: canned processed foods, convenience food, frozen meals, vegetarian meat alternatives (seitan), and sauces. Soy sauce, salad dressings and seasonings are all high-risk for containing gluten. Similarly, stock cubes and powders, as well as pre-packed soy milks and tea blends may contain barley malt, another source of gluten. Although plain potatoes are safe, french fries and potato wedges may be floured for extra crispiness and therefore may contain gluten. The more obvious foods to avoid are snacks, seasoned nuts, ice creams (if made with cookies, waffles or cake crumbs). And unfortunately, beer and licorice often contain gluten as well.
For the above grocery items, only certified GF-labeled products are recommended for a gluten-free diet. In China, the availability of GF-certified products is growing but currently very limited. Check out our Shopping Guides for ideas on where to get started.
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