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Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking

What home cooks should know about preparing gluten-free foods.

Gluten-Free Options

The list of foods to avoid on a gluten-free eating plan can be discouraging. It may be helpful to know that many gluten-free foods, including lean meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, enriched grains (such as rice), and low-fat dairy, form the basis of many different types of balanced diets, including gluten-free plans.

"Every food you eat doesn't have to be labeled gluten-free," says Shelley Case, RD, nutrition consultant and author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. "Lots of foods are naturally gluten-free, and many processed foods are gluten-free, too," Case says.

If you're already eating a balanced diet, going gluten-free at home may be a matter of some simple swaps, at least at first. These grains are OK to eat:

  • Rice, white and brown
  • Quinoa
  • Corn and polenta, and corn tortillas (but not flour tortillas)
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Certified gluten-free oats and oat products
  • Amaranth
  • Wild rice
  • Teff (a tiny grain commonly used in Ethiopian cuisine)


Gluten-Free Baking

Baked goods -- including bread, muffins, and desserts -- may be challenging for cooks who are new to gluten-free baking. The problem is, you can't swap gluten-free flour for regular flour and expect the same result.

Gluten helps dough to rise and lends shape and a chewy texture to baked goods. Gluten-free cookies, cakes, pastries, and quick breads may require xanthan gum and guar gum to help the dough or batter rise properly.

If you're not a skilled baker, gluten-free mixes for bread, pizza crust, and rolls may be the best approach because the manufacturer has already done the work for you.

If you'd like to experiment with gluten-free baked goods, start with muffins, pancakes, and cookies. They don't require yeast and are more forgiving of potential baking mishaps.

"I recommend tried-and-true gluten-free recipes for baked goods," says Rachel Begun, MS, RD, and blogger at The Gluten-Free RD. Use gluten-free recipes you know will work to prevent baking flops.

Gluten-free baked goods are often less nutritious than regular versions, largely because the flour used to make them is lower in iron, folic acid and other B vitamins, and fiber.

"Gluten-free recipes may rely more on refined flours and starches, so you should eventually learn how to bake with more nutritious flours to improve nutrition," Begun says.

Whole grain flour, such as brown rice flour, and flours made from beans, amaranth, and potato, may provide more nutrients than the white rice flour typically found in packaged mixes and used to make store-bought gluten-free goods.

Nut flours are nutrient-rich, too. Begun favors almond flour. "Almond flour has different properties than many other gluten-free flours, but I love baking with it," she says.

To start, substitute one-third of a gluten-free flour blend with almond flour. Make your own almond flour by grinding whole, frozen almonds in a food processor.

Reviewed on February 12, 2012

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