Gluten-free, gluten-intolerant, gluten-sensitive. It can be hard to keep track of all these different terms and even more difficult to know what they all mean.
But, gluten is everywhere in our food these days. So, it’s critical that you understand exactly what gluten is and what it means for your prepping efforts.
Here’s what you need to know:
Table of Contents
What Is Gluten?
First things first, what even is gluten? According to Harvard Health, gluten is a mixture of two proteins that naturally occur in some foods. In fact, gluten comes from the endosperm, or the inside of the seed, of a few different cereal grains, including wheat, barley, and rye.
Effectively, it acts as a binding agent in food, and helps to hold everything together so it doesn’t crumble and fall apart in your hands.
Gluten also provides food with texture and is one of the reasons why dough is so “stretchy” when you’re trying to make bread.
What Food Has Gluten?
As I’ve mentioned, gluten occurs naturally in wheat, barley, and rye. So, any bread or baked goods containing these flours will also have gluten in them.
Other flowers, such as spelt, emmer, triticale, einkorn, and Khorasan wheat (a.k.a. Kamut), also have gluten, but in lower quantities. Additionally, oats are naturally gluten-free, but they often get contaminated with gluten in the production process.
Where it gets complicated, however, is that any food made with wheat, barley, rye, or any of its derivatives (such as malts), also have gluten in them.
This includes anything from imitation meats to soy sauce. Plus, gluten is often added to food like ice cream and ketchup, as a stabilizing agent.
It gets even more confusing when you realize that some foods, like corn and rice, which are often referred to as having gluten, are actually gluten-free. Instead, they have different proteins that act similarly to gluten, particularly in risotto rice, but that aren’t “true gluten.”
Oh, and if you’re wondering if that nice bottle of Scotch you just bought has gluten in it, worry not.
While beer has a whole lot of gluten in it, the distilling process that’s used to produce spirits, like whiskey, deactivates the gluten proteins, making these beverages gluten-free.
Is Gluten Bad For You?
This all sounds great and all, but is gluten actually bad for you? Despite all the hype about “eating gluten-free,” unless you have a specific medical condition or a sensitivity to gluten (more on that in a bit) gluten isn’t necessarily bad for you.
According to the University of Rochester, people who stop eating gluten often find that they lose a little bit of weight in the process.
However, this is generally more to do with the fact that gluten is found in a lot of highly processed foods, like pizza, pasta, bread, and baked goods, than with anything that’s inherently bad about gluten.
While reducing the amount of processed food that one consumes is better for your health, it’s not correct to say that simply cutting out gluten is the healthiest choice.
Instead, many people who lose weight and feel better while eating a gluten-free diet gain these health benefits simply because they’re replacing a lot of those glutinous processed foods with fruits and veggies.
Who Should Avoid Gluten?
If gluten isn’t bad for you, though, then why do people avoid it? Well, while some people choose not to eat gluten because it makes them feel better, others have medical conditions that make it so that they should avoid gluten at all costs.
Although it’s not that common in the grand scheme of things, celiac disease is perhaps the best-known condition that requires a gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and Sjögren’s, among others.
This means that it causes the body’s immune system to attack itself, killing and damaging healthy cells in the process.
With celiac disease, the body directly attacks the lining of the gut when someone who has the disease eats gluten. This can cause long-term digestive health issues and even stop the body from absorbing essential nutrients.
While celiac disease is fairly well discussed today, it’s certainly not new. In fact, some of the earliest references to a condition that might be celiac disease date back to the second century CE, although the first recorded attempt at treatment wasn’t until 1924.
But, experts believe that about 2 million people in the United States have celiac disease, many of whom haven’t been diagnosed.
That being said, celiac disease is not the only condition that can cause people to avoid gluten.
Some people have “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” which can result in a wide range of signs and symptoms, including cramps, lethargy, and very painful stomach aches.
Since many of these symptoms are also similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it’s not yet clear how many people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, IBS, or both.
Do I Need To Worry About Gluten For My Stockpile?
All this talk about avoiding gluten is enough to make anyone wonder if they, too, should steer clear.
However, unless you find that it makes you feel better, or if you know that you have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or IBS, you don’t necessarily have to avoid gluten.
In reality, it’s generally best to consult your doctor if you’re thinking about switching to a gluten-free diet. If you are having digestive issues that you think might be linked to gluten, they’ll be able to help you decide on the best path forward.
Additionally, there is some research that suggests that, when not done properly, a gluten-free diet can lead to some vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
So, if you’re thinking about going gluten-free, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional about what you should and shouldn’t eat to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients that your body needs.
It’s also important to keep in mind that even if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity or a condition that requires you to avoid gluten, someone else in your extended family or one of your friends might.
So, if that person needs to bug in with you, it’s important that you have food in your stockpile that they can eat.
How To Prep Gluten-Free
Prepping with a gluten-free diet in mind is all about making sure that you have an ample stockpile of gluten-free food on hand.
However, it also involves knowing how to identify gluten-free foods, how to prepare your own gluten-free food, and how to store these items properly to prevent cross-contamination.
Identify Gluten-Free Foods
These days, it’s a whole lot easier to identify gluten-free foods in the supermarket than it was even ten years ago.
Before people started to realize that non-celiac gluten sensitivity existed, “gluten-free” food was limited to the then-small number of people with formally diagnosed celiac disease.
Thankfully, it’s now fairly easy to identify gluten-free food that you can use in your stockpile. Here’s what you need to know:
Look for “Certified Gluten-Free”
There is now an independent organization that certifies food as gluten-free. All of these foods will have a “certified gluten-free” label on their packaging, which tells you right away that it’s a good choice for your gluten-free stockpile.
However, these labels are found almost exclusively on processed foods, so you won’t find them on things like fresh produce.
But, if you thought that was too easy, then you’re right: Even though a food is labeled as “certified gluten-free,” it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily safe for people with celiac.
In fact, there are some foods that, even if processed to be under the legal limit for gluten in “certified gluten-free” foods, still can cause problems for people with celiac disease.
If you’re looking to build a stockpile for someone who isn’t celiac gluten sensitive, this usually isn’t a problem.
However, if you or someone in your family has it, you’ll want to be extra careful that the certified gluten-free food isn’t also marked “not safe for Celiac.” If it is, you’ll want to avoid it.
Read The Ingredients List
Unfortunately, not all processed foods that are gluten-free actually have the “certified gluten-free” label. That doesn’t mean that they’re not safe, but, rather that you need to do a bit of investigating before you decide that it is or isn’t gluten-free.
The easiest way to identify if someone has gluten in it is to look for wheat, barley, or rye in the ingredients list.
Since wheat is also a major allergen, any food with an ingredient that contains wheat should also be identified in big bold letters at the bottom of the ingredients list as “Contains: Wheat.”
Also, just because something is labeled “wheat-free,” it doesn’t mean that it’s gluten-free. Plus, barley and rye are not major allergens, so you’ll have to do a bit more sleuthing to determine if a product actually has gluten in it.
Unfortunately, there are a whole lot of different wheat, barley, and rye derivatives that are found in packaged foods. This includes:
- Malt: Malted barley flour, malted milk, malt extract, malt vinegar, malt syrup, malt flavoring, maltose)
- Starches: Wheat starch, modified food starch, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, pregelatinized starch, hydroxypropylated starch
- Yeasts: Brewer’s yeast
- Wheat derivatives: Durum, semolina, wheat berries, spelt, farro, farina, Khorasan, einkorn
Many other foods that feature flavorings, seasonings, soy sauce, miso, bouillon cubes, spreads, canned soups, or gravies are also usually made from wheat, barley, rye, or their derivatives. When in doubt, it’s best to avoid the food, research the product, or call the manufacturer directly.
This might sound over-the-top, but for people with celiac, in particular, eating gluten can have some serious consequences. They’ll certainly appreciate your due diligence should you need to live off of your stockpile.
Fruits, Vegetables, And Meat Are Naturally Gluten-Free
You’ll often see bags of baby carrots or containers of blueberries in the supermarket that are labeled as “gluten-free.” While this is true, it’s not really the most helpful label since all fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free.
Although you probably won’t have any fresh fruit and veg in your stockpile, you’re likely going to have dried fruit, dehydrated veggies, and canned produced in your stores.
However, when you get store-bought dried fruits and dehydrated vegetables, it’s important to check that they don’t have any added gluten-containing ingredients.
Some companies will add a gluten-based stabilizer to their dried fruits and veggies to help them stay fresher for longer. But, this also means that they’re no longer gluten-free. For the most part, though, plain and unsweetened dried fruits and nuts are a-okay.
Additionally, if you’re going to home-can some of your own fruits and veggies, they’re also gluten-free. Just be sure that you wash them thoroughly before canning, especially if you also happen to grow wheat or other gluten-containing grains nearby as they can get cross-contaminated.
Finally, meat is naturally gluten-free. However, many companies will add gluten-containing ingredients to their meat products, especially processed meats, like sausages.
If you’re buying fresh cuts of meat, you should be okay, but anything that’s processed should be investigated further.
Know What Grains And Foods Are Naturally Gluten-Free
While anything with wheat, barley, and rye has gluten in it, there are plenty of grains and other foods out there that don’t have gluten in them that are good options for your stockpile. These include:
- Rice (not rice pilaf, which contains pasta) and rice flours
- Beans, lentils, and other legumes (be cautious with baked beans or anything flavored)
- Sorghum (a.k.a. Milo)
- Buckwheat (yes, it contains the word “wheat,” but it’s not related)
- Oats (be sure to get certified gluten-free oats)
- Corn and corn flours (get certified gluten-free)
- Quinoa (can be easily contaminated with gluten, so opt for certified gluten-free)
- Potatoes and potato starch/flours
- Tapioca and tapioca flours
- Arrowroot powder
- Nuts and nut flours (choose certified gluten-free)
For most people who are non-celiac gluten intolerant, any of these grains and foods are okay to eat. However, for some people with Celiac, any cross-contamination can make these foods unsafe to eat.
If you’re shopping for someone with Celiac, it’s best to opt for certified gluten-free products whenever possible.
Be Familiar With Gluten-Free Alternatives
Many of us have plenty of flour, pasta, and other gluten-containing foods in our stockpile. So, it’s understandable if you’re scratching your head and wondering what you’re going to add to your stores that’s gluten-free.
Thankfully, there are plenty of great gluten-free alternatives out there that are perfect for your emergency stockpile. This includes gluten-free pasta, snacks, canned soups, energy bars, flours, and pretty much anything you can think of.
Some companies have gotten so good at making gluten-free products that even people who don’t have to eat gluten-free think they’re quite tasty.
Before you buy large amounts of gluten-free food for your stores, though, be sure to familiarize yourself with the products you’re buying. Cooking gluten-free food can be tricky, so you want to be sure that you know what you’re doing before you get in an emergency situation.
This is particularly true with gluten-free flours. Making gluten-free bread is not easy, so try out a few different recipes and have one on hand that works for you.
Unless you really enjoy experimenting with baking, I highly recommend getting “cup for cup” gluten-free flour, which can be used as a substitute for wheat flour in most recipes.
It’s also a good idea to have a mix of different gluten-free flours, such as rice, almond, and coconut flour, as well as some xanthan gum (acts as a substitute for gluten) in your stores.
These ingredients are called for in a lot of gluten-free recipes and can be used to make nearly any baked good.
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Also, plenty of companies make gluten-free dehydrated foods, such as Augason Farms and Mountain House.
Augason Farms is particularly useful for gluten-free preppers because they have a whole facility that’s specifically dedicated to creating gluten-free products that are certified gluten-free, some of which are also allergen-friendly.
Other companies, such as Arrowhead Mills, Bob’s Red Mill, Udis, and Enjoy Life Foods also specifically make gluten-free products that are perfect for your stockpile.
Making Your Own Gluten-Free Emergency Food
Unfortunately, a whole lot of gluten-free food (especially if it’s certified gluten-free) is quite expensive. This means that buying gluten-free food for your stores can really eat away at your prepping budget.
But there are plenty of ways to prepare your own gluten-free food at home that can save you a whole lot of money, and can ensure that your food is gluten-free.
Dehydrating, canning, and even freeze-drying, are all good options if you’re looking to preserve some of the food you have around your home that’s naturally gluten-free.
You can even make your own gluten-free flours at home just by processing them through a blender. Nut flowers are particularly easy to make, and doing so can save you a lot of money over buying them in-store.
While there will certainly be some items that you’ll need to get in-store, by prepping some of your own gluten-free emergency food, you can cut down on your overall costs.
How To Prevent Cross-Contamination
If you’re going to spend a lot of time and money on creating a good gluten-free stockpile, you don’t want to waste your efforts by letting your gluten-free foods get contaminated with wheat, barley, or rye.
Thus, it’s important that you take some steps to prevent cross-contamination in your stockpile, or during an emergency.
Here are some tips for doing just that:
- Label Everything. This is solid advice for anyone building a stockpile, regardless of if it’s gluten-free. It’s a good idea to label everything, particularly if you’ve taken it out of its original packaging. Clearly write what the item is and if it contains any allergens, such as gluten.
- Have A Lot Of Soap. If you’re cooking for someone who’s gluten-free, you’ll need a whole lot of soap on hand to ensure that any utensils, pots, or pans are thoroughly cleaned between uses. Ideally, you’d have a completely separate cook set for someone with celiac, but if this isn’t possible, a thorough cleaning is essential to prevent cross-contamination.
- Try To Cook The Gluten-Free Food First. If you’re bugging in and need to cook up a meal, it’s usually best to cook the gluten-free food first, especially if you have a limited amount of cooking space. That way, you can be less meticulous about cleaning during the meal but still ensure that there is no contamination of the gluten-free food.
- Be Careful When Baking With Flours. Flour gets absolutely everywhere when you bake, so it can easily contaminate your gluten-free food. So, if you’re doing some non-gluten-free baking while bugging in, be sure that you don’t have any gluten-free food sitting out that could get contaminated by flour particles in the air. Then, when you’re done baking, be sure to thoroughly clean any surfaces in your kitchen. This is more of a concern for people with celiac disease, but it is good practice for anyone that also needs to prepare gluten-free food.
Prepping for a gluten-free diet might sound intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to know how to identify it in food and how to build a gluten-free stockpile for use during any SHTF situation.
Gaby is a wilderness survival expert, mountaineering guide, and professional outdoor educator, with specialties that include firearms handling and wilderness medicine. She is also a freelance writer for a variety of outdoor and survival publications.