Can You Be Vegan and Gluten Free?
With so many ways of eating, it can be hard to determine what is best for your body. And when health reasons help determine many of your food choices – like going gluten free – it can be even more difficult to decide what else you should be eating.
For those who prefer a plant based diet, you may be wondering whether you can combine a gluten free diet with a vegan diet. So we are exploring this question:
- What does it mean to be vegan?
- What are the benefits?
- What are the risks?
- What can I eat if I am both vegan and gluten free?
What Does it Mean to be Vegan?
To be vegan is to refrain from using animal products or products derived from animals. Veganism also extends beyond food. Many see veganism as a way of life, avoiding any product that includes ingredients derived from animals, such as leather clothing or accessories and personal care products.
What Does it Mean to be Vegetarian?
While vegans avoid any animal products, vegetarians only avoid meat. This means that vegetarians may eat products that are derived from animals, like eggs, dairy, or honey.
While some people may simply identify as vegetarian, others may identify with a more specific type of vegetarianism:
- Pescatarian: A pescatarian diet avoids meat but does include fish.
- Lacto-vegetarian: The lacto-vegetarian diet is a variation of vegetarianism that excludes meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. It still includes certain dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, and milk.
- Ovo-vegetarian: An ovo-vegetarian diet excludes all animal-based foods except for eggs.
Vegetarianism is often a personal choice, however, some people may find meat harder to digest. As always, listen to your body to understand how it is responding to different types of food.
What Does Gluten Free Mean?
To eat gluten free means to avoid any foods that contain gluten, a protein in wheat and also found in many other grains, like barley, wheat, rye, and triticale.
Some people must follow a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, as they have been diagnosed with celiac disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity. Others choose to follow a gluten free diet to realize health benefits of avoiding gluten-containing grains which are often inflammatory and irritating to the digestive system.
The Bright Side of the Vegan Diet
The vegan diet is focused on eating plant based foods. Many plant based foods (like whole vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds) are incredibly nutrient-dense. These foods contain important micronutrients, phytonutrients, and fiber.
The Dark Side of the Vegan Diet
Unfortunately, many processed foods have emerged that are marketed toward vegan eaters. These products are typically made to mimic animal-based foods, but they use ingredients that are highly processed, void of any meaningful nutrients, and inflammatory. For example, you can find vegan burgers, deli meats, chicken nuggets, cheese, and liquid eggs that are filled with ingredients like soy protein isolate, industrial seed oils (e.g., canola, safflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, etc.), carrageenan, xanthan gum, and modified food starch. In addition, these products often contain refined and gluten-containing grains.
Many people who are opting to follow a vegan diet for health or ethical reasons fall victim to marketing claims that suggest that meat substitutes are a healthier choice than meat itself. Since many of the processed products that are intended to substitute for animal products contain gluten, they can actually magnify health problems in those who don’t know that they are gluten sensitive.
In addition, there are certain nutrients that are only present in meaningful amounts in animal products, or only available in their more active and usable form in animal products. Because of this, those who follow a vegan diet are susceptible to deficiencies for these nutrients. Common deficiencies in vegans include vitamin B12, vitamin B6, methionine, zinc, calcium, iron, and protein.
What Can I Eat If I Am Vegan and Gluten Free?
There is a huge variety of healthy and nourishing foods that you can incorporate into your vegan, gluten-free diet. After all, healthy whole plant foods are naturally gluten-free and provide a number of important nutrients.
- Vegetables: non starchy vegetables (leafy greens, mushrooms, celery, asparagus, green beans, artichokes, peppers, zucchini), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage), starchy vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash)
- Nuts – walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans
- Legumes – legumes like lentils and beans garbanzo, black, red, and kidney) can be a healthy source of plant based protein and fiber. However, some people experience gastrointestinal distress from eating legumes, as they can be tough to digest, especially in those with gastrointestinal damage caused by prior gluten exposure. Soaking and sprouting legumes may help improve their digestibility.
- Seeds – seeds like flax, chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower can be a great source of healthy fat and fiber, as well as many micronutrients. However, like legumes, they may be tough to digest in those with gluten-induced gastrointestinal damage.
- Fruits – low sugar berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries), avocado, apples, pears, peaches, pineapples, bananas, mango
If you are looking for some delicious vegan and vegetarian gluten free recipes, check out our recipe library.
What Are The Benefits of Being Vegan and Gluten Free?
So, now that we know that you can be both vegan and gluten free, you might be wondering, should you be vegan and gluten free? That is a question for you to explore yourself, but the following are some benefits you may realize when following a vegan and gluten free focused on healthy whole foods, rather than processed foods and meat substitutes:
- Exposure to a wide variety of phytonutrients which are chemicals from plants that can help prevent disease.
- An abundance of fiber which helps with gut health as well as blood sugar balance.
- A rich and varied antioxidant intake which helps fight disease and fight inflammation.
However, it is important to note that a vegan and gluten free diet is not the only way to achieve these benefits. A diet can be rich in whole plant foods while also including well-sourced animal based foods.
When you eat healthy whole foods, like fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds, a gluten free vegan diet can be pretty simple to follow.
However, it is important to be aware of common nutrient deficiencies that can arise as part of a vegan diet. Many of these deficiencies are also prevalent in undiagnosed and recently diagnosed celiac disease patients. Deficiencies can lead to a range of health complications, from mild to severe, so they are well worth identifying and addressing. If you have any uncertainties or further questions around what way of eating is optimal for you, we recommend you take the gluten sensitivity test to learn more about gluten and gluten sensitivity and to help determine if you have gluten sensitivity.