what is gluten - kneeding dough

Can Vegans Eat Gluten? Plus, What is Gluten-free?

In Vegan Lifestyle by Contributor: Justine de JongeLeave a Comment

Can Vegans Eat Gluten - Breakfast Grains

Have you ever eaten at a restaurant and the server assumed that being vegan is the same as being gluten-free? Or, have you ordered the vegan option and have been asked: “Can vegans eat gluten?”

In a time when wellness is important to many, you can forgive people who assume that eating vegan is the same as eating gluten-free. It’s also a very good question considering just how many different dietary requirements we have these days. Additionally, it’s a serious topic considering how it can affect someone’s health and wellbeing if ignored.

Do vegans eat gluten? Mostly, yes.

Can vegans eat gluten? Yes, gluten is vegan because it isn’t derived from animals. However, let’s take a step back and try to understand exactly what a vegan diet is and what a gluten-free diet is. Then we can get into the nitty gritty and answer the following questions.

Can Vegans Eat Gluten? What is It, and How is Gluten-free Different Than a Vegan Diet?

Disclaimer: Some of the information provided in this article contains the views expressed by the writer. If you are experiencing any medical issues related to gluten intake, seek the advice of a medical professional.

What is a Vegan Diet?

What is Vegan Food?

A vegan diet is one that is 100% plant-based. Someone following a vegan diet abstains from animal-derived products (meat, eggs, animal-based dairy) for the wellbeing of ourselves, all animals and the planet.

A vegan diet includes all plants and products made from plants. This includes grains and cereals containing gluten like wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc. For many vegans, eating vegan is a choice and many vegans choose to eat gluten.

What is Gluten?

what is gluten - kneading dough

Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten gives food its glue-like consistency. If you pull a loaf of freshly baked bread apart, you’ll see that the bread is stringy and fluffy; the gluten holds the baked bread together and gives it its chewy texture.

What is a Gluten-free Diet?

gluten-free diet - bakery items

A gluten-free diet means eating foods that don’t contain gluten. Some gluten-free cereals include corn, rice, buckwheat, teff, pure oats (many are contaminated with gluten) and quinoa. 

Wheat is the most common grain eaten by people. The most common gluten proteins are called glutenin and gliadin. These common proteins have been found to be cause most of the negative effects that people have to gluten. That said, a study from 2013 showed that about 30% of Americans try to avoid consuming gluten. That’s a pretty big portion of the population!

Why Do Some Vegans Avoid Gluten?

Vegans can eat gluten, of course, though some don’t for a number of reasons. Health and ethics can both play a role.

Some experience lethargy, poor digestion, and skin blemishes when they eat gluten-containing foods. More seriously, some vegans may have medical conditions like Celiac Disease, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, or other gluten intolerances and sensitivities.

Others may choose to avoid products containing gluten for ethical reasons. under the false idea that some products are unethically produced. Since bone char is used in the production of sugar, some think that commercial flour bleaching may use the same method. However, according to The Vegan Society, using bone char in flour bleaching has been “unfounded”.

Gluten-free eating is a food movement that has been gaining popularity in recent years. But you should eat vegan foods that are good for you and generate the most energy for your body.

And, yes, many vegans can eat gluten to achieve their best health; as long as there are no underlying health issue.

Medical Conditions that Require a Gluten-Free Diet

wheat allergies gluten-free

What if eating gluten is causing you to become sick? How do you know if you can or can’t eat gluten? Are you concerned after you eat gluten?

Seeking medical advice is the first and most critical step to find out if you have a medical issue linked to eating gluten. There are a number of medical conditions linked to gluten which you can investigate with your doctor or specialist.

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disease where the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten, causing damage to the bowel. If left untreated, sufferers experience inflammation throughout the body and a lack of nutrient absorption.

Celiac Disease is genetic, so diagnosis requires genetic testing. After a patient is diagnosed, a gastroscopy is often conducted to understand the extent of internal damage to the gut.

Celiac Disease affects men and women, independent of whether or not they are vegan. In Australia, for example, 1 in 70 people are affected with Celiac Disease on average.

Gluten Intolerance and Sensitivity

Some people may experience gluten intolerance or sensitivity to gluten.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance can cause someone to experience a range of issues. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and excessive wind for example can occur when someone with gluten intolerance or sensitivity consumes gluten. Gluten can also cause sufferers to experience lethargy, poor concentration and general aches and pains.

A celiac specialist can diagnose gluten intolerance or sensitivity in addition to Celiac Disease. Thorough testing will determine what is causing symptoms and what course of action to take.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

Some people can experience skin reactions to gluten. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is a condition that causes blisters or bumps to appear on the skin as a reaction to consuming gluten. Testing is required to diagnose this condition.

Gluten Ataxia

Gluten ataxia is an auto-immune disorder that affects the brain. The body releases antibodies after gluten is consumed. These antibodies start attacking parts of the brain instead of protecting the body from the gluten. Gluten ataxia is a relatively new condition, so a diagnosis may be difficult.

Wheat Allergy

A wheat allergy occurs when the body reacts abnormally to a protein found in wheat. Nausea, bloating, and even a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can occur.

A wheat allergy mostly affects children, though some adults can experience this too. Allergy testing is necessary to make a diagnosis.

Misconceptions and Misleading Language About Gluten-Free Diets

explaining gluten-free diet

As the amount of people choosing a vegan diet or a gluten-free diet rises, so too does a lack of understanding.

It’s totally understandable why some people might think that vegans do not eat gluten. Especially when vegans often request gluten-free vegan options. A lack of understanding can also give way to stigma. Misleading language emerges, and phrases like “special diet”, “legitimate” or “the real deal” begin to crop up.

As a vegan, you have a choice. A conscious choice to eat a vegan diet. That said, some people may choose not to eat gluten because they feel better without it. Though, someone with one of the health conditions listed above doesn’t have a choice and must eat gluten-free.

Additionally, stigma exists depending on the gluten condition someone is suffering from. Saying that someone who has Celiac Disease that he or she is “the real deal” is harmful. It then affects the perception and understanding of other gluten-related health conditions. All gluten-related medical conditions are serious and severe. They must be treated as such.

So, what about people who observe a vegan diet? Someone who is vegan for ethical reasons may be just as passionate and conscious as someone who is vegan for health reasons.

People who observe either or both a vegan and a gluten-free diet do not want to be seen or treated as “special”. It’s important that a choice in diet is recognized and accepted without stigma or alienation.

Gluten-Free? What to Look Out for When Eating Out!

eating out gluten-free and vegan

Eating out as a gluten-free vegan takes some practice and education. Here are a few things you should look out for. 

Restaurant Menus

Often restaurants will have vegan menus and gluten-free menus, but not gluten-free vegan menus. To alleviate any confusion, and avoid any serious mistakes that can occur with your order, it’s important to communicate with your server so that they understand your meal requirements.

Ask if any vegan options are gluten-free and ask your server to check with the kitchen to make sure. Ask about non-vegan ingredients in gluten-free options. For example, gluten-free bread commonly contains egg as a binding agent. Alternatively, vegan-friendly binding agents in gluten-free cooking include xanthan gum, chia or flaxseed “eggs”.

Vegan and Gluten-free Alcohol

Alcoholic drinks also need to be checked for gluten and/or non-vegan ingredients or production practices. As a vegan diner, you’re probably expert in spotting which drinks have or don’t have animal-based ingredients in them, or use animal products for filtering. As a gluten-free diner, you also need to be aware of yeasts used in fermentation or as an ingredient (particularly in beer or cider). Since yeast can be wheat-derived it’s a no-no for someone that can’t eat gluten.

Additionally, many grains that contain gluten are used to make beer. Barley, wheat and rye are common in beer-brewing and can’t be consumed by those with gluten issues. Luckily, an array of gluten-free beers and ciders are emerging around the globe. Plus, wine is generally gluten-free but you need to make sure it’s vegan.

Calling Ahead and Communication

Calling a restaurant in advance about your and your guests’ dietary requirements is a good idea. Explain whether you’re vegan, gluten-free or both. Ask what options they have already available, or what special dishes can be prepared.

Additionally, clarify any questions the restaurant staff might have about what you and your dining companions can and can not eat. If you or a friend can’t eat gluten, make sure the kitchen understands how important it is to prepare your meals without the risk of cross-contamination. Cooking utensils and benches should be thoroughly cleaned to minimize or eliminate the risk of cross-contamination. Gluten can also become air-borne, further increasing the risk of cross-contamination.

You can also try to encourage your favorite restaurants to clearly label their vegan options gluten-free and vice versa.

Vegan and Gluten-Free… Do Vegans Eat Gluten?

can vegans eat gluten - gluten-free vegan dish

So, can vegans eat gluten? Yes, and no. Do vegans eat gluten? Yes, and no. Is it possible to be vegan and gluten-free? Absolutely!

We live in an exciting time when vegans are discovering more and more vegan options. The rise in vegan gluten-free options is also increasing. Though, you still need to do your research so you know both diets are catered for thoroughly.

You may need to plan daily meals in advance too. To help with meal preparation and planning, sign up to favorite recipes websites for new ideas that are also nutrient-rich. Celiac society websites also have handy resources so you know which gluten-free items to shop for in your country. Dont’ forget to ensure that items on your shopping list are also vegan!

So, do vegans eat gluten? Can vegans eat gluten? We believe yes and no, depending on personal circumstances as described above. Do you observe a vegan and gluten-free diet? If so, do you have any extra tips when dining out? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author

Contributor: Justine de Jonge

Justine is a freelance vegan travel writer and blogger based in Melbourne, Australia. Her site, Fire & Tea, is a map of her personal journey to becoming vegan, especially while on the road, and gradually slipping into the vegan way of life.

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It happens so many times. People think vegans don't eat gluten. Somehow veganism and gluten-free get confused. Here's everything you need to know about gluten-free diets, why people follow them, and why some vegans don't eat gluten.

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