Things I Wish I Knew When First Going Gluten and Dairy Free

It’s been exactly 3 years this week since I’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, so I guess I consider myself a bit of a veteran when it comes to living gluten free. I thought I’d reflect a bit and offer some helpful tips to those newly diagnosed with either a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Since I also have the pleasure of having a dairy allergy, I’ve included some tips about going dairy free as well.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet 🙂 These are simply some “best practices” and include great advice and food suggestions I’ve gotten from others along the way. Take what works for you, and always, consult your doctor about your specific needs. In the past, I have printed out the information below and given it to family members, friends, and babysitters as a quick guide when preparing meals for us or taking care of my son.

What is Gluten anyway?

Gluten is the protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley that “binds” things together. It gives breads, pastas, cookies, crackers, and many other baked goods their texture. It is also used as a thickening agent in soups, salad dressings, marinades, and even soy sauce.

What is considered Dairy?

For me, anything that contains casein, the protein found in milk, is considered a dairy item to be avoided. This includes cow’s milk, butter, cheeses, and ice cream. This is not to be confused with lactose intolerance, which is an inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products. Contrary to popular belief, eggs are not considered dairy. They are often located with other dairy items in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores, so people commonly feel they are a dairy item to be avoided as well.

You just found out that you can’t eat gluten or dairy. Now what?

  • Take a deep breath. If it makes you feel better, shed a few tears to mourn the loss of crusty bread slathered with butter. Then, know that everything will be OK. In fact, it will better than OK because you are going to start healing yourself. Today.
  • If everyone in the household is going gluten free, you can donate or discard gluten containing flours, breads, pastries, and snacks. If you are like me and have die-hard gluten eaters in the house, discarding all gluten containing foods is unrealistic.  Be sure to reserve a clean “gluten free zone” in your pantry just for you. Set aside a section of your fridge or get your own mini-fridge for dairy free items such as cheeses, mayonnaise, alternative milks, and butters. I took over our beverage fridge, and that has been working great to keep my items separate and free from contamination. I also recommend getting a Sharpie pen to label your peanut butter, condiments, etc. with “GF/DF” so that you and everyone else in the house know what is safe for you!
  • Focus on what you CAN eat, and make a list of some of your favorite foods. You would be surprised at what gluten free substitutions you can find nowadays. Dominick’s and Jewel in Chicagoland now have gluten free sections. Whole Foods, Woodman’s, and Trader Joe’s have an extensive selection of gluten and dairy free items. See my tips for getting started with gluten free foods below, but a piece of fresh fruit or sliced veggies are naturally gluten free.
  • Get a shiny new toaster, just for you. Make sure everyone knows about this new toaster and not to touch it! You don’t want breadcrumbs co-mingling with your gluten free toast and bagels.
  • Remember that knowledge is power, but proceed on the Internet with caution. You will see a lot of conflicting information about what does/does not contain gluten, so it is best to go directly to the source. Read labels and contact manufacturers directly with any questions.
  • Have snacks handy all of the time, so you won’t find yourself hungry and unable to eat somewhere. Almonds with dried figs or raisins, and energy bars (Larabar, The Gluten Free Bar, Think Thin, Kind bars) are all great choices. You want something with carbohydrates and protein to help fill you up.
  • Check out your toiletries, makeup, and sunscreens. It depends on your sensitivity, but for some celiacs, skin products with gluten can cause a dermatitis rash. There is also the slight chance of accidentally ingesting the product too.  It’s better to be safe than sorry and a nice treat to buy some new beauty products! Most Neutrogena and Dove products are gluten free, but check labels. Trader Joe’s tea tree shampoos are gluten free and will make your head tingle with delight as you lather up. Bare Minerals is a great line of makeup, pricey but high quality and will last you a while.

Basic Gluten Free and Dairy Free Guidelines

  • All fresh fruits and vegetables are gluten free. Fresh eggs are also gluten free and dairy free.
  • Fresh meat, poultry, and fish are gluten free. Check any seasonings or sauces that may have been added to meats to ensure there are no gluten ingredients.
  • Breads, pasta, crackers, pretzels, baked goods (cookies, doughnuts, muffins, pancakes) are NOT gluten free. There are many gluten free substitutions on the market now. Some better than others. You can also make your own gluten free breads and baked goods either from scratch or using some pre-made, gluten free mixes on the market.
  • Ingredients to stay away from: Wheat, Rye, Barley, Malt, and any derivatives of these. Most major brands do call out allergens in their ingredients list, so you can always check that too. Oats are a bit tricky, since they are typically contaminated from being harvested alongside wheat, and there is some debate as to whether they contain proteins that can trigger symptoms similar to gluten sensitivity. Recently, companies have been producing oats that are certified gluten free. Research has also shown that gluten free oats can be tolerated by most celiacs in small amounts (1/2 cup per day), once intestines have had adequate time to begin healing (approximately 6 months).

Cooking Guidelines

  • Use separate utensils, cutting board, preparation surface, and pots & pans for cooking gluten free food. We prepare gluten containing food in our household as well, so sometimes I will prepare my gluten free food before preparing any gluten containing food.
  • Sponges – Be careful! Those can trap gluten if you prepare gluten containing and gluten free items in your household. Replace them often.
  • Use separate toaster for gluten free and gluten-containing breads.
  • Grill gluten free items on a separate grill, or dedicated area of a grill that has been thoroughly cleaned.
  • Wash hands thoroughly between handling gluten free and gluten containing foods.
  • Good Substitutions for Milk are: Coconut Milk, Almond Milk, Soy Milk
  • Good Substitutions for Butter are: Earth Balance Spread, Canola Oil, Olive Oil, Crisco shortening, Cooking Spray – be careful here. Some sprays are “butter flavor” or “baking spray” and may contain wheat and/or milk.

Common Foods and Brands that are Gluten and Dairy Free

Breakfast Foods

  • Chex Cereal (Rice, Corn, Cinnamon, and Honey Nut varieties)
  • Bacon (certain brands) – Hormel, Oscar Mayer, Applegate Farms, Wright
  • Sausages (certain brands) – Aidell’s, Jennie-O (certain varieties), Hillshire Farms (certain varieties)
  • Yogurts – Yoplait is gluten free, So Delicious (coconut milk-based), Silk (soy milk-based), and Amande (almond milk-based) brands are both gluten and dairy free
  • Van’s Waffles – Buckwheat with Blueberry are very good
  • Bagels with Toffuti Cream Cheese – Kinnickinnick and Udi’s bagels are delicious

Recipes to Try: Banana pancakes, blueberry muffins, smoothies, pumpkin bread

Lunch Items

  • Fresh Salads – Amy’s, Annie’s and Brianna’s brands make excellent salad dressings
  • Lunchmeat sandwiches, hot dogs  – Hormel, Oscar Mayer, Applegate Farms are gluten free and have varieties that are nitrate/nitrite free as well.
  • Eggs (egg salad, hard boiled)
  • Soups – Most have wheat in them. Amy’s brand makes a few gluten free varieties that are just heat and serve.
  • Potatoes – Several varieties of Ore-Ida french fries and hash browns are gluten free. It says it right on the package 🙂

Recipes to Try: Egg salad, chicken salad, bean burrito, chicken noodle soup, tuscan vegetable soup, creamy corn chowder, veggie quiche

Safe Sauces/Condiments (Always check labels for most up-to-date ingredients)

  • Heinz Ketchup (original says gluten free right on the back)
  • French’s Classic Yellow Mustard, Dijon Mustard, Honey Mustard
  • Lea & Perrin’s Original Worcestershire Sauce
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce
  • Hershey’s Chocolate Flavor Syrup
  • Hellman’s Original Mayonnaise
  • Pasta Sauces: Classico brand says gluten free right on it
  • Salsas: All Frontera salsas are gluten free
  • La Choy Soy Sauce (regular and less sodium)


  • JIF Peanut Butter
  • Smucker’s Preserves (any variety)
  • Tribe brand Hummus, Sabra brand Hummus


  • Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth (Less Sodium), Regular
  • Pacific Foods
  • Kitchen Basics Stock
  • Rachael Ray’s Stock


  • Kraft Jet Puffed Marshmallows
  • Clabber Girl Baking Powder
  • Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda
  • Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Premium Baking Chips (dairy free)
  • Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (not dairy free)

Breads to Try: There are a variety of gluten free breads on the market, some better than others. Check out my post, Against the Grain – A Sampling of Great Gluten Free Breads, for some of my favorite gluten free breads to try. As for sweets, here are a few recipes to get you started: chocolate chip biscotti, ghirardelli’s chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter bars, carrot cake, rice krispie treats

Canned Goods

  • Bush’s Beans (all varieties)
  • Coconut Milk (Taste of Thai, Thai Kitchen brands)

Snacks – check out my Snack Attack post with some of my favorite gluten free snacking options

  • Blue Diamond Almond Nut Thins
  • Tortilla Chips (El Milagro, Tostitos, Mission, Xoachetl)
  • Lay’s Potato Chips
  • Ruffles Potato Chips
  • Fritos

Tips for Eating Out

Check out my listing of some great, gluten free restaurants and pizzerias around Chicagoland.

  • Before you go, look online, read reviews from other celiacs, and check out the gluten free menu.
  • Lettuce Entertain You has done an excellent job of providing dedicated gluten free menus.
  • Call ahead. Speak to the manager or chef (if you can) beforehand about your concerns. I always say I have a gluten “allergy”, since that is better understood than going into a 10 minute explanation about my intestinal villi.
  • When checking in, reconfirm that you have dietary concerns with your server, don’t be afraid to send something back or ask questions. Let them know it is serious!
  • Be an advocate for yourself – This should be an enjoyable experience and you have the right to enjoy your meal and not get sick! With that said, I am cautious and I trust my “gut reaction” (no pun intended).
  • The Gluten Free explosion has been a double edged sword. There are now more options than ever, but not every establishment truly “gets” it, e.g. brushing croutons off the salad as they are serving it to you, frying gluten and gluten free items together in the same fryers, oil, etc.




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  • fb_avatar

    One thing that I've found that works for people who are avoiding casein but miss butter is to go with butter ghee (clarified butter). You can typically purchase it in the foreign foods section (Indian or Hispanic). It's got a rich, fat flavor but should be tolerable for those with casein intolerance. Of course, test it yourself and see.

    Also, plenty of people I've helped out with their dietary limitations also find that heavy cream (full fat!) doesn't provoke any casein issues.

    I've been wheat and casein-free for 6 months (Archevore diet platform) and haven't felt better in 20 years.

  • Thank you for all the info!!! I have just been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and my acupuncturist recommended I go dairy and gluten free. I am hoping this clears up my psoriasis on my elbows and knees as well. Have you tried any gluten free/dairy free pizza?

  • In reply to DaveSemko:

    Glad I could help! Good luck with the diet. The only frozen GF/DF pizza that I've had is Amy's brand. It's not bad when you are in a hurry. Unfortunately, when it comes to pizza, there really is no good replacement for real cheese. Daiya brand comes the closest in terms of taste and melting. Here are a few posts for making your own GF/DF pizza. I just recently tried Glutino frozen pizza crusts, and they are quite good too!

  • In reply to Rachel Young:

    I am a new member for diary free,and Guten free food, The Doctor will be running more tests on me! Not sure on how to began?

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    As a by-product of the South Beach diet, and a recent reading of "Wheat Belly", I discovered that avoiding wheat has not only helped my weight control but has left me feeling much better. I have suffered with IBS for years, tested negative for Celiac, and have had doctors experimenting with treatments for anxiety and depression, neither of which are in my mental/emotional makeup. Since I dislike taking medications, I have never really been faithful to these treatments and dislike having the substances in my body.

    What I have realized through trial and error is that lactose has a negative effect. Now, I have added wheat/gluten to the list of things to avoid, and I have not had any digestive issues in weeks. Yay!

    I also realize that exercise is the key for maintaining weight and tone, and I know myself well en

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Marjorie Williams:

    ...enough to know that I will not adhere strictly to a diet where I cannot enjoy wine, bourbon, and an occasional splurge in diet. I am a foodie who loves to cook! What I have learned is what to avoid and what foods are triggers for weight gain, fatigue and digestive issues, so I am a happy camper.

    Thanks for the comprehensive list of foods in your article. This is very helpful. I printed a copy for my kitchen.

  • Thank you so much for this extremely informative article. I have several conditions that make it likely I would benefit from a gluten free diet but I have not been able to get myself to try it. Your article compiles this information in a way that actually makes it seem doable and somewhat manageable. Thank you again.

  • Hi,
    I have just been told to go dairy free and gluten free because lab tests show that I have a sensitivity to both gluten and cow's milk (casein). I was wondering if you knew whether it is ok to have goat's or sheep's cheese instead of cow. I have tried daiya and it tastes ok, but like you said nothing really compares (bummer because cheese is one of my favorite things!). Thank you for an informative article! It really helps.

  • Just a heads up about eggs... for the very sensitive, gluten apparently does cross through from chicken food to chicken to egg.... On Backyard Chickens there are those that are now making their own gluten free chicken food for their own little chicken flock just so that they can eat eggs again. It might be something to consider - you may not have an egg issue at all ... it could be the gluten in the eggs.

    And, gluten crosses through human breast milk, too. My baby was diagnosed at age 6 months with gluten intolerance. She had severe constipation as her only symptom. Despite what all sources on line have stated, breastfed only infants CAN be constipated, though rarely, and in our case it was all due to gluten. And, I learned from having to go GF for her that I am also gluten intolerant.

    After going GF myself, I also discovered that my migraines that I have had for 20 years went away... and the chocolate that used to trigger them no longer bothered me. Chocolate is a small consolation prize - but I'll take it.

  • Thank you for the info. The concern I have are, when you go gluten free, it seems the only choice for other foods are rice based foods. What's in rice? Arscenic! There have been many news stories about the levels of arscenic in rice based foods and quite frankly, I really would rather not touch the rice based stuff which is your gluten free alternative, so then what? The other concern is carrageenan which is carcinogen that is found in many yogurts and some almond milks. The FDA is such a joke justifying the safety of it because it doesn't cause "immediate" harm. So, what is truly safe to eat that is gluten free beside fruits and veggies? I would love a list of things to choose from.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to over here:

    When avoiding rice in a gluten free diet, the main sacrifice is prepared/commercial food. However, making things from scratch using other substitutes like almond, quinoa, and chickpea flours is a great solution.

  • Thanks for your beyond belief blogs stuff.
    Full Tomato Soft Article

  • fb_avatar

    Thank you! Recently being told I must be gluten free was kinda scary but the info you provided is awesome!

  • fb_avatar

    being gluten free, because of celiac , i have finally given up dairy, i have found that the more i give up the more i am sensitive too. I have a problem with you recommending rice krispy treats as a snack, they contain malt...I did not think gluten free could eat rice krispies. if I am wrong I would be delighted, that would add just another thing to my list of things I love that I could eat again.

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  • I was diagnosed celiac 52 years ago; I am now 57 and restarted my gluten free diet. I "dealt" with the stomach issues and now have had enough. Along with that I am lactose intolerant. Can't wait to start feeling better!

  • I am so happy to see this website especially since I am moving to Chicago this fall. This is so helpful for me and my daughter since we both are gluten and dairy free. It is so worth it to feel good and not have constant stomach pain.

  • I just read the article "Things I wish I knew"--
    I have a long history of itching skin, stuffy or runny nose and often chest congestion and headachs when eating about everything under the sun.
    Monday I decided to start cutting out dairy, breads and nuts out of my diet.
    Today I was doing pretty well until this I had a glass of Almond chocolate silk and blue corn chips. Within 30 min I develop chest congestion, itching, runny nose. The Almond chocolate silk seems to be the culprit, but just my assumption. Any thoughts?

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  • fb_avatar

    One quick thing to add about lunch meats is that some contain milk. I was so surprised to find out and it's a little frustrating going through all the labels but it's very worth it to avoid the reaction to the lactose/milk.

  • Sweet baby rays barbecue sauce has caramel color with affects my allergy. I found that out when I drank root beer.

  • fb_avatar

    Lea & Perrin's Original Worcestershire Sauce has barley. Good info otherwise so thanks

  • fb_avatar

    I thought the items you listed would be gluten free and dairy free. The Blue Diamond Almond nut-thins have milk so I find the list confusing.

  • fb_avatar

    I appreciate your information- but let me toss in a curve ball- besides being allergic to WHEAT (gluten intolerant, not celiac) and DAIRY (Casein not lactose), I am also allergic to many of the substitutes mentioned on your site, such as, ALMONDS, COCONUT, as well as several other off the wall items, including but not limited to BANANA, all forms of PEAS, Oregano, black PEPPER, all SHELL FISH, all types of YEAST, MALT, BRAN, COCOA, GINGER, and MUSHROOMS (in addition to MULTIPLE Environmental allergens)...... It has proven to be difficult to locate and I am desperate to find receipes void of the above. I am frustrated. I am hungry, lol.... Any suggestions? Does a diet like that exsist?

  • fb_avatar

    I am beyond thrilled that I found your blog. I have been struggling with food allergies and sensitivities for 17 years now. (which include gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, fruits and veggies) It took me the first 12 to figure out what was wrong with me. Everyone thought I was crazy but I knew I wasn't... so about 6 years ago I went on a very strict diet to test how my body reacted. I ate nothing but turkey for 2 years and I never felt better!! I was beyond happy!! I lost 45 lbs in 4 months and had tons of energy. The swelling in my feet and hands was gone and I didn't look like I was 7 months pregnant anymore. It was a HUGE struggle to only eat turkey. At times I cried but mostly I just felt like a crazy person deprived of flavor and FOOD!!! I continued because I refused to feel sick again. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with breast cancer in Oct. 2014 and everything came crashing down. My oncologist told me that I needed to eat to keep my body strong for chemo.. so I started eating regular food again. I made it through treatment and am now in remission, however I can not get a handle on my eating habits. Thanks for the inspiration I needed to take control and get healthy again.

  • fb_avatar

    Hi I am gluten and dairy and egg free. And trying hard not to hang out in the bathroom but ever time I end up in the bathroom.

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