6 Tips for Starting a Dairy and Gluten Free Diet
Learn how to improve your health, reduce inflammation, and fight chronic disease with these tips for starting a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. This article reviews the basics and a plan for eliminating both gluten and dairy.
Why to Consider Going Gluten and Dairy-Free
The terms “gluten-free” and “dairy-free” seem to be everywhere lately.
Many people go gluten-free and dairy-free to help manage chronic disease, food allergies, food sensitivities, and inflammation.
Both gluten and dairy are also common allergens and and can cause issues in many people. Depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend trying a gluten-free and dairy-free diet to see if it helps.
But, what are the best ways to get started on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet?
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What is gluten and where do you find it?
- What is dairy and what foods contain it?
- How gluten can lead to inflammation
- How dairy can lead to inflammation
- Best gluten-free and dairy-free foods
- Tips to get started going gluten-free and dairy-free
Whether you are new to this type of eating or you’ve been doing it awhile, I hope this helps you on your journey to feeling better.
What is Gluten?
First off, let’s review what gluten is and how it can be a problem for some people.
Gluten is a type of protein known as a prolamin found in the endosperm of grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten is the “glue” that holds baked-goods together and is best known for its stretchy quality.
Foods containing gluten include whole grains, most refined grains, breads, crackers, cookies, and many other foods. For instance, soy sauce contains gluten.
To effectively avoid gluten, you will need to read any food labels or ingredient labels of foods you buy.
Gluten & Inflammation
There are several ways that gluten can lead to inflammation in the body, and there are also several conditions that can benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Gluten is considered an inflammatory food for a few reasons.
First, gluten contains high levels of anti-nutrients, which are proteins found on some plants. These anti-nutrients can bind with and interfere with the absorption and digestion of nutrients in your gut, causing inflammation.
This is sometimes called leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability.
Release of Zonulin
Second, consumption and digestion of gluten prompts the release of zonulin in the body.
Zonulin is a protein that controls the opening and closing of junctions in your gut lining–in fact, it’s the only known protein that does so.
Our guts are meant to have selective permeability through those junctions–letting good things out into our bloodstream and keeping bad things in your gut for removal.
Research has found that the release of zonulin takes over our natural selective permeability and opens those tight junctions regardless of what should be allowed in your bloodstream.
This includes partially digested food particles–which, when in your bloodstream, are perceived as harmful foreign invaders. This prompts an immune response in your body, leading to inflammation.
Gluten consumption is a personal choice and you do not need a medical reason to avoid it.
However, you may choose to follow a gluten free diet to help manage the following conditions:
1. Celiac Disease
Individuals with Celiac Disease (a type of autoimmune disorder) are unable to digest gluten and its consumption leads to intestinal damage.
Those with Celiac should eat gluten-free foods and avoid gluten 100% of the time to avoid further intestinal damage.
2. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Those with a gluten sensitivity experience many, if not all, of the same symptoms as those with Celiac.
However, gluten sensitivity is not characterized by an immune response or IgE response, differentiating it from Celiac Disease and wheat allergies.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can affect up to 13% of the general population and is a real disorder.
Those with gluten sensitivity may choose to avoid gluten as symptom management.
3. Wheat allergy
Those with a wheat allergy have a reaction to various proteins present in wheat, but may be fine with gluten from non-wheat sources.
Some people who have a wheat allergy can also have a gluten-sensitivity or Celiac Disease so it may be helpful to avoid gluten altogether.
4. Autoimmune disease
There are over a hundred different autoimmune conditions, and we are still discovering and labeling more.
Going gluten-free may help those with autoimmune conditions manage symptoms by reducing inflammation.
Gluten is also one of the types of foods on my list of the worst foods for Hashimoto’s.
What is Dairy?
Dairy refers to the milk produced by mammals, such as cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and even camel’s milk.
The most allergenic and most common and frequently consumed type of milk in the United States and Canada is cow’s milk.
Dairy can be found in a vast array of products, including milk, cream, yogurt, kefir, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, and butter.
Eggs are not dairy foods, although they are often found in the dairy section of the grocery store.
Note: while ghee is often used as a substitute for butter, but it can still be inflammatory for people who have a strong sensitivity or allergy to dairy products.
Dairy & Inflammation
Dairy is another allergenic food that is difficult to digest, therefore causing inflammation in some people. Dairy contains proteins and sugars that require specific enzymes for digestion.
Lactose, the sugar found in milk, requires the enzyme lactase for digestion.
This enzyme is produced in early childhood, but we lose production ability as we age. Roughly 65% of adults worldwide are lactose-intolerant due to a lack of lactase production.
Dairy also contains casein, a protein similar to gluten that causes compromised digestion and immune system function (particularly A1 casein).
It is important to note that if A1 casein and lactose are causing digestive issues, there are other dairy alternatives to consider.
Milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows doesn’t contain A1 casein, and goat’s milk has less lactose than cow’s milk.
However, you may wish to try a dairy free diet for a while and determine how you feel.
Those with the following conditions may find relief from a completely dairy free diet:
1. Lactose intolerance
This is a very common condition in which there is a lack of or a reduction in lactase production.
Since lactase is required to digest lactose, individuals with lactose intolerance will be unable to digest lactose-containing milk and milk products.
2. Milk allergy
Not to be confused with lactose intolerance, a milk allergy is an allergy to the casein present in milk. Individuals with a milk allergy should avoid all forms of dairy.
If you suffer from acne, going dairy-free may bring some relief. Dairy is a food with a high hormone content and can influence your body’s natural hormonal balance.
In addition, the inflammation caused by dairy can lead to more skin inflammation.
4. Chronic sinusitis
A milk allergy has been linked to chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps.
If you experience recurring sinus infections with no other known cause, dairy may be the culprit.
5. Blood sugar issues
Dairy is insulinogenic, meaning it raises insulin levels. This is due to the lactose present in dairy. This can cause issues with the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.
6. PCOS and other hormonal imbalances
Dairy contains a high level of hormones and contains estrogen from the cow. Dairy also raises insulin levels.
For both of these reasons, dairy may be best to avoid if you have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or other hormonal imbalances such as estrogen dominance. Going both gluten free and dairy free is a big part of my PCOS diet.
Best Dairy-Free & Gluten-Free Foods
There is no need to feel restricted by going gluten-free or dairy-free!
There is still an abundance of food you can eat. You can easily avoid gluten and dairy by sticking to a whole foods diet.
Stick to eating real foods and consume as little processed food as possible. If you do choose processed products, be sure to double check ingredient labels to make sure there is not gluten or dairy.
Check out my printable and comprehensive gluten-free and dairy-free food list! For recipes, don’t miss my round-up of the best gluten-free dairy-free recipes or my list of gluten-free and dairy-free breakfast recipes.
You may also like my article with the Best Plant-Based Substitutes for Heavy Cream.
Tip: avoid items with ingredients such as “flavoring” or “natural flavors”, which may be hiding dairy or gluten. Here are other unexpected labels for gluten.
On the contrary, here are some examples of naturally gluten and dairy-free whole unprocessed foods:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood
- Legumes and grains (stay away from barley, rye, and wheat, and be careful of cross-contamination)
- Nuts and seeds (including most nut milks)
You might also like my shopping list for the best gluten-free and dairy-free products at Walmart! This article is proof that you can eat healthy on a budget.
Get my clean eating food list.
Six Tips on How to Start a Gluten Free Dairy Free Diet
1. Learn why you want to go gluten-free and dairy-free
The first step to eliminating gluten and dairy is to educate yourself on their effects and where they’re most commonly found.
Once you’re aware of where gluten and dairy may be hiding in food, you can make more informed choices at the store and at the restaurant.
It’s important to know why you are starting this diet so that you can stick to it over time.
2. Stock your kitchen with whole foods
Once you’ve made up your mind to get rid of gluten and dairy, you need to make sure you don’t feel deprived. The best way to do this is to go shopping and stock your kitchen with a variety of whole foods that are free from gluten and dairy.
See my clean eating shopping list and pantry guide which is 100% gluten-free and dairy-free.
If you choose to purchase processed foods, be very mindful of ingredient labels and contamination warnings. Often, even if a product is gluten or dairy free, it may have been processed on the same equipment as gluten or dairy containing products.
You may also wish to get rid of the foods in your kitchen that contain gluten and dairy.
And, of course, you’ll need to have some basic appliances for healthy cooking.
3. Don’t be afraid to tell people your dietary needs
When eating out at restaurants, inform your waiter that you cannot consume dairy or gluten.
Restaurants may cook certain foods in butter, or prepare foods on a surface covered in flour or even put flour into foods such as omelets, to make them more presentable. You cannot always trust seemingly gluten or dairy-free dishes, so make sure to ask.
To avoid contamination, communicate with your server and impress the importance of your restriction upon them. Remain firm–you can even ask them their specific processes for avoiding contamination. Many restaurants will even have gluten-free and dairy-free options!
Better yet, if you know you are going out to eat, do your research ahead of time.
Search online for “gluten-free dairy-free restaurants” in your area and review the menus online so you know what you can order ahead of time. It’s always a good idea to be informed before you order.
The same goes if you are attending a party or family gathering. Make sure your host knows about your needs and offer to bring a dish that you know you can enjoy.
4. Know the options
Make sure you know your alternatives for gluten and dairy so you don’t feel deprived or hungry.
It’s relatively easy now to find conforming recipes and substitutes for gluten and dairy. Here are some common swaps to get you started:
Replacements for wheat flour:
- Almond flour
- Rice flour
- Coconut flour
- Oat flour (be sure they are certified gluten-free oats)
- Cassava flour
- Sweet potato flour
- Gluten-free all-purpose flour
- Quinoa flour
- Buckwheat flour (see my related article on the substitutes for buckwheat)
Replacements for milk:
- Nut milk (Almond milk/cashew milk/hemp milk)
- Oat milk (using gluten-free oats)
- Coconut milk
- Soy milk
5. Keep a symptom journal
In order to confirm that a gluten-free and dairy-free elimination diet is working for you, it’s important to monitor your symptoms.
Keep a food and symptom journal so you can start to notice whether or not you are feeling better on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet.
It might take up to several weeks for you to see a difference. Be sure to take note of symptoms such as pain levels, sleep quality, skin issues, joint pain, weight management, and overall energy.
If you don’t see improvements in a few weeks, then you may need to cut out different foods or try a different type of elimination diet.
6. Get support
When taking on an elimination diet such as gluten-free and dairy-free, it’s best to work with a qualified healthcare provider to help make sure you don’t develop any nutrient deficiencies. See my article on how to find a functional medicine practitioner.
You may also want to join a Facebook group or find a buddy to get support from on your journey. Making dietary changes is hard and studies show that people who get support often do better.
If you don’t get the results you want after 6 weeks or so, you may need to re-consider which type of diet is best for you and if you are getting a benefit from avoiding gluten and dairy.
Ready to start eating clean but need support? Check out my Clean Eating Mini-Course that is designed for anyone new to eating a real food diet. Get my healthy shopping guide, recipes, and access to my private online support community. Join now.
Snacks don’t have to be processed, pre-packaged foods! Whole foods make quick, delicious, and cost effective snacks. Rather than reaching for snack packs or packaged foods, consider choosing basic foods like fresh fruits, veggies, nut butters, and meal leftovers.
If you do choose pre-packaged processed foods for a snack, be mindful of labels. You’ll begin to notice certain brands that are known for being gluten and dairy-free. Snacks labeled “vegan” or “paleo” are often safest, but be sure to always double check and weigh the risks of contamination for yourself.
Get my full list of the best gluten-free and dairy-free snacks.
When eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet, it’s smart to have an action plan in place. Consider purging your pantry and fridge of all dairy and gluten-containing products so you are not tempted. Working with a coach or nutritionist is a great way to gain a support system and educate yourself further.
There are plenty of resources online and in your community, too! Consider joining Facebook groups, forums, or organizing local groups dedicated to sharing tips for going gluten-free and dairy-free. You might also want to check out my list of the best clean eating websites and the best healthy YouTube cooking channels.
Here are some of the most popular gluten-free and dairy-free recipes from Clean Eating Kitchen to help get you started:
Copycat Costco Quinoa Salad Recipe
Instant Pot Pork Chops and Rice
Dairy-Free Mango Ice Cream
Rice Flour Pancakes
Cauliflower Smoothie with Peanut Butter
Depending on your health condition and symptoms, you may not have to be gluten-free and dairy-free forever.
Sometimes a 6-week elimination diet can help pinpoint exactly which foods are a problem for you. Be sure to work with a qualified healthcare practitioner to help determine how long you need to be gluten-free and dairy-free.
Most probiotics do not contain dairy, although there may be cross-contamination. See my article on Are Probiotics Dairy-Free?
Yes, but it’s best to work with a practitioner to make sure that your child doesn’t develop any nutrient deficiencies. A registered dietitian or qualified nutritionist can help develop a meal plan and oversee your child’s diet.
More Helpful Resources for GF/DF Diets
As you learn more about going gluten-free and dairy-free, you can generally rely upon labels and store sections marked gluten and dairy-free. Be aware that there is a risk of contamination with all processed foods or bulk items.
I hope you found this article helpful. It is meant to be a helpful guide to getting started with a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. For specific recipes, please do check out the clean eating recipe index which is 100% gluten-free and dairy-free using real food ingredients.
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About the Author: Carrie Forrest has a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition. She is a top wellness and food blogger with nearly 10 million annual visitors to her site. Carrie has an incredible story of recovery from chronic illness and is passionate about helping other women transform their health. Send Carrie a message through her contact form.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.