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Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for Best gluten-free snacks

Nearly two million Americans live with celiac disease. That means eating gluten wears away at the lining of their small intestine and can’t be absorbed properly. Some people avoid gluten because they want to experience the benefits of removing it from their diet. Decades ago, gluten-free snacks that were tasty and delicious were hard to come by. Today, you have a number of different gluten-free snack options to choose from. 

For many Westerners, gluten is a ubiquitous diet staple. The term “gluten” refers to a collection of different proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid) contains gluten as well. Gluten is responsible for holding the structure of the foods together. Many carb-heavy foods like bread, cereal, pasta, soup, and beer contain gluten. 

Fortunately for all of those who do seek gluten-free options, there is now no shortage of snacks available. As you look for gluten-free snacks, consider such factors as food type, nutrition, and flavor.

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If you suspect you might have celiac disease, seek professional medical help for a simple blood test. Don’t rely on self-diagnosis alone.

Key considerations

Why avoid gluten?

For people with celiac disease, gluten damages the villi in the small intestine, the finger-like mechanisms that aid in absorbing nutrients. Once the villi are damaged, it becomes difficult to absorb the nutrients in food, and discomfort ensues. Surprisingly, not everyone with celiac disease has symptoms. But those who do experience them may report diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fatigue, and pale, fatty stools. 
There has been an overall decrease in gluten consumption in recent years, but not everyone who avoids gluten has celiac disease, and they do so for different reasons. Those with bowel issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease may also benefit from a gluten-free diet. Gluten is thought to exacerbate autoimmune disorders, so people suffering from these might try a gluten-free diet to relieve their symptoms. (Incidentally, those with celiac disease frequently have other autoimmune disorders.) According to studies in the NIH National Library of Medicine, consumers in the US spent more than $15.5 billion on gluten-free foods in 2016, double what was spent only five years earlier.

Ingredients in gluten-free snacks

There is no shortage of wheat flour substitutes, and you may like some more than others. These are some common gluten substitutes you’ll find in gluten-free snacks. These products often combine multiple types of flour for the best results. 

Corn flour: Also known as maize flour, corn flour is fairly similar to wheat flour in terms of caloric content and overall nutrition. While you can’t always swap corn flour for wheat flour, corn flour lends heft to food such as cornbread.

Quinoa flour: This flour is made from quinoa seeds, one of the world’s oldest superfoods. It’s a delicate flour with a unique taste. Quinoa’s nutritional benefits are numerous, including fiber, iron, and protein. The protein lends it more structure than some other wheat flour alternatives, so snacks made with quinoa are more likely to hold their form rather than crumble. 

Rice flour: This consists of finely ground white or brown rice. Brown rice flour has more nutritional benefits, but both kinds are high in fiber. This can be beneficial for those who need to regulate and maintain a low blood sugar level, such as diabetics, and people with hypertension. Rice flour is widely used in Asian cuisines. 

Cassava flour: This comes from a root vegetable native to areas of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Cassava flour is fairly low in calories and is dense with carbs. It isn’t as gritty as some other gluten substitutes. It’s a solid substitute for wheat flour.

Almond flour: This is made by blanching almonds to remove the skin then grinding them into a fine powder. Almonds are rich in nutrients, and so is the flour, including vitamin E, manganese, and copper.

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Staff Tip 
Take your time when looking for gluten-free products and check that labels clearly state “gluten-free.”
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Gluten-free snack features

Caloric content and sugar

Some may think that gluten-free automatically equals a more healthful product, but that’s not always the case. After all, sugar and sweeteners don’t usually contain gluten. Potato chips and chocolate don’t contain gluten. If you don’t want to relinquish all forms of snack food on a gluten-free diet, you don’t have to. 

That being said, manufacturers recognize that some people seeking gluten-free snacks are aiming for a better overall diet, and it’s possible to find gluten-free snacks that are low in sugar and calories. Breakfast bars, trail mix, and nut variety packs are a few examples. 

Savory vs. sweet

Whether you’re a fan of chips and salsa or a cookie lover, there are gluten-free snacks for every palate. 

Savory: Many savory and salty gluten-free snacks come in chip form. Chips and salsa make an excellent gluten-free snack since quite a few tortilla chips are made from ground corn rather than wheat flour. And there’s no shortage of potato chips to choose from. Just be sure to look for a “gluten-free” label printed clearly on the bag.

Sweet: Cookie lovers shouldn’t fret either. While flour with gluten is an essential ingredient for plenty of baked goods, gluten-free flour is made from tapioca flour, rice flour, quinoa flour, amaranth flour, and soy flour, and none of these contain gluten. 

Note that there are some differences in taste and texture between baked goods with and without gluten. For one, cookies crumble much more easily without the binding qualities of gluten, which can also make for a grittier texture. If you know what to expect, many gluten-free cookies are delicious. 

Allergen-free

Nut, shellfish, and dairy are among the most common allergies. Some gluten-free snacks omit dairy, soy, and nuts from their products and facilities. That’s not always a given, especially considering that some common wheat flour substitutes are nut flours. Remember to carefully check the labels to verify that the product is free of allergens. Even gluten-free snacks might be manufactured in a facility that also processes tree nuts and dairy.

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For Your Safety
If you confirm that you have a gluten allergy, verify that any medications you take are gluten-free too. 
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Organic and non-GMO

In addition to allergies, you might consider the source of the ingredients in your snacks. The “USDA Organic” label indicates that the product is made with foods grown in soil without certain pesticides, additives, and other substances as outlined by federal guidelines.

A “Non-GMO” label indicates that the ingredients in the product weren’t genetically altered for the sake of food production. It’s worth mentioning that the definition of “non-GMO” isn’t universally established.  

Pricing

There are yummy gluten-free snack options to fit every budget. You can expect to pay between $5 and $25 for gluten-free snacks. The difference in price depends on quantity, ingredients, and the use of organic or non-GMO ingredients.

Inexpensive: The $5 to $10 range includes a variety of chips, crackers, cookies, and other treats in containers of between 5 and 16 ounces. If you’re venturing into the world of gluten-free snacks for the first time, you’ll be able to try a couple different ones without spending more than $10.

Mid-range: The $10 to $20 range includes a number of bulk options. These are great for school or work lunches or sharing. More snacks in this range boast organic and non-GMO ingredients, and that can get pricey, especially with snacks that include chocolate.

Expensive: If you feel like spending over $20, you might try a variety pack that lets you sample a bunch of different gluten-free snacks. 

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Staff Tip
Don’t be surprised if gluten-free snacks don’t taste exactly like the snacks you’re used to. The texture might be different too. 
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Tips

  • Watch for coupons and sales. Gluten-free snacks are known for being more expensive than their gluten-filled counterparts. For your wallet’s sake, keep an eye out for bargains.
  • Look in the frozen food aisle for some gluten-free breads. Some breads made with gluten-free grains omit preservatives, so they will spoil more quickly. These breads are kept in the frozen food section in stores.
  • Check nutrition labels carefully. Oats are gluten-free, but they can be processed with the same equipment that’s used for wheat. With any oat products, check the packaging to confirm that they contain no gluten. 
     
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More manufacturers are catching on to consumer demand for gluten-free snacks. As of 2021, Mondelez International started making gluten-free Oreos. 

FAQ

Q. Are gluten-free snacks more healthful?

A. Not necessarily. Gluten-free snacks can still be high in other ingredients like sugar and fat. If you’re searching for nutritional options, it’s best to check the product labels closely.

Q. Can I eat gluten-free snacks on a keto diet?

A. Yes, absolutely. The ketogenic diet is high in fat and low in carbs. Most carb-heavy foods contain gluten, so gluten-free snacks would fit nicely into a keto plan. 

Q. Are gluten-free snacks vegan?

A. Some are, and some aren’t. Vegan foods do not contain any animal products, and a number of vegan-friendly foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts make great gluten-free snacks.
 

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