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Gluten-Free AND Plastic-Free?

Posted By Beth Terry On March 30, 2010 @ 5:00 pm In bulk foods | 21 Comments

whole wheat breadThis post is not about whether we should consume gluten or not, but how those of us who want to limit our gluten intake can avoid the plastic packaging associated with many gluten-free foods.

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For people with celiac disease [1], eating gluten causes an autoimmune response that leads to serious health problems. For others, gluten sensitivity can cause digestive problems and other symptoms. Now, I’m not a gluten-free gal, but for several months, I did try eliminating gluten from my diet to see if that would resolve some health issues. It didn’t. But it did give me an understanding of some of the challenges of trying to live both plastic-free and gluten-free.

The shelves of most grocery stores these days are filled with gluten-free alternatives. Cereals, pasta, and even cake mixes come in gluten-free versions.

gluten-free cereal

gluten-free pasta

But just look at all that plastic packaging. Even the boxes of cereal come with plastic bags inside the box. For me, bulk bins were the answer. So many different gluten-free grains can be had from Whole Foods or the local health food store, where you can bring your own bags and skip the plastic.

Grains like quinoa…

gluten-free grains


gluten-free grains


gluten-free grains

or millet…

gluten-free grains

are all available. So what the big deal?

Cross Contamination

The bins shown above release their contents via gravity into your bag or container below. So there is little chance that someone is going to stick a scoop that’s been in the wheat flour into a bin full of millet, for example. But what about bins like these?

gluten-free grains

gluten-free grains

gluten-free grains

Some cross contamination could easily occur on the consumer level with bins that open from the top like these. While many people who eliminate gluten from their diets may not need to be so strict, those with serious allergies have to be very, very careful.

What’s more, cross contamination can occur at the store level as well. As simplesavvy commented on my Bulk Bins [2] post last year,

I don’t buy from bulk bins because of cross contamination. I am gluten free, and it’s not even the scoops that worry me — it’s that there’s no way to guarantee that the bulk bin I’m using this week didn’t contain flour last week. And even if they washed it out, gluten is so sticky that I would be doubtful they got everything.

So, what’s a guten-free plastic-free shopper to do? I racked my brain [3] and then shopped my own kitchen tonight and came up with a few starchy items that are naturally gluten-free and pose no danger of cross-contamination:

gluten-free produce

Potatoes, yams, and squash need no packaging whatsoever.  There are also plenty of recipes that substitute ground nuts for flour.  And here in Oakland, I can get almonds and walnuts from the local farmers market, where there is also no danger of bulk bin cross contamination.

So what about you? Are you concerned about gluten in your diet? Do you worry about cross contamination from bulk bins?  And if so, how do you minimize both the gluten and the plastic?


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URL to article: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2010/03/gluten-free-and-plastic-free/

URLs in this post:

[1] celiac disease: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/DS00319

[2] Bulk Bins: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2009/05/bulk-bins-if-you-had-them-would-you-use/#comment-6155

[3] racked my brain: http://www.fluther.com/disc/6849/how-do-i-spell-wracking-my-brain-and-what-does-wrack/

[4] Image: https://plus.google.com/+BethTerry

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