Gluten Free? These Apps Make It Easier to Grocery Shop, Cook and Eat Out

A man checks out an app on his iPhone.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Celiac disease affects about 1% of the American population.

For people with the autoimmune disorder, ingesting even trace amounts of gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and rye — can damage the small intestine.

My partner Nick has celiac disease, which means our house is gluten-free.

The more than 200 symptoms associated with celiac disease can make diagnosis challenging, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and other digestive problems; seizures and migraines; fatigue; muscle soreness; rashes; and oral health issues like canker sores, enamel defects and cavities.

Exposure to gluten over time can heighten an affected person’s chances of developing cancers and contracting other autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, epilepsy, infertility, multiple sclerosis and anemia.

So it’s crucial for people with celiac to ensure they’re not ingesting gluten directly or via cross-contamination (using cookware, dishes or utensils that have touched gluten, sometimes even if they have been washed).

Since Nick has celiac disease and we live a gluten-free lifestyle, we only dine out at restaurants with true gluten-free options.

A number of gluten-free apps have made our lives easier in that regard. And because we’re true penny hoarders, we make use of all the free ones.

Here are some of our favorites.

Best Gluten-Free App for Eating Out

A person walks out of a kitchen in a restaurant.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Dining out can be a dangerous occasion for people with celiac, but because everyone deserves some time out of their own kitchen, Nick and I try to find restaurants that cater to people with celiac.

Here in Nashville, we’ve found some nice local spots that do a good job of gluten-free like The Red Bicycle. But some larger chains make a good effort, too, including Red Robin and Chipotle (just make sure to ask them to change out the ingredient bins and the spoons and put on fresh gloves).

How do you know if a restaurant is gluten-free? And how can you be sure they are held accountable?

Our favorite app for dining out is Find Me Gluten Free, and users agree. It has 4.5 stars in the Google Play store and 4.8 stars on the App Store.

Find Me Gluten Free is the perfect app for finding restaurants in your area or when exploring new places. The app allows you to search by current location, address or by category and shows you how expensive restaurants are (for budget-friendly consumers). You can also read reviews to determine how celiac-friendly a restaurant actually is.

This is big for people with celiac. Many restaurants claim to have gluten-free options but don’t have processes in place to reduce the chances of cross-contamination and haven’t properly trained their staff to handle gluten-free needs.

By reading comments from others with celiac, you can determine how likely your chances are for cross-contamination.

Comparable alternatives include AllergyEats and Dine Gluten Free.

Best Gluten-Free App for Dining In

A bag of food that's advertised as gluten-free.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Because Nick has suffered contamination during many of our dining out experiences, we tend to eat at home most nights. I’ve been called stingy in past relationships for not wanting to dine out, so I welcome this change of pace.

We find a lot of our recipe ideas from the gluten-free cookbooks lining our kitchen shelves or by simple online searches.

Sometimes, though, Nick and I will fire up the iPad and open our favorite gluten-free recipe app, Cookpad (4.4 stars on Google Play and 3.9 stars on the App Store).

Cookpad is a recipe sharing app that allows you to search by dietary restrictions, but it also has a social aspect. Overbearing but well-meaning relatives who have wanted to learn how to accommodate Nick’s celiac disease have joined the app, and we can all share recipes we have tried.

The app also lets you keep a food diary, so Nick and I can track our favorite recipes without dog-earring our cookbooks or bookmarking a webpage on my office desktop upstairs.

Best Gluten-Free Apps for Shopping

A man looks at the apple selection at a grocery store.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Luckily, Nick does most of the shopping for our family, but when he’s out of town or busy with a project I’ve had to brave the store to hunt and gather that week’s meals.

Ingredients labels at Kroger (specifically Kroger-brand items), where we shop most weeks, have gotten a lot better at identifying when foods have gluten or other “red flag” ingredients in them, like peanuts, milk and soy.

Still, some food items can be less clear, and I often find myself wondering if something has gluten in it because gluten will not typically be the ingredient listed. Instead, you’ve got to look for words like “wheat” or “barley.”

The number of times I have forgotten if oats have gluten is embarrassingly high, but now I just use The Gluten Free Scanner (3.4 stars on Google Play and 4.7 stars on the App Store).

Using this app is incredibly easy, though I have had trouble in one Kroger near my house where I always have a terrible signal. The app uses your phone’s camera to scan a barcode and instantly pulls up the product to let you know if it’s gluten-free.

I have had great luck with most products I’ve scanned, though it is by no means comprehensive. The paid version’s database is likely more complete and comes at the cost of $3.99 on the App Store.

One caveat: Reviewers on Google Play have commented that the app seems to be incompatible with the Samsung Note 8.

A comparable alternative is Gluten Free Food Finder (Android only).

A celiac diagnosis can be overwhelming: It means you must change your diet completely and get accustomed to a new way of dining out and shopping for groceries. These apps make the gluten-free lifestyle a little more manageable and help you prioritize your health every day.

Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer. His favorite apps are Find Me Gluten Free, FitBit, Netflix and Ticket to Ride.