Avoiding gluten due to Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance? Determining which foods are gluten free is not as straightforward as cutting out bread, pasta, beer and baked goods. Unfortunately, gluten is hidden in many other foods, such as soups, condiments, salad dressing, deli meats, candy, vegetarian foods and even skin care products and supplements. Keep reading to learn how to avoid these “hidden” sources of gluten.
Thanks to the Food Allergy and Consumer Protection Act, the top eight allergens, including wheat, soy, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish have to be declared on food labels if they are in a food product. This makes it fairly easy to determine which foods contain wheat, but those avoiding gluten also need to make sure there are no ingredients derived from other sources of gluten. Those sources include barley, rye, and most oats. In general, if a food contains any of the following ingredients and is not labeled “gluten free,” it should be avoided by anyone following a strict gluten free diet. These ingredients include wheat, rye, barley, oats, and brewer’s yeast. Other ingredients should also be avoided unless a gluten free grain is named as a source. These include malt, dextrin, modified food starch and starch.
It can be daunting to weed through ingredients lists on every food product for sources of gluten. However, there is some good news for people following a gluten free diet. In 2014, the FDA passed a gluten free labeling rule, which established standards for labeling foods “gluten free.” This law helps ensure that if a product is labeled “gluten free” it is actually gluten free. According to this rule, foods labeled gluten free must be naturally gluten free, or contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten, a level which has been shown to be safe for people who must follow a strict gluten free diet. Thanks to this rule, companies have added gluten free labels to more of their products, making it easier to find out if a food is gluten free or not.
The best way to avoid gluten is to always read the ingredients on food labels not labeled gluten free, and avoid eating foods if you are unsure about their gluten free status. Although there are more gluten free options on the market than ever before, there are still lots of foods not labeled gluten free that could be hiding gluten. Here are some of the top ten foods that could contain “hidden” sources of gluten.
Although most ingredients in chocolate are gluten free, such as sugar, cocoa and milk, some chocolate candies are flavored with malt or contain bits of cookies. Other chocolates, may be completely free of gluten containing ingredients, but made on the same manufacturing lines as gluten containing chocolates, thus putting them at risk of cross contamination. To be sure that a chocolate or candy is safe to eat, look for packages marked “gluten free” and contact the manufacturer for more information if you are unsure about a product. Many manufacturers have product information online detailing which products are gluten free.
Salad dressings can all harbor gluten. Common ingredients in salad dressing that contain gluten include malt flavoring, malt vinegar, and soy sauce made from wheat. Therefore, some salad dressings could be wheat free but not gluten free, as malt comes from barley.
Processed meats and cheeses
Some deli meats, sausages, meatballs and cheese contain ingredients derived from wheat or barley, which are used as thickening agents or flavor enhancers. Certain shredded cheeses may be coated with flour to prevent clumping. Be sure to check the ingredients on these foods and look for options labeled “gluten free.”
While most people know that soups with noodles and dumplings are out on a gluten free diet, even innocent sounding soups could contain gluten in the form of a thickening or flavoring agent. Always check the ingredients list on canned soups, boullion powder, and dry soup mix for gluten containing ingredients. When eating out, check with the chef before ordering soups to make sure they are gluten free.
Vegetarian meat alternatives
Veggie burgers, vegetarian bacon and sausage, and some types of tempeh contain gluten. Another popular vegetarian option, seitan, is made entirely out of wheat gluten. However, other vegetarian staples, such as beans, lentils and tofu are naturally gluten free, and very nutritious.
Sauces and condiments
Condiments such as soy sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, and gravy are often made with gluten containing ingredients, such as wheat, wheat starch or malt flavoring. Be sure to double check ingredients on condiments and sauces or look for gluten free varieties. For instance, Tamari soy sauce is made from 100% soy rather than wheat, and is gluten free.
Oats are naturally gluten free, but during the harvesting and manufacturing processes, most oats are contaminated with stray wheat. Therefore, people with Celiac should only eat oats that are “certified gluten free.” This means that steps have been taken to ensure that the oats have not been cross-contaminated at any point from the field to the package. This applies to products made with oats also, such as granola and granola bars. Unless the granola says made with “certified gluten free oats” or lists “certified gluten free oats” in the ingredients list, it could be made with contaminated oats and should be avoided.
Medications and vitamins
Medications, vitamins and herbal supplements contain many ingredients besides the active ingredient. While most medications are free of gluten, you should always check the ingredients list and confirm with the manufacturer that your medications and supplements are gluten free.
Skin Care products and make up
Hand sanitizers, lotions, make up and other skin care products can contain gluten in the form of wheat germ oil, oatmeal or other wheat derivatives, such as wheat amino acids. Although gluten must be ingested to cause an autoimmune reaction, gluten from skincare products could potentially be ingested if they are on or near your mouth, or on your hands. Be sure to check your skin care products for gluten containing ingredients, and always wash your hands before eating.
Food products that have changed formulations.
Manufacturers change their recipes and production methods over time. For this reason, never assume that a product is gluten free just because it was in the past. People following a strict gluten free diet should check the ingredients of foods, supplements and skin care products, not labeled gluten free, each time they buy a product.
For more comprehensive advice on how to safely follow a gluten free diet or have other nutrition concerns, schedule an appointment with our Registered Dietitian by calling 301-288-1319.