You’ve decided to go gluten-free, and you’ve cut all the breads, pastas and other grains from your diet. That’s all there is to it, right? Not exactly. While many food manufacturers today proudly display a gluten-free label on their products, others go to great lengths to disguise the fact that it still lurks hidden inside their products. If you’re not careful, you could end up consuming a lot of gluten by accident.
We’ve outlined some of the most common hidden sources of gluten below, so you can avoid these traps and keep your gluten-free diet gluten-free.
One of gluten’s most popular uses is as a binding agent, and this is how it finds its way into processed meats like meatballs, preformed hamburger patties, sausages and hotdogs. It’s used to hold the meats together, so they maintain their shape and structure. Gluten has also been found in imitation seafood and even processed deli meats.
Vegetarians and vegans also have to be careful, because meat alternatives like tofu may also contain gluten if they are cooked in a batter that contains wheat. Veggie burgers, veggie sausages and imitation bacon can also contain gluten. Check the label for “seitan,” which is made using wheat gluten.
You might think you’re doing yourself a favor by choosing a salad over a sandwich at lunchtime, but gluten might be lurking in your dressing as well. It’s also found in marinades and sauces, including soy sauce, which is often made with wheat. Gravies may also harbor gluten, especially if flour was used in its preparation.
Some fried foods may be cooked in a batter containing wheat flour. And even if it’s not, there could still be cross-contamination if they’re cooked in a fryer that previously held gluten-containing foods. So, it’s best to limit your intake of French fries and potato chips as much as possible.
Barley contains gluten, so it makes sense that any soups containing barley will also contain gluten. You’ll also want to watch out for soups with noodles, another common source of gluten.
Unfortunately, most beers, ales and lagers are not gluten-free. They’re made directly from gluten-producing grains, and they’re not distilled, so the gluten is not removed. There are several gluten-free beers coming onto the market now, though, so one of these may be worth trying out. Otherwise, you can stick to wine or hard liquor, both of which are gluten-free.
One study suggested that instant coffee was susceptible to gluten cross-contamination.1 If you’d like to avoid this, you may want to stick to ground coffee. You should also choose your coffee creamers carefully, because these can contain gluten as well.
It might surprise you to know that some mustards are made with malt vinegar or wheat flour, which means they may contain gluten. Check the label to ensure that the kind you are buying doesn’t have these ingredients.
Many candies and candy bars include wheat flour – a sure sign of gluten. It may also show up in certain pie and pudding fillings, and even in cheesecake. Some products that use caramel food coloring may also have gluten. If you’re concerned about this, it may be best to avoid these altogether.
Vitamins and Supplements
Even the most devoutly gluten-free among us rarely think to check their vitamins and supplements for gluten, but they could be hiding there as well. As mentioned above, gluten is a popular binding agent and it can be used to hold the pills together.
You may see “starch” listed on the label, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is gluten. Starch can come from a variety of sources, including corn, potatoes and tapioca. What you want to watch out for is wheat starch, as this contains gluten. If the label isn’t clear about whether the supplement has gluten, you can always reach out to the manufacturer to be sure. One example of a high quality, whole food multivitamin without gluten is Enzyme Nutrition™, from Enzymedica.
Going hand-in-hand with supplements, many medications also use starch as a filler or binding agent. Read the labels carefully on over-the-counter medications and talk to your doctor if it is a prescription to ensure that you are not inadvertently consuming gluten through your medications.
Certain beauty products like lipstick and lip balm may contain gluten, and because of their close proximity to your mouth, you could accidentally ingest some. If this is a worry for you, make sure you look for products that are gluten-free.
You’ll also want to take a closer look at your toothpaste and mouthwash. Some of these may also contain gluten.
What Should I Do?
There’s no rule stating that a gluten-free product must announce that it’s gluten-free, so it’s a good idea to examine the ingredient list if you’re not sure. Look out for mention of grains like wheat, barley or rye. Then, check for trickier names like seitan, brewer’s yeast, malt vinegar, oats and spelt. These may also contain gluten.
Be careful of products that advertise themselves as being “wheat-free.” This is not the same as being gluten-free. Barley and spelt, for example, are both grains that contain gluten, but they are not wheat, so it would be accurate for a label to say that a product containing them is “wheat-free.” However, they are not any better for you than a wheat-containing product if your goal is to avoid gluten.
If you’re not sure whether or not a product contains gluten, it’s always a good idea to reach out to the manufacturer. Many companies may list this information on their website. Otherwise, a quick call or email will usually clear up the matter. You might consider taking GlutenEase™ or GlutenEase™ Extra Strength. These products support the break down of gluten components in the event that it is accidentally consumed, providing an additional safety net.
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1 Vojdani, A., Tarash, I. (2013, Jan.). Cross-Reaction between Gliadin and Different Food and Tissue Antigens. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 4(1): 20-32.