As a celiac, I am very aware that gluten lurks in plain sight.
When I dare to eat something that is not labeled as “Gluten-Free” (GF), I know I am taking a risk, a calculated one, but still a risk. So, I have honed my skills and can detect hidden gluten fairly easily. It isn’t difficult and just requires a bit of common sense and practice.
Here Are My Tips and Some Sources of Hidden Gluten:
Read the Ingredient List
In the U.S., wheat, or protein derived from wheat must be clearly listed on food labels. You will find wording like “flour (wheat)” or “contains wheat” printed on the label, meaning that the food is not GF.
Sometimes wheat may appear under other names such as semolina, spelt, farina, graham, durum, emmer, farro, oriental wheat, bulgur, Khorasan, and einkorn. But don’t be fooled, they all contain gluten.
That a product is labeled as “wheat-free” does not necessarily mean that it is gluten-free, it may still have some other gluten-containing cereal such as barley, rye, or triticale. You will have to keep an eye open for them and spot them on the ingredient list.
Barley may appear disguised as malt, malt extract, malt flavoring, maltose (malt sugar), malt syrup, malt vinegar, dextrimaltose, or hydrolyzed malt extract.
Rye can appear under its scientific name: Secale cereale.
Be aware that starches and “modified” starches such as hydrolyzed oat flour, hydrolyzed plant protein or HPP, hydrolyzed soy protein, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein may also contain gluten.
The food label may also alert about the risk of factory cross-contamination with a phrase like “Manufactured in a facility that also uses tree nuts, wheat, soy, and milk.”
Vitamins and Supplements
Tablets and pills require binders and thickeners to hold them together and some manufacturers may use starch containing gluten, and also dextrin which can be obtained from wheat or barley. Stick to GF options.
Food That Contains Gluten as A Hidden Ingredient
Flour or starches are used as thickeners in liquid-based foods; they improve the consistency, stability, and promote the suspension of the other ingredients without altering the flavor. They are also used as low-cost fillers, binders, and water absorbing ingredients in solid foods (think moist ham for instance).
The following foods contain flour or starch, which may be manufactured from wheat, rye, or barley will contain gluten:
- Lunch meats (deli meats) such as sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ham
- Meatballs, meatloaf, veggie burgers, and tofu
- Crab stick, surimi, seitan, and kani
- Some instant mashed potatoes
- Broth or bouillon cubes
- Potato chips: their seasoning may contain wheat starch or malt vinegar
- Soy Sauce. Did you know it is made from wheat, soybeans, salt, and water? Tempura and teriyaki are based on soy sauce. All of them are off-limits because they contain gluten.
- Oyster sauce and gravy can be thickened with flour or starch
- Miso pastes can be made with barley or rye
- Beer, malt, and flavored distilled liquor may contain gluten; however, all other distilled beverages are gluten-free (even if distilled from barley or rye, the distillation process eliminates the gluten protein in the final liquor)
- Omelets at restaurants may have pancake batter mixed in, to make them fluffier
- Ice cream may contain flour and there is also the risk of cross-contamination from the ingredients in non-gluten-free flavors
- Salad dressings such as ranch dressing may contain wheat flour as a thickener or malt vinegar for flavor
- Croutons, candy, granola bars
- Brown rice syrup may contain barley enzymes or caramel
- Penicillium roqueforti is a fungus that gives blue-veined cheeses their typical taste, appearance, and smell. The fungus is sometimes grown on gluten-containing grains. Recently published studies have shown that the gluten content of these cheeses is undetectable, so maybe you could risk it and eat them
- Mustard is made with non-distilled grain vinegar and therefore contains gluten
- Avoid couscous, panko, roux, non-dairy creamers, and tortillas (unless they are 100% corn flour ones)
- Some marshmallows contain wheat starch
- Bran, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, wheat oil, bulgur
- Fried stuff. When eating out avoid fried food: breaded, and flour-coated food (battered chicken, onion rings, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, etc.) may be fried in the same oil your gluten-free chips or your potato skins were fried. This is a big cross-contamination risk
Oats belong to the Festucoidae subfamily of cereals to which wheat, barley, and rye also belong. It contains a protein called avenin, which is similar to gluten. Many people suffering from celiac disease are avenin-sensitive and should avoid eating oats.
Others can tolerate oats without any side effects. However, as oats may be grown, stored, or even shipped together with wheat, barley, or rye, there is a high risk of cross-contamination. If you want to eat oats, use “certified gluten-free” brands.
Summing It Up
Read the food labels, learn the different names that gluten adopts and use common sense to avoid it. The best option is to stick to food that is labeled “gluten-free.”
In case of doubt, check out the manufacturer’s website, write them an e-mail, and learn more about keeping healthy and gluten-free.
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