Identifying Hidden Sources of Gluten
Perhaps you’re on gluten-free diet and it seems to be working well for you, but every once in awhile you find yourself glutened yet can’t identify the culprit. Unfortunately, this happens to many Celiac and gluten intolerant folks because of hidden sources of gluten in foods that we might assume to be gluten-free. Where may some of these ninja-like gluten offenders be? In Rice Krispies (although there is now a gluten-free version, but look for a clear gluten-free label), salad dressing, soy sauce, chips, soups, candy, medication, ice cream. Sometimes it can feel like gluten is around every corner.
Verifying the gluten-free status of some products will become a little easier with the recent FDA ruling that demands that products labeled “gluten-free” must contain less than 20 parts per million. That ruling should help clear up at least some products’ gluten-free status. However, it’s still important to hone your detective eye for hidden or unexpected sources of gluten in order to avoid accidentally purchasing gluten-filled product or consuming gluten while dining out.
So what’s a person to do? Not consume products that aren’t clearly gluten-free until you’ve checked with the manufacturer and then memorize a list of all the “safe” products? Well that might be the safest course of action for people with Celiac or severe reactions to gluten, but for people with a lower gluten sensitivity there are ways that you can keep protect yourself as you navigate shopping and eating.
Know common “hidden” gluten ingredients:
Learn red flag ingredients that you may spot on labels. There are the obvious ones, such as “wheat flour,” that can be hidden in unsuspecting products like licorice candy, chips, and soup. Products that contain wheat should, by law, be labeled as such in bold letters, as it is one of the top eight allergens. However, it seems that not all ingredients that are wheat-derived are labeled, and there are other non-wheat sources of gluten.
Red flag ingredients include:
- “Barley Malt” or “Malt” – Examples: Rice Krispies, Cornflakes, Lindt Truffles
- “Soy Sauce” – Contains wheat unless the item is made with gluten-free “Tamari” soy sauce. Also, I used to think that all Tamari-style soy sauce was gluten-free, but recently saw that Kikkoman makes a non-gluten free Tamari soy sauce—that’s a good one to ask your waiter or friend if you’re a dinner guest.
- Worcestershire Sauce – I’ve found this ingredient to be particularly sneaky as some versions contain gluten and some don’t. I once had a housemate tell me “Hey, you should eat this chili with us, it’s gluten free,” and then watched him pour a whole bottle of Worcestershire sauce into his bubbling pot. It’s easy for people to not even wonder whether a sauce has gluten in it or not, so this is the kind of ingredient that it might be good to ask about specifically.
- Wheat, barley and rye in their Latin names: Triticum vulgare (wheat), Hordeum vulgare (barley), Secale cereale (rye),Triticale (cross between wheat and rye), and Triticum spelta (spelt, a wheat variety)
- Finally, there are several common ingredients whose gluten content is debated or for which there are gluten-free and gluten-filled versions. These include: Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Modified Starch/Modified food starch, Natural Flavor, and Artificial Flavor. Some companies are now labeling whether their products’ food starch comes from corn or wheat, but many remain unlabeled. Dealing with these ingredients may be a matter of avoiding them “just in case” or testing products that have no other signs of gluten on an individual basis.
Know what kinds of unsuspecting foods might have a gluten ingredient:
If you’re like me, you read any label you can get your hands on before putting anything in your mouth. If you don’t read every label, keep in mind the types of products that commonly have hidden gluten (those labels you might want to start reading!): canned soup, salad dressing, chips, ice cream, noodles (yes, some rice or buckwheat noodles have added flour), and pretty much any “snack” food. Conveniently, the foods that you know are the safest—unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables—are better for your health anyway!
Know the taste and appearance of gluten ingredients:
Ideally, you’d know whether something contains gluten before it’s sitting in front of you ready to eat, but sometimes miscommunication occurs. I’ve found this kind of mishap common when traveling with a language barrier or where “gluten-free” is not a well-known concept. You may want to “double-check” (ask about specific ingredients that you suspect might be in the food) when something suspicious comes up. I keep an eye out for:
- Dark-colored and salty sauces (suggests soy sauce might be an ingredient)
- Thick and/or opaque sauces (may have been thickened using flour/be roux based)
- Creamy soups (may use flour as a thickener)
- Foods that appear to have been deep-fried (may have been fried in the same oil as gluten-containing products, may be breaded)