It seems that going gluten-free has become an evolutionary dieting trend these days, yet most people still overlook hidden sources of gluten that exist in processed foods. Whether or not you are allergic to gluten, have a sensitivity, or worse, have Celiac disease, you should still be informed about what you're putting in your body. Gluten intolerance is a wider spread issue than a gluten allergy. Therefore, for your health's sake, you should know what you're putting in your body. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, yet it can also be present by cross contamination or be a wheat, barley or rye derivative. Gluten has been linked to digestion issues, allergies, weight gain and more. While this is not a protocol to go gluten-free unless you have these issues, it is a good idea to be aware of what you're buying. If you start to experience symptoms of a gluten intolerance, you can be more knowledgeable about what to avoid. Read on to find more hidden sources of gluten in processed foods so you can arm yourself with all the information you need.
1. Gluten-Free Labeled Foods
Don't be fooled by products labeled gluten-free and assume they are completely free of hidden sources of gluten automatically. I know, this just doesn't seem right. How do food companies get away with such nonsense? The gluten-free label is still allowed even if a product has minute amounts of gluten. Labeling laws have a requirement that if a food is labeled gluten-free, it can have up to 20 ppm, which stands for 20 parts per million of gluten. Just as foods labeled trans-fats free can have small amounts of trans fats included, gluten-free items can do the same. Many products will state if there are traces of gluten contained in a product labeled gluten-free. For example, one popular fiber supplement on the market, which says gluten-free, actually reveals on the back label it contains 10ppm of gluten.
2. Protein Bars
I have this certain unsaid brand of protein bars that I couldn't get enough of. Unfortunately, though their protein content kept me quite full, my stomach never felt too great afterwards. Even though the discomfort was short-lived, I always felt exhausted after I ate one. I don't have a proven gluten allergy since I've never been tested, but after reading the label of the protein bar, I realized gluten was the culprit hurting my tummy. The culprit ingredients listed were modified food starch and barley malt, both of which are hidden sources of gluten. The product was wheat free, but not gluten-free. Gluten is is usually an ingredient in any starch ingredient because it is a great way to thicken processed foods, so modified food starch acts as a cheap binder. Wherever you see modified food starch, know it comes from gluten. Also, barley malt is a derivative found in barley that offers a sweet taste without a high-glycemic load. For this reason, it is added to many processed diet foods to enhance the taste without a lot of sugar. Be aware of these two issues if you buy protein bars too, which almost always include these ingredients.
3. Flavored Teas and Coffees
I am an herbal tea nut. I also loved flavored coffee like caramel mocha or chocolate mocha flavored coffee. Unfortunately, flavors that don't mention specific ingredients will often be labeled as natural or artificial flavorings or natural ingredients and colors. Don't assume just because the package says "natural" that you are safe. Gluten is a naturally occurring food byproduct, so natural means nothing except it isn't chemically derived. Gluten naturally occurs in many flavoring agents that are in processed foods. If you see natural flavorings or artificial flavorings, gluten is usually an ingredient. One of my previous favorite herbal tea selections happens to includes natural flavorings. I realized after I drank it, I got a pounding headache. After I turned over the box, in tiny print on the bottom of the box, I found a statement revealing gluten included in the product. which was labeled under Natural Flavorings. Be aware of this before anything goes in your cart.
4. Bran or Cereals
Most all bran and cereal foods, such as bran cereal or fiber sprinkles, come from a gluten-source. Even oat-bran may include gluten unless it is labeled otherwise. Check the back of the label to ensure no cross contamination occurred. You can check this by reading the ingredient list. The product should state if it was processed in the same facility of any known gluten allergen culprits including wheat, barley or rye. It will usually also state if it was processed in a facility with other non-gluten allergens like soy, peanuts and milk if these are a concern to you. Bran is a product of wheat most of the time. The bran is often thought of as the top source of fiber, which is extracted from the entire whole grain, such as wheat or oats. For this reason, it can be included in many foods and titled bran, wheat bran, etc. Be aware of this and if the product does not say gluten-free, mostly likely that bran is from a gluten source.
Though you may not know what dextrin is, you should. Dextrin, like modified food starch, is used as a thickener due to its high fiber content. Fiber soaks up liquids well, so many companies add it to enhance bulk to foods or to boost the fiber content and label the product as "high fiber." Unfortunately, dextrin, which is often used as this source of fiber, is derived from wheat. This means processed wheat's fiber is used to thicken a recipe or product, and is either listed as "dextrin" or "wheat dextrin." Check all labels before purchasing. If you see dextrin, put it back.
6. Soy Sauce
Most people who are familiar with gluten-containing ingredients will know to avoid soy sauce, but for years, I didn't. The trendy condiment was a mainstay in my sauteed veggies for years. Then, when my stomach started acting up after I ate it, I decided to research what exactly was in it. As it turns out, soy sauce is derived from wheat, and wheat is usually the first ingredient listed on the label. For a gluten-free alternative, try tamari. Tamari offers a similar taste, and many brands are labeled and certified gluten-free. You should still always read the labels to ensure no trace amounts occur.
7. Restaurant Soups, Sauces and Dressings
Most bottled salad dressings contain some form of gluten, whether as a thickener, a coloring, flavoring agent, or otherwise. Many restaurants do not disclose if their soups, sauces and dressings are thickened with a gluten-containing ingredient. I personally avoid these items altogether at restaurants to play it safe. Unfortunately, most of my experiences have led me to learn that you aren't safe by simply asking the waiter or waitress. Most will give you the "no" answer when you ask, even if they have no idea, just to up-sell your bill. Either bring your own, or ask for a little olive oil and lemon juice instead, or whole lemons which can make excellent dressings. Avoid balsamic vinegar, as it often contains gluten as well. When it comes to soups, most cream-based soups are sources of gluten. If you feel safe choosing a clear broth such as vegetable, feel free, but also know many vegetable stocks are gluten-contaminated. I do not order soup at a restaurant, just to be safe. Pick whole food dishes instead of lots of condiments or entrees with sauces and seasonings.
What? Crab meat has gluten, you ask? Yes, that crab meat at the store that has a beautiful, bright red glow to it is not real crab! Surprised? You may also be surprised to know that imitation crab meat is made from wheat gluten, dextrin and modified food starch, which as you now know are all sources of gluten. If you buy real crab, you'll notice the difference. It is not red in color, and is usually almost more clear. It comes with a higher price tag too, so be aware of this. The only ingredient in real crab will be listed on the label as "crab", with salt as another possible ingredient.
Labels on gluten-free labeled products will still have "spices" listed in the ingredients list. Don't assume this is a free food if you're avoiding gluten. Spices are allowed as a legal ingredient on all types of products, not just gluten-free ones. There is no clear cut law on what the word "spices" has to entail. This being said, anytime you see the word, "spices," be aware that more than likely gluten is included here, along with possible MSG suspects that also occur in the term "spices."
Wheat is a huge commodity in our food system. It is cheap, readily available, and easy to use for many different reasons in processed foods' appeal factor. Texture, taste and appearance are often enhanced by using this cheap commodity of wheat and its derivatives. Because of this convenience to food manufacturers, wheat is processed in so many ways that it does not even resemble the original food after all manufacturing is complete. Our bodies recognize this and often see it as foreign agent. Over time, this constant exposure can cause symptoms such as allergens, headaches, weight gain, stomach issues or stomach pain. Always be aware when you see wheat, barley and rye, you are consuming natural gluten, but also be aware of these hidden sources of gluten too. You can find out more about hidden gluten sources by visiting the Celiac Disease homepage on About.com. Have you found hidden sources of gluten in your foods? Share them!