If you’re on a gluten-free diet, it’s important to understand what the term “gluten-free” actually means on food and product labels. Finally, “free” doesn’t necessarily mean “zero”.
Conversely, gluten-free indicates acceptable levels of gluten as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Unlike food allergens, manufacturers are not required to disclose gluten on food labels. They only have to specify wheat, which is not the only source of gluten in food. If you are extremely sensitive to gluten, this can make it difficult to choose a “safe” product.
This article explains how to identify hidden sources of gluten in food, and what you should know about gluten-free certification.
Alternative name for gluten
Sometimes, ingredients that contain gluten are listed by their scientific name in Latin. The following terms represent the most common Latin terms for wheat, barley, and rye. If you see any of these, the product contains gluten:
- wheat (wheat)
- triticale (hybrid of wheat and rye)
- barley (barley)
- rye (rye)
- wheat (spelling, a form of wheat)
Ingredients that always contain gluten
The following terms represent ingredients that always contain gluten:
- Wheat Protein/Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
- Wheat Starch/Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch
- Wheat Flour/Bread Flour/Bleaching Powder
- Bulgur: a form of wheat
- Malt: Made from barley
- Couscous: Made from wheat
- Farina: Made from wheat
- Pasta: Made from wheat unless otherwise noted
- Cheongdam: Made from wheat gluten, commonly used in vegetarian food
- Wheat or barley grass: can be cross-contaminated
- Wheatgerm oil or extract: can be cross-contaminated
Ingredients that may contain gluten
Depending on the source, the following ingredients may contain gluten. The FDA requires food manufacturers to list ingredients that contain wheat on their labels. However, other gluten-containing grains may also be used to make some of these ingredients.
You need to check with the manufacturer to determine if foods containing one or more of these ingredients are safe on a gluten-free diet:
- Vegetable protein/hydrolyzed vegetable protein: can be from wheat, corn or soy
- Modified starch/modified edible starch: can come from a variety of sources, including wheat
- Natural Flavors/Natural Flavors: Can come from barley
- Artificial Flavors/Artificial Flavors: Can come from barley
- Caramel Color: Now considered a safe ingredient, but if in doubt, consult the manufacturer
- Modified Edible Starch
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HPP)
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
- Seasonings: May contain wheat fillers
- Seasonings: May contain wheat fillers
- Vegetable starch: may contain wheat fillers
- Dextrin and Maltodextrin: Both are sometimes made from wheat
People who need to avoid gluten usually know to check food labels for “wheat”. However, you may need to read labels more carefully to find other ingredients that contain gluten.
Check for grains that are in the form of wheat or made from wheat such as malt and flour. Also look for colors, flavors, or other additives. These can contain wheat. Also note the Latin names, not the English names, of the different types of grains that may be used on the label.
Certified Gluten Free
Gluten-free foods can still be cross-contaminated with gluten during processing. That’s why it’s especially important to pay attention to labels if you’re extremely gluten-sensitive and choose only certified gluten-free foods.
In August 2013, the FDA announced a new rule regarding the labeling of gluten-free foods. According to regulations, manufacturers must ensure their products contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten in order to be labeled “gluten-free.”
Some gluten-free advocates insist that FDA standards are insufficient and that symptoms may appear at 10 ppm or less. Countries such as New Zealand and Australia have accepted certification standards below 5 ppm.
Gluten-free food labeling requirements apply only to packaged foods. The rule does not apply to meat, poultry, shelled eggs or distilled spirits and wines with an alcohol content of 7% or more.
There is no standard symbol for gluten-free food. Manufacturers can simply print “gluten-free” on the label as long as it’s authentic. Also, the US does not have a single method of certification.
Several other organizations offer certification, each with their own testing and standards for acceptable gluten levels. These include:
- gluten intolerance group
- Celiac Disease Support Association (CSA)
- Allergen Control Group
- Certified Natural Growth
- Non-GMO Project
- NSF International
- National Organic Program
- kosher certification body
- USDA Organic
- cross logo
The Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) of the Gluten Intolerance Organization is one of the organizations that provides certification for foods that contain less than 10 ppm of gluten.
For example, for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, choosing a product that is labeled GFCO can make a big difference between good and bad digestive health.
If you’re trying to follow a gluten-free diet, you need to understand the ways gluten may be hiding in your food. This includes products containing wheat, barley or rye. Less obvious gluten-containing ingredients include natural and artificial flavors, hydrolyzed proteins, and additives made from wheat.
According to the FDA, a product can be labeled gluten-free even if it contains very, very small amounts of gluten. However, if you are highly sensitive, even traces can be too much. Private organizations certify products with the lowest gluten content. You can review the standards set by these companies to reduce your exposure risk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which foods are not hidden sources of gluten?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, you should be careful when using or handling certain items that may contain gluten. If you are unsure, read the label or consult the manufacturer:
- Lip gloss, lip balm, and other cosmetics applied on or near the mouth
- Toothpaste and other dental care products
- Vitamins & Herbs & Nutritional Supplements
- Medications (prescription and over-the-counter)
- Play-Doh (includes homemade play dough with wheat flour)
- Communion Wafers
How to avoid cross contact with gluten?
With vigilance. If you have celiac disease, you need to be aware that gluten can get into kitchen items such as toasters, colanders (for example, when used to drain pasta), cutting boards, flour sieves, and containers that contain food gluten Saved. Even condiments like mayonnaise can become contaminated if you spread it on the bread with a knife and then dip it back in.
Is there gluten in potatoes?
Will not. However, when potatoes are processed into fries or fries, they may come into contact with gluten or be seasoned with gluten-containing seasonings.
What happens if someone with celiac disease is exposed to a hidden source of gluten?
Even very small amounts of gluten can trigger an immune response in the small intestine of people with celiac disease, causing damage to the villi that line it. Villi are finger-like protrusions that allow the body to absorb nutrients from food, leading to severe malnutrition over time.