Solving the Mystery of Hidden Gluten: Overlooked Sources of Gluten in the Food We Eat
The true-crime genre of police procedurals and podcasts turned many of us into armchair detectives. With our finely honed analytical skills and maybe a trusty magnifying glass we sift through evidence, identify a few potentially guilty suspects, and solve the mystery of who done it.
What if we aren’t trying to find the bad guy? What if the “bad guy” was lurking in the food we eat? When we attempt to eat a healthy diet and avoid foods containing gluten, we never want ingredients to be a mystery and we certainly don’t want any surprises because those surprises can have devastating results.
Detailed information about food is at our fingertips, located in a wealth of resources. For those of us trying to limit gluten in our diets or for those folks whose very health hinges on their avoidance of anything with gluten, knowing exactly what ingredients exist in the foods we eat is critical.
So, all you armchair food detectives, get out your magnifying glasses because you are about to discover a long list of gluten clues and solve the mystery of hidden gluten in your diets.
Where Do You Start?
When solving any mystery, start with the obvious. Wheat. We already know this is not hidden as it is out in the open with the wheat flour we use in our favorite breads, cakes, and cookies and myriad items in grocery stores. This is remedied by implementing healthy baking recipes using gluten-free flour. But the wheat and wheat products are not the only grain source containing gluten. It’s also found in rye and barley. Other grains and derivatives include:
- Wheat Germ
- Wheat Bran
- Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
- Bromated Flour
- Wheat Starch
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Brown Rice Syrup
These items are unmistakable clues. They are easily identified in either the type of product or within the product’s ingredient list. Sometimes we may encounter gluten ingredients in other languages, especially for imported foods. When scanning food labels some gluten-containing ingredients might not be listed in English, but in Latin, which adds another level of complexity when looking for gluten. These can include:
- Triticum Vulgare - wheat
- Hordeum vulgare extract - barley
- Secale cereal - rye
Uncovering the Hidden Gluten Clues
The gluten mystery can intensify dramatically because the list of food items and other products is lengthy and contains things we eat and use almost every day. It will be beneficial to keep in mind what may contain gluten and reading the food labels will help you decipher what is safe.
Oats - They are naturally gluten-free but are at high-risk for cross-contamination with other grains like wheat due to processing. Make sure labels say they are gluten-free. Purchase packaged oats instead of buying in bulk bins because cross-contamination can rarely be avoided.
Cereals - Look at ingredient lists because malt, derived from barley, can often be an ingredient. Look for malt, malted barley flour, malt extract, and syrup.
Sauces, Marinades, and Salad Dressings - Soy and teriyaki sauces are often made with fermented crushed wheat. Other sauces and dressings can contain soy or may have wheat starch or flour. Look for modified wheat and food starch. Malt vinegar, derived from barley, must also be avoided.
Soups - These can be thickened with a “roux” that contains flour. Also look for additions like soy, miso, and hydrolyzed wheat protein.
Sausages and Deli Meats - Sausages can contain fillers derived from wheat. Deli meats can also pose a problem when screening for gluten. Look for wheat-derived dextrin or modified food starch.
Meat Substitutes - Many people want to reduce their meat intake or avoid meat altogether. The wide variety of meatless products is indicative of this trend, but also presents an arena of food products that are high risk for gluten. Foods may include veggie burgers, vegan hot dogs, deli “meats”, and seitan, all of which may use wheat flour or other wheat-derived products as binders. Look for yeast extract and wheat starch.
Other foods on this list that may potentially contain some form of gluten include ketchup, mustard, taco seasonings, cheeses like bleu or those containing beer, potato and corn chips, energy and granola bars, ice cream or milkshakes containing malt or cookie dough,
Gluten can exist in not only what we eat, but also in what we drink. This typically applies to malt-based alcoholic beverages like beers, wine coolers, hard ciders, and other hard drinks like lemonade.
Unexpected Gluten Sources
Surprises are going to happen when trying to unravel the gluten ingredient mystery. Keep in mind that even products we don’t think of as “foods” can contain gluten including vitamins, supplements, and medications as well as communion wafers. Even seemingly innocuous things like lip gloss, lip balm, and certain cosmetics have hidden gluten.
Remember the Basics
Scrutinize every label looking for ingredients that may contain gluten and if in doubt, the healthiest choice is to avoid it. Food labeling has improved tremendously and has reduced the risk of accidentally selecting something that may contain gluten. Food regulated by the FDA that has wheat as an ingredient or has a component that is wheat-derived is required to have labeling indicating that wheat is present.
One of the most significant ways to avoid gluten is to choose fresh, unprocessed food. There are naturally gluten-free grains and starches like rice, quinoa, millet, potatoes, corn, sorghum, amaranth, and buckwheat that are excellent substitutions for wheat, rye, and barley. Also, you can’t go wrong with a diet containing nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables and lean meats, chicken, and fish.
Living a gluten-free lifestyle takes some initiative and careful scrutiny. In addition to looking at labels for ingredients check out food packaging that indicates if something is certified gluten-free. Consistently read labels even if you have previously purchased a product. Sometimes food manufacturers change their ingredient lists, therefore you must remain diligent even if you think something has always been gluten-free.
Food is a necessity and a delight. We all enjoy its quality and abundance as we prepare and share meals. But for those people who have a gluten intolerance or gluten allergy, or even worse- celiac, food containing gluten can either be a nuisance or a hidden enemy. Hidden ingredients make your ability to have a Gluten-Free Diet even harder. Arming yourself with the most accurate food terminology and some good, old-fashioned ingredient sleuthing can turn food choices from being a potentially harmful mystery into a healthy and enjoyable diet.