Top 10 Ingredients You Really Don’t Need to Worry About


Let’s face it, the gluten-free diet is complex and difficult to maneuver. Add to this the issue of common ingredients that never seem to get off lengthy lists of “things to question” and it’s no wonder that so many people doing their best to avoid gluten are still assailed by confusion and anxiety. That’s why we think it sometimes makes more sense to explain why you don’t have to worry about certain ingredients. Here are the leading ingredients that you can stop worrying about.

1. Caramel Color

Why it’s on worry lists in the first place: The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) says caramel color can be made from malt syrup or starch hydrolysates, either of which could contain gluten.

Why you don’t need to worry: Despite what the CFR says, companies typically use corn to produce caramel color, rather than wheat. Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, a product’s label must indicate if wheat is used in caramel coloring.

Why that’s a good thing: Caramel color is in a lot of products, including carbonated and alcoholic beverages, baked goods and sauces.

2. Citric Acid

Why it’s on worry lists in the first place: While citric acid is usually made from corn, beet sugar or molasses, it can also be made from wheat.

Why you don’t have to worry: Citric acid is highly processed and purified. The steps that bring it to this point fully remove any gluten proteins.

Why that’s a good thing: It’s one less ingredient to worry about and it’s a fairly common ingredient used in products such as canned goods and soft drinks.

3. Dextrose

Why it’s on worry lists in the first place: Dextrose can be made from wheat. In fact, sometimes it is.

Why you don’t have to worry: Like citric acid, dextrose is a highly processed ingredient. Regardless of which starch is used, the end result is gluten free.

Why that’s a good thing: It’s often used in packaged foods and baking products.

4. Glucose Syrup

Why it’s on worry lists in the first place: Glucose syrup is typically made from corn in the U.S., although wheat is used more often in Europe.

Why you don’t have to worry: Glucose syrup is another highly processed ingredient and the processing removes harmful gluten protein. In fact, both the European Food Safety Authority and researchers in Finland have concluded that glucose syrup made from wheat can be safely included in the gluten-free diet. They tested glucose syrup and found it to be free of harmful levels of gluten. Also, a clinical study showed that patients with celiac disease who consumed glucose syrup for 24 weeks showed no signs of damage when biopsied.

Why that’s a good thing: Here’s an ingredient where processors, scientists, researchers and physicians all agree. With such strong evidence, you never have to worry about glucose syrup.

5. Dextrin

Why it’s on worry lists: While most often made from gluten-free sources such as corn or tapioca, dextrin can be made from wheat.

Why you don’t have to worry: Dextrin is gluten free when it is made from corn, potato, arrowroot, rice or tapioca. In rare instances, dextrin is made from wheat and not processed to the point where the gluten proteins are removed. However, in these instances, “wheat” will appear on the label.

Why that’s a good thing:  This common food additive has a variety of uses in manufacturing, such as making foods crispy and as a coating for certain foods.

6. Hydrolyzed Vegetable protein (HVP) and Hydrolyzed Plant Protein (HPP)

Why they’re on worry lists: Partially because they always have been, despite the fact that they did not belong there in the first place.

Why you don’t have to worry: You won’t even find these phrases on ingredient lists! Roughly 20 years ago, the FDA said processors have to define the “vegetable” or “plant” in their ingredients. So you will read hydrolyzed wheat protein and know you have to avoid the item, or hydrolyzed soy protein, and know the item is safe as long as it is free of any gluten-containing ingredients.

Why that’s a good thing: The shorter the list of things you worry about, the easier the gluten-free diet becomes.

7. Maltodextrin

Why it’s on worry lists: Maltodextrin can be made from a variety of starches, including corn, potato, rice or wheat.

Why you don’t need to worry: The source does not matter because maltodextrin is such a highly processed ingredient that the protein is removed, rendering it gluten free. Plus, if wheat is used to make maltodextrin, “wheat” will appear on the label. This might give you pause, but even in this case, the maltodextrin would be gluten free. In Canada, maltodextrin made from wheat was tested with one of the most sensitive tests available and no gluten was detected.

Why that’s a good thing: This additive is used in popular food products such as potato chips and jerky.

8. Mono and diglycerides

Why they’re on worry lists: Questions about mono and diglycerides arose because of suspicion that wheat might be used with them as a carrier. It is unclear what caused that suspicion.

Why you don’t have to worry: To date there has been no evidence that this is the case and there are no instances of mono and diglycerides ever being connected with gluten. In fact, they are fats and therefore gluten free.

Why this is a good thing: They are widely used in a variety of food products, from mayonnaise and peanut butter to coffee creamers and baked goods.

9. Spices

Why they’re on worry lists: Spices, which are gluten free, are often thought to be the same as seasonings, which may contain gluten. However, they are two different things.

Why you don’t have to worry: Pure spices are gluten free.

Why that’s a good thing: Knowing that pure spices are gluten free opens up a world of flavor possibilities for you.

10. Distilled Vinegar

Why it’s on worry lists: Because a long time ago someone suggested that vinegar distilled from wheat might still contain gluten proteins.

Why you don’t have to worry: As scientists have always said, this concern is not only silly but also not possible in the real world. The gluten protein is too heavy to vaporize and end up in the distillate. If you think distilled vinegar causes problems, avoid it. But the cause is not gluten. (However, note that malt vinegar is derived from barley and can still contain gluten, so it should be avoided on the gluten-free diet.)

Why that’s a good thing: Distilled vinegar is in a lot of things, including salad dressings and marinades.

None of this information is meant to sound casual about the importance of avoiding gluten. It is meant to ease your mind in certain areas and help you feel confident about the foods you eat. The more nagging doubts you can eliminate, the better you will feel about gluten-free living.

Have more questions about gluten-free ingredients? 

The information in our Ingredients Index will help you read a food label. It is based on the research we have done by interviewing experts in the field of food science.

Related articles

The Basic Gluten-Free Diet

Gluten-Free Recipes

A Paleo Diet Primer


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  • Thank you so much for this. I was starting to go crazy.

  • Sara Giambra

    Hi! I came across your list while looking for an explanation of what tapioca dextrin is. I do not follow a gluten free diet because I don’t have any allergies (so far) and stick to a mostly plant/veggie/lean protein based diet. But I did feel that I needed to leave a respectful comment here.

    While this list is a great list about the gluten properties, I want to share my experience with some of these ingredients.

    Maltodextrin: TMI —> Makes me, umm… a lot Totally makes me sick :/

    Caramel Color: While it may not be a gluten issue, my closest friend found that when she cut out this additive, many of her hormonal imbalances subsided.

    Hydrolyzed: In my college anatomy class we were taught by a real life Doctor lol, and we learned that the process of “hydrolyzed” anything creates MSG. I don’t think I need to go into the effects of that for anyone (re:maltodextrin) haha Not to mention the high tie between MSG and ALS :/

    I’m not trying to start a online comment battle, I just wanted to share my experience with this list. I wish all of you who are living and managing a Gluten Free Lifestyle all the best, I’m sure it can’t be easy this day in age.



    • Holly McIntyre- Williams

      Thank you for sharing this information, Sara. I have celiac and I will often have an item that are labeled gluten free and still react negatively. Anytime someone states highly processed it’s probably a good idea to avoid it, regardless of whether it is gluten free or not. It’s not fun to find out later and have to deal with pain, bloating, loss of energy, and the list goes on. Thank you to everyone who tries their best to be helpful. You all are appreciated.

  • kit

    Does the vinegar include malt vinegar? Posting from the UK I don’t know if it’s a thing in US

    • VickiKent56


      • Paul Bickwermert

        YES – PLEASE ! ! !
        I hope someone would answer this too. My wife loves it but she is scared of it because it says malt.

        One other thing, why do the articles on this site not have the Authors name beside the publish date?

        Just asking.

        • mj

          Malt vinegar has gluten. Regular vinegar doesn’t. (See the article above–they mention this under the section on distilled vinegar.

  • Louise Robinson

    Sorry to join this discussion so late in the game…I’d just like to add that I’ve viewed various information sources which express the opinion (and I agree from my own experimentation) that wheat is an appetite stimulant and that that is the only reason it and it’s derivatives are included in almost ALL the processed foods…it’s certainly not for taste or nutritional value in most cases. Another thing to bear in mind is that even if the wheat derivative (and corn for that matter) are gluten free, it doesn’t mean they are not GMO free or pesticide free. Personally I avoid wheat at all costs. I’m not celiac but recently, after a long period of abstention from wheat my greedy side got the better of me and I began eating those little melba toasts…my god did I suffer! About 3 weeks in I began to have constant gas, uncomfortable and embarrassing. After quitting and taking probiotics I had a few days of awful detox and now am back on track. Dangerous stuff this wheat if you ask me 🙂 Good luck to all!

  • Jen M

    You do actually need to worry about cross contamination for “pure” spices. They can be processed on the same machinery as gluten-containing ingredients or blends, or, depending on the spice, may come into contact with glutenous grains if grown and harvested on the same farm. Stick to safe brands that test for gluten and follow safe handling practices (like McCormick).

    Also, according to dietitians, wheat IS used in Europe for caramel coloring. So, if you buy, say, a bottle of balsamic vinegar made in the Mediterranean that contains caramel coloring, you can’t count on it being made from corn.

    For super-sensitive celiacs, ingredients that are processed to remove gluten can still cause a reaction. Our immune systems are smart and know when something perceived as an enemy (or something similar to that enemy) is present. How do you think our planet is becoming over-populated? 🙂 We’re not here by luck. We’re here because our immune systems are very sophisticated.

    This article is irresponsible. Did you consult with any of the physicians in the Chicago or Baltimore celiac programs before publishing it?? Many celiacs are sensitive down to 20 ppm (some less) and can’t even have “omission” beers because their immune systems still react to the presence of the grain.

    You can “stand by” this article all you want, but you should know you’re going to get people sick, and they may not be able to figure out what substance did it, which means they could get sick again and again because when retracing their to steps to determine the source of the glutening, they’re going to cross off the balsamic vinegar imported from Italy because you said caramel color was ALWAYS safe, and it’s NOT.

    Very, very disappointed in you, GF Living. It’s articles like this that got me sick during first year of learning to eat with celiac disease. I now know to call the manufacturer of anything processed. If you did the same for a random packaged food with suspicious ingredients, you would likely be quite surprised. To be safe, you should tell people to call manufacturers. The bigger companies will verify their overall practices in testing for gluten, labeling, and if they offer a gluten-free product listing.

    • Carol

      You are right that beyond the US there’s no guarantee that caramel color is corn-based. In the US, corn products are uber-cheap because corn is (still) subsidized by the government, so the author is right that US caramel color is most likely corn-based.
      Our main exposure to caramel color is through dark colored colas and beverages, not as much vinegar, but it’s worth noting that it is a possible carcinogen:

    • Jessie Scott


  • Karen Jorgensen

    I appreciate the article, but having Celiac Disease, I have a reaction whenever I eat Maltodextrin or Dextrose not specifically made from corn. Many of us have WHEAT allergies, not just gluten allergies, so although the gluten is removed, the wheat still remains.

    • Jessie Scott

      I watch out for Maltodextrin, it’s not fun. I look like I’m 6 months pregnant after an hour of ingesting it.

  • Ralphes Bushman

    I have never even know about some of the items you listed above. Thanks for this article.

  • Marie

    As celiac, wheat, nut and corn sensitive, I can’t eat malodextein. I have both a corn allergy and sensitivity so I have both digestive and breathing problems.

  • BigT

    These are the type of sites that are just killers to Celiac patients. There is so much confusion and dissensus around Celiac and Gluten intolerance that poeple with “Experience” represent themselves as professional. There are asymptomatic patients, maltodextrin can be processed using corn, glucose from corn, dextrose from corn, etc. There are cross contamination issues, etc. Don’t think because you have Gluten Intolerance or Celiac for life that this makes you an expert. If your looking for advice seek out professional advice, which is very limited in the US. It is a shame to say but the US is far behind many countries when it comes to Celiac.

  • Shirley

    “Wheat Belly” is an excellent book.

  • Kelly Gaming

    YIKES!!! Although I do not suffer from severe food allergies , my first reaction to this ‘article’ is that is must have been sponsored by the food corporations! To say that any of these “highly processed” additives in your food is ‘nothing you should worry about’ and are ‘good things’ blows my mind. Most of these food edditives are higly toxic to the body 🙁

    • jo mama

      Totally agree with Kelly. “Highly processed” IS the problem. Our bodies haven’t evolved to eat massively concentrated food stuffs and that’s exactly what processed “food” is. Eating this garbage strains your body to the point of failure, which manifests itself as various diseases depending on what parts fail first. Jason Fung’s book “The Obesity Code” may have a terrible title but it lays out in detail what happens when we poison ourselves with processed foods. He debunks most of the nonsense “advise” pushed at us for the last 50 years by “Big Food” and their bootlickers in the FDA.

  • rickdes

    Mono and Diglycerides are trans fats that do not have to be labeled as such on American food labels. Food companies are able to label their product as 0 grams trans fat even with these ingredients in them. Trans fat is linked to heart disease. This kind of fat has been shown to raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol—which can increase risk of heart problems and even type-2 diabetes. Trans fat builds up plaque in arteries, which could eventually lead to heart attack. A 2014 study also suggested that eating a lot of trans fat could be linked to memory issues. In 2013, the FDA determined that PHOs do not meet their distinction of “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption. This is how the food industry gets around the 2015 ban. Read the labels and avoid them as much as you can.

  • greg mcintyre

    It concerns me the FDA and the Codex Alimentarius Commission consider 20 ppm of gluten to be “gluten-free” which allows a product like “Benefibre” splash advertising on their labels “Gluten-Free” and on the diagonally opposite: “made from wheat”. At least one source says “that people with celiac disease stay away from fiber supplements derived from wheat dextrin.” I think anything made with wheat should be automatically stopped from claiming “gluten-free”.

  • Mike Thomas

    Your answer is not 100% correct. Whether or not wheat glucose syrup is gluten free or not depends on the manufacturing process. In todays profit-oriented culture if short cuts can be taken then they will. The end result is that wheat gluten syrup is not guaranteed to be gluten free. Period.

  • Mike Thomas

    Your comments regarding wheat glucose syrup are WRONG. It depends on the manufacturing process whether or not it still contains enough gluten to cause an adverse reaction in a coeliac. The Finnish study that you quote was flawed as they only used wheat glucose syrup from one source and supplied by ‘the industry’ who, of course, have a vested interest to ensure that the samples they provided were OK. Had the Finnish study bothered to take a much wider ranging sample of wheat glucose syrup then their results would have been much different. At least the coeliac organisation in Australia recognise this and advise that is is a personal risk that each coeliac should take. Do you want to take the risk ?

  • Cheryl

    This list is wrong. The FDA rules state that hydrolyzed products must be tested for gluten before processing. THe hydrolization process makes the PPM testing invalid.

    Here is the rule:
    “9. What additional requirements does FDA propose to verify a “gluten-free” claim on hydrolyzed or fermented foods?

    Because the current gluten tests do not adequately detect and quantify gluten in fermented and hydrolyzed foods or ingredients, FDA proposes that, in order to make a “gluten-free” claim, manufacturers of these foods would have to make and keep records to show all of the following:

    The food meets the definition for “gluten-free” in 21 CFR 101.91(a)(3), including that the food had less than 20 ppm gluten, before fermentation or hydrolysis.
    The manufacturer adequately evaluated the processing for any potential for gluten cross-contact.
    Where a potential for gluten cross-contact has been identified, the manufacturer has implemented measures to prevent the introduction of gluten into the food during the manufacturing process.
    These records could include test results conducted by the manufacturer or an ingredient supplier, a certificate of analysis, or other appropriate verification documentation for the food or each ingredient used in the foods. ”