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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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