Whether you just learned that you need to give up gluten or have decided on your own to start following a gluten-free diet, knowledge is power when it comes to making the transition. Educating yourself on what to look for in ingredients lists—as well as what to avoid—can help ease the seemingly overwhelming burden of completely transforming your diet.
Look beyond the label
As you walk through the grocery store aisles, you’ll notice several food items emblazoned with a “gluten-free” label. This label is legally allowed on packaged food that contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten. It’s still ideal to check the ingredients list for possible wheat or other gluten-filled ingredients. Keep in mind that even packages labeled “wheat-free” can still contain gluten.
Many products list allergens that the packaged item is free from, such as milk, wheat, nuts, soy and eggs. However, these lists do not always include barley and rye, which comprise gluten. If either of these ingredients appears in the ingredients list, leave the product on the shelf.
Avoid items in bulk bins at the grocery story. Even gluten-free items could still be cross-contaminated from gluten-containing items that used to be kept there or from other shoppers reaching in after touching gluten-containing foods.
Steer clear of products that contain any of these ingredients:
- Brewer’s yeast
- Wheat starch that hasn’t been processed to remove any presence of gluten under 20 ppm
- Malt, including malt vinegar, malt flavoring, malted barley flour, malted milk, malt syrup and malt extract
Other gluten-containing grains derived from wheat that you should avoid and look for on ingredient lists include:
- Wheat berries
- Einkorn wheat
These common products could contain gluten:
- Crackers, including
- Graham crackers
- Goldfish crackers
- Salad dressing
- Gravy and sauces (most use a wheat-based flour as a thickener)
- Soy sauce and sauce with roux
- Marinades and seasonings
You will need to personally verify that these types of foods don’t contain gluten:
- French fries may be prepared in a batter containing wheat flour, cross-contaminated during production or cooked in a shared fryer at a restaurant.
- Many granola and energy bars include wheat or oats that are not gluten free. Potato chips may contain wheat starch or malt vinegar.
- Avoid any soup that is cream-based because it may employ a thickener made from flour. Soups could also contain barley.
- Any meat substitute made with seitan, a wheat gluten, should be skipped. Such products include vegetarian burgers and sausage as well as imitation seafood and bacon.
- This one comes as a shock to many: Some restaurants use pancake batter, which typically contains gluten, in their omelets and scrambled eggs. If you’re craving the incredible edible egg, be sure to ask your server how it will be prepared.
Even after you’ve gathered your 100 percent gluten-free ingredients, you still need to keep the risk of cross-contamination top of mind. Be especially careful when using these common kitchen items:
- Oven racks
- Cutting boards
- Flour sifter
- Shared storage containers (if not washed properly)
- Shared condiments that require a utensil; for example, butter or peanut butter
Heather Burdo is a health content writer from New York.