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How to Check for Gluten on Food Labels

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Gluten-free diets have become very popular over the last few years. The original reason that people started to go gluten-free was to manage the symptoms of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where the body negatively reacts to foods, medications, or other products containing gluten and gluten byproducts.

Recently, the gluten-free diet has also risen in popularity among the general population, meaning people who are not affected by celiac disease. More and more consumers are taking on this diet because they want to increase their energy levels, and/or lose weight, though it turns out that a gluten free diet may not be the most efficient way to achieve some of these results.

Reading gluten-free labels

Many products now have “gluten-free” printed right on the packaging. However, just because this indicator isn’t present does not mean that the item isn’t gluten-free. In order to be sure, consumers have to go through the ingredient list for items that contain gluten.

If you are on a gluten-free diet because of celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or you voluntarily chose to try it out, it is important that you know how to recognize if an item contains gluten.

Usually, you can’t look at the ingredients of an item and find the word 'gluten' clearly spelled out. So, you have to know what gluten containing item is on labels, as it is present in many ingredients with different names.

Here are the most common ingredients that contain gluten:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Malt (malt vinegar, barley malt, malt syrup, etc.)
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Spelt wheat
  • Triticale
  • Modified food starch
  • Starch
  • Dextrin
  • Barley
  • Durum
  • Einkorn wheat
  • Emmer
  • Farina
  • Farro
  • Graham
  • Kamut
  • Khorasan wheat
  • Semolina
  • Wheat berries
  • Wheat starch

Some of these items do not necessarily contain gluten, such as oats, modified food starch, starch, and dextrin. However, further investigation is necessary as some of these items could potentially be derived from wheat.

Check the 'contains' statement

In addition, when you look over the nutrition facts label, make sure to check the ingredient list as well as the 'contains' statement. The statement should identify any ingredients that may be dangerous to those with food allergies, such as peanuts, milk, and wheat. If the 'contains' statement mentions wheat, you know beyond a doubt that the product is not 100% gluten-free.

Cross-contact of gluten

Cross-contact of gluten may also be a risk in traditionally gluten-free foods. For instance, foods like quinoa or rice are gluten-free, but when you check the 'contains' statement, some say it “may contain” wheat. This is because these products are processed with shared equipment or in shared facilities.

In order for any product at the local supermarket to be labeled gluten-free, the item has to contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten. In the case of cross-contact, it is difficult to tell what the level of gluten is, making it a bit of a gamble for those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

Even if an item is labeled gluten-free, it is always a good idea to double-check the ingredient list.

Some popular food items that typically contain gluten include:

  • Baked items, like cookies, bread, and pastries
  • Beer
  • Breading (like that on fried foods)
  • Cereal and granola
  • Crackers
  • Croutons
  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Pasta and noodles
  • Soups and dressings

These are not all of the items that contain gluten, only some of the most common ones.

Gluten and celiac disease

That being said, a quick word of caution: The only reason to pursue a gluten-free diet is if you suffer from and have been diagnosed with celiac disease. Celiac disease affects around 3 million people in the US, which is about 1% of the population.

When someone is diagnosed with celiac disease, their body becomes confused and “goes to war with itself”. After eating something that contains gluten, even in small amounts, people with celiac disease will experience a variety of painful digestive side effects.

If someone diagnosed with celiac disease does not switch to a gluten-free diet, it could result in a variety of health issues, including:

  • Damage to the small intestines
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis
  • Anemia
  • Ulcers
  • Infertility
  • And more

The best way to prevent irreparable damage to their bodies is by diagnosing early and beginning a gluten-free diet. Parents should watch for symptoms of celiac disease in children so that treatment can begin as soon as possible.

Common symptoms in children include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Decreased appetite
  • Skin rashes
  • Regular headaches or migraines
  • Anemia
  • Aching joints
  • Weight loss
  • Delayed puberty
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression

If you think you, your child, or someone in your family may have celiac disease - get tested. Our home celiac test kit was designed by world-class doctors to provide a convenient and accessible way to screen for celiac disease early.

Test kits can be ordered online without a prescription if you are at least 18 years old. The test can be done in a matter of minutes at home. Once the kit is mailed back to the lab, easy-to-read results will be available on your smartphone within five days.

Updated on
August 16, 2021
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