Reading labels is a huge part of having a successful gluten free diet. Any time you are buying processed foods, there are tons of ingredients to sift through to make sure there is no hidden gluten.
When we started eating gluten free in August 2017 we weren’t particularly careful. We didn’t understand the concept of cross contamination (read more on that here) and we didn’t check food labels very meticulously. We thought that if it didn’t say wheat, barley, or rye on the label we were good… wrong.
How to Read Labels to Find Hidden Gluten
When reading food labels, it can be very difficult to figure out if a product is gluten free or not. There are lots of gluten derived ingredients that a product can contain. Many ingredients in food these days have obscure names. It is impossible to know which ones contain gluten unless you have done the research.
I will give you an overview of what to look for but, as I am not a medical professional, I cannot give you a fool proof list of all gluten containing ingredients and guarantee that every single one in existence will be on that list.
The information below, will help you get started without feeling overwhelmed.
What to look for
1. Obvious ingredients such as wheat, barley, rye, and malt
Always look for the obvious gluten containing grains first. We can eliminate many of these without even having to look at the label.
2. Gluten derived ingredients such as; modified food starch, maltodextrin, maltose, vegetable gum, natural flavors, artificial flavors, caramel color, and emulsifiers.
These are the “hidden” ingredients that are harder to find. In some instances these ingredients may be gluten free because they can be based from other food sources, such as corn.
Sometimes it will be specified on the label that wheat is present if an ingredient is wheat derived. However, in other cases you might have look up the manufacturer online or contact them directly.
3. Manufacturing information; If a product has no gluten containing ingredients but was manufactured in a facility that also processes wheat, it could be cross contaminated.
4. Gluten Free/Certified Gluten Free label; There is a difference between “gluten free” and “certified gluten free”.
“Certified gluten free” means that the company undergoes regular inspection of their facilities, product ingredients, and packaging by an outside party. “Gluten free” means that a company is in charge of it’s own testing, with the FDA checking in every once in a while.
While both can contain the same amount of gluten allowed by the FDA, 20ppm (parts per million), “Certified Gluten Free” can give you a little more peace of mind knowing that there is regular, more rigid, testing going on. In either case, it is up to you to decide.
Gluten Free Scanner App
A good resource to help with reading labels while you are just getting started is the free Gluten Free Scanner App. You can use this app to scan food labels, search foods by category, look up specific ingredients, and look at your past search and scan history.
To use, you simply scan the bar code on an item and the app tells you whether or not it contains gluten. It even gives you a warning of possible cross contamination. Even though this app is extremely helpful, do not rely on it entirely because you will run across foods that are not in it’s database.
(I am not being compensated to write this post, I use this app and have found it extremely convenient.)
If reading food labels seems daunting, don’t let it scare you off. Trust me, after you do it for a while, it just becomes second nature.
One day, I caught myself turning to the back side of a board game to see if it contained gluten! #celiacmoment! Well it made for a good laugh, and hey, at least I know I’ll never forget to check those labels!