How to read labels when shopping gluten-free

It can be hard to follow a gluten-free diet. Not only are food items generally pricier and less tasty, but checking the label on every single product when going to the grocery store can be difficult and time-consuming.

Despite celiac disease affecting 1 in every 100 people, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) does not specifically require that gluten is distinctly labeled on food and drink products.

This means that unless products are specifically advertised as gluten-free, it can be very difficult to know what is and isn’t safe to eat. 

Nevertheless, when it’s your health that is on the line, it’s important to make sure that you’re following a gluten-free lifestyle as closely as possible. 

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system severely reacts to the consumption of gluten. 

According to Healthcare Weekly, the body launches an attack on its own small intestine when gluten reaches it, which can cause strong damage to its lining.

The only way to stop this damage from happening is to adopt a gluten-free diet. 

How do I know if I have celiac disease?

There’s a range of symptoms to look out for when it comes to celiac disease, including severe bloats, cramps, gas, fatigue, infertility, and skin conditions.

If you are experiencing any of these regularly, it is important to get tested for the disorder.

A small intestine biopsy can be arranged, although you could be held on a long waiting list for a procedure which is painful and simply unnecessary.

I’ve personally ordered an at-home test kit from imaware™. When the kit arrived, all I had to do was extract a tiny amount of blood using the finger-prick contraption provided.

Once complete, I sent the sample back for testing. One week later, I received an online comprehensive report, including the next steps. For less than $100, this was a steal. 

One of these next steps will be to eat gluten-free food sources only. Our handy guide will tell you exactly how to check food labels to make sure you’re eating the right things.

Be label-aware

Different brands use different food labels which can make checking for gluten very confusing. 

One thing that is easy to know is if a product is labeled gluten-free and comes from a reputable source, then it really is. That’s because the FDA only allows packaged foods with less than 20ppm to be labeled as such. 

However, you should be aware that the term wheat-free does not translate to gluten-free without fail. Barley and rye could be present in the ingredients list, so you must check before you purchase.

Obvious ingredients to look out for include wheat, barley, rye, malt, oats, and brewer’s yeast.

Other terms for gluten suspects

Yes, it is simple to detect wheat, gluten, barley, and rye, but other labels make things a little more difficult. 

There are a few other terms that mean gluten on food labels, which are commonly written in Latin.

Other words for wheat include Triticum Vulgare, Triticale, and Triticum spelta. Rye can be found under the words Triticale and Secale Cereale, and barley is often named Hordeum Vulgare.

Ingredients which always mean gluten

Sometimes, food packaging lists alternative names for simple ingredients that most people are unaware of. If you’re ever in doubt about whether a food source contains gluten, you should look out for these names which always, always, mean gluten is present.

Everyday names include bulgur, malt, couscous, farina, wheat/bread/bleached flour, seitan, wheat/barley grass, and wheat germ oil/extract.

Scientific names include wheat protein/hydrolyzed wheat protein and wheat starch/hydrolyzed wheat starch.

Check the allergen label

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with ingredient names and signs to look for, a good place to start is the allergens list, as products containing wheat (and therefore gluten) have to list it in this section.

Other ingredients that will run alongside it are eggs, soy, nuts, and milk. However, you should be aware that barley and rye are not named in the FDA’s top 8 list of allergens which have to be disclosed in the allergens section.

This is simply an easy method of ruling products out.

Watch out for gluten traces

Gluten-containing grains could be used to make products that are seemingly safe to the naked eye. These products may not contain gluten normally but could be cross-contaminated with the protein. 

Don’t rule these out, as trace gluten can have the same, if not worse, severe effects that other foods trigger. 

These include vegetable protein/hydrolyzed vegetable protein, flavorings (both artificial and natural), modified and starch, seasonings, dextrin, and maltodextrin.

Allergic living speaks of a 2007 study where adult subjects were challenged with 10 or 50 mg of gluten for three months. Those who consumed 50mg suffered small intestine damage, while one of the 10mg patients developed symptoms. Just one slice of bread made with wheat flour contains over 2,500 mg of gluten.

Check your toiletries

You should be aware that gluten can also be concealed in an array of nonfood items.

These include prescription drugs, mouthwash, toothpaste, lip products, envelopes, multivitamins, and diet supplements. 

Once again, although most will only contain traces, that can be enough to trigger painful symptoms and damage the small intestine’s lining. 

It is important to practice caution when using these products regularly and consider gluten-free alternatives.

Listen to your body

Above all, trust your instincts and listen to your body. If you’ve experienced problems with a food product that you’re almost certain doesn’t contain gluten, you’re best to keep away from it anyway.

People with celiac disease have varying levels of sensitivity to gluten, and your body may react to products that others with the disorder are safe to eat.

Make sure to put your health first, and only eat foods that you’re sure won’t harm your body.