How to Check Food Labels for Gluten
If you’re gluten-free due to a medical condition, then you need to be extra vigilant about avoiding every bit of gluten. Knowing what to look for on a food label is huge.
You may find conflicting information on the gluten-free status of some ingredients, so purchasing a list of known gluten-free brands in book or app form can help. Some grocery stores have a list of gluten-free foods they carry at the customer service desk, so start there.
Things change, so even with a guide, you need to check the labels of the food you buy to confirm gluten-free status.
Some ingredients have been controversial in gluten-free circles because myth and misinformation perpetuate rumors that they’re not gluten-free. In the United States and Canada, the ingredients listed here are not typically derived from wheat; if they are, the word wheat should be included in the allergy statement. This means, unless otherwise stated, these ingredients are gluten-free and safe to consume on a gluten-free diet:
Hydrolyzed plant protein
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Modified starch or modified food starch
Vinegar (with the exception of malt vinegar, which does contain gluten)
A particularly puzzling ingredient is wheatgrass. If you’re in a fitness or health food store, you may see protein drinks and protein bars that are labeled gluten-free but contain wheatgrass. Wheat contains gluten, so how can wheatgrass be gluten-free? The fact is that wheat’s seeds, not its grass, contain gluten, and the grass can be around for a few weeks before developing seeds.
If you’re sensitive to wheat or allergic to it, steer clear of wheatgrass, but if gluten is your issue, wheat grass is gluten-free and safe.
Just because a product doesn’t say it’s gluten-free in big bold letters on the front doesn’t mean it’s not. Many products are naturally gluten-free and don’t call attention to it.
In fact, many companies use a lot of legal jargon to refuse verifying that a product is absolutely gluten-free, even though it is, because they’re afraid of being sued if a consumer with celiac disease or gluten allergy happens to get sick after consuming it. This is when guidance for the gluten-free community is especially helpful.
Here are some tips for avoiding gluten in your groceries by paying attention to labels:
Look for a seal from a third party that verifies an item is gluten-free. The three main certification organizations are the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), and the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA).
Find out all the different names for glutenous ingredients. If you think you may forget all the words you’re looking for, like malt, take a list with you to the store until you’re confident that you’ve got it.
Read the label, review the ingredients, and read it all again. Even if you’ve purchased a product dozens of times, check the label each time. Companies sometimes switch suppliers or change their formulas.
Contact the manufacturer, if needed. If you’ve done your research and know what to avoid, you’ve read the label, and you still can’t figure out whether a product is safe, call the manufacturer. Almost all packages and company websites list a customer service phone number or e-mail, and reputable companies are happy to talk with customers about their ingredients and processes.
When in doubt, leave it out. If your reaction to gluten is fairly mild and you’re unsure whether a food is gluten-free, a bite for experimentation’s sake may be worth the discomfort. But people with a severe reaction to gluten need to stay away from all foods that aren’t certifiably gluten-free. It’s just not worth it!