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How to Check Ingredients for Wheat and Gluten

If a food product has “wheat” in the name — for example, wheat crackers — you can be pretty certain the item contains wheat. (One exception: buckwheat, which isn't wheat or even a grain at all.) Otherwise, you have to read the ingredients list to know for sure whether a food contains wheat.

Your first stop should be the bottom of the ingredients list. By law, any item that contains one of eight major food allergens (including wheat) must specifically say so. The sample label in the figure spells it out in bold print: contains wheat, milk, and soy ingredients.

Wheat is listed multiple times in the ingredients list for cereal bars.
Wheat is listed multiple times in the ingredients list for cereal bars.

At this point, all you know is that the food contains wheat. Normally, that's all you need to know, but perhaps you've already eaten something and now want to check the label (or you're giving yourself a little wheat-eating leeway for a special occasion).

To find out how prominent wheat ingredients are in an item, head back to the top of the ingredients list and start scanning. The closer the ingredient is to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient the food contains.

You also have to read the lists within the list. Some food items are made up of ingredients that have their own ingredients. In this example, the cereal has its own list of ingredients (shown in parentheses), which are required to be listed on the label of the final product.

The cereal contains three forms of wheat: whole grain wheat, wheat bran, and soluble wheat fiber. If you skip over these subingredients, you may miss a wheat listing (or three).

Not all wheat ingredients conveniently contain the word wheat in the name. Check out the following section for problematic ingredients you may not think to watch for.

Wheat ingredients by any other name

As you become better at identifying which foods contain wheat, your ability to make better food choices improves. When you read an ingredients list, the easiest word to look for is wheat, but you should also be on the lookout for these other words:

  • Barley grass (because of cross-contamination)

  • Bulgur (a form of wheat)

  • Durum, durum flour, durum wheat

  • Einkorn

  • Emmer

  • Farina

  • Flour (including all-purpose, cake, enriched, graham, high-protein or high-gluten, and pastry)

  • Farro

  • Fu

  • Kamut

  • Seitan (made from wheat gluten and commonly used in vegetarian meals)

  • Semolina

  • Spelt

  • Sprouted wheat

  • Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)

  • Triticum aestivum

  • Wheat berries

  • Wheat bran, germ/germ oil/germ extract, gluten, grass, malt, or starch

  • Wheat protein/hydrolyzed wheat protein

Sugar's many names

Food companies are allowed to separate the various types of sugars in the ingredients list with different names, so you need to know all the different sugar aliases to truly gauge how much sugar you're eating.

Because ingredients are listed from highest percentage to lowest percentage, breaking up the sugar listings can make a food seem like it has less sugar than it really does. If food manufacturers had to combine all the sugars into one listing, many foods would have to list sugar first.

Just like wheat, sugar has many different names:

  • Agave nectar

  • Brown sugar

  • Cane crystals

  • Cane sugar

  • Corn sweetener

  • Corn syrup

  • Crystalline fructose

  • Dextrose

  • Evaporated cane juice

  • Fructose

  • Fruit juice concentrates

  • Glucose

  • High fructose corn syrup

  • Honey

  • Invert sugar

  • Lactose

  • Maltose

  • Malt syrup

  • Molasses

  • Raw sugar

  • Sucrose

  • Sugar

  • Syrup

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