Liis inspires happy & healthy gluten-free living. Diagnosed with Hashimoto's and Gluten Ataxia, she believes every meal is a gift to heal.
Whether needing to adopt a strict gluten-free diet for health reasons or just curious about the lifestyle, people are often perplexed as to what products contain gluten. Taking into account food, beverages and household products, it is not always a solid black-and-white answer, but this article will break down the information for you.
I have learned—on my autoimmune health journey with Hashimoto's and Gluten Ataxia—that gluten is in a multitude of products. As someone who has to read every label before consuming food or using a health or beauty product, and must strictly avoid even the tiniest amount of gluten, here is information to help you better understand what products contain gluten to help you or a loved one adapt to a gluten-free lifestyle.
The Definition of Gluten in Simple Terms
Quite simply, gluten is like a glue that helps hold food together, makes dough sticky and gives bread its elastic texture and makes it chewy. Gluten is the general name given to a family of proteins—the two main ones being gliadin and glutenin—and is found in many grains.
Who Needs to Avoid Gluten
A strict gluten-free diet is necessary for those with gluten-involved autoimmunity including celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia. It is also vital for those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity/non-celiac wheat sensitivity and wheat allergies. There are a multitude of symptoms potentially associated with each that if left untreated can lead to serious long-term health issues.
Many people with other forms of autoimmunity choose to adopt a gluten-free diet in order to feel better and stave off developing another autoimmune disease. Once one has one autoimmune disease, the chances of developing more increase.
Here is a Brief Description of Each:
Celiac - Affecting 1 in 133 people, the ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine.
Dermatitis Herpetiformis - Also knows as DH and Duhring's disease, it manifests as itchy and painful skin bumps and blisters on the skin. The majority of those with DH also have celiac disease.
Gluten Ataxia - A rare condition in which gluten causes an autoimmune reaction in the cerebellum, the brain's center for motor control. The majority of those with gluten ataxia also have celiac disease.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity & Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity - Also known as NCGS and NCWS, people experience similar symptoms to those with celiac disease yet test negative for celiac disease.
Wheat Allergy - One of the top allergens, wheat does not create an autoimmune response but rather an allergic one. Reactions can be similar to many autoimmune symptoms yet there is also the risk of a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
Common Foods That Contain Gluten
- breads, flour tortillas and baked goods
- breakfast foods like cereal, granola, pancakes, waffles, French toast
- croutons, breaded/crispy coatings on food
- sauces and gravies
- malt vinegar
Everything You Need to Know to Start Eating Gluten-Free
Search for Foods and Products That are Certified Gluten-Free
There are several certification programs around the world that test to make sure gluten levels test under the deemed safe 20PPM (20 parts per million). Look for certified logos on foods and household products to know they are gluten tested and safe.
Food Products That Often Contain Gluten
- deli meats
- spice & seasoning mixes
- Worcestershire sauce
- soy sauce
- pre-made burger patties, sausages & meatballs
- veggie burgers
- bouillon cubes & broths
- French fries
- salad dressings & sauces
- barbeque sauce
- imitation crab meat
- California rolls (often filled with imitation crab meat)
- hot dog wieners
- ice cream
Food Products That May Contain Gluten
- flavored tea
- flavored coffee
- Balsamic vinegar
- flavored salt
- packaged or canned processed foods
- chips & tortilla chips
- energy bars
- candy and candy bars
- any food item bought in bulk (open containers, chance for serving spoons to be switched)
- frozen desserts
- items labeled "wheat free"
- oats (although naturally gluten-free)
- naturally gluten-free foods like rice which are cooked with gluten-filled stock instead of water
Explaining Gluten Cross-Contamination
Gluten cross contamination occurs when something with gluten in it crosses over onto something that does not contain gluten. This simple transference now makes a food or beverage no longer gluten-free. All it takes is a tiny speck or drop to make a food or beverage unsafe for someone with gluten-involved autoimmunity or sensitivity to have a host of health issues.
For this reason, naturally gluten-free foods like seafood, meats, vegetables and fruits can be rendered "non gluten-free" simply by the way they have been stored, handled, prepared, cooked or presented.
Some Examples of Gluten Cross-Contamination Include:
1) Using a knife to butter/spread jam on a piece of gluten-filled bread and then using the same knife to butter/spread gluten-free jam on the gluten-free bread. The gluten-free slice of bread is now not safe nor is the knife, nor is the butter or jam
2) Squeezing a condiment on a gluten-filled hotdog and the tip of the container touches it, then using the same condiment on a gluten-free hotdog and it touches it. It is now no longer safe to eat
3) Cutting gluten-filled food on a cutting board then using it for gluten-free meal preparation
4) Using the same utensils in gluten-filled foods and gluten-free foods - i.e. tongs at a buffet, stirring soup, serving forks, cutting knives
5) Having gluten-filled foods beside or on top of gluten-free foods on a table, buffet, in a bakery, fish or meat department display, on the same plate. There is too much risk of crumbs or pieces of food falling
6) A food handler handling gluten-filled food then handling gluten-free food without washing hands or changing gloves
7) Cooking a gluten-free meal on the same surface as gluten-filled foods
8) Using the same toaster as used for gluten-filled foods
9) Cooking gluten-free pasta in the same water and pot that was used to boil regular pasta or using the same strainer
10) Putting naturally gluten-free items like French fries (from potatoes) or chicken wings into the same deep fryer as gluten-filled foods. Note, many restaurants also put tortilla chips in their deep fryers
11) Gluten-filled flour in the air at home, in a bakery or pizza shop can settle on gluten-free foods thus rendering them unsafe to eat
12) Multiple items grilled on the same barbeque can lead to cross-contamination
13) Food labeled gluten-free yet states on its packaging that it was processed on the same equipment as wheat or gluten
14) The meat cutter at a deli department being used to cut gluten-free and gluten-filled meat products
15) Gluten getting trapped in grooves in pans and cutting boards and getting transferred to gluten-free food
Gluten-free Beer Versus Gluten-Removed Beer
There are many incredible gluten-free beers on the market now that are safe for those with gluten issues to consume. However, the market has also been inundated with gluten-removed beers which are not recommended for those with gluten-involved health conditions but can be a good option for those in the general public wishing a lower gluten option.
Gluten-free beers are crafted without any ingredients containing gluten. Instead of incorporating barley like most beers do, these beers are often created with millet, rice, sorghum, buckwheat or corn. Many gluten-free beer companies also have dedicated gluten-free breweries with strict testing making them a safe choice for those who must avoid even a trace of gluten.
Gluten-removed beers are brewed using barley then an enzyme is added to break down the gluten and other proteins. So all of the gluten is not actually removed, the size of the particles are made smaller. These smaller particles thus don't register on the testing and according to these tests, look "safe" for those with gluten-involved health conditions.
However, many with gluten-involved autoimmunity have gotten very sick drinking gluten-removed beers. It is strongly recommended that those with gluten-involved health issues do not drink gluten-removed beer even if they have no symptoms. Many times symptoms can be silent and it is possible physical damage is happening without a noticeable physical reaction.
Having gluten ataxia, I will not drink a gluten-removed beer as it once contained gluten and know several people with celiac disease who have had severe reactions to gluten-removed beers. Be mindful of labels as many gluten-removed beers around the world are legally allowed to label their brews "gluten-free" or "free from gluten." You must research each brand before consuming.
Wines are generally safe and most brandies should be safe but be wary of any specialty fruit flavored mixes or wine cocktails. The majority of ciders are also gluten-free but always check the label or the company's website for detailed information. Most plain rums and tequilas are also gluten-free. Spiced and flavored rums need further research by contacting the brand. Be aware that flavored spirits may contain malt and should be avoided.
Science states, and most major celiac associations agree, that the distillation process, which removes the gluten and which is different than what is done with beer, renders alcohols safe for gluten-free consumption. However, many people with gluten-involved autoimmunity still experience reactions after consuming hard alcohols that have had the gluten removed.
This is a topic with divided opinions and everyone's body and reactions are different. As someone with a rare, brain-based gluten-involved autoimmunity condition, I am extremely sensitive to trace amounts of gluten and do not consume or eat anything that once contained gluten. Proceed cautiously, do your own research and listen to your body when exploring alcohol brands.
Those that choose alcohols that never contained gluten can find vodka brands made with potatoes, corn, grapes and sugarcane and many new gluten-free alcohols are hitting the market.
Ways to Be Exposed to Gluten Often Not Considered
There are many ways gluten can be transferred to the face area and thus accidentally ingested that don't involve directly consuming a gluten-filled food or beverage. Hands interacting with gluten-filled foods and products can transfer particles and thus gluten cross-contamination can occur if proper washing is not done.
Here Are 15 Ways to be Exposed to Gluten to Consider:
- Through a kiss if someone has just had food or a beverage containing gluten or is wearing a gluten-filled lip product
- Through a cat or dog licking your hand or face after eating gluten-filled pet food or through pets transferring gluten through chewing or licking items in your home like chew toys, furniture etc. and then you handling them
- Handling gluten-filled pet food or treats then touching your face or mouth or handling or preparing your own food
- Through a fruit garnish put on a drink or ice put into a drink by a bartender/server with gluten on hands
- Ordering a draught gluten-free beer or cider while other gluten-filled beverages are being dispensed
- Toasting drinks at a bar and a drop from a gluten-filled drink falls into yours
- Through gluten residue on a glass or dish not properly washed (in your home or in a restaurant)
- Sharing food items like popcorn, chips etc. (movie theater, party, event, at a bar) if one person has gluten on his hands
- Someone (often a child) sipping from your glass by accident at a party after eating gluten-filled foods
- A child playing, splashing or putting her washcloth in her mouth in a bubble bath containing gluten in the product
- Ingesting a droplet of a gluten-filled shampoo or conditioner in the shower or bath (often listed as hydrolyzed wheat protein)
- By eating oats. Oats are naturally gluten-free however are often cross- contaminated by wheat crops due to proximity in fields, through transportation and manufacturing. Look for certified gluten-free purity protocol oats to be safe
- By removing croutons from a salad. Even the tiniest amount of residue left on salad leaves can make a gluten-sensitive person very sick
- Using gluten-filled beauty products like lotion on hands or face and accidentally ingesting by any means that fingers get on or near mouth
- Playing with play-dough made with gluten and touching face, getting it under nails, not cleaning surfaces properly after
Keep Safe, Read Labels and Do Your Research
If you are newly gluten-free, this can all be overwhelming. You will get the handle of it all and it will get easier! Try to eat foods as much as possible in their original forms and shop the outer aisles of the supermarket where the fresh foods are. Gluten lurks in processed foods. The internet can help you find lots of incredible recipes, cookbooks, food bloggers and safe restaurants to explore. Most importantly, if you have any doubt when reading a label about an item's gluten-free status, pass on it. Trust your intuition because your health is the number one priority!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Liis Windischmann