Reading food labels is an important part of living gluten free. Unless you know what to look for, it can be extremely difficult to find gluten free foods. There are many ingredients that can fool you; understanding how to read food labels can help you stay away from foods containing gluten. Here are some tips on what to look for and what to avoid:
- Look for the words "gluten free." Look on the front of the packaging and the side panels. It is not always in the same place from product to product. If you see the words "gluten free," you know you are in the clear.
- Watch out for the words "wheat free." Wheat free does not mean gluten free. Oats are often used in place of the wheat when this claim is made.
- Check the list of allergens. At the end of the ingredients list, many manufacturers list common allergens included in the product. If you see wheat listed, you know the food contains gluten. If the product doesn't list wheat, you still need to check the ingredients for gluten-containing products but it helps you narrow down what you are looking for.
- Learn about all the ingredients that could possibly contain gluten. While this is not a comprehensive list, this will help you get started. Wheat, wheat starch, barley and oats are pretty obvious sources of gluten. Others below may be less so.
- Hydrolyzed corn, soy or vegetable protein All of these have the potential of containing gluten. Wheat is often used in the process of making these proteins (because gluten is a protein). Of these, hydrolyzed vegetable protein is most likely to have gluten in it.
- Soy sauce Soy sauce is made with wheat.
- Malt Malt is sometimes also called barley malt. All malt is made from barley even if it is called "rice malt."
- (Modified) food starch Not all food starch contains gluten but, unless you know what kind of starch it is, i.e. corn starch or wheat starch, it is best to avoid it.
- Check labels continuously. Even if you have bought a product before, it is a good idea to read the label periodically to check if the ingredients have changed. Companies change ingredients often and without warning.
- Don't be fooled. Some foods with gluten are easy to spot like breads, pastas and pastries. Others can be harder to identify. Here are a few to look out for:
- Dairy Sometimes starch fillers are added to yogurt and soft cheeses.
- Cereal Most cereals contain some form of gluten, for example, cornflakes contain malt.
- Alcoholic beverages Beer is made with hops, a barley relative. Whiskey and gin are made from wheat.
- Canned soups, stews, and prepackaged meals Look for starch fillers, soy sauce, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and pasta.
To maintain a gluten free diet, reading labels is a lifestyle. It is important to stay vigilant. It can be overwhelming to the label on every food item you're thinking of purchasing, but it does get easier with time. Your intestines will thank you!