Where’s the Gluten? Top 5 Hidden Sources


Canva Design DAFUCHWu-ygWhether you are avoiding gluten due to celiac disease or find that limiting your gluten intake helps relieve some digestive distress, trying to figure out what does or doesn’t have gluten can go from simple to overwhelming very quickly!

What is gluten anyway?

Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, and barley. It can cause severe digestive distress in folks with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. People with celiac should not consume items with more than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten per serving. Some cannot even tolerate that. 

To make matters more difficult, gluten is not part of allergen-labeling requirements and therefore does not have to be declared on labels. If a product contains wheat, the label is required to say so, but what about items derived from barley or rye? That’s where things can get confusing.

Items that make a gluten-free claim must have 20 ppm or less gluten. However, occasionally independent testing reveals that some “gluten free” foods are actually not gluten free. There is a “Gluten Free Certified” third-party certification with stringent testing requirements. More information can be found here.

Below we’ll go over 5 hidden sources of gluten, 5 safe bets, and what to look for on labels to find it. 

5 Sneaky Gluten Bombs

  • Licorice candies. Both red and black licorice often use wheat to create that chew texture. There are certified gluten free and wheat free brands, but they can be tricky to find.
  • Soy sauce. Despite its name, soy cause is made from fermented wheat and is present in many Asian cuisines and even in foods like barbecue sauce. Gluten free soy sauce, tamari, and coconut aminos are all great alternatives.
  • Certain medications. Unfortunately, medications have no gluten labeling requirements. Gluten may be present in a medication as a binder or stabilizer. Some brands will voluntarily label their medications as gluten free or you can find a list of gluten free medications from certain manufacturers, but otherwise it may require calls to your pharmacy or the manufacturer. 
  • Malt vinegar. While most vinegars are distilled and therefore gluten free, malt vinegar is not. Malt is a byproduct of barley, a gluten-containing grain.
  • Crispy rice cereals and corn flakes. Despite being made of corn and rice, unless labeled gluten free, these cereals are sweetened with malt.

5 foods to take caution with

  • Oats. Oats can be controversial for the gluten-free community. The reason regular oats are not gluten free is that they are frequently cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains like wheat and rye. Certified gluten free oats are the only type of oats that people who strictly avoid gluten can safely consume. However, there is a small subset of people with celiac who cannot consume oats at all.
  • Gluten-removed beer. Despite promises of proprietary processes that extract gluten from wheat and barley-brewed beer, independent testing has been inconclusive on the gluten-free status of these beers. Until we have more info, gluten-free beers made from gluten-free grains may be a better option.
  • Imitation crab or lobster. Wheat is often used as a binder for these products. Read ingredient lists carefully.
  • Vegan meat crumbles. Another product that uses wheat as a binder. 
  • Powdered drink mixes and teas. Wheat or barley may be used as a filler in these products. 
5 foods that are safe gluten-free bets
  • Distilled liquors and vinegars. Gluten free groups often pass along lists of gluten-free liquors and vinegars. In reality though, if the product is distilled and no other ingredients are added after distillation (such as certain flavored liquors), these items can be safely used, no matter the source grain.
  • Pure buckwheat flour. Despite its name, buckwheat is a gluten free grain. Label reading is still recommended however, as buckwheat products may also contain regular wheat.
  • Wheat starch. This one does have a caveat. Given that it’s a starch, it would not contain protein (and remember that gluten is a protein!). There are certified gluten free products that contain wheat starch, and this should be the only instance where you would want to consume wheat starch, just to be safe. 
  • Dairy. It’s not clear why, but dairy often gets confused with gluten by well-meaning friends, servers, and family of people who need to be gluten free. But unless you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy and the product itself does not contain gluten, there is no reason to avoid dairy.
  • Baker’s and nutritional yeast. Yeast conjures images of delicious bread and this can cause us to inadvertently be wary of yeast when looking at ingredients. But the yeasts used in baking and the common vegan condiment nutrition yeast are both safely gluten free. Be aware that brewer’s yeast is NOT gluten free, however.

Deciphering gluten on the food label

Sometimes you have to be a label detective to find the gluten in your food. Here are some words to look for:

Wheat Seitan
Rye Malt (unless it says malted rice)
Barley Kamut
Triticum vulgare Matzo
Triticale Oats/oat flour/oatmeal (unless it specifies gluten free)
Hordeum vulgare Semolina
Spelt or spleta Certain flavorings, preservatives, or, as noted above, vegan meat substitutes MAY contain gluten and will require further investigation.


And remember that a Foodsmart dietitian is available to help you navigate this often times confusing world of gluten free foods. Book an appointment today!


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