There’s Gluten in That?!
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you’re probably in the habit of taking pause before putting anything in your mouth. Restaurant meals, products that may be cross-contaminated—you’re well aware of what might contain the protein beyond bread and cereal. Gluten, though, can lurk in places that might not remotely be on your radar.
Confirming the gluten-free status of some food items has become easier with the FDA’s 2013 labeling regulation, which mandates that foods labeled “gluten-free” must have a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million.
Even so, these standards don’t apply to every item that could possibly contain gluten. Be on the lookout for these common culprits.
Without gluten-free drug labeling or manufacturing regulations currently in place, identifying safe over-the-counter and prescription medications can be tricky. Potential sources of gluten contamination come primarily from excipient (filler) ingredients, which act as absorbents, protectants, binders, coloring agents and lubricators.
In general, generics are more likely to contain traces of gluten, so even if the name brand is gluten-free, it’s best to independently verify the generic’s status by consulting your pharmacist or the manufacturer. Also, be sure to keep your entire healthcare team—not just your gastroenterologist—in the loop.
Vitamins and Supplements
Supplementation may be necessary for those with nutritional deficiencies and gluten-related gut damage, but the very thing that you’re turning to for help could be hurting. As with medications, cross-contamination can occur in manufacturing, and gluten may appear in vitamins and supplements as a binding agent or additive. If you see the word “starch” in the ingredients list, be cautious and seek more information.
Grain-based inactive ingredients commonly used in supplements are dextri-maltose, maltodextrin and pre-gelatinized starch, but this list isn’t exhaustive. When in doubt, consult the manufacturer, and always talk to your doctor before you stop taking a supplement or medication.
Anyone who’s worn lipstick or balm knows that it inevitably ends up not only on your mouth but in it. Some cosmetics contain things like wheat germ or barley extract, but finding an ingredients list can be hit or miss. Even when gluten is present, it’s unclear how much.
Fortunately, more and more lines with gluten-free products are coming to market. To find out for certain what ingredients are used, you may need to contact the company directly. A few ingredients to keep an eye out for are avena sativa, hordeum vulgare, secale cereal and triticum vulgare.
Sunscreens and Moisturizers
You’re less likely to inadvertently ingest topically-applied personal care products than lipstick, but it’s still possible if you apply them to your hands or around your mouth. Check to see if your favorite lotion or SPF contains gluten-derived ingredients, like vitamin E from wheat germ oil.
And be sure to wash your hands after applying products to your hair or skin. Research shows that the application of gluten-containing products to the skin isn’t a problem unless you have lesions that allow the protein to be absorbed in large quantities.
Toothpaste and Mouthwash
An issue could arise if you’re ingesting a gluten-containing product, even accidentally in small amounts. Though there are lots of mainstream gluten-free toothpaste and mouthwash options out there, it’s wise to read labels and do so frequently as formulations change without warning.
A quick search of the brand’s website will likely give you the answers you’re looking for. When visiting your dentist’s office, be clear about your condition, and make sure to ask about their products.
You probably know to stay away from candies made with cookies, pretzels, wafers and crisped rice, but there are other varieties to avoid. For example, licorice contains wheat flour, as do Jordan almonds, and many other sweets contain gluten in the form of barley for flavoring.
Just because your favorite regular candy bar is gluten-free, don’t assume its seasonal versions are, too. Read labels every time because manufacturers change formulations, and be wary of accepting candy with no packaging.
Some pickling processes include malt vinegar, which is made from barley. For a safe and satisfying crunch, search for brands that use corn-based vinegar or clearly state that the vinegar used in their pickling method doesn’t contain gluten.
Sauces, Gravies and Soups
Sauces, gravies, and soups are often thickened with flour or made with bouillon cubes containing gluten. They’re also frequently flavored with barley-based malt vinegar or soy sauce made from wheat. Instead of soy sauce, opt for naturally gluten-free tamari. Apple cider or red wine vinegar are nice replacements in recipes that call for malt vinegar.
And to be safe, steer clear of most canned soups and pre-packaged bouillon cubes. Making your own stocks and sauces is your best bet. Try these great recipes:
Meat itself is gluten-free, but cold cuts, sausages, hot dogs, patties and anything packaged in a sauce may have additional gluten-containing ingredients used as fillers and binders. There is also the potential for cross-contamination with other products and from surfaces and equipment in the deli.
Check labels carefully for added ingredients and make friends with your local butcher.
Many bottled salad dressings use some form of gluten as a thickener, but plenty of common brands are offering gluten-free flavors. Read labels carefully when making your selection.
To get the flavor you want while avoiding undesirable ingredients, whipping up your own dressing an easy and surefire option. Here are a few delicious recipes.