The Gluten-Free Diet: Hidden Gluten

The Gluten-Free Diet: Hidden Gluten


by Audrey M. Smith

Whether going gluten free due to celiac disease, sensitivity, or as part of an anti-inflammatory diet, it is important to be aware of the many hidden sources of gluten that can affect your health. It is frustrating to think you are making all the right food choices to find you have been “glutenized.” Then after suffering pain and gastrointestinal upset for days, bloating up like you are eight months pregnant and cannot fit into a thing, you face the challenge of figuring out the gluten culprit in your seemingly perfect diet. It can be a wearisome, ongoing dilemma. Creating a “safe” list of foods helps lower the chances of a gluten assault.

What’s All the Fuss?

Gluten is a protein found in grains. Grains with a long chain gluten molecule, such as wheat, rye, and barley, cause inflammation in the small intestines of celiacs and increase the risk of some diseases. Reactions vary from cramping and diarrhea to bone and joint pain, painful bloating, swelling, vomiting, and difficulty concentrating, to skin irritation, to name a few. Sometimes there is no apparent reaction, however damage to the villi of the small intestine, which are responsible for nutrient absorption, still occurs.Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients due to damage to the small intestines causes vitamin deficiencies that affect the nervous system, the liver, bones, and other organs by decreasing the vital nutrients needed for health. Some people have difficulty gaining weight with gluten in the diet, while others have problems losing weight. With all the negative effects, it is important to understand where unwanted gluten may be entering the diet. 

Other grains, such as oats, have a reputation of causing reactions in celiacs and those sensitive to wheat, for example. The culprit is usually not the grain itself, but cross contamination from other glutinous grains in the field, during transportation, and in processing the grains. Being a celiac, I have found that I have a proclivity toward uncomfortable reactions to some gluten free (GF) grains, as well.

With such a small amount of gluten – only one-eighth teaspoon – causing an adverse reaction, it s easy to see how seemingly minuscule, hidden sources of gluten can accumulate in the body system daily and wreak havoc.

As you go through the list and research your favorite products online, you will be shocked that so many products contain gluten. I wonder how our food system became so dependent wheat and fillers. Gluten is present in foods one would never dream should contain wheat, barley, or rye, such as ice cream, salad dressing, nuts, juice, and salad greens. Why has so much junk entered our food chain that food labels read like lab experiments instead of the basic fuel our bodies need to be healthy. Read on!


Hidden Sources of Gluten

In Foods

With manufacturer striving to improve products and shave costs, recipes constantly change. It can be challenging and frustrating to find your gluten free pasta sauce is not so gluten free anymore. Some manufacturers have stepped forward and label their products gluten free. Some clearly list gluten containing products on their label, however, not all are that cooperative. Foods can also be processed with gluten and are not required to list the ingredient on the label. Additives and flavorings are often from gluten sources. If in doubt, call, email, or go to the company’s website. Many list their GF products, while others list company policy. Policies often state whether the manufacturer clearly lists ingredients containing gluten on the label or not. Unfortunately, for some products this is an ongoing nuisance for those that are sensitive to gluten.. I compose a GF list of brands and foods and stay with it, periodically checking products prone to ingredient changes.


  • Bagged Salad Greens – During processing, many greens travel down a conveyer belt dusted with wheat flour. It is best to buy fresh, unbagged products, grow your own, or buy from a local farmers market.
  • Baking Powder – Check for a product marked GF, like Argo, which is also aluminum free.
  • Barley Malt, Barley Malt Extract, Malt Extract – All are made from barley, which contains gluten. Many baked goods, snack foods, and cereals are sweetened with this product. Barley is NOT listed in the “Allergen” section on product labels.
  • Beer – Made from barley. Unless labeled gluten free, avoid it.
  • Candies – Some makers dust equipment with wheat flour
  • Cereals – The majority of cold cereals contain gluten in the grains and/or in the sweeteners. Barley malt is a favorite sweetener in cereals. Make sure the package is labeled “Gluten Free.” Chex now has a number of varieties that are gluten free and are widely available. (See Oatmeal)
  • Dry Roasted Nuts – May be processed with gluten, especially when seasoned.
  • Flavored and Instant Coffees – Again, because of added flavoring. And processing, it may contain gluten.
  • Food Starch, Modified Food Starch – Some sources of food starch contain gluten, some do not. Read the package carefully. Check the common allergens section on the label, which lists wheat, but not barley or rye. More companies are opting to use cornstarch over now. If in doubt, call, email, or go to the company’s website.
  • Instant Tea – Additives and herbal teas may contain gluten.
  • Milk: Nondairy Flavored – Flavored nondairy milks may contain gluten via the flavor additive, be sure to check it out to be safe. Many health food companies are sensitive to the issue, like Silk and 8th Continent.
  • Natural Flavorings – May be from gluten sources and/or be processed with gluten.
  • Oatmeal – Oat cereals must be labeled gluten free. Bob’s Red Mill carries gluten free oatmeal and steel cut oats. The steel cut oats are easy to make in a crockpot set on high at night for a few hours and then turned off at bedtime and left covered on the kitchen counter. Mine are the perfect texture and still warm in the morning. Yum! This was one of the great gluten free finds for me – I love my oats!
  • Pasta Sauces – With recipes constantly changing, check the labels and manufacturer websites often. I just found out my “old reliable” pasta sauce no longer is gluten free in all varieties – very disheartening!
  • Salad Dressing – Thickens, sweeteners, and vinegars may be from gluten sources. Check the label for the words “Gluten Free” to be sure. Another option: make your own with a simple 3:1 or 4:1 ratio, vinegar to olive oil, per personal preference. Toss in your favorite herbs and shake to make a vinaigrette or Italian type dressing. Add tomato sauce and a little sweetener to create a tangy French dressing. It takes just a few minutes to make a delicious, fresh-tasting dressing.
  • Soda Pop – Some are not GF, especially those that contain caramel coloring. While some caramel coloring is derived from GF sources, some root beers are not. Check manufacturer websites to find a GF brand you can stay with such as Hires, IBC, A&W, Barq’s caffeine free, diet, and regular; Blue Sky, Stewart’s, and Mug, for example. Frankly, the industry has gotten much better with not adding gluten than when I was first diagnosed with celiac disease.
  • Soups – Most canned and boxed soups contained gluten as a thickener and/or in the pasta product.
  • Soy Sauce – Wheat based, some stores carry a wheat-free variety. GF tamari is an excellent substitute and makes a delicious seasoning in nut gravies.
  • Spices and Herbs – Often are processed with gluten flours and fillers. Check with manufacturers to be sure. Spices mixes are more liable to contain gluten than single spices. Check with manufacturers of fresh herbs, too. Unless they are purchased at a local farmer’s market they may have been rolled down a wheat floured conveyor belt same as salad greens.
  • Tea – Unless a box of tea bags is clearly marked GF, consider it not, then go to the manufacturer’s website to confirm. Some manufacturers do not mark containers. Red Rose Decaf black tea is GF, but not marked. Celestial Seasonings and Bigelow do designate boxes as GF on the sides. With so many delicious teas on the market, you are bound to find a number of new GF favorites. You can also make your own tea by steeping tea or herb leaves and slices of fresh lemon peel and gingerroot, for example.
  • Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) – A main ingredient in many meat substitutes and also sold separately for making your own dishes, may be made from soy, corn, wheat, rice, casein, or a combination.
  • Tofu – Flavored tofu can contain gluten, especially the barbequed. Health food stores often label shelves with a special symbol if the product is GF.
  • Triticale, Spelt, Kamut, Mir or Farina (also known as Far or Farro) – All made from wheat. Many times I have seen spelt listed as being gluten free by small health food companies. It is a type of wheat. Pick up the dictionary!
  • Vegetarian Meat Substitutes – The majority contain wheat gluten that helps the product stick together and creates a chewy, more appetizing mouth feel. Health food stores have some gluten-free alternatives. The best-tasting, most economical veggie burgers I enjoy are homemade with mashed beans as the primary ingredient.
  • Vinegar – Vinegar loses gluten in the processing stage, however that does not mean that a gluten ingredient is not added after processing, such as a flavoring or malt vinegar. While malt vinegar always contains gluten, others vinegars such as red wine vinegar, balsamic, and apple cider vinegar do not.

 Gluten Contamination in the Home

A hidden source of gluten in the home is the kitchen. When gluten-free items are stored and used along side those containing gluten, contamination occurs. Wooden cutting boards harbor gluten particles; as can wooden bowls, grill tops, griddles, silverware drawers (crumbs!), nylon spatulas, plastic containers, colanders and strainers, and nonstick cooking surfaces of pans. Use dedicated cooking and food prep gear, including toasters, bread makers, and can openers.

Cross-contamination also occurs when utensils and containers are shared at the same meal. How much gluten gets into peanut butter, condiments, and margarine containers shared by the entire family? Simply spreading a piece of whole wheat bread with soy mayonnaise and putting the knife back into the jar leaves crumbs behind that accumulate in the container. Use two separate containers for these types of products, clearing marking one “GF.” Make everyone aware of the system. A designate space in the refrigerator and pantry for GF foods also helps cut down on cross-contamination.

Dishwashing liquids and detergents for both hand washing and machine washing are another source of hidden gluten. Not only can the gluten irritate skin of those sensitive, residues may remain on dishes. I use Bioclean and find it more economical and better at cleaning the dishes. It takes only one tablespoon of powdered dishwasher detergent per load and has a nice fresh citrus scent. I know others who have had luck with Seventh Generation, as well. If GF products are not available in your area, order online. I save money ordering mine (Tip: Watch for sales and buy in quantity! I also order liquid laundry detergent, as well. So little is needed that it lasts forever, plus has natural ingredients, and works well!) Check manufacturer’s website to see if your current product is GF.

All of this seems like a lot to remember – and it is even for someone who has been living GF for years as I have. Too often I am faced with trying to figure out what’s going on in my body: is it the flu, do my legs hurt because of bone pain due to gluten or exertion, have I eaten gluten unaware, or am I itchy like crazy for some other reason? It is an ongoing challenge to figure out where the gluten came from this time. I have several friends that unfortunately share this problem, as well. It helps to talk with them about what’s going on – like when two of use became quite sick when eating a tomato product that listed no gluten ingredients on the label, but must have been processed or cross contaminated with it.

I live in the New England States where there is more awareness of gluten issues and a higher rate of diagnosis. Fortunately, too, many grocers across our country have a GF product list on their website and at customer service for the asking. It makes it much easier to shop. My grocer’s list contains only store brand products, so looking at labels and researching manufacturers is still necessary for other brands. There are books published annually of GF foods, but with ever-changing recipes and veganism, I find it easier to compile my own list. Go to your favorite vegan/vegetarian company websites and see what GF products each offers. Grow your own. Some forego grains and substitute in other complex starches like sweet potatoes, lentils, winter squashes, garbanzo beans, and colorful potato varieties – whatever works for you. There are many choices available for a healthy, balanced GF diet. You can order GF food online now. Even has it – in money-saving quantities at that!



Author: VegFamily

VegFamily is a comprehensive resource for raising vegan children, including pregnancy, vegan recipes, expert advice, book reviews, product reviews, message board, and everyday vegan living.

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