Q: Despite my efforts to avoid gluten, I occasionally still have symptoms. What are some of the less obvious sources of gluten, and what should I be looking for when checking labels?
A: Gluten is the general name for specific proteins in the grains wheat, rye and barley. Although their presence is evident in baked goods (e.g., breads, bagels, muffins, cookies, crackers), pasta and cereals, they are also found in a wide variety of other foods and ingredients that you may not suspect (see chart below).
Another challenge is that gluten can be a “hidden” ingredient. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, seasonings and modified food starch may contain wheat. However, under Canada’s current food labeling regulations, manufacturers are not required to declare the source of these ingredients on food labels. Fortunately, increased awareness of food allergies and celiac disease, consumer demand, and strong recommendations from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have prompted more manufacturers to voluntarily declare possible allergens and gluten on their packaging.
Until the law governing labeling is changed, it is essential to check the ingredients on every food product every time you shop, as manufacturers may change formulations at any time. You will need to contact companies about questionable ingredients. The best thing you can do is avoid prepared products as often as possible.
Foods to Question:
Gluten-containing Ingredient – Ingredients of ingredients or “hidden” gluten: Some brands of the foods in this list may be made with gluten-containing ingredients. Check with manufacturers.
Wheat, wheat starch, wheat flour, hydrolyzed wheat protein:
• Deli/luncheon meats, sausages, hot dogs, meatloaf, frozen burgers (meat, chicken, fish), meat substitutes (e.g., vegetarian burgers, nuggets, sausages), baked beans, imitation seafood (e.g., Surimi-imitation crab), frozen poultry, cheese spreads
• Seasoned or dry roasted nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds; potato chips
• Sauces, marinades, salad dressings, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, specialty prepared mustards, mustard pickles, seasonings, cooking spray, baking powder, icings/frostings
• Soups, broths, bouillon cubes
• Candies; chocolates and chocolate bars; licorice
Barley, barley malt, barley malt flavouring, barley malt extract:
• Rice and corn cereals, meat substitutes (e.g., vegetarian burgers), chocolates/chocolate bars, flavoured or herbal teas; coffee substitutes
• Malt vinegar*
• Beer, ale and lager**
* Malt vinegar is made from fermented barley and contains varying levels of gluten.
** Regular beer, ale and lager are made from fermented barley and must be avoided.
However there are brands of gluten-free beers made from non gluten-containing ingredients (e.g., La Messagère from Quebec, made with rice and buckwheat).
Chart is adapted from Gluten-Free Diet by Shelley Case, Expanded Edition, 2006. See www.glutenfreediet.ca. Shelley Case is a consulting dietitian and author. She is on the advisory boards of the Canadian Celiac Association, the Celiac Disease Foundation and the Gluten-Free Intolerance Group. The editors at Allergic Living additionally highly recommend her book Gluten-Free Diet, a vital resource for those interested in celiac disease and living gluten-free.