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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    15 Foods People Wrongly Think Are Gluten-Free

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Here are 15 foods or food ingredients that some people wrongly assume are gluten-free.


    Caption: Image: CC--Signe Karin

    Celiac.com 11/15/2018 - Gluten-free products, marketed as such, were largely unknown 20 years ago, but the gluten-free industry is set to reach an estimated $2.34 billion in sales by 2019. That’s more than double figures for 2014. The growth has been exponential.

    What sets gluten-free foods apart from other culinary trends or diet fads is that they address a legitimate health concern that affects millions of people around the world.

    With the massive influx of gluten-free products, and the expansion of “gluten-free” restaurant options, it’s easy to forget that gluten exists in some obvious and not so obvious places that people with celiac disease need to avoid.

    Here are 15 foods or food ingredients that many people wrongly assume are gluten-free:

    Beer
    Light or dark, lager, IPA or Stout, traditional beer is brewed with barley, and is not gluten-free. However, a number of major and micro breweries create tasty gluten-free alternatives. There are a number of tasty, award winning beers that are brewed from gluten-free ingredients and are fully gluten-free. There are also gluten-reduced beers. These beers are brewed like traditional beers and EU regulations allow for gluten-removed beer to be labeled as gluten-free. Plenty of people with celiac disease do fine drinking these beers, but many do not. Know your beer, know your body, and drink accordingly. Read more at Celiac.com's Oktoberfest Beer Guide! Gluten-free vs. Gluten-removed Beers.

    Barbecue Sauce
    Many barbecue sauces use artificial colors, flavorings or thickeners that may contain gluten, so it’s important to check labels, and even contact a manufacturer if you're not sure about something.

    Couscous, Tabbouleh and Falafel
    Couscous and bulgar are wheat and are used in many different Middle-eastern foods, and some people do not realize that they contain gluten. Bulgar or couscous are also used to make another popular Middle-eastern dish called tabbouleh (salad). Couscous or wheat flour are sometimes used to make falafel, so be sure to ask about the ingredients before eating. 

    Candy
    Always be careful about candy. Many candies are safe and gluten-free, but many candies are not. Sometimes trusted products can change. Read labels, check websites, contact manufacturers as needed, and be careful! If you’re not sure, Celiac.com’s Annual Safe Gluten-Free Halloween Candy List is a good place to start.

    Cookie Dough
    This might seem obvious, but cookie dough, unless specifically gluten-free, almost always contains standard wheat flour and is not gluten-free.

    Dried Spices
    Some manufacturers actually use flour to keep their spices from clumping. Pay special attention to spice blends and mixes, including curry powders, which may contain wheat.

    Gravies, Soups, Sauces and Mixes—Packaged, Canned, or Jarred
    If you’ve ever made gravy from scratch, you might recall that it involves making a roux, a paste of butter and flour which thickens the gravy and gives it a nice sheen. Well, roux is also used as a thickening agent in many packaged, canned or jarred gravies, soups, sauces and mixes.  Even some fresh soups may contain wheat or flour. Gazpacho, for example, can be made gluten-free, but most recipes call for a piece of bread soaked in sherry vinegar and blended into the soup. When it comes to gluten in soup, eater beware!

    Hot Dogs & Sausages
    The bun is an obvious source of gluten, but the dog itself can contain traces of wheat as well in the form of both filler and binder. So check labels, know the ingredients, and double-check when it comes to hot dogs and sausages.

    Ice Cream
    Although many ice creams are gluten-free, some may contain wheat in the form of added ingredients, like cookie dough, toppings or candy pieces. Double-check the ingredients to be safe. 

    Packaged Deli Meats, Marinated or Pre-Seasoned Meats & Vegetable Proteins
    Packaged, marinated meat, fish, chicken, or other meats may contain gluten as a binder or hidden ingredient. Some vegetable-based proteins like Seitan contain gluten. Also, many deli meats claim to be gluten-free, but the same companies have released specific lines of gluten-free meats, raising the question of why they needed a separate product in the first place. Deli meats are controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the Food and Drug Administration, which currently uses a different gluten-free standard.

    Prescription Drugs, Vitamins and Supplements
    Even though they are not technically foods, and they are meant to keep you healthy, prescription drugs, vitamins and supplements may contain gluten as binders, typically in the form of wheat starch. Ask you pharmacist for guidance, read labels closely, and make phone calls to companies or visit their Web sites to be sure.

    Salad Dressings
    Many salad dressings have updated their recipes to exclude any wheat or barley-derived additives, but some still contain gluten, especially the powdered mix kind.

    Soy Sauce
    Most soy sauces contain wheat and should be avoided. Be sure to find a gluten-free soy sauce.

    Sushi
    Although raw fish by itself is gluten-free, there are many ingredients in sushi rolls and other items that contain soy sauce and other sources of gluten. The seaweed wrappers in sushi may contain soy sauce, and the wasabi or fake crab may contain gluten. Teriyaki sauce is another source of gluten because it is made with soy sauce. See our How to Safely Order Sushi article for more info.

    Teriyaki Sauce
    Teriyaki is nearly always made with made with soy sauce, and most commercial brands contain wheat, so be careful. 

    Read more on:
    Celiac.com UNSAFE Food List
    Celiac.com SAFE Food List
    Celiac.com's SAFE and UNSAFE Halloween Candy List


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    On-line Gastroenterologist had many celiac patient who were not able to tolerate the following food items/food stuffs.  He labeled them gluten cross-reactors because of the chemical structures being so similar to gluten that the human body has difficulty in distinguishing between them.  This is the list:

    1. Yeast (gluten response = 15/20 min while yeast response = 45 min) Response: hideous

    2. Egg (depends how much/how many & how prepared)

    3. Dairy (all regular milk with skim being the worst response) I tolerated aged parmesan & cheddar without additives.  I spoke to a chef who indicated fermentation process changes its protein structure. Oddly, I can add some "heavy" cream to a stew to thicken it & the response is mild

    4. Coffee (I use a mild coffee once a week) Response mild

    Thanks for the tips on the tinned & packaged meats. Many broths contains the yeast & infused meats (beef & chicken labeled as fresh) result in a hideous reaction. I read all labels & verify NO broth used.  There are now 3 brands of boxed broth that do not list yeast as an ingredient.  

    I appreciate everyone's comments.

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    Laura-

     I think your "online" doc is somewhere between "conservative" and "hooly-gooly" on some of the subjective and unproven conclusions they're making.

     While celiac, and non-celiac wheat allergy and a host of other very real problems all seem related to some larger issue that is not at all clearly understood, yet, there's some jumping to conclusions there.

    "1. Yeast".
     Funny thing, most of us have absolutely no problem with gluten-free baked goods that are chock full of conventional baker's yeast. How the microbiome in general reacts to yeast, and whether the body itself is mistaking yeast for something else, is AFAIK pure speculation at this time. It would be more appropriate for a medic to say "There's no correlation, but if yeast bothers you TOO, avoid it." Making the assumption that there is any relation between the two is just bad science, and we have too much of that already.

    "2. Egg" Again, same as yeast. BAD SCIENCE. Many people have multiple allergies and they are NOT RELATED as far as anyone knows. Except, it is speculated, for the fact that having multiple allergies may have been caused by not being exposed to those multiple items while an infant.

    "3. Dairy... cheddar ... I spoke to a chef who indicated fermentation process changes its protein structure. "
     Years ago I spoke to the wonderful folks at Cabot, a dairy cooperative in NY/VT who make wonderful packaged brick cheeses. He told me that they had conducted tests, and very specifically any of their cheddars that was aged for 90 days or longer (which is all of tem) was GLUTEN FREE AND LACTOSE FREE, because the enzymes that make the cheese also break down lactose, and by 90 days there will be zero lactose content in their cheeses. While this will depend on specific enzymes, the rule of thumb is that any hard cheese (including parmesan and romano, in my experience) will have the same absence of lactose. This of course would not apply to any cheese made with bread crumb cultures, i.e. blue cheeses, but I've never heard of them being found as hard cheeses.

    In theory my villae have long since come back...or totally failed to. Dunno, as a practical matter I have to treat dairy the same way. Incredible number of non-dairy "ice cream" products now in the stores, even if the taste isn't traditional some are pretty good as "frozen desserts". A company called "Daiya" makes a wide number of non-dairy gluten free frozen foods (including pizzas and fruit pies) that are worth looking for.

    "4. Coffee"
    I'm a heavy coffee drinker. NEVER heard of anyone having a celiac type reaction to coffee. Now, coffee can motivate the bowels, especially in the morning, but not in any abnormal way. You will find that if you are drinking INSTANT COFFEE, some companies process that on dedicated equipment, while others process it on equipment that is used to make powdered drinks that DO CONTAIN WHEAT. And apparently there's significant cross-contamination. So, Nescafe Instant apparently is safe, Folger's is not. Check with the maker for your specific coffee. I've always figured, if the company can't figure out how to simply steam clean their own production equipment, they just might not understand how to keep things clean, and I really don't need to buy anything from them.

    Whole-bean coffee should never be a problem, and I've yet to hear of ground coffee being a problem--just the instant.

    Cross-contamination could turn anything including fresh fish or beef into a "problem". A deli that slices pastrami on the same counter where they cut part a pastrami on rye SANDWICH could be a problem. But that's the cross-contamination, not the food.

    "There are now 3 brands of boxed broth that do not list yeast as an ingredient." And wasn't I "DAMN IT NOT AGAIN?!" surprised the first time I found out GLUTEN is actually used to give the umami flavor in many prepared broths and soups. If you go to Outback, where they are generally very gluten aware, they'll even warn you that you can't have the steamed mixed vegetables. Why? Because, they're steamed with broth, not just steam, and the broth contains...gluten.

    It sounds like you really might want to consider seeing a good allergist, and having them do panels for a number of other sensitivities. I hate needles, but you've got more than a wheat/gluten problem there.

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    20 hours ago, lyfan said:

    Laura-

     I think your "online" doc is somewhere between "conservative" and "hooly-gooly" on some of the subjective and unproven conclusions they're making.

     While celiac, and non-celiac wheat allergy and a host of other very real problems all seem related to some larger issue that is not at all clearly understood, yet, there's some jumping to conclusions there.

    "1. Yeast".
     Funny thing, most of us have absolutely no problem with gluten-free baked goods that are chock full of conventional baker's yeast. How the microbiome in general reacts to yeast, and whether the body itself is mistaking yeast for something else, is AFAIK pure speculation at this time. It would be more appropriate for a medic to say "There's no correlation, but if yeast bothers you TOO, avoid it." Making the assumption that there is any relation between the two is just bad science, and we have too much of that already.

    "2. Egg" Again, same as yeast. BAD SCIENCE. Many people have multiple allergies and they are NOT RELATED as far as anyone knows. Except, it is speculated, for the fact that having multiple allergies may have been caused by not being exposed to those multiple items while an infant.

    "3. Dairy... cheddar ... I spoke to a chef who indicated fermentation process changes its protein structure. "
     Years ago I spoke to the wonderful folks at Cabot, a dairy cooperative in NY/VT who make wonderful packaged brick cheeses. He told me that they had conducted tests, and very specifically any of their cheddars that was aged for 90 days or longer (which is all of tem) was GLUTEN FREE AND LACTOSE FREE, because the enzymes that make the cheese also break down lactose, and by 90 days there will be zero lactose content in their cheeses. While this will depend on specific enzymes, the rule of thumb is that any hard cheese (including parmesan and romano, in my experience) will have the same absence of lactose. This of course would not apply to any cheese made with bread crumb cultures, i.e. blue cheeses, but I've never heard of them being found as hard cheeses.

    In theory my villae have long since come back...or totally failed to. Dunno, as a practical matter I have to treat dairy the same way. Incredible number of non-dairy "ice cream" products now in the stores, even if the taste isn't traditional some are pretty good as "frozen desserts". A company called "Daiya" makes a wide number of non-dairy gluten free frozen foods (including pizzas and fruit pies) that are worth looking for.

    "4. Coffee"
    I'm a heavy coffee drinker. NEVER heard of anyone having a celiac type reaction to coffee. Now, coffee can motivate the bowels, especially in the morning, but not in any abnormal way. You will find that if you are drinking INSTANT COFFEE, some companies process that on dedicated equipment, while others process it on equipment that is used to make powdered drinks that DO CONTAIN WHEAT. And apparently there's significant cross-contamination. So, Nescafe Instant apparently is safe, Folger's is not. Check with the maker for your specific coffee. I've always figured, if the company can't figure out how to simply steam clean their own production equipment, they just might not understand how to keep things clean, and I really don't need to buy anything from them.

    Whole-bean coffee should never be a problem, and I've yet to hear of ground coffee being a problem--just the instant.

    Cross-contamination could turn anything including fresh fish or beef into a "problem". A deli that slices pastrami on the same counter where they cut part a pastrami on rye SANDWICH could be a problem. But that's the cross-contamination, not the food.

    "There are now 3 brands of boxed broth that do not list yeast as an ingredient." And wasn't I "DAMN IT NOT AGAIN?!" surprised the first time I found out GLUTEN is actually used to give the umami flavor in many prepared broths and soups. If you go to Outback, where they are generally very gluten aware, they'll even warn you that you can't have the steamed mixed vegetables. Why? Because, they're steamed with broth, not just steam, and the broth contains...gluten.

    It sounds like you really might want to consider seeing a good allergist, and having them do panels for a number of other sensitivities. I hate needles, but you've got more than a wheat/gluten problem there.

    Lyfan -- Thank you for your detailed response.  I'm so tired of the fear that is circulated on gluten-fee sites.  It's bad enough to have celiac disease -- adding unnecessary fears is burdensome and adds to the perception that a gluten-free diet is just a fad.  I'm glad that you pointed out that gluten may not be the issue if persons are reacting to non-gluten foods.

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    About ten years ago, a friend of mine mentioned the way that "all these nut jobs" were going crazy and blaming gluten for all their ills, when gluten-free diets became a big fad. I said sure, there was no doubt a lot of crazy people were coming out of the woods, but the great thing about that, is that it made a much bigger commercial market for gluten-free products!

    Considering that 15? years ago there were about six doctors on the planet who really had some grasp of celiac, literally, and there's still no real understanding of the larger issues, it is not surprising that there's some confusion for everyone. Aluminum cookware, plastic can linings, vapors from toilets flushing, mercury that (no longer) is in vaccinations...And did you hear, a new NIH funded survey has found that EVERYONE who has drunk more than fifty gallons of water in their lifetime, has died? Surely, it must be toxic. (Sigh.)

    If only they'd stop buying $1000 football tickets and spend the money on something really stupid, like basic medical research.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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