How to Read a Gluten Free Nutrition Label
Gluten-free and label reading-are like “peas and carrots” they just go together. The word “gluten” is not a labeled ingredient on food labels so it requires a bit of consumer knowledge. It is “where” and “in what” listed ingredients gluten hides that a gluten-free consumer must educate themselves. Label reading truly becomes second nature as manufacturers are constantly changing ingredients, the source of these ingredients, and their manufacturing practices. Just because your favorite cookies were gluten free 6 months ago does not mean that these same cookies are still free of wheat, rye, barley, oats and all their known derivatives today. Always read the label and when in doubt call the company with any specific questions you might have. I have called more 1(800) numbers from the grocery store in the past 3 years than ever before. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask a question – it’s your health / family’s health that is on the line.
Since the passing of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act in 2004, identifying wheat has become significantly easier. The top 8 allergens that are required by law to be labeled in the US are – milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, shellfish and soybeans. Wheat and its derivatives are among the most heavily eliminated in the celiac diet. The food allergen consumer protection act has worked in our favor since there are presently no labeling requirements for gluten free products. Although, this will be changing as of August 2014 when all manufactures and food handling businesses offering gluten free options will be required to abide by the 20 PPM (parts per million) allowed. This amount is deemed safe for most celiac persons to consume – it is also among the smallest accurately measured unit as there is no such thing as a 0 PPM.
It is safe to say that most processedfoods with a flour base likely contain wheat flour or one of its derivatives as its base. Some of the more common and obvious products containing such bases are – cakes, cookies, breads, cereals and pastas. Many of these glutinous flours and starches also serve as good thickeners in many of our everyday foods – soy sauces, canned soups, cornbread, muffin mixes, lunch meat, yogurt, sour cream, hot dogs, sausages, broths and condiments.
Remember, just because a product is labeled “wheat free” does not necessarily make it gluten-freesince labeling of rye, oat, and barley are not required.
Learn it – “BROW” Barley, Rye, Oat, and Wheat – DON’T Eat
Barely is typically used as a flavor enhancer or thickener in soups, broths, cereals and protein bars (malt being the most common). Barley is not typically used in baking but many items containing “malt flavoring” such as syrups, cereals, beers and malt vinegars do contain it – always question the source by which “malt” is referring to.
Rye fortunately is not often used in many items other than breads and crackers.
Oats themselves are not problematic for most celiac and gluten sensitive individuals. Oats are not in the same gluten containing family as rye, wheat, and barley. However, they are often cross-contaminated near-by wheat fields and/or during the manufacturing process – therefore, purchase oats that have been processed in a gluten free manufacturing facility. I have found Bob Redmill makes a safe alternative.
Potential Sources of Gluten – This is a generalized list of foods that may contain gluten. Frequently manufactures will lump a bunch of ingredients under one word not specifying its source unless necessary.
The following are gluten containing sources;
Always try to find the exact make up or source of the following
Food “starch”– typically this means corn however, there is no guarantee unless specified. Although corn is gluten free and therefore gluten safe – if it were ‘potato‘ starch it would be problematic for someone with a nightshade intolerance.
Carmel color –“gluten containing ingredients are no longer used in North America and in Europe. Although the glucose syrup used is a gluten derivative, but it is highly processed containing no gluten in its final form.” (2 )My word of caution is always know the source, as each country has different processing regulations – in general caramel color should be 100% safe. (1)
Dextrin – this can be made from wheat- although, then it would be required to be listed on the food label as being so based on the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act
Maltodextrin – this typically means corn, potato or rice in the US. Again, although gluten free, this does not necessarily mean nightshadefree.Foreign food manufactures may sometimes use wheat based ingredients.
Vinegar – Most vinegars are safe (apple cider, rice wine and balsamic) just to name a few. Be aware that malt vinegar is often derived from barely and therefore, not gluten safe. Distilled white vinegar can be from a variety of sources ranging from corn and grapes to wheat. If you are uncertain of the source call the manufacturing company to confirm.
(1) CanadianCeliac Association
Photo Credit; Nicholas Raymond-stockvault.net