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How to Read Food Labels

Reading food labels is imperative to successfully live gluten-free. Plan on spending a little extra time grocery shopping to search out gluten-free labels and reading ingredients. 

Do you know that person who is in the grocery aisle oblivious to what is going on around her? That is me! Yep, I am a food label reader! Once I started reading labels, living gluten-free got a whole lot easier. Differences between gluten-laden foods and gluten-free foods can be subtle since manufacturers label unsafe ingredients in various ways. It is essential to learn ingredient names that are not safe for the gluten intolerant. 

You might think that reading a food label is boring! I mean who cares about calories, sugar, and fat content? Well, I for one don’t! However, being non-celiac gluten sensitive, I do care about the ingredients. As should you! I cannot tell you how many times reading the food label has saved me from buying and/or eating something that would make me really sick.  

Did you know that products can be labeled gluten-free although there is a small amount of gluten in them? Yep! Crazy, huh? While this may not be the most exciting article you are going to read, it is an important one! Ready to dive in? 

Unsafe Food Ingredients

So, what ingredients are not safe because they contain gluten? Any products containing barley, rye, and/or wheat. Sounds simple enough, right? Well… It is a little more complicated than it should be. Let’s take a quick look at these ingredients.

Barley: Malt is derived from barley and it lurks as a popular flavoring ingredient in beverages, cereals, malt vinegar, packaged junk foods, soups, rice milk, sauces, and protein bars. Watch for hidden barley when reading food labels such as barley flavoring, pearl barley, hulled barley, barley enzymes, and maltose aka malt sugar.

Rye: Contained mostly in rye bread and crackers. However, triticale is a newer grain, which resulted from cross-breeding rye with wheat. Talk about a double-whammy! 

Wheat: If the product has flour in it, chances are it’s got gluten! Unless you see “certified gluten-free labels” on packaged cereals, loaves of bread, crackers, pasta, cookies, etc., walk on by!  Gravy mixes, cornbread, canned soups, sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, and processed meat, such as cold cuts and hot dogs, may also contain wheat. Be on the lookout for hidden wheat when reading food labels. Durum, semolina, spelt, couscous, Bulgar, einkorn, Kamut, emmer, farina, and seitan are members of the wheat family. 

What if you are reading food labels and something has a gluten-free label, but “wheat” is listed as one of the ingredients? Well, the explanation is confusing. So confusing that I had to read it several times. 

If a product claims to be glutenfree on the package, then it is most likely safe to eat as the FDA only allows packaged foods with less than 20ppm of gluten to be labeled “glutenfree.” However, you should still check the ingredients list. ~ Celiac Disease Foundation

But wait! Less than 20 ppm, doesn’t sound like much, does it? After all, studies show minute amounts of gluten are not harmful. Say what?! Are you kidding me?! Yeah, I don’t take the chance and I hope you don’t either. 

There are some debatable items as well on the list.  

Vitamin E supplements are possibly sourced from wheat germ. Tocopheryis is another name for Vitamin E. 

Glucose is a form of sugar that can be made from wheat. 

Caramel flavoring can sometimes be obtained from barley. 

Gluten Containing Ingredients to Avoid: 

Bulgar is a cereal comprised of wheat groats. 

Couscous is a pasta derived from semolina, which is a type of wheat. 

Farina is a cereal made from semolina. 

Malt is from cereal grains. 

Note: Don’t let maltodextrin baffle you. It is made from rice, potato, or corn. It is not made malt flavoring, which contains barley. 

Pasta is generally made from wheat. Be sure to read those labels! 

Seitan is made from wheat and is frequently found in prepared vegetarian meals. Vegetarians beware! 

Wheat protein, wheat starch, wheat flour, hydrolyzed wheat and bleached flour should all be avoided. 

Most beer, vodka and rum contain gluten. Tequila is safe if the label reads “100% agave”. 

Gluten can also hide in seasonings and flavorings. Sometimes manufacturers will use flour so their spices to do not stick together!  

Are you overwhelmed?

Don’t be. Once you have read a few labels, deciphering them will be easy peasy. You won’t think twice about it. As a matter of fact, I will be at someone’s home and see a can or jar on the counter and before you know it, I am reading the label without even thinking about it. 😉

Reading food labels is the only way to ensure what is safe and what’s not! Even though a product might have a gluten-free label, I always read the ingredients for peace of mind. I hope you will too! If you have any questions please leave me a comment below!



How to read food labels

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