People with gluten intolerance or celiac disease have a medical necessity to monitor foods for gluten, which is a protein found in many grains. The word "gluten" may not necessarily be present on a food label, so understanding ingredients that contain gluten, such as wheat and barley, will help you determine whether or not a food is gluten-free. In addition, a registered dietitian can provide you with the tools to help you identify glutenous foods and customize a gluten-free meal plan to meet your individual needs.
Check the package for "gluten-free" labeling. Many foods will declare a product "gluten-free" on the front of the package, which will help you determine whether a product has gluten in it without having to check in the ingredient list. In order for it to claim a gluten-free status, it must contain no gluten or gluten byproducts.
Make a quick check for wheat products. Wheat and wheat products, such as flour, contain gluten. Because wheat is one of the main food allergens, a disclaimer will be present on a food label, often in bold at the bottom of the ingredients list, that will note that the product contains wheat. If this statement is present, further review for gluten in the ingredients may not be necessary, as gluten will have already been positively identified from this statement alone.
Review the ingredients list. Although wheat is one of the most common sources of gluten, gluten may also be present in other ingredients such as barley, rye, graham flour, triticale, bulgur, semolina, farina and spelt. Foods that commonly contain gluten include pasta, bread, gravies thickened with flour, cereals and some luncheon meats.
Avoid cross-contamination. Even if gluten is not a specific ingredient in a food, it may still run the risk of containing gluten if it is prepared in the same facility or on the same equipment as other food products that contain gluten. In these instances, look for the words “may contain wheat” or “may contain gluten” on the food label. For individuals with gluten intolerance, the risk of developing signs of symptoms after consuming a product that may have potentially been cross-contaminated is less severe than for patients with celiac disease or gluten allergy.
- Oats are an ingredient that may or may not contain gluten as a result of cross-contamination during the growing or processing of them. Some healthcare providers recommend adding oats to the list of foods to avoid when eating gluten-free.
- For individuals who must avoid gluten for health reasons, eating foods with gluten can result in serious symptoms including damage to the small intestine, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, anemia and weight loss. You should consult your healthcare provider if you are concerned that you may have a gluten allergy or intolerance.
Larissa Gedney began writing professionally in 2006. She has been published in Today's Dietitian magazine and several local newspapers and professional publications. Gedney is a registered dietitian who received her bachelor of science degree in nutrition/dietetics from Simmons College in Boston and her master of science degree in nutrition from Rosalind Franklin University.