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Check your labels: common gluten free products and their unsafe counterparts


With celiac disease and the gluten free diet gaining more exposure in the mainstream culture – from stores that advertise their gluten free offerings and companies that have slapped a”gluten free!” label on their products, to celebrities and cookbooks that endorse the gluten free lifestyle – more people are aware of the specific dietary needs of those who must adhere to a strict gluten free diet. Unfortunately, with more awareness comes more opportunity for confusion about what foods and ingredients are safe and unsafe. Even seasoned pros can fall into the trap of purchasing a product they assume is gluten free, only to discover later that’s not the case. To help others avoid this trap, I’ve made a list of five common gluten free products and their gluten-containing counterparts.

Rice Cereals

Gluten Free: Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal, Nature’s Path Organic Whole Grain Crispy Rice Cereal, Arrowhead Mills Puffed Rice (available at Whole Foods and Amazon.com)

Not Gluten Free: Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, store brand rice cereals (like Safeway Crispy Rice and Whole Foods 365 Organic Brown Rice Crisps)

The Trap: Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and their generic counterparts may be “wheat free” but they contain malt flavoring or barley malt syrup. Barley is not gluten free, thus malt flavoring is not safe for a gluten free diet. Many people assume that celiac disease is just a wheat allergy and may not be aware that those with celiac disease must also avoid barley/malt flavoring. Therefore, if you are being offered “wheat free” rice cereal (or treats) be sure to ask for an ingredient list.

Oatmeal

Gluten Free: Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Whole Grain Rolled or Steel Cut Oats, Glutenfreeda’s Instant Oatmeal, Legacy Valley Certified Gluten Free Oats

Not Gluten Free: Quaker Oats, Bob’s Red Mill Oats (only those Bob’s Products which specify “gluten free” are safe), Nature’s Path Organic Instant Hot Oatmeal, store brand oats

The trap: There is a lot of debate in the gluten free community as to whether oats are safe for a gluten free diet. Oats themselves are gluten free, but due to the way they are grown and processed there is a high risk of cross contamination. Some people with celiac disease find they are able to tolerate conventionally grown oats while others can eat only those that have been certified as gluten free (or avoid them altogether). Read more about gluten free oats on Bob’s Red Mill’s product page.

Chicken Broth/Stock

Gluten Free: Swanson chicken broths and stock, Pacific Natural Foods Organic Chicken Broth, Imagine Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, Kirkland Signature (Costco’s house brand) Chicken Stock (both organic and conventional varieties), Trader Joe’s Organic Free Range Chicken Broth (red box)

Not Gluten Free: Trader Joe’s Free Range Chicken Broth (yellow box)

The trap: Most chicken broths and stocks that I have comes across are free of gluten. I normally buy my chicken broth or stock in bulk at Costco because it’s a kitchen staple I like to have on hand at all times. A few months ago, though, I ran out and picked up a carton while at Trader Joe’s. Imagine my surprise when I got home and, reading the ingredient list, discovered that it contained barley malt. Lesson learned: even somebody who has been shopping for gluten free foods for years still needs to read labels. Trader Joe’s does carry a gluten free chicken broth; it’s their organic, free range version. When shopping for broths – especially when you are buying a brand you aren’t familiar with – always double check the label.

Soy Sauce

Gluten Free: San J Organic Gluten Free Tamari, La Choy

Not Gluten Free: Kikkoman, Lee Kum Kee, San J Organic Shoyu, grocery store brands

The trap: The ingredients used in a soy sauce determine its type. . Tamari is made from soya beans. Shoyu soy sauces (the kind most often seen in the grocery store – like Kikkoman) are made from soya beans and wheat. La Choy soy sauce is not made using the same process or ingredients as traditional soy sauces and tamari but it is gluten free and is readily available in most chain grocery stores.

Corn Flakes

Gluten Free: Erewhon Organic Corn Flakes, Nature’s Path Organic Corn Flakes, Barbara’s Bakery Corn Flakes

Not Gluten Free: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, some store brands

The trap: Corn is gluten free. That means corn flakes should be gluten free, right? Not so fast. Like the rice cereal example above, many corn flake cereals contain barley malt as a flavoring. Look for a corn cereal that does not contain gluten ingredients. Nature’s Path is the brand my family likes best.

Can you think of any other products that may cause confusion? Share your experiences in the comments!

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Comments (3)

  1. Jean Mitchell 10/04/2012 at 9:18 am

    Modified food starch can be either wheat or corn based. This ingredient is used as a thickener or binder in so many foods. Spices, labeled simply “spices”, sometimes contain a wheat based binder. Be especially careful to read the ingredient list on salad dressings. Potatoes, such as hash browns or American fries, etc. if made from a frozen package and not freshly made, often contain non-gluten free seasoning mixtures. Beware of marinades used on meats – they often contain gluten. In a restaurant, ask if the meat you are ordering is marinated. And check to be sure foods are not prepared in the same oil, on the same grill or in the same cookware as gluten containing products (for instance french fries vs onion rings, chicken breasts vs breaded chicken breasts.) Cooking at home is so much easier, but many dishes prepared in a restaurant can be made gluten-free friendly if you ask, and the rewards are delicious!

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