Reading Labels Part 1

Reading Labels Part 1 | The Gluten-Free Homemaker

You are in the store trying to buy a seasoning mix, salad dressing, pasta sauce, or marinade, and you don’t know if it’s gluten free.  How do you figure it out?  This is a topic that needs to be addressed repeatedly for people who are new to the gluten-free diet.  Figuring out what is gluten-free isn’t that hard.

What makes it difficult is old information that people find on the Internet or hear from others.  When I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2000, it was hard.  But food labeling laws in the United States have changed, which makes it much easier to determine of food is gluten free.  Here’s what you need to know.

Gluten

Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and contaminated oats. You can read more about what gluten is here.

Wheat

Out of those four ingredients, wheat is by far the biggest problem.  It is also the easiest ingredient to identify.  Because wheat is one of the top eight allergens, it must be listed on a product label if it is an ingredient or part of an ingredient in a product.  For example, if a product contains modified food starch which is made from wheat, the word “wheat” has to be on the label.  If it’s not, you can be sure the food starch is gluten-free.

Rye

This is another easy ingredient.  It’s easy because it is not often used in foods and when it is, it is labeled as “rye.”  It’s not the kind of ingredient that will be used in other ingredients.

Barley

Barley is the trickiest ingredient.  Because it is not one of the top eight allergens, it does not have to be clearly identified on a label.  It can be part of another ingredient, and in fact, it is usually part of any ingredient with the word “malt.”  That includes malt flavoring, barley malt, malt vinegar, or just malt.  The exception to this is maltodextrin which is a gluten-free ingredient.  According to Gluten-Free Living Magazine, barley malt can be listed as “flavoring,” but it is rare.

Oats

Pure oats are considered gluten-free and safe for most people on a gluten-free diet (a small percentage of people with celiac disease do react to oats).  Most oats, however, are contaminated with wheat and are therefore unsafe.  Oats listed on the label of any regular grocery store product should be assumed to contain wheat.

Additional Information

While ingredients like barley do not have to be clearly stated on labels, many companies are aware of the large group of gluten-free consumers and voluntarily offer information on their labels.  Besides doing things like stating “barley malt” instead of just “malt,” many companies offer additional information about processing.  You may see statements such as “This product is produced on equipment that also produces wheat.”  Personally, I avoid products with such warnings.

Gluten-Free Labeling

Because there are currently no standards for gluten-free food labeling, you cannot assume that a product which states “gluten-free” is safe for you to eat.  People have different reasons for being on a gluten-free diet and because of that tolerate different levels of gluten in their food.  Zero gluten is impossible to attain in a processed food.  If you have celiac disease or are very sensitive to gluten, then some foods which are labeled gluten free and tested to 20 parts per million may still bother you.  Many people have reported having reactions to such foods.  In that case, it is helpful to find companies that only product gluten-free products or that are part of a certification program such as GFCO.

Always Read Labels

Please remember that ingredients in products do change.  Just because a particular brand of an item is gluten-free today, does not mean it will be tomorrow.  Make it a habit to always scan labels.  I would much rather be safe than sorry.  How about you?

More on Reading Labels

Part 2 How to Read a Label
Part  3 Cross Contamination and Warning Statements

Related articles can be found on my Gluten-Free Diet Information page.




signature

Comments

  1. These hidden promalines are in almost every packaged and prepared foods. That is why it's important to eat real, whole foods. Thanks for posting this. It's important!!

  2. Chelle says:

    It is sad, but I feel like I am the only person at my grocery store who actually stands there and reads the labels most of the time! It wasn't until I went gluten free that I really realized how much horrible stuff (chemicals, preservatives, etc.) is actually in all of the food today! And sadly, despite labeling being better, I can attest that both my mother and mother in law cannot for the life of them read a label and tell if it's "gluten free" or not…or my husband for that matter, lol…so it is hard to do!

    • I highly agree with Chelle. Getting my celiac diagnosis was really a gift. I now pay attention to what I put in my body – not just in regards to gluten, but also general health and wellbeing. Food marketing has become brutal to the general population. Now when I see a paragraph of ingredients I just put the item back on the shelf. Mostly because I am too lazy to see if it is gluten free, but also because I don’t want those 17-letter chemical food additives in my body anyway. Here’s a post I wrote about my experience of going gluten free and how it turned into going all natural as a result of what Chelle is talking about: http://stuffifeedbrian.blogspot.com/2011/02/stickin-it-to-poisonous-corporate-food.html

    • I take ages reading labels. Well worth it.

  3. thymetobe says:

    what about things like caramel color or mixed seasonings that use wheat flour, albeit a tiny bit, to make the seasoning flow. those do not include the word Wheat nor does it show up in the Allergy warning.

  4. Caramel color is made from corn according to the manufacturers of caramel color. They say corn makes the best product.

    Some mixed seasonings do contain wheat, such as a chili seasoning mix, and wheat is stated in the ingredients. The idea of using wheat to make it free flowing is old information and I don't think it was ever true, but if a company does do that, it has to be stated. These days I find that companies are giving lots of information such as the additional information I mentioned above, not necessarily to help us, but so they don't get sued.

  5. Tasty Eats At Home says:

    Partly because I've continued to suffer from some lingering issues, I don't purchase anything that has those ambiguous terms like "caramel color" or "spices" or "flavorings" without confirmation that the product is indeed gluten-free. I have a grocery guide from Triumph that does help some, and I've been known to contact companies to determine the status of their products.

  6. gfe--gluten free easily says:

    Great reminders, Linda. Yes, this is something folks struggle with … especially those new to the gluten-free diet.

    I'd add a couple of points. First, it's not just wheat that contaminates oats, but any gluten per Tricia Thompson who did the landmark study that showed how much gluten was actually in "mainstream" oats. Like you said though, if the oats are not certified gluten free, one has to consider that they are not safe.

    According to the food allergen labeling law, manufacturers are allowed to either list the allergen in the listing of ingredients or at the end of the ingredients. So a product could read Ingredients: "Corn, sugar, xanthan gum, wheat, potato starch" OR "Corn, sugar, xanthan gum, modified food starch, potato starch" CONTAINS: Wheat." I mention that because this topic came up at one of our meetings. So many folks had gotten used to just reading the CONTAINS: statement and not looking at the other ingredients. One can't do that, because manufacturers only have to list the eight major allergens, so often that goes in the CONTAINS statement, but many manufacturers do list ALL gluten ingredients. However, you have to read the entire listing to see other gluten ingredients, like malt, in the listing itself. Hope that makes sense. Just in case, here's a helpful sheet (PDF) that the American Celiac Disease Alliance put out when the law was being passed: http://www.americanceliac.org/wp-content/uploads/docs/ACDA%20Food%20Labeling%20Fact%20Sheet%2011-05Final.pdf

    Shirley

  7. Great information Linda, thanks for posting this!

    Shirley, thank you for bringing those points up too, I have caught myself a few times scanning the CONTAINS statement, putting a product in my cart, only to recheck the ingredient label and see "barley malt flavoring" somewhere in the long list of ingredients. I like the companies that bold type BARLEY to help it stand out, but not all of them do that.

    Dreaming of the day there is a federal regulation for the term "gluten-free," sigh…

  8. Shirley ~ Great points. I always read the whole label and forgot to point that out.

  9. gfe--gluten free easily says:

    One more thing I wanted to add, but forgot is that the "Manufactured in a facility that also processes wheat" and "Manufactured on shared equipment." are voluntary statements by the manufacturer. This is important because it means there is no "policing" of this info. And, while most of us would steer clear of products with the latter warning, we might have a false sense of security there. Some both interesting and alarming data came out of information submitted to the Food and Drug Administration when it was collecting input for use in developing its standard for “gluten-free” status on a product. (I know … still collecting that data or not ready to establish a standard as Heidi referenced.) At the time, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) presented data that showed that more peanuts were actually present in products that stated they were made in the “same facility as products containing peanuts” than products that “shared equipment as products containing peanuts.” This data was an eye-opener to many who thought they had been making the better choice. Specifically, most people had stated that they would not eat products made on the same equipment as products containing their allergen of concern, but significantly less people were concerned if the products were simply made in the same facility as products containing that allergen. Obviously, FAAN’s intent in sharing this information with the FDA was to show how meaningless food labels can be as well as the scope of the food allergen issues within food manufacturing. I know it's in the big FDA statement online somewhere, but you can read about it here at this blog post: http://peanutclinicaltrial.blogspot.com/2010/03/food-allergen-labeling-part-2.html While we are not concerned with peanuts, my feeling is that's it's probably true of all the allergens.

    Shirley

  10. thelazygfchef says:

    Hi Shirley,

    Thanks for some great reminders! It's hard to stay away from anything that's not labeled or stated by the company as gluten free. So I do come across lots of "maybes". And more so when the product is from outside of the US or Canada. A friend recently brought me back a bottle of yummy smelling pure vanilla extract from Mexico, but it has caramel coloring so I'm not sure!!

    Clear gluten free labeling is something I hope we can achieve in the future – it would make life much easier!!!

  11. Jessie says:

    Great minds think alike! I wrote a post with labels in mind today but yours is better so I'm linking you!

  12. Kathie says:

    Thanks so much for all your input! I am one of those that is new to this gluten free diet. On my forth week. I have not been tested but so many of the symptoms apply to me and I am feeling so much better! So whether I am or not I don’t want to sway away from this change in diet in fear that I’d find myself back in that place. Thanks for the input regarding malt. That is one that I wasn’t aware of. I knew wheat, rye, and barley were ingredients to avoid, so thanks again.

  13. sherry says:

    HELLO,
    CAN ANYONE TELL ME WHAT A AUTO IMMUNE REACTION TO A GLUTEN SENSATIVITY IS? MY SON WAS TESTED WITH THE ALCAT BLOOD TEST AND SHOWED NO ALLERGY REACTION TO WHEAT, HIS FOOD ALLERGY TEST DID. HE HAS BEEN HOME FOR 3 MONTHS IN PAIN INHIS LOWER INTESTINES, BLOATING, GAS VERY BAD PAIN. HE HAS HAD EVERY TEST DONE IN THE HOSPITAL INCLUDING G.I.’S ,COLINOSCOPIES,BIOPSIES, DR. SAID IT WAS I.B.S. BUT IT JUST DOES NOT MAKE SENSE AS HE HAS SUFFERED DAILY FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS.
    HE NOW HAS HOT AND COLD SHIVERYS IN HIS BODY, SLIGHT TEMP OFF AN DON AT TIMES, ALWAYS SOME PAIN, MORE SEVERE AT NIGHT.
    ANY HELP WOULD BE APPRECIATED.

    • Sherry, I’m so sorry you are going through this with your son. It must be very difficult to see him suffer so much. Celiac disease is an autoimmune gluten intolerance. Some doctors are beginning to recognize non-celiac gluten intolerance which has many of the same symptoms but does not include an autoimmune reaction. If he has been tested for celiac, which would include a blood test and endoscopy with small bowel biopsies, and it was negative, then he may be gluten intolerant. You could try removing gluten from his diet and see if there is improvement. I hope you find some answers soon.

    • Lynn Put says:

      Sherry,
      My son who is 4yrs old has had the same symptoms that you wrote about and was diagnosed with Celiacs disease only after having his stomach scoped and samples taken. His blood work showed no sign of him having Celiacs disease but the stomach scoping did. He was diagnosed in January and it’s the end of June and he’s been on a gluten free diet and he still has pain every day and it’s worse at night. His doctor has told us that he can’t find anything wrong with him other than the Celiacs and that it may just take longer for his intestines to heal. It certainly is very hard for a parent to watch their child in pain.

      Being new to all of this I pray for better labeling in the near future.

      • sherry says:

        HI lYNN,
        I JUST RECEIVED YOUR E MAIL. THANKS FOR RESPONDING. DOES YOUR SON ALSO HAVE TO EAT RIGHT AWAY WHEN HE IS HUNGRY OR IT GETS WORSE? AFTER THE LAST VISIT 2 WEEKS AGO TO A NEW IMMUNOLOGIST ,THEY ARE TESTING MY SON FOR A RARE DISEASE CALLED ‘MASTOCYTOSIS’.BASICALLY ITS A AUTO IMUNE DISEASE THAT EFFCTS PEOPLE WITH ALL DIFFERENT RERACTIONS TO MANY MNAY DIFFERENT FOODS, SMELLS, ALL SORTS OF TRIGGERS. ABDOMINAL PAIN IS INCLUDED IN THIS. HIS BLOOD TESTS CAME BACK NEGATIVE HOWEVER AFTER RESEARCHING MORE I FOUND A SPECIALIST OF THIS DISEASE,DR. AKIN FROM BRIGHAM WOMENS HOSPITAL IN BOSTON WHO SAID THAT BLOOD TESTS ARE NOT 100% ACURATE AND THERE IS ANOTHER CONDITION CALLED” IDEOPATHIC ANNAPHLAXIS’ WHICH IS THE MIMICK OF MASTOCYTOSIS.
        I STARTED TO RESEARCH AFTER A IMMUNOLOGIST THAT I WENT TO SAID SHE HAD SEEN THIS SEVERAL TIMES IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM AS SHE WORKED ALONG SIDE A DR. WHO TREATED THIS ON REACURING PATIENTS AT JOHNS HOPKINS,….SHE SAID YOUR SONS SYMPTOMS SOUND LIKE THIS. I THEN HAD A NUTRITIONALIST CALL ME AND TELL ME THE SAME THING. MY SON STARTED ABOUT THE AGE OF 4 ….WHAT SYMPTOMS DOES YOUR SON HAVE?
        I HAVE LARNED TO NOT STOP WITH THE DR.’S, MANY ARE NOT EDUCATED NOR WILL ADMIT TO NOT KNOWING AND SO AFTER FINDING A WONDERFUL BLOG I SEE THE BEST ANSWERS COME FROM PEOPLE WITH THE CONDITIONS. MY SON HAD BLOOD TEST, 2 BIOPSIES DOWN THE THROAT,INTO THE DUNEDIUM, AND ALSO A BIOPSY ON THE BEGINNING PART OF HIS COLINOSCOPY….IT STARTED WITH JUST THE GLUTEN WHEAT, HE IS ALSO LACTOSE INTOLLERANT, DID YOU SON HAVE THAT TEST? I FED MY SON CEREAL FOR YEARS WITHOUT KNOWING AND LOTS OF SCHOOL TURN AROUND ,COME HOME EPPISODES. ANYWAY,.THE SYMPTOMS STARTED TO INCREASE,MORE FOOD ALLERGY TYPE CONDITIONS WITH MORE STRONGER REACTIONS, HE EVEN HAD THE 40 SHOTS IN THE BACK WITH NOTHING SHOWING MORE THAN PEANUTS.
        MASTOCYTOSIS HAS REACTIONS FROM ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING, VERY LITTLE KNOWN ABOUT IT BUT I WOULD BE INTERESTED IN WHAT YOUR SONS EXACT CONDITIONS ARE.
        THANKS SO MUCH FOR RESPONDING, HAVE YOU TRIED GIVING YOUR SON CERTAIN FOODS AND DOING A DIARY TO SEE IF HE HAS A REACTION TO TRIGGER THE PAIN? I HAVE ABOUT 4OR 5 THINGS I CAN GIVE MY SON, NOT MUCH MORE AT THIS TIME TO EAT .

        GOD BLESS,

        SHERRY

        • Lynn Put says:

          Sherry,
          We’ve done the dairy free diet on our son and his pain never decreased, that and I took him to an allergist and had him tested for food allergies and he’s not allergic to any foods. One thing I do know is that my son has a hard time eating whole meals. He’s constantly hungry and wants to snack all day but when you give him a full lunch or dinner he doesn’t want to eat (which could be typical of his age).
          It sounds like your son has been through so much the poor thing, my heart goes out to you as a mother because I know some of what you’re feeling with having to watch your child in pain.
          After googling the word Mastocytosis and reading about it my son doesn’t have any of the symptoms other than abdominal pain.

          Right now all his GI doctor has given him to take is probiotic capsules that are for IBS and are suppose to help with gas pain. We end up having to give him tylenol at least twice a week at night just so he can end up sleeping through the night and I hate having to give him anything like that.
          Everyone I’ve spoken to who has Celicas has told me that after being on a gluten free diet for two weeks they’ve started feeling better, where here it’s been 4 months and my poor little guy is still having pain and it’s driving me crazy. Our son has had ultrasounds, an upper GI, stomach scoping, blood work and an allergy test and before we knew what it was we had also taken him to emergency twice.

          I pray that you can find some help for your son and that he starts to feel better soon.

  14. Linda, I’m sending lots of healing thoughts to your mom and good, calming ones to you as you help her while she’s recovering!

    This is definitely a post worth sharing again. :-)

    xo,
    Shirley

  15. I am newly diagnosed too and trying hard to figure out all the labels. Thank you for this post. I have one question Hidden Valley Ranch dressing does not have any label warnings on their bottles; I thought this was a mandate. I also called the number on the back to ask about gluten in their product and I was told no that it was safe but after further investigation on my part I noticed MSG in it. What is the story with MSG; I read somewhere that its gluten but when I had a meeting with a dietician MSG is on my safe list of items. I am really confused with this. Does anyone have any information on this that can help me?!

    • Nikki, according to Gluten-Free Living which has done a lot of in depth research on ingredients, “Monosodium glutamate is a flavoring made through the fermentation of corn, sugar beets, or sugar cane. It is gluten-free.”

      Warnings such as “manufactured on the same equipment as…” are not required. Calling the company is usually a good idea if you are unsure about a product.

  16. Living a gluten free lifestyle definitely isn’t grocery store friendly! As with the peanut free boom on labeling in recent years, I think the GF push seems to be building.

  17. Kimberly smith says:

    Brand new at this. Reg blood test negativ stomach biopsy negative. Genetic blood test positive. Going to physicians assistant this wednesday to find out whats involved. Yuk!!

  18. Lorena Gurza says:

    I would like to receive more information. Thankyou

  19. Thankyou so much, I’m coeliac, I never used to be strict on my diet until last year when I had to have iron transfusions & put on daily medication, now I. Very strict, but ur right so etimes labels r hard to figure out!! Is yeasts problem also?

  20. Tiffany says:

    Amazing information. Thank you. What I’m trying to learn, is what products are we looking for in shampoos & products such as those?? Will they list wheat on the bottle? I recently bought “Love Spell” lotion from Victoria Secret, to discover their is oat in it. :-(

  21. Jo Osmun says:

    Always like to be reminded of what I should be doing. Very good article.

  22. Kathie Grendys says:

    Great info thanks !

  23. Thanks. This is a great help.

  24. Have arthritis and find that the gluten free is good for me. Thanks for the information on reading labels.

  25. Sally Weckerly says:

    Any suggestions are helpful , gluten free and dairy free is best for me

  26. Gwen Ellis says:

    Where my confusion comes in is with Carmel. Does Carmel sauces have gluten and how do I tell if it does?

    • Be sure to read all three parts of this series. You would check the label as I explain, in this case looking for wheat or barley (rye or oats would not be used in caramel sauce).

  27. Mildred Baker says:

    I have been using a Gluten Free diet after diagnosis of Coeliac disease was diagnosed 19 years ago and find the labelling vastly improved. One very item I found was Thickeners, they often used numbers, it is very important to know what the numbers mean. I have found them still but some labels have ( wheat or corn or Tapioca or arrowroot) after the numbers, most of these numbers start with 144 with one of several numbers after the second 4. They were also included in some sauces and confectionary.Watch very carefully White Wings CORNFLOWER, they have WHEATEN CORNFLOWER right beside each other on the same shelf

    • I think we should all start a campaign to get wheaten cornflour banned or re-named. It is too dangerous and misleading. White Wings would be a good place to start and I believe some generic brands are also guilty of this practice.

  28. Brigitte says:

    In Brazil there is a federal law that requires all food to put on the label if it contains gluten, so it becomes much easier.

  29. elise bisset says:

    I am finding this to be helpful

Speak Your Mind

*



Gluten-Free Products on Amazon Help support this site (at no additional cost to you) and start your purchase here.

Amazon affiliate link

Enter your Email for free updates.
Web Analytics