Gluten-Free Products

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

Have you noticed all the gluten-free products at the grocery store lately? Maybe you’ve seen a new section on your favorite restaurant’s menu? It seems as though everywhere we look lately, we see something ‘gluten-free’.

So what is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in some grain products such as wheat, rye, and barley. Oat products that are made in factories that also produce wheat, rye, and barley products may also contain gluten. Everyday products including, but not limited to, breads, cakes, pastas, and cookies contain gluten.

Why be gluten-free? About one in every 133 people in the US suffers from something called Celiac disease (CD). CD is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by eating foods which contain gluten. If the small intestine is damaged, it makes it much harder to absorb the nutrients from the foods we eat. The best way to prevent this damage is to avoid foods which contain gluten. In addition, some people may have a wheat allergy, or sensitivity to gluten.

Most plain, unprocessed foods do not contain gluten. These foods include: plain vegetables, plain fruits, plain meats (including, beef, poultry, fish, and shellfish), plain dairy products, eggs, soy, nuts, and seeds. Grain products that people on a gluten-free diet can choose are: rice, quinoa, corn, potatoes, and lentils (beans). Being gluten-free can be tricky for Americans due to the amount of processed foods in our diet. Here are some key words to look for on food labels that may be a sign that gluten is included:

  • Wheat, Barley, Rye: These are the grains that contain gluten, avoid them if you are on a gluten-free diet.

  • Malt: Contains varying levels of gluten.

  • Hydrolyzed protein: These are used as flavoring agents in a wide variety of foods such as soups, sauces, gravies, and seasoning mixtures. Most are made from corn, soy or wheat. In the USA, The common or usual name of a protein hydrolysate shall be specific to the ingredient and shall include the identity of the food sources from which the protein was derived (e.g., “hydrolyzed wheat gluten”).

  • Seasonings: Seasonings are a blend of flavoring agents and an anticaking agent (e.g., calcium silicate) which are often combined with a carrier agent (e.g., salt, sugar, lactose, whey powder, starches and flours). The carrier agent in seasoning mixtures in gravy mixes, sauces, and snack foods often contain wheat flour or wheat starch. If a seasoning mixture is sold separately the components of ingredients must be declared. For example: Taco Seasoning: Spice, dehydrated onion, salt, garlic powder, hydrolyzed wheat protein, citric acid, yeast extract.

  • Starch: A variety of starches can be used in foods such as corn, waxy maize, potato, tapioca, arrowroot, rice, wheat, etc. Wheat starch must be avoided. Note: the single word “starch” on a food label in the USA refers to “cornstarch”. When other starches such as potato, tapioca or wheat are used in food products the source of the starch must be declared. For example: “potato starch”.

Beware of hidden ingredients in foods! These are some common foods that may contain gluten due to processing: candy, broth, sauces, gravies, imitation seafood, seasonings, thickeners, and soy sauce. Also, many food labels will say “contains gluten” or “gluten-free”. There are more than 2000 gluten-free products in grocery stores these days, so there are many options if you’re living gluten-free!

It is still important to consume whole grains even on a gluten-free diet! Choose naturally gluten free grains like quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, amaranth, and millet. Many gluten free breads and baking mixes are made from refined grains however lately a greater selection of whole grain gluten free breads and pastas have become available. To improve the nutrients in your baked goods replace ¼ to 1/3 cup of your gluten free baking mix with the same amount of one of these whole grain flours (amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa or gluten free oat flour). Other healthy eating guidelines such as including consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, products and healthy fats are the same for both gluten-free and regular diets.

Two good resources for gluten-free information are www.celiac.org and www.eatright.org. Great recipes can be found at: www.liveglutenfreely.com.

A great resource book and source for much of the information in this handout is: Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide by Shelley Case, RD.


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