Okay, But Do You Have to Read EVERY Label?

I had just gone gluten free, and had come to terms with the fact that most of what was sold in the grocery store was off limits for me. I did my rounds along the perimeter (produce, butcher, seafood, fridge/dairy section–skip the bakery), and on my way out, I picked up a box of my favorite candy as a consolation prize. I thought to myself, “I can’t have any of that other stuff, but at least I can have this!”

When I got home I ripped open the package and happily chewed away. And then the thought hit me. “Gluten is in everything. It couldn’t possibly be in this.” Still chewing, I looked at the label.

It turns out that the first ingredient in licorice all sorts, or almost any kind of licorice (including Twizzlers and Red Vines), is wheat. Who knew? I spit out what I was eating, but I knew it was already too late, and I’d be in for another 3 weeks of Symptoms.

And that was how I learned the hard lesson: if you are buying items that are in any way processed, you need to read the label. Every time. No exceptions.

Not long after that, I learned about how manufacturers change their recipes fairly frequently, and they don’t always inform the consumers that this has happened. This means that products that used to be gluten free, may end up containing gluten in the future. Grr!

I have seen lists and lists of all the different kinds of products you should check. It might be in soups or sauces, but the fact is, if what you are buying has more than one ingredient, it might contain gluten. If it comes prepackaged in a can, box, bottle, or bag, it might contain gluten. If it’s in a bulk bin, it might contain gluten OR be cross-contaminated by whatever used to be in the bin OR by someone using the wrong scoop. If you’re finding it anywhere except the produce section, it might contain gluten. (And, yanno, wheatgrass has gluten, so not even the produce section is completely gluten free.) 

It’s actually easier to learn the names that gluten hides under, and then look for those names everywhere, rather than memorizing all the products it might or might not be in, because it can be anywhere. And you would think it would be pretty easy to identify gluten: wheat, rye, and barley, right? Well, no.

Companies will hide their ingredients under a lot of fancy names or use derivatives that still contain problematic elements. The only way to get this down is to memorize what to look for and to understand that you need to look for it everywhere.

Here’s an extensive (but not necessarily complete) list of the names of gluten.

Other Names for Wheat:

  • Abyssinian hard
  • Atta 
  • Binder or binding
  • Bran
  • Bulgur
  • Cake flour
  • Cereal
  • Cereal binders/binding
  • Cereal protein
  • Couscous
  • Dextrin (assume yes, unless labeled otherwise)
  • Dinkel
  • Durum
  • Edible starch
  • Einkhorn
  • Emmer
  • Enriched flour
  • Farina
  • Farro/Faro
  • Filler
  • Flour
  • Food starch
  • Frumento
  • Fu
  • Graham flour
  • Groats
  • Gum base
  • Hydrolysed vegetable oil  (assume yes, unless labeled otherwise)
  • Hydrolysed wheat protein
  • Kamut
  • Maida
  • Manna
  • Matzo meal/flour
  • Modified food starch
  • Modified starch
  • Natural flavors  (assume yes, unless labeled otherwise)
  • Orzo
  • Panko
  • Rusk
  • Seitan
  • Semolina
  • Sooji/Suji
  • Special edible starch
  • Spelt
  • Starch (assume yes, unless labeled otherwise)
  • Thickener or thickening
  • Triga
  • Triticale
  • Triticum
  • Triticum* vulgare – Latin for wheat
  • Udon
  • Vinegar  (assume yes, unless labeled otherwise)
  • Wheat
  • Wheat germ
  • Wheat grass
  • Wheat starch

Other Names for Barley:

  • Barley flour
  • Barley flavoring
  • Barley enzymes
  • Barley malt [powder]
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Caramel coloring (when made from barley malt)
  • Dextrimaltose
  • Hordeum vulgare* extract – Latin for barley
  • Malt
  • Malted barley extract
  • Malted barley flour
  • Malt-based fermented alcoholic beverages
  • Malt extract
  • Malt flavoring
  • Malt syrup
  • Malt vinegar
  • Maltose (malt sugar)
  • Wine coolers (malt based)
  • Yeast extract (derived from barley)

Other Names for Rye:

  • Dark rye flour
  • Medium rye flour
  • Pumpernickel flour
  • Pumpernickel meal
  • Rye grain
  • Rye flour
  • Rye meal
  • Secale cereal* – Latin for rye 
  • Triticale
  • White rye flour
  • Whole grain rye flour

Other Names for Oats:

  • Avena sativa* – Latin for oats 

“WOW! That’s a lot,” I hear you say. Yes. Yes, it is. Your best bet is to just memorize as many as you can. This gets easier over time. You can do this. Once you have the names of gluten locked in, you’ll be able to tell at a glance whether something is safe for you or not.

And yes, there are apps that can do some of this work for you, but the apps are fallible. They frequently take information from manufacturers, who may or may not know what gluten is. If you know what is safe for you, and read your labels, you can be your own best advocate.

So take a deep breath. You got this. I believe in you.

And, as always, stay strong and keep reading your labels!
If you think that companies and manufacturers should do a better job of labeling safe foods, I agree with you! So does Celiac.org. Head over to their Take Action page to find out about US national bills being discussed in legislation. Tell your representatives they need to support these bills, and tell them your story so that they understand why. You can find out what the bills are and how to contact your representatives here: https://celiac.org/flma/ And under their related links section, they also list off other bills that could be useful to all of us.