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If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you know that there is hidden gluten lurking everywhere. It’s in products you’d normally deem “gluten-free” – only to later be surprised that those products actually contain gluten – eek!!
That’s why I am super careful about what I eat.
Over the years, I’ve learned that gluten is a hidden ingredient in so many products that don’t look like they contain wheat, barley and rye. Gluten can be hidden in things like natural flavors, malt, or modified food starch.
I’ve made my fair share of mistakes over the years, believe me!
As suggested by the word “hidden,” hidden gluten can be difficult to spot. You have to be a good consumer and avid label reader. When in doubt, don’t. There’s almost always a trusted gluten-free option and oftentimes, you can make you own gluten-free version of a food you love and/or miss.
And if you can’t find a gluten-free version of a food you love, just walk away. It’s not worth it and cheating on your gluten-free diet just makes matters worse! (Read: Don’t Cheat On Your Gluten-Free Diet)
Please be sure to make special note of these 10 surprise products that contain hidden gluten when shopping. And a leave a comment below to share what other products have surprised you because they, too, contain gluten.
10 Surprise Products that Contain Hidden Gluten
1. Soy Sauce: The name is so deceiving as you’d never suspect soy sauce contains hidden gluten. Guess what? About 40 percent of a bottle of your average soy sauce is made from wheat! Avoid this stuff like the plague or feel like you got the plague after eating it. Instead, buy gluten-free soy sauce or tamari – same taste, no wheat. Easy.
2. Imitation Crab and Bacon: Did you know that most imitation crab contains wheat? This makes dining at a sushi restaurant all the more difficult. Always ask for real crab or avoid the California Rolls altogether.
There are some brands of imitation crab that are gluten-free, such as Trans-Ocean, which you can get at Kroger stores, and Dyna Sea (which is Kosher too), but there are still many imitation crab brands are not gluten-free. For example, the imitation crab I saw at Whole Foods (I already forgot the name though) had wheat in the ingredient listing.
As for imitation bacon bits, some contain gluten so it’s important to read labels (and make sure restaurants leave it off your salad). Durkee brand clearly lists “wheat gluten” on its packaging while Hormel says its bacon bits has no gluten containing ingredients.
3. Salad Dressing: If you’re trying to eat healthy and enjoy salads, good for you. The bad news is some salad dressings contain hidden gluten. Always read labels and when in doubt, don’t. Remember, you could just make your own dressing with a little oil, vinegar, lemon squeeze, fresh minced garlic and a little S&P. Better for you and less preservatives, sugar and other crappy ingredients.
4. BBQ Sauces: I never understood how something that should contain simple, clean ingredients can contain gluten, but unfortunately some do. For BBQ sauces, check labels carefully (they change often!) and when in doubt, don’t! Few BBQ sauces are certified gluten-free by a third party gluten-free certification program.
However, some GF brands include Stubb’s BBQ (it says, “gluten-free ingredients,” and contains no high fructose corn syrup), Annie’s Naturals (website says “naturally gluten-free,” meaning no gluten ingredients) and Organicville (certified organic – nice!).
5. Licorice: Sorry GFers, Twizzlers are most certainly NOT a gluten-free product. The ingredient label clearly states it contains “enriched wheat flour,” which is shocking to many people because licorice looks like it should be gluten-free, right?
Gluten Free on a Shoestring has a gluten-free licorice recipe on her blog if you’re willing to experiment and spend some time shopping for the right ingredients. I also found gluten-free licorice made by YumEarth. It is certified GF but read the label and disclosure statements carefully. YumEarth licorice says, “Contains wheat that has been processed to allow this food to meet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for gluten-free foods.” It is certified GF – but you have to be the judge! (UPDATE: YumEarth has removed wheat from its ingredient label and changed its recipe.)
6. Gravy: Take a look at the Heinz gravy container – it clearly states wheat flour (and a slew of other crappy ingredients) on the ingredient listing. Heinz gravy is not a gluten-free product – gluten is hidden in plain sight! There are some gluten-free gravy brands, such as Simply Organic Turkey Gravy, that are safe to eat. You could always just make your own gravy too.
7. Lip Balms: Even though you don’t technically eat lip balm, it is on your lips and obviously ingested. Therefore, you must use a lip balm that is gluten-free if you’re highly sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease. The popular balm brands, like Burt’s Bees and Chapstick give convoluted answers about whether they’re gluten-free or not on their websites (I do use Burt’s Bees and have not gotten sick as it doesn’t contain any gluten ingredients).
Lip balm, lipsticks and lip glosses by Red Apple Lipstick are certified gluten-free (and awesome!). Learn more about gluten-free lip care in this post.
8. Flavored Coffees and Teas: Some flavored coffees may contain hidden gluten or come in contact with gluten during processing. Cross contamination can also occur if you use the store’s coffee grinder.
I’ve heard rumors that tea bags are sealed with wheat paste, but I haven’t been able to independently confirm this. But do check labels on tea bags as I have seen some that contain wheat – not kidding!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about coffee creamers too. International Delight says on its website that its creamers do not contain gluten. Coffee-Mate says on its website that its Natural Bliss brand does not contain gluten. Some creamers contain gluten, especially cheap brands and flavored creamers. Check labels carefully!
9. Matzah: Jewish people eat matzah, or unleavened bread, to commemorate their hasty exodus from Egypt. The Jews didn’t have time for their bread to rise before they left. While it might seem like unleavened bread wouldn’t contain wheat, matzah clearly does contains wheat flour. That’s because at the seder, Jews must eat one of the five grains mentioned in the Torah (as discussed in my Challah recipe article) in order to complete the mitzvah of eating matzah.
While you can purchase gluten-free matzah in a box, if it’s going to be eaten during Passover, make sure it contains certified GF oat flour, as that is the only one of the five mentioned grains in the Torah that Celiacs can eat and therefore complete the mitzvah of taking matzah (Jewish people will understand this). Most boxed matzah contains potato flour and no oat flour. If that happens, just abstain from performing the mitzvah or make your own gluten-free matzah using my recipe. You can read more about this topic on Chabad.org. Nothing like a little Jewish GF guilt, right?
10. Rice Krispies: You’d think a product made from rice would be gluten-free, but Kellogg’s Rice Krispies are treated with “malt flavor.” Malt comes from barley. Forget those darn Rice Krispies for good and support boutique brands like Nature’s Path Crispy Rice Cereal, Erewhon brown rice cereal, or Enjoy Life’s Crunchy Rice cereal.
11. Play Doh(TM): I know I said I had only 10 hidden gluten sources, but I had to add Play Doh to this list after the fact because so many people don’t realize that Play Doh contains wheat flour.
If your child has celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, they should play with a homemade gluten-free playdough instead. You don’t want them touching, and possibly ingesting, bits of gluten from store bought Play Doh. You can also purchase gluten-free playdough on Amazon.
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