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When shopping for gluten-free products at the grocery store, it’s essential to that you are an educated and knowledgeable consumer. As you might have noticed these days, grocery stores are overflowing with products labeled as “gluten-free.” Not only are the labels confusing, but sometimes the labels are misleading. Many people think, for example, that just because something is labeled gluten-free it must off clean or healthy ingredients… but this is far from true in many cases.
Gluten-Free Shopping Tips
Whether you’re on a gluten-free diet, or you occasionally buy gluten-free products, you’ll want to read my five essential gluten-free shopping tips to ensure you don’t get duped at the grocery store.
(1) Understand Gluten-Free Certifications
I have talked numerous times about my preference of supporting brands that are certified gluten-free by a trusted third party (see my blog post about Gluten Free Certifications and Seals). Many companies put their own gluten-free label or seal on their products that tout their products as “gluten-free” – but buyer beware. Such gluten-free “logos” you see on many packages are actually self-certifications designed by clever graphic designers.
The certification seal to look for, in most cases, is the GF with a circle around it. This is the gold standard certification.
This seal means the product was independently tested and verified to contain less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. The FDA requires gluten-free labeling to contain less than 20 ppm and for manufacturesr to self assess if the product is gluten-free. However, when a product bears this seal, it means it has been indepdently verified as gluten-free well below the FDA’s legal limits.
(2) Ingredients Matter
Gluten-free products come with all sorts of ingredients in them, so it’s important to be an avid label reader. Sometimes products can look gluten-free to the naked eye, but upon further investigation, you might realize that the product contains oats. Oats, while naturally gluten-free, are notoriously cross contaminated with wheat. They are grown in rotation with wheat crops, harvested on the same equipment as wheat, and stored in the same bins as wheat. If the oats are not certified gluten-free, nor does the product bear the certified gluten-free seal, it’s likely not gluten-free. (Read: Are Oats Gluten-Free?)
You’ll also want to be on the lookout for “sick” ingredients like trans fats, MSG, partially hydrogenated oils, added sugars, artificial ingredients, natural flavors, dyes and anything that sounds like it was made in a chemistry lab vs. a farm. As much as possible, choose products that contain clean ingredient lists. I love the brand Simple Mills. They display their clean ingredient list on the side of the package because they are proud of their ingredients.
(3) Beware of Junk Food
Remember, a cookie – whether gluten-free or not – is still a cookie full of sugar and white flours. Don’t be fooled. Just because it’s gluten-free doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for you. If you want to indulge in some sweet treats, go for it. Just look for gluten-free baking mixes that offer clean ingredients (like Simple Mills). Whole Note Baking Company uses whole grains in its baking mixes and ZenSweet’s baking mixes are completely sugar- and grain-free!
(4) Avoid GMOs
I believe we have a right to know what’s in our food. Specifically, we have a right to know if our food contains genetically modified ingredients. New GMO labeling laws will be in effect soon that will mandate companies to disclose if their products were made with genetic modifications. Right now, it’s hard to know, for sure, which products contain GMOs and which do not.
You can always look for products that bear the Non-GMO Verified Seal, which will assure the products do not contain GMO ingredients.
If you’re unsure if the product contains GMOs, consider that a large portion of soy and corn crops are genetically modified, so products with those ingredients typically contain GMOs unless otherwise noted.
I highly recommend you watch this video if you want to learn how GMOs might be affected your health and the livelihood of thousands of farmers in the U.S.
(5) Don’t Be Fooled By Unclear Labels
Companies spend a lot of money finding the right words to put on their packaging so they can make you believe something is health or all-natural. But do you really know what it means when a company claims a product as “healthy” or “all-natural?” Do you know the difference between cage-free, organic and free-range eggs? If you’re unsure of what these claims mean, take a look at my post about how to read food labels. It’ll help you become an expert label reader and, for lack of a better word, B-S detector!
Furthermore, when shopping for gluten-free products, you may see labels that say things like, “Manufactured in a shared facility with wheat” or “May contain traces of wheat.” These statements scream, “Eat this at your own risk.” I avoid these products because I have celiac disease and am very sensitive to even a tiny crumb of gluten. However, if you are sensitive to gluten or gluten-free by choice, you may not have to worry if a trace amount of gluten is found in a particular product. Read my post, “What Does May Contain Wheat Really Mean?” to get to the bottom of decoding this confusing and sometimes contradictory claim.
There you have it – five essential gluten-free shopping tips. Truly the best way to ensure something is gluten-free is to eat as naturally gluten-free as possible. Stick to whole, unprocessed foods without labels like fruits, vegetables, meats, seeds, nuts and beans.
When in doubt, don’t buy it and don’t eat it. It’s just not worth it. (If you really want to eat it, make sure you test it with your Nima Sensor first – promise?).