Gluten is obviously contained in items mainly made from wheat such as regular bread and wheat-based breakfast cereals. Less obviously it may also be used as a thickener in many processed products such as salad dressings and soy sauce and may even make its way into the spices that you cook with.
To add to the challenge, derivatives of wheat such as modified food starch or dextrin may also contain gluten. Confusingly, malt-containing ingredients such as malt vinegar and barley malt extract will contain gluten whereas maltodextrin does not, even though it sounds as though it should.
Much more difficult to track down and eliminate in our experience are the less obvious potential contamination, the type that arises when foods that are naturally gluten-free such as nuts and dried fruits pick up small amounts of cross-contamination when processed on lines of production shared with gluten containing products. For example, some types of oats may not contain gluten but they are often processed in grain facilities shared with wheat and barley and through that become tainted.
Gluten is also found in very unlikely places such as in lip balms and the ‘glue’ used to seal envelopes as well as flavourings added to many products. Inadequate signposting often exacerbates the risks of using these.
This is perhaps the main reason coeliacs often find themselves suffering the after effects of being glutened either at home or when eating out – it a hazard that requires a reasonable amount of knowledge or assiduous reading of labels to avoid, and even then something inevitably trips you up…
The articles on this site try to help those avoiding gluten navigate some of these difficulties but there are times when you will inevitably find yourself suffering the after-effects of inadvertently eating gluten. While you are dealing with that, you are likely to turn detective to try to track down the offending food so that you don’t eat it again.
Is it difficult to avoid gluten?
As gluten is present in so many processed foods it is important to check the labels or manufacturers’ websites of all such foods and to be aware that even less obvious items such as condiments like soy sauce. Many foods such as dried pulses and nuts, which are naturally gluten-free, are frequently contaminated during handling and packaging making it difficult to assume anything in a packet, tin or tub is safe to eat.
Gluten is also found in bizarre places such as in lip balms and the ‘glue’ used to seal envelopes as well as in flavourings added to many products. Inadequate labelling often exacerbates the risks associated with these.
Cross-contamination in domestic or commercial kitchens is also a potential hazard. Whilst it is possible to control that at home, much has to be taken on trust when eating out.
Read more about how to avoid cross-contamination here.
Read more about how to recognise gluten containing foods from nutritional labels Ingredients Labels 101.
Photograph by Hotch Chang.