Gluten-Free Guide

Tips to find it and avoid it

Gluten-Free Guide

Are you gluten sensitive? Discover surprising foods that contain gluten and its many disguises.

The gluten-free craze doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Some people claim removing gluten from their diet makes them feel better, but for those who suffer from celiac disease (a condition where eating gluten triggers an immune response in the intestine that interferes with the absorption of nutrients) cutting out gluten is necessary to maintain their health and prevent serious illness.

Foods that contain gluten

Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. While it is widely assumed that gluten is only present in breads, pasta, crackers, pastries, and other baked goods, many other foods also routinely contain this protein. Foods such as soups, gravies, cereal, and salad dressings almost always contain gluten, and those with celiac disease should be diligent when scanning the nutrition labels associated with these items.

Sometimes gluten isn’t simply listed as such, and that’s when it gets tricky. If gluten is unintentionally ingested by those with celiac disease, it can interfere with proper recovery and prevent healing. The following ingredients translate to gluten, and should be avoided by those diagnosed with a gluten allergy or sensitivity:

  • triticum vulgare
  • triticum spelta
  • triticale
  • hordeum vulgare
  • secale cereale

Surprising foodstuffs that may contain gluten

Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious whether products contain gluten—even when we read nutrition labels. In a 2013 study, researchers concluded that many cases of non-responsive celiac disease (cases in which celiac disease patients showed no significant response in health by changing their diets) were inherently due to patients “reacting to gluten cross-contamination.”

Cross-contamination can easily occur in cooking or manufacturing of food, and there are hundreds of products that don’t raise a red flag with the average consumer. Items such as food colouring, vinegar, and beer are just a few examples of surprising foodstuffs that may contain gluten. Others include soy sauce, ice cream, communion wafers, herbal supplements, and prescription medication.

For those with celiac disease, consuming contaminated food can be a huge risk. If gluten-free foods are manufactured in a warehouse that also produces foods containing wheat, barley, or rye, then cross-contamination can occur. As with nuts, look for products that specifically indicate that they’re produced in a gluten-free facility.

Restaurants can also be tricky for those actively avoiding gluten. Jane Anderson, a medical writer who copes with celiac disease, offers these tips for successful gluten-free dining:

  • Choose a restaurant carefully.
  • Speak directly to the chef.
  • Stress concerns regarding cross-contamination with the server.
  • Question everything as it’s brought to the table.
  • Don’t take a chance if something doesn’t feel right.

Gluten in unlikely places

Although gluten is a food derivative, its binding ability makes it an ideal additive for health and beauty aids. Hydrolyzed gluten is used to create emulsifiers and stabilizers, which are widely used in the cosmetic industry. Gluten isn’t a problem if absorbed through the skin, but the accidental swallowing of a product containing gluten is a cause for concern.

Products such as lipstick, lip gloss, facial soap, mouthwash, and toothpaste may contain gluten—and are often unintentionally ingested. It’s important to ask dental hygienists about the products used in dental offices that may contain gluten, and be sure they provide gluten-free substitutes. To avoid cosmetic products that contain gluten, be diligent about reading ingredient labels, or research a line of safe gluten-free beauty products.

Is gluten-free really healthy?

Gluten sensitivities are not the only reason many of us are removing gluten from our diet. The current gluten-free fad can almost be compared to a modern-day Atkins Diet—which encouraged avoiding carbohydrates to promote weight loss. Although gluten is not present in every carb, those who choose to forgo derivatives of wheat, barley, and rye for the purpose of weight loss often achieve success.

Is avoiding gluten the answer to weight loss?

Julieanna Hever, author, nutrition columnist, and registered dietitian, emphasizes that “only people who are allergic or intolerant to gluten or who have celiac disease need to avoid it. The idea that eliminating gluten is healthier for the general population can be misleading.

“People without genuine gluten sensitivities or celiac disease likely feel better when they cut out gluten, because gluten is found predominantly in processed and refined foods. Avoiding processed and refined foods helps improve health on its own, and gluten does not deserve to be the scapegoat,” she says.

Hever also stresses that just because something claims to be gluten free, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s healthy. Gluten is often replaced by other less wholesome ingredients, and she recommends being careful when selecting gluten-free products. Processed food is usually high in sugar and fat, which explains the weight loss when these foods are cut from one’s diet.

Health is important—and today’s gluten-free products are rising to the challenge and meeting the demands of those seeking better health and a safer diet. Although it may seem daunting to navigate the modern world of gluten free, the number of people practising a gluten-free lifestyle is on the rise, and accommodating resources are growing rapidly. Just remember to always read the ingredients label, and choose your gluten-free products wisely.

Gluten cross-contamination

Gluten contamination can be dangerous for those living with gluten sensitivity. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s position on gluten cross-contamination is as follows: “Any gluten that is present due to cross-contamination in a food labelled gluten-free should be as low as reasonably achievable and must not surpass 20 ppm of gluten, a level that is considered protective for the majority of people with Celiac disease.”

The following list exemplifies easily contaminated foods and tools that anyone who suffers from gluten problems should take care to avoid.

Spreads

Peanut butter, jam, jelly, and cream cheese are examples of spreads that are often contaminated with crumbs from bread and toast containing gluten. Those living gluten free should have their own spreads clearly marked.

Oats

Grains such as oats that are grown in fields in close proximity to other grains (such as wheat) can become cross-contaminated by the wind. Purchasing oats that are clearly labelled “gluten-free” is the safe way to go.

Bulk

Foods that are sold in bulk can be easily contaminated with gluten. Because bin scoops are often interchanged between bulk bins, those with celiac disease are advised to simply avoid buying in bulk.

Buffets and potlucks

Serving utensils are often interchanged, and gluten contamination can easily occur.

Select kitchen tools

Toasters, pasta strainers, and cutting boards should be either cleaned before and after each use, or separate tools should be provided for those with gluten sensitivity.

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