Reading Food Labels is Essential
if you are on a gluten free diet

Reading food labels carefully to check for hidden gluten is going to be a big part of your life if you have been diagnosed with celiac or a gluten intolerance.

All manufactured foods must be labelled to tell you what ingredients are in them.

You may also find that there is a shorter panel on the product that gives allergy advice. Although Celiac is not an allergy, these can be a time saver when grocery shopping. If at a quick glance you see the words "contains gluten" then it saves you having to scour the ingredients list.

You may be lucky enough to find that a product tells you it is "safe for coeliacs", or it might even be labelled gluten free. Oh wouldn't life be easier if this was the case with every item you pick up and check?

However, I would advise you to exercise caution if the label says "no gluten ingredients". This can be used by some manufacturers who don't want to test for gluten, or where there may be a risk of cross contamination

Something else to be wary of is where there is a line of text (usually small) which mentions that it is "manufactured in premises that also handle gluten and wheat". Although the food might be totally safe, you are taking a risk if you consume it. Better to be safe than sorry in my opinion, so I avoid such foods.

Two examples of how to read food labels

Once you know that you can't eat anything with wheat flour in, some products are obviously out of bounds. Things like normal cakes, cookies, breads etc. don't necessitate reading food labels, as this type of baked goods are 99.99% likely to contain gluten.

But other foods are not so easy! Gluten can hide in sneaky places.

Let me walk you through a sample food label or two and point out the ingredients that shout DANGER!

Product 1

If you picked up a product that had the following ingredients, do you think it would be safe?

  • Glucose syrup
  • Coconut oil
  • Stabilizer
  • Milk Protein
  • Emulsifier
  • Anti caking agent
  • Color (Beta-Carotene)

Well, it certainly doesn't mention flour does it? However, if you are also lactose intolerant or follow a dairy free diet in addition to being gluten free, the milk protein would rule this out straight away.

The only ingredient that would be suspect, as far as gluten, is the glucose syrup. In the UK, where this product was bought, glucose syrup is often made from wheat. Now, personally I steer clear of this, just in case, however The European Food Safety Authority say it is "unlikely to cause an adverse reaction" for celiac sufferers.

If you also suffer from diabetes (type 1 and celiac do have a connection, as they are both autoimmune conditions) then you would need to avoid glucose syrup, ruling out this product for you I am afraid..

Stabilizers, emulsifiers and anti-caking agents are all gluten free, so no worries there. The Allergy Advice section tells us it contains milk and does not contain nuts. It doesn't mention gluten.

VERDICT: This coffee whitener is gluten free and safe to use.

Product 2

This next product has many more ingredients, but there is no need to read all of them. Why? Well let me start listing them for you...

  • Dried noodles
  • Wheat flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Tapioca Starch
  • Salt
  • Thickener (Guar gum)
  • etc....

OK, I stopped, as it already tells us that this product is a no-no!

The first ingredient is dried noodles - well unless these are rice noodles (which are normally safe) we could stop right there. Just in case we still hold out hope, the next ingredient spells it out to us that this product is definitely off the menu!

By the way, the tapioca starch and guar gum are perfectly safe on the gluten free diet, just not in combination with the noodles or wheat flour, of course!

THE PRODUCT: A tub of pot noodles

Understanding food labels

Here are some useful tips to keep in mind when reading food labels.

  • Firstly, the ingredients are listed in decreasing order of weight. Therefore if sugar, for instance, is listed first there is more of that substance in the product than any other ingredient.
  • Of course something where sugar is the main ingredient is not going to be particularly healthy! Food labels should also contain a nutrition panel, which will give you a breakdown of the protein, carbohydrate, fat, fibre and other nutrients that the food will supply.
  • You should also be able to find the manufacturers contact details, with perhaps a phone number or web site. This allows us to contact them to confirm whether a product you are not sure about, is safe for the gluten free diet or not.
  • Speciality foods for our market often have the words gluten free marked on them in an eye catching position.

Need more help?

Check out my page on how to avoid gluten, which has a list of ingredients to be wary of when reading food labels.


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