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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Is Gluten Hiding On Your Dinner Plate

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist -
Aug 2, 2014 - 2:10:13 PM

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( - It is estimated that 1 in 141 Americans ( have celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes damage to the intestinal tract when gluten is eaten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is estimated as many as 18 million additional Americans may suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) but the actual prevalence of this condition is unknown as many people self-diagnose. This creates a huge market for gluten-free products. Foods labeled gluten-free are obvious but many other foods, thought to be free of gluten, may actually contain ingredients that could cause a gluten-sensitive person a good deal of discomfort.

Vinegar -- The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness ( recently addressed the confusion about vinegar and gluten avoidance. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity distilled vinegar is OK and can be used. The vinegar distillation process breaks down and eliminates any gluten protein fragments. If you are still concerned, rice, apple cider and wine vinegars are gluten-free. Malt vinegar, made by fermenting barley, should be avoided.

Oats -- Though oats are gluten-free, oat crops are often rotated with barley. Leftover barley kernels may contaminate the oat crop. Be sure the oats you use are from a certified gluten-free source.

Soy sauce -- Traditional soy sauces are fermented with soybeans plus 40 to 60% wheat. Look for brands like San-J Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce ( which is naturally gluten-free because it is made with 100% non-genetically modified soybeans. Soy sauce is a common ingredient in many marinades and sauces so it is important to read labels when shopping or ask your waitstaff when eating out.

Gravy - Those made in a restaurant may be based in a traditional roux which is a flour butter mixture. Brands sold in the grocery store may be thickened with flour or they could be cornstarch based. Again, label reading or asking questions about menu items is important.

Processed meat and seafood - Hamburgers labeled 100% ground beef are gluten-free but many hamburger patties, meatloaf, and meatballs have wheat-based breadcrumbs added. Imitation crab meat often found in seafood salads and California-style sushi rolls may contain gluten. The same goes for processed deli meats.

Vegetarian meats - Many meat alternatives are based in seitan, an ingredient made from wheat gluten. Veggie burgers and sausages may have flour or breadcrumbs added. Though tofu is gluten-free, if it is fried or marinated in soy sauce it is not.

Soups - Noodles and barley are typical soup ingredients. Both contain gluten. If you purchase or order a cream soup, check to see what thickening ingredients have been used.

Potatoes - Fresh potatoes are gluten-free but potato chips may be flavored with malt vinegar or preformed chips may contain wheat starch. Many restaurant fries are coated with wheat to make them fry up crispier and the frying oil may be a source of cross-contamination if it is used to fry other menu items that are breaded or contain flour.

Eggs - Fresh eggs are gluten-free but scrambled eggs in a restaurant may have a little pancake batter added to make them cook up light and fluffy. The frying grill may cause cross-contamination it is also used to make toasted sandwiches, French toast or pancakes.

Words such as fried, coated, crispy or crusted are signals that gluten or wheat may be part of the ingredient list. Malt in any form - malt flavoring, malt vinegar, malt extract or malt syrup - is a signal that barley, a gluten containing grain, is present.

Researchers ( that have looked at gluten-free labeled foods found that many still contained more than the 20 ppm (parts per million) level of gluten allowed by the FDA gluten-free labeling rule. The gluten came from cross-contamination because the foods were not processed in a gluten-free designated facility.

You Should Know - Starting in August 2014 all food manufacturers must comply with the FDA's August 2013 gluten free definition ( All foods labeled gluten-free, without gluten, free of gluten or no gluten must have no more than 20 ppm gluten in a serving.

Bottom line: It takes both vigilance and careful label reading to eat a gluten-free diet.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed., 2014

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, 2014

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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