When first transitioning to a gluten free diet, it can be hard to know what you can and can’t eat. But I’m here to tell you, after a few months of practice, it will be become second nature. You’ll be able to browse the grocery store shelves and pick things out without even having to stop and read the label.
There are, however, a few categories of food where gluten loves to hide. The good news, once you learn which foods you need to be careful of, those too will become second nature! While the list below is not exhaustive, I hope it can be a good start for anyone starting out on a gluten free diet, and a good reminder to anyone already eating gluten free.
I also include a section on hidden sources of gluten in my Ultimate Guide to Living Gluten Free (and Loving It!). Happy reading!
Hands down, the #1 the most unassuming and prevalent source of hidden gluten is soy sauce. Unfortunately for those of us on a gluten free diet, soy sauce is a super common ingredient used in sauces, salad dressings and premade foods, and is widely used in restaurants. The good news? Tamari, a gluten free soy sauce alternative, tastes IDENTICAL to the real thing and is gaining in popularity. Coconut aminos are another, healthier alternative, that can be found is just about any grocery store.
While I’m personally holding out hope that food manufactures and restaurants give soy sauce the boot and switch to using tamari in their products and recipes, in the meantime, be on the lookout for this ingredient when at the grocery store or dinning out. It’s commonly found in teriyaki and other premade sauces but I have also seen it used as a flavoring in less assuming places such as rice crackers, tofu and frozen veggies. Speaking of sauces….
Premade Sauces & Dressings
Soy sauce isn’t the only glutenous ingredient likely to be hiding in your favorite premade sauce. Wheat starch and flour are common thickening agents used in sauces making them an unsafe choice for a gluten free diet. Gluten, after all, is essentially the glue that binds food together.
For this reason, anytime you are picking up a sauce, marinade, or dressing, flip the bottle over and check the ingredients. These foods, gluten free or not, are notorious for being packed with inflammatory oils and added sugars you want to keep out of your diet anyway. So, if you find that a sauce is gluten free, you might still find yourself putting it back on the grocery store shelves when you realize the first and second ingredient are canola oil and cane sugar.
I love cereal! I could eat if for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So, you better believe I have combed the cereal aisle top to bottom looking for gluten free cereal options. In recent years, the cereal market has been flooded with healthier, low sugar and grain free options, making it easier than ever to find gluten free options. There are however, quite a few options that you might assume are gluten free but actually are not. Rice Crispies, for example, would appear to be a safe choice. After all, rice is gluten free. However, if you check the label, you’ll see malt listed as an ingredient making them off limits for a GF diet.
Another ingredient to lookout for in cereal is oats. Tons of companies use this as their main ingredient. So, unless the company is specifically using gluten free oats, the cereal won’t be gluten free. In any case, check the label and specifically look for the words “gluten free” just to be sure. Speaking of oats….
In the world of gluten free, not all oats are created equal. While oats are naturally gluten free, they are often grown in a way that leads to cross contamination. From oatmeal and breakfast bars to crackers, granola and baked goods, oats are a super common ingredient in today’s diet. As mentioned above, unless the oats are specifically labelled as being gluten free, don’t eat them. After all, there are plenty of gluten free oat options available.
This hidden source of gluten took me a bit longer to figure out than I would like to admit. After all, potatoes are gluten free, so why wouldn’t potato chips be?? What I’ve come to learn is plain potato chips are almost always gluten free. Where things get dicey is when they start adding flavors. For example, barbecue flavored chips often have gluten hiding in the ingredients. Also be on the lookout for chips not made from potatoes or corn. For example, Pringles contain wheat starch and Sun Chips are directly derived from wheat. As such, these two options are unfortunately off limits for a gluten free.
The good news: I would say 90% of the chip aisle is gluten free. But I would caution you not to assumptions based on what should be gluten free. Check the label just to be sure.
Word of advice to the sushi lovers out there, imitation crab, sometimes spelled krab, is not gluten free! So that California Roll that you love so dearly is worth giving a second look. If you see the words “artificial”, “imitation” or “seafood mix”, be skeptical. These foods use wheat as filler making them not gluten free. Once you learn the difference, you’ll be able to spot imitation crab just by looking at it. When dining out, make sure to specify that you want real crab. It’s more expensive and much less widely used than its gluten containing counterpart. But you can rest assured that your meal will be GF and whole lot tastier than the imitation stuff you might not have even realized you have been eating.
My goal for this article is to set readers up for success who are pursuing a gluten free diet. After all, if you are going out of your way to eat gluten free, I would hate for you to be undoing your efforts because there are hidden sources of gluten hiding in your seemingly gluten free foods. While this article focused on what not to eat (I hate being a negative Nancy), please know there are TONS of gluten free options within each of the categories of food listen above. Just because you need to be on the lookout for gluten hiding in some places in your diet, that doesn’t mean it still can’t be easy and enjoyable to live gluten free.
Interested in learning more about adopting a gluten free lifestyle? I highly recommend you check out my guide, The ULTIMATE Guide to Living Gluten Free (and Loving It!). And follow me on Instagram @JUICEDBLOG for more JUICED content.