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Understanding Labels and Certifications To Determine If Food Is Gluten-Free

Understanding Labels and Certifications To Determine If Food Is Gluten-Free

We’ve gotten a lot of requests from people that have been newly diagnosed as celiac or gluten–intolerant (or those that are just choosing to eat gluten-free) for some basic instructions on what to look for when evaluating foods. It can certainly be confusing and challenging for those just starting out, so we put together this article to serve as a guide. Let us know what you think and/or suggestions for improvement in the comments section below.

The “Problem” Ingredients

Let’s start with the more “obvious” gluten sources. Avoiding these will eliminate the vast majority of potential gluten sources. These include: Wheat, Barley, Rye, and Oats (do not eat oats unless they are certified gluten-free and stated as such on the label). Also, any variation of these, such as wheat starch, wheat germ, malted barley, etc. are off limits. FYI – anything malted is no good, that includes malted milk chocolates! At this point, you’re probably asking – “Ok, what does this mean in real life – what products do I have to avoid?”

The Basic Foods To Avoid

Standard breads and “bread-like” stuff (bagels, English muffins, pastries), pastas, conventional oatmeal , standard doughs, standard flours all contain gluten and are a no-go. However, do keep in mind that there are gluten-free varieties for many of these things and options here are growing quickly. Foods that can be tricky include: semolina, farina, bulgur, spelt, couscous and you will want to avoid those. Taking it a step further, some canned soups, frozen meals, some veggie/vegan prepared meat substitutes can pose problems – you really need to read the labels on these items…which brings us to our next item…label reading.

How To Read Labels To Determine Gluten-Free Status

By law, companies must declare when a product contains wheat. Check the label, it will say “wheat” in the ingredient list and then will probably say “contains wheat “ at the end of the ingredient list. For example, look at a bottle of soy sauce, it will likely say “contains wheat and soy” at the end of the ingredient list. To save yourself some time, don’t read the entire ingredient list trying to decode “guar gum, maltodextrin, modified food starch” just yet – we’ll do that only if we need to. For now, just go to the end of the ingredient list and look for “contains: X” If the product states it contains wheat, then you can immediately put it back since it contains gluten. If it does not contain wheat then you can go to the next step of reading the rest of the ingredients. Good news: 90% of the time, wheat is going to be the gluten culprit. Bad news: a product can be wheat-free and still contain gluten from barley, rye, or oats, and hence, contain gluten.


As you may have read, the FDA just established a rule stating that food must be less than 20 ppm (parts per million) gluten content to qualify as gluten-free. We cover this topic more in-depth in a previous posting.

Certified Gluten-Free: This is a safest and best way of knowing that the product is less than 10 PPM gluten and safe to eat. Note: all of our products are made in our own certified gluten-free facility.

Other Gluten-Free “Certifications”: What about when a product says gluten-free but it is not officially certified as gluten-free? In general, these products should be OK, but many times you have to do more research which may involve actually contacting the company for more information. Also, you may want to check out our ever-growing Gluten-Free Food List where we are working on building a library of food items and assigning them a gluten-free confidence score.

Gluten-free is the recognized standard term so what do terms like “no gluten ingredients”, “no gluten ingredients used”, “gluten-free ingredients”, “no gluten” , “free of gluten”, “zero gluten”, and “without gluten” mean? Good question – I don’t know, only the companies that make those products can tell you. I have seen reputable companies use the “no gluten” line, but this category seems to be a place for companies to hang out in the gray area. Be wary of these labels and ask the company what the label means. After all, why not just say gluten-free, if it really is gluten-free?

Made In A Facility That Also Processes Wheat: I look at other “gluten-free” bars all the time in stores and came across a bar that had big lettering on the front “Gluten-Free Ingredients”. I thought I might try it…always good to check out new flavors and products so I turned it over to read the back panel, and it said “made on equipment shared with wheat products”. Now, if you made regular wheat spaghetti in boiling water, then drained out the spaghetti and used that same water to boil gluten-free spaghetti, would that be OK for your gluten-free friend for dinner? Nope…that’s why I call that label misleading and inaccurate. FYI: someone must have caught on because this company changed their label and eliminated the “no gluten ingredients” claim. Bottom line: if a product claims it is gluten-free but on the label it says that it is “made in a facility that also processes wheat” then if you are celiac or gluten-intolerant you should probably avoid this item as chances for cross-contamination are very high. Read our full blog posting on this subject for more in-depth info.

You should now be armed and ready with the basics to out into our gluten-full world…it may be intimidating at first, but in time things will get easier and you will learn a lot about ingredients and your health along the way…

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Post a comment!