Thursday, June 9, 2011
Reading Labels: Being a Label Detective and Finding Hidden Gluten
I decided to write this post after being asked by many friends and readers the same question.
"How do you know what to look for when reading labels?"
There are certain products on the market that claim to be Gluten-Free in great big letters on the front of the box, yet people are still getting glutened from these products. You need to be a "Label Detective", which simply means read the label, all of it, even the small print.
Your best protection against getting accidentally glutened by one of these bandwagon jumping, fad following, unregulated labeling, products is arming yourself with knowledge and information and reading the labels completely.
Watch out for misinformation when Googling ingredients also. Some sites claim that for instance, maltodextrin (one of my "red flag" ingredients) is gluten free. Further reading will say probably gluten free, or should be gluten free, or gluten free if made in the USA.
This all means one thing to me. When in doubt, leave it out. Better safe than sorry.
Shawn and I shop simply and purchase products using two major golden rules.
1: "If my great grandmother would not recognize it as a natural food source, we don't buy it."
2: "If it has any of my red flag ingredients, we don't buy it."
You may be asking yourself "What are these red flag ingredients?". Well, read on....
Red Flag Ingredients
Maltodextrin - It could or it couldn't. When in doubt leave it out.
Modified food starch (unless stated in parentheses following that it is not wheat) - Unnamed source could
Spices - What a scary nonspecific ingredient.
Natural Flavorings - Again scary and nonspecific (roasted barley is a common natural flavoring)
Artificial Color - It might, It might not.
Caramel Color - Depending on it's origin, it could be made from barley.
Enzymes - Could be wheat if not specified.
Soy Sauce - Depends on the manufacturer so unless stated it is to be avoided.
Teriyaki - *see soy sauce
Smoke Flavoring - Run away fast.
Hydrolyzed or Hydrogenated - These two words I avoid altogether.
Pure Vanilla Extract - I avoid this unless stated as gluten free source. See a previous 2 part post I wrote
Anything with the word Malt.
Artificial Vanilla - Eeeeek!!
Of course avoid the obvious, Wheat, Rye, Barley, and Oats unless the oats are stated to be certified gluten free oats.
Be particularly wary of foods that state in giant letters on the front of the package GLUTEN-FREE, then in small print say either "Manufactured on shared equipment with wheat." or "Processed in a facility that also processes wheat." This is a red flag for cross contamination. You may or may not get sick eating these products so why risk it? Trader Joe's labels most of their gluten-free foods with "No gluten ingredients were used to make this product." , However, reading on it says "Manufactured on shared equipment or in a facility that also processes wheat." RED FLAG!!!
Also, the allergen warnings do not always warn about the sources of ingredients used, sometimes it is just warning if the allergen such as wheat is an ingredient by itself.
This isn't intended to be an end all beat all comprehensive list. This is simply the red flag ingredients and keywords that I look for when scanning labels in the grocery store. Shawn very very rarely gets glutened anymore and when he does, it's usually traced to cross contamination when we eat out.
I hope this helps, even a little bit.