Many folks are baffled by what products contain gluten. As I always like to say, "There is no better time in the history of humanity to be gluten-free than now!" Product labeling has been simplified and clarified, so there is no question (or at least very few) as to whether gluten is present in a product. Generally, the law requires that food labels state clearly whether a product contains gluten. That said, it is also helpful to know generally where gluten lives, and it is not always crystal clear.
In short, the easy way to remember what grains contain gluten is the acronym BROW:
Short digression: Oats are not a gluten product by nature, but Dr. Walker (AKA My GF Boyfriend), had Ruthie refrain from oats for the first year of her de-glutenization (Yes, as a matter of fact, I did make up that word. Stick around. I'll probably do it again sometime.). Oats that are grown on the same field as wheat can be "cross-contaminated" with wheat gluten, so Dr. Walker's practice has been to have patients refrain from all oats, and introduce oats after one year post-diagnosis. We have decided that gluten free oats are the only thing we want Ruthie to consume.
Okay, that wasn't really short, but you get the point.
So, knowing the grains that contain gluten, you can eliminate intuitively some larger food categories. I like to call these foods "The Usual Suspects":
- Bread (white and wheat...yes, I had to explain to some folks that white bread still contains gluten)
- Breading (think chicken fingers and other breaded goodies)
Where it starts to get a little tricky is when you think about how foods are prepared:
- French fries: Potatoes are gluten free, but if fries are fried in the same oil as chicken fingers, they cannot be consumed.
- Soy sauce: Yes, Virginia, there really is gluten in that soy sauce, unless it is La Choy. So yes, we have not consumed Chinese food from our favorite local place in three years. Thankfully, there is P.F. Chang's. But traditional Dim Sum in Chinatown? Never gonna happen for our family.
- Marinades and Spices: Pre-packaged marinades and spice packets, for reasons which elude me and countless others, contain gluten. Whoever thought that a garlic chicken marinade needed some wheat protein in it is beyond me, but I'm sure there are things I do that make no sense to some people. Anyway, read the label before dousing your favorite organic, free-range, chicken that was kissed by angels and cherubim. Or your GF cherubim will not be happy.
Then we have some items that fall into the "Are You Kidding Me?" category:
- Envelopes (specifically, the glue): No, I didn't see this one coming either. But I was reminded of the "Seinfeld" episode where George's fiance, Susan, died from licking too many envelopes. Maybe she had undiagnosed celiac?
- Imitation Crab Meat: I know, seriously, who would have thought of this? I have nothing to say.
- Hot Dogs: Fillers in many hot dog brands ("Nathan's" brand specifically comes to mind) contain gluten. However, "Hebrew National"'s hot dogs are gluten free. They indeed answer to a Higher [Gluten-Free] Authority. They also appeal to Ruthie's affinity for Judaism, which is another topic entirely.
- Chocolate made outside the United States: Wheat is used as an emulsifier in many European chocolates. Trust me. We learned the hard way.
- Malt Flavoring: This is an ingredient found in many products, such as caramel, and believe it or not (but by now I think you are catching on and believing me) Frosted Flakes and Rice Krispies.
- Maltodextrin: This is different than Malt Flavoring, and according to the experts at Children's Hospital, if the product containing it is manufactured in the U.S., it is safe to consume because it is made of corn. If manufactured outside the U.S., it probably contains wheat, and cannot be consumed.
And now for a brief announcement from my inner paralegal (my profession when I am not wearing my GF Supercape): This is list is not exhaustive and should not be construed as medical advice. Rather, I mean for it to demystify.
Coming soon....fun stuff like recipes and foods that have ALWAYS been gluten-free! We may be missing some gluten, but we never miss a meal.