How to Spot Common Sneaky Foods That Contain Gluten (2023)

How to Spot Common Sneaky Foods That Contain Gluten (1)

If you're following a gluten-free diet to treat celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you know that gluten—the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, or any foods that have a combination of those grains—are off limits. But going gluten-free takes more than just saying "no" to the bread basket or a bowl of pasta. Gluten can be found in many foods you'd least suspect, such as flavored ice creams, deli meats, and even soy sauce.

"Wheat isn't the only thing people should look for in ingredients labels. Look out for spelt, semolina, kamut, barley, rye, and malt, since all of these terms also indicate gluten," says Anne Roland Lee, EdD, RDN, LD, assistant professor of nutritional medicine in the celiac disease center at Columbia University.

In fact, many products use varieties of wheat to create thickeners and flavorings for foods. For example, malt comes in various forms, like malted barley flour and malt syrup, and can be found in candies, chocolates, milkshakes, and even protein bars.

How can you tell if a packaged food is gluten-free?

Foods with a gluten-free label are required to have less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten, according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). But it's best to always read the ingredients list of foods carefully and keep eye out for sources of gluten. While some packaged foods will list wheat as an allergen found in the product, along with soy, egg, nuts, and milk, barley and rye aren't required to be on the list. That's why it's important to read the ingredients list for these hidden sources of gluten.

To help you avoid gluten at all costs, we put together a list of surprising foods that are common culprits of this problematic protein.


Sauces, condiments, and gravy

How to Spot Common Sneaky Foods That Contain Gluten (2)

Pre-made sauces and condiments might have traces of wheat or wheat starch to help thicken the texture and add flavor. In fact, "alt can also be added as a flavoring for some barbecue sauces and taco seasoning," Lee says.

Some cream-based pasta sauces, like Alfredo and mac and cheese, may also use wheat flour to create a roux with milk and butter. Moreover, many canned gravy that goes over turkey meat might have wheat flour as a thickener.



How to Spot Common Sneaky Foods That Contain Gluten (3)

A variety of gluten-containing grains are used to prepare beer and aren't distilled from it at the end of the brewing process, so most beers out there aren't gluten-free unless they're explicitly labeled. That means lagers, stouts, IPAs, and malt beverages are sadly off limits for people with celiac disease, but wine, hard liquor, and distilled alcoholic beverages are gluten-free.

But Lee points out that people with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity should also avoid gluten-removed beers. "Gluten-removed beers are brewed with gluten-containing grains and then undergo a process to remove the gluten. But there are a lot of questions about how much gluten they actually remove, so it's best to avoid these beers altogether," Lee says. You also want to watch out for cider ales. While hard cider doesn't have gluten, cider ales are ciders combined with an ale, which is brewed with gluten-containing grains.


Deli meats

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Yup, there might be traces of gluten in processed and cured deli meats, like ham and salami, so be sure to read the ingredients labels carefully and look out for derivatives of wheat, rye, or barley. However, Lee says that there are many gluten-free deli meat options available at the grocery these days. Enjoy organic lean protein, such as grilled chicken and turkey, in your sandwiches. "But more importantly, I advise my patients to make their own sandwiches at home because ordering a sandwich at a deli increases your risk of consuming gluten from cross-contamination," Lee says.

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Granola bars

How to Spot Common Sneaky Foods That Contain Gluten (5)

Many store-bought granola bars and energy balls contain oats, millet, amaranth, and other whole grains. Additionally, granola bars may contain malt extract or use malt syrup as a sweetener, Lee says. So unless it's specifically labeled gluten-free, there's a risk you're consuming this problematic protein in some granola bars and snacks.



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While candies and chocolate are loaded with sugar and fat, many of them also have malt and malt extract, which derives from barley—a gluten-containing grain. "Some chocolates in Europe won't have malt, but the same ones here in the U.S. actually use malt," Lee says. If you're craving something sweet, the Celiac Disease Foundation created a list of gluten-free candies, which include Annie's Homegrown and Hershey's chocolate bars.


Soy sauce

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Soy sauce contains wheat, and soy-based meat alternatives, like veggie burgers, use grains and oats. They may also use malt flavoring. Fortunately, many soy sauce brands now have gluten-free varieties so be sure to read labels properly to ensure you're picking up the right one.

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Canned soups

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Be wary of canned soups that are cream-based or have a thicker consistency, like New England clam chowder, as they may use flour. There are also pre-made soups that contain white pasta, barley, farro, and other gluten-containing whole grains. "Many people forget that minestrone has pasta in it and lentil soups often have barley," Lee says.


Scrambled eggs

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While eggs are naturally gluten-free, some restaurants and diners are notorious for adding pancake batter in their scrambled eggs and other egg dishes to give them their fluffy texture. To avoid ingesting any gluten when dining out, ask your waiter how your eggs are prepared before ordering.


Salad dressings

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Many salad dressings use malt vinegar because it adds flavor and depth. To avoid malt, prepare your own salad dressing at home, using apple cider vinegar, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Or, try one of these delicious and flavorful Whole30-approved recipes.

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Flavored potato chips

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Potato chip seasonings may include malt vinegar or wheat starch for flavoring. "Flavored chips like salt and vinegar and nacho cheese may potentially use wheat flour to hold the flavoring, or malt as a flavor itself. Some potato chips also use soy sauce," Lee says.

Instead, make your own healthy version of potato chips at home by thinly slicing sweet potatoes and adding your favorite seasonings, like rosemary, garlic, thyme, and black pepper. Then, lightly drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil and bake them in the oven until they're lightly browned and crisp. Check out this Green Goddess Dip With Vegetables and Homemade Pita Chips recipe for cooking inspiration.

How to Spot Common Sneaky Foods That Contain Gluten (12)

Tiffany Ayuda

Tiffany Ayuda, a senior editor at Prevention and certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise, has specialized in fitness, health, and general wellness topics in her previously editorial roles at Life by Daily Burn, Everyday Health, and South Beach Diet. Tiffany’s work has also appeared in the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, PopSugar Beauty, Yahoo! Health, Health, and NBC News Better. When she’s not running or breaking a sweat with HIIT, Tiffany is cooking up healthy meals in her Brooklyn kitchen.


What foods have sneaky gluten? ›

Here's a shortlist of sneaky gluten sources to be wary of:
  • Oats. ...
  • Granola Bars and Granola. ...
  • Lunch Meat. ...
  • Eggs At Restaurants. ...
  • Tortilla Chips at Restaurants. ...
  • Fast Food and Restaurant French Fries. ...
  • Soy Sauce. ...
  • Sour Cream.
Sep 12, 2017

How can you know if a food contains gluten? ›

When you are buying processed foods, you need to read labels to determine if they contain gluten. Foods that contain wheat, barley, rye or triticale — or an ingredient derived from them — must be labeled with the name of the grain in the label's content list.

Where is gluten hidden in ingredients? ›

If you're trying to follow a gluten-free diet, you need to be aware of ways gluten can be hidden in foods. This includes products containing wheat, barley, or rye. Less obvious gluten-containing ingredients include natural and artificial flavorings, hydrolyzed proteins, and additives made of wheat.

What are clues to gluten sensitivity? ›

Itchy elbows, knees, buttocks and the back of the neck has been associated with gluten sensitivity. Joint pain or numbness. Chronic joint pain and tingling and numbness in the fingers, arms or legs are clear signs of a health issue. In those with a gluten sensitivity, it happens frequently for no apparent reason.

What foods surprisingly have gluten in them? ›

Foods Containing Gluten
  • Beer, ale and lagers.
  • Bouillon cubes.
  • Brown rice syrup.
  • Candy.
  • Chips.
  • Communion wafers.
  • Couscous.
  • Deli meats.
Aug 7, 2020

Do potatoes mimic gluten? ›

A potato in its raw form does not contain gluten.

Potatoes are not grains, but they are a starchy vegetable, so it's easy to see why they might get confused with other starches.

What food is highest in gluten? ›

Foods made from grains, especially wheat, such as oats, bread, pasta, cereal, and pizza contain the highest amount of gluten.

Does oatmeal have gluten? ›

Yes, pure, uncontaminated oats are gluten-free. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration considers oats a gluten-free grain under its gluten-free labeling regulations and only requires that packaged products with oats as an ingredient contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten overall.

Does cheese have gluten? ›

While most cheeses by themselves do not contain gluten, foods that contain cheese as one ingredient may not be gluten-free, so you should always read the label. Cheesecake is not gluten-free (unless specified on the label) because the crust is made with wheat flour.

Do potato chips have gluten? ›

But are they gluten-free? Here's the short answer: For the most part, yes, potato chips are gluten-free. After all, potatoes are naturally gluten-free, and most potato chips have a simple ingredient list that includes potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt.

Does peanut butter have gluten? ›

It's important to know that peanuts, peanut butter, peanut flour and peanut oil are considered naturally gluten-free foods. Gluten is a form of protein found in wheat, barley and rye (2).

Do tortilla chips have gluten? ›

Most tortilla chips are free of gluten. Most often, crushed corn, which is inherently gluten-free, is used to make tortilla chips. One can produce these chips using white, yellow, or blue corn. Other products, however, could combine corn and wheat flour, making them not gluten-free.

How long after eating gluten do symptoms start? ›

If you're extremely sensitive to even trace amounts of gluten, you may experience symptoms within minutes of ingestion – similar to an allergy. In many cases, however, symptoms don't develop until one to twelve hours after exposure. For some, symptoms take days or even weeks to manifest.

What is often mistaken for gluten intolerance? ›

The symptoms of gluten intolerance may also resemble those of a wheat allergy or intestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Experts estimate that 10–15% of adults in the U.S. have IBS symptoms.

What is a gluten belly? ›

Gluten belly, also known as wheat belly, is a common phrase that refers to stomach swelling after eating gluten as a result of bloating. Along with bloating, one may also develop symptoms such as stomach pain, flatulence, or irregular bowel movements.

What food should gluten-free avoid? ›

If you have coeliac disease, do not eat the following foods, unless they're labelled as gluten-free versions:
  • bread.
  • pasta.
  • cereals.
  • biscuits or crackers.
  • cakes and pastries.
  • pies.
  • gravies and sauces.

Do eggs have a lot of gluten? ›

In their natural state, in the shell, eggs are completely free of gluten as are most of the further processed egg ingredients, such as liquid whole eggs, egg yolks and egg whites.

What other foods should celiacs avoid? ›

Avoid einkorn, emmer, spelt, kamut, wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, cracked wheat, and hydrolyzed wheat protein. Stay away from emulsifiers, dextrin, mono- and di-glycerides, seasonings, and caramel colors because they can contain gluten. Check the labels of all foods.

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