Understanding Gluten Free Food Labeling

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Navigating the grocery stores looking for gluten free products can be quite daunting at first. If you are eating gluten free because of celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a healthier choice for yourself it can be easy to become overwhelmed with knowing what you need to avoid. If you need to be on a strict gluten free diet, learning and understanding the ingredients and reading labels becomes very important.

Main Sources of Gluten

gluten-free-food-labelsEating gluten free does not only mean staying away from products that contain wheat but also avoiding all barley, rye, spelt and on some occasions oats. Gluten is a main ingredient in a lot of foods – especially the pre-packaged or convenience foods. The common sources of gluten include many home staples such as pasta, bread, cereals, soups and deserts. Ingredients where gluten is also a main component can be found in the following:

* Enriched Flour
* Germ
* Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
* Kamut
* Malt / Malt extract /malt vinegar
* Matzo
* Semolina /Semolina Triticum
* Teriyaki Sauce
* Triticum Vulgare

“Wheat Free” does not always mean “Gluten Free”

In Canada, under the labeling laws governed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, labels must be declared on all pre-packaged foods that contain the top “priority allergens” in Canada, which includes wheat. However what people avoiding gluten need to be aware of is that although a product may be free from wheat it does not necessarily mean it is gluten free because it could contain one of the other gluten-containing grains.

Hidden Sources of Gluten

One of the more difficult aspects of eating gluten free is navigating through the ingredients on a label that do not list specifically what they are made of. For instance, an ingredient listed may be something as simple as “spices” or “flavouring” never really going into detail exactly what it contains. Often times if you call up the manufacturer, those ingredients do in fact contain gluten and therefore the product is not safe to eat.

Another common source of hidden gluten in products is when a manufacturer uses something like wheat flour as part of the packaging process. For example, some product lines are dusted with flour to keep the product from sticking to the conveyor belt or tin cans are dusted with flour for the same reason.. Canadian labeling laws only require disclosure be on the label if the product contains wheat, but it is not required if it was a part of the packaging process leaving a very real possibility of accidentally coming into contact with gluten even if the ingredient label did not state a gluten source.

If you are unsure of the gluten content in a product it is better to be safe then sorry. You can always contact the company (the customer service number is usually on the packaging) and ask them if their product has gluten in the ingredients or if it is used in the packaging process. My philosophy, “when in doubt, go without” has served me quite well over the years.


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