Learn what gluten is, what it’s in, various words that mean “gluten,” and a list of foods that contain gluten. When eating a gluten-free diet, knowing how to avoid gluten is crucial! Download a free list of what to lookout for on nutrition labels, and which foods tend to contain gluten.
When transitioning to a gluten-free diet, it can feel absolutely overwhelming to know what you can and cannot eat.
Especially when “gluten” feels so elusive. How are you supposed to avoid gluten when you don’t know what gluten is?
When I first started eating a gluten free diet, I really did not understand what gluten even WAS, which, as tends to happen with unknowns, scared me.
Gluten isn’t something we talk about all the time.
I never had a class in school talking about gluten and what it even is, let alone what it’s found in.
So let’s go to gluten school.
As Maria says, let’s start at the very beginning…
What is gluten?
Gluten is a storage protein found in certain grains (barley, wheat, and rye).
It’s not just in one part of the grain, but is all throughout it. There’s no part of these grains that can just be separated out. In foods, gluten actually acts like a glue, and helps food hold it’s shape. It adds that beautiful chewiness and soft texture to things like bread and pastries.
What is gluten in?
Gluten is in these three grains:
I want to say that again. Gluten is a protein ONLY found in barley, wheat, and rye.
You will not pick up a bag of romaine lettuce and have it contain gluten. You won’t find gluten in a bag of jasmine rice. And that block of cheese does not have gluten, either. Nope.
But where a lot of confusion comes in is when you realize there are many things that contain wheat, barley, and rye, without using those specific words.
Here is a list of ingredients that are made from or contain wheat, barley, and/or rye:
- Wheat bran
- Wheat starch
- Malt–including malted milk, malted vinegar, and malted barley (typically used in beer)
Triticale is a grain that is a cross between wheat and rye. It also contains the gluten protein, since it is hybrid of glutenous grains.
Now that we know what gluten is and what it is in, I want to talk about where you will often find these glutenous ingredients.
When I started eating gluten-free, I was halfway through eating mint Mentos before realizing that they contain wheat.
Since then I’ve found a bunch of foods that will likely contain gluten and are always worth double checking the nutrition labels before enjoying.
These are foods that commonly contain gluten from either wheat, barley, or rye
- Battered fish
- Bread crumbs, and foods that contain them like meatloaf or frozen macaroni dinners
- Breaded meats
- Boxed potato and rice skillets
- Chewy candy, even including some mints and gum
- Canned chili
- Cheesecake (wheat is used within many cheesecakes as a thickener and to help it set)
- Chicken patties (some grind meat with wheat as a filler)
- Chips with a flavored seasoning
- Creamed soups
- Frozen french fries
- Frozen hash browns
- Ice cream that contains dough or cake bits
- Licorice candy
- Teriyaki sauce
- Sausages and processed meats
- Seasoning packets
- Soy sauce (most soy sauce is made from 60-80% wheat, with very little soy, because wheat is cheaper. However, tamari is 100% made from soy and is therefore gluten-free)
Are oats gluten-free?
There is often confusion about oats when people switch to a gluten-free diet.
But here’s the truth: Oats themselves are gluten-free.
If you were to just pick an oat grain and chew on it, you’d be fine. The problem with most oats, including quick oats, is that they are flattened and rolled with wheat flour. You can buy gluten-free oats, where they roll them with a rice flour, or other gluten-free flour.
If you have celiac disease, you must buy specially rolled oats.
If you’re gluten-sensitive, you might be fine with regular oats because there are only very small traces of gluten on them.
However, if you see “oats” in the ingredients list on a food item, you’ll want to look to see if it’s certified gluten free. Otherwise it most likely has a small trace of gluten. Again, if you’re gluten-sensitive, it might be fine for you. But for those with celiac disease, it’s certainly not safe.
I have had many people ask me if maltodextrin is glutenous, so let’s talk about it briefly here.
Maltodextrin is confusing since it has the word “malt” in it, but it is not derived from barley. Maltodextrin is often derived from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat. However, it is highly, highly processed, undergoing rigorous hydrolysis. Because of this process, even maltodextrin derived from wheat is gluten-free. However, maltodextrin has a high glycemic index, meaning it can spike your blood sugar. It’s used as a cheap filler in foods, and is best avoided for health reasons, even if it’s not glutenous reasons.