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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reading Labels: Gluten

It is very tricky to eat out as a celiac or someone with a wheat allergy, and I generally recommend against it unless it's something that isn't cooked (a salad, for example), or it's at a restaurant that has a menu dedicated to people with a gluten intolerance. Even Red Robin has a gluten free menu now, but it doesn't necessarily mean that those french fries weren't fried in the same fryer as breaded onion rings. When my husband and I eat out, I usually opt for sushi bars with vegan options or vegan restaurants - many in this area are very conscientious about allergies.

Grocery shopping is also tricky, and it is absolutely crucial that people with allergies ready every label. Products can change ingredients or manufacturing guidelines, so it's important to recheck if you haven't bought the product in a while. Manufacturers aren't really required to list whether or not something shares equipment (although thankfully many reputable brands do), so a phone call or searching the company website doesn't hurt.

Gluten can be found in several grains and grain like products (1):

* wheat (a.k.a Bulgar, dinkle, spelt, durum, emmel, einkorn, fu, kamut, semolina, wheat germ, wheat berry, wheat nut)
* pastry flour, cake flour, pasta flour
* barley
* rye
* triticale (rye/wheat hybrid)
* Beer, ale, and most hard alcohol is derived from glutenous grains

Tricky products/derivatives are (1):

* couscous
* edible starch (often derived from wheat)
* farina
* gliadin
* gluten
* gluten peptides
* glutenin
* graham flour
* matzo, matzah, or matza
* MIR. (wheat and rye cross)
* Seitan
* wheat grass - may or may not cause a problem

Even trickier ingredients include (2):

* Binder or binding
* An ingredient with the word "Cereal"
* Filler
* Flour
* Gum base
* Hydrolyzed wheat protein
* Anything with the word "starch"
* Thickener or thickening agent

These items can be found in food product labels you find at the grocery store. When at a restaurant or bakery, it is nearly impossible to find gluten free fare - and honestly it's usually safest if you stick to home made, whole foods that are not pre-packaged.

If you must eat out, be aware that wheat is often used in (I've included some non-vegan items for those of you not a plant based diet - the vegan alternatives of these also often have gluten):
* many meat products or imitation meats, as a binder
* condiments
* marinara
* Alfredo (includes tofu versions)
* sauces
* gravy (includes mushroom gravy)
* soy sauce
* teriyaki sauce
* soups (as a thickener)
* stuffings/dressings

And of course breads, muffins, bagels, doughnuts, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, bread sticks, doughs, pot stickers, miso, wontons, noodles, crusts, and croutons. Even tempura is usually mixed with a pastry or cake wheat flour. It is easy for the wait staff to not be aware or not remember that something has a small amount of wheat flour in it.

If you are gluten intolerant, Oats may or may not be suitable depending on the extent of your sensitivity. Oats are commonly used as a rotation crop with wheat. They are usually grown in adjacent fields, stored in the same storage areas, and processed using the same equipment. There are farmers who are dedicated to growing gluten free certified oats that are not grown with wheat - but some people still may react to the grain. It is important to search for certified gluten free oats and try a small amount and watch for any reaction.

Be aware that many cosmetic products contain gluten. Makeup, hairspray, lotion, toothpaste, soaps, and other personal care products often contain gluten as a binder. I've gotten stomach cramps from getting too big of a whiff of my husband's pancake batter flour or hairspray really doesn't take much to set some people off!

Research Sources:

1. "Grains and Flours Glossary." Celiac Sprue Association March 24, 2009.
December 11, 2009

2. Fletton, Helen. "Wheat by any other name." March 8, 2005.
December 11, 2009

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