15 Unexpected Foods That Contain Gluten

 by Lynette Arceneaux

Eating gluten-free may be a diet choice for some, but for the approximately 3 million Americans who have celiac disease -- and the almost 18 million more diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity -- a gluten-free diet is a health necessity. Staying completely gluten-free is not as easy as one might guess, though.


Eating gluten-free may be a diet choice for some, but for the approximately 3 million Americans who have celiac disease -- and the almost 18 million more diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity -- a gluten-free diet is a health necessity. Staying completely gluten-free is not as easy as one might guess, though. From potato chips and "gluten-free pasta" to restaurant omelets and salad dressing, you may be surprised about some of the foods that actually do contain gluten. Asking questions of restaurant staff and taking a closer look at product ingredient lists can reveal hidden gluten in the most unexpected of foods. Read on to see 15 of them!

1. Oats

While oats are technically gluten-free, some brands may be contaminated with gluten. "Cross contamination of oats happens for two common reasons," said Dr. Samantha Brody, Portland-based naturopathic physician with extensive training in nutrition and head of the website Gluten Free Portland. "One: growing the oats in close proximity to wheat, barley or rye. And two: storing oats in silos also used for other grains," Brody said. "You need to assume oats are NOT gluten-free unless they are labeled as such." The good news is that you can find gluten-free oats at most health food stores and some supermarkets including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Just make sure to check the label.

Read more: Gluten Free Rolled Oats

2. Flavored Potato Chips

"Potato chips should technically be gluten-free, but many potato chip flavorings contain gluten," said Meghan Telpner, a Toronto-based nutrition expert and author of "UnDiet: Eat Your Way to Vibrant Health." She said that even the chips that are unflavored can be a danger since chips can become cross-contaminated with gluten during processing. It seems then that your best bet is to always check the label. Lay's Barbeque Flavored Potato Chips, for example, contains malted barley flour and Hawaiian Sweet Maui Onion Kettle Style Potato Chips lists wheat gluten proteins in its ingredients. On the other hand, all Kettle brand potato chips are gluten-free and are processed in a gluten-free environment. All Popchips brand potato chips are certified gluten-free too.

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3. Chewing Gum

Even gum may not be safe from gluten. "Some brands of chewing gum use gluten-based powder to keep the gum from sticking to the wrapper," said nutrition expert Meghan Telpner. She advises checking the ingredient list for any mention of wheat, barley or other grains. To be safe, do a bit of online research before choosing a gum to find one that is explicitly described as gluten-free by the company that makes it, Telpner said. Some gums that are gluten-free include Trident and Glee Gum.

Read more: Hidden Sources of Gluten

4. Restaurant Omelets

Be cautious when ordering an omelet in a restaurant. Some restaurants, including IHOP, a major U.S.-based restaurant chain that specializes in breakfast foods, add pancake batter to their omelets to make them "extra fluffy," said Samantha Brody of Gluten Free Portland. That pancake batter, of course, will very likely have gluten in it. Talk to your server before ordering. The chef may be able to make your omelet gluten-free, with no added pancake batter or cross-contamination.

Read more: What to Order (and What to Avoid!) With Restaurant Food

5. Baking Powders

"Baking powder typically consists of 1 part baking soda, 1 part starch or flour and 2 parts cream of tartar," said Lori Langer, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist who specializes in food allergies, sensitivities, intolerances and inflammatory conditions triggered by foods. Baking powders that use corn or potato starch for the starch portion, however, are fairly plentiful, she said, so just check the package of the one you're considering.

Read more: Lori Langer, Registered Dietitian, Live Well Nutrition Consulting

6. Meatballs and Meatloaf

Most meatballs and meatloaf have bread crumbs added to them. "Bread crumbs are considered a binder," explained registered dietitian Lori Langer. They help hold the ground meat together and provide a smoother texture. When preparing your own meatballs or meatloaf, as an alternative to bread crumbs, Langer suggests using mashed potatoes and a bit of egg. "It makes for a great binder and some deliciously moist, flavorful meatloaf," she said.

Read more: Gluten-Free Meatloaf Recipe

7. Cornbread

Corn is generally fine for those trying to avoid gluten, so one might assume that cornbread is safe to eat. This is not necessarily the case, however. Sometimes cornbread has wheat added to it to improve its texture, making it unsafe for those who need to avoid gluten, said registered dietitian Lori Langer. "Just check the label," she said, "or make homemade cornbread. You can even find boxed cornbread mixes that don't contain wheat."

Read more: Gluten Free Cornbread

8. Some Blended and Flavored Coffees

Ground coffee beans are 100 percent gluten-free. Many instant coffee brands, however, contain gluten as a bulking agent, warned nutrition expert Meghan Telpner. What's more, many flavored and blended coffee drinks could be hiding gluten as well. Some syrup coffee flavorings are made from barley, and information regarding gluten in Starbucks' light Frappuccino mix is conflicting. Regardless, other ingredients -- such as the java chips and some of the sprinkles used in several of their Frappuccinos -- definitely contain gluten. Considering that the equipment used to blend the drinks is not likely to be thoroughly scrubbed between beverages, cross-contamination between drinks can occur. If you have a gluten intolerance, go for some old-school plain coffee with just a little bit of your favorite -- and gluten-free -- natural sweetener.

9. Sushi

Sushi is actually a twofold concern, said Jennifer Fugo, founder of Gluten Free School, a website dedicated to teaching gluten-sensitive individuals simple steps to getting healthy. Though the vinegar used to make sushi rice should be derived from rice, a restaurant looking to cut costs could go with a vinegar made from glutenous grains. The second concern when eating sushi is that some sushi restaurants add soy sauce to the rice before making the sushi, so speak with your server or sushi chef. Soy sauce contains gluten unless it is specifically labeled "gluten-free." Also, it is worth noting that some imitation crabmeat contains wheat starch, so you'll be better off if you avoid it.

Read more: What to Order (and What to Avoid!) With Restaurant Food

10. Pasta (Even Some “Gluten-Free pasta”)

Plenty of gluten-free pasta is available, but whether cooking at home or eating out, make sure the gluten-free pasta is not cooked in the same water used for other pastas. "Many restaurants keep pasta water hot and ready to use," said Juli La Porte, who, with her business partner Sarah Stolp, co-founded the website CanIEatHere.com to help inform people who are on gluten-free diets. "Gluten-free pasta must be cooked in fresh, clean, new water," she said, "completely separate from regular pastas."

Read more: CanIEatHere.com

11. Salad Dressings

"Many salad dressings use gluten-containing ingredients as thickeners," said nutrition expert Meghan Telpner. Several U.S. companies, however, do offer gluten-free dressings, such as Annie's, Newman's Own and Maple Grove Farms. Just look for the gluten-free designation on the label the next time you're at the supermarket, or, as Telpner recommends, make your own dressing (see recipe below).

Read more: Gluten-Free Salad Dressing Recipe

12. Canned Soups

"Wheat flour is often used as a thickener for canned and restaurant soups, as well as sauces and gravies," warned Samantha Brody of Gluten Free Portland. Quite a number of gluten-free soups are available, though, so check the label. Or make up your own soup at home, where you can easily replace the wheat flour with a gluten-free option like sweet rice flour or cornstarch. Another clever idea comes from Carol Fenster Cooks, a website about gluten-free foods. For her cream of broccoli soup recipe, Fenster suggests cooking a little chopped raw white potato along with the vegetables for the soup. The starch from the potatoes will effectively thicken the soup without changing its flavor or color.

Read more: Cream of Broccoli Soup Recipe

13. Store-Bought Sauces (and Dipping Sauces!)

Another danger zone for those trying to avoid gluten is store-bought sauces, including pasta sauces and barbecue sauces. "Many packaged and canned sauces contain gluten as a thickener," said nutrition expert Meghan Telpner. Some sauces labeled gluten-free are available, but making your own sauces is the option Telpner recommends.

Read more: Meghan's Almond Dipping Sauce

14. Some Foods With Added Caramel Color

Caramel color is widely used in the food industry to give an appealing color to products like poultry, baked goods, and milk and eggnog. "Depending on the way it's manufactured, caramel color may or may not contain gluten," said nutrition expert Meghan Telpner. If the caramel color is made in North America, it will likely be gluten-free. The origin of the food product's coloring, however, isn't always clear, so be cautious of products with caramel color in them.

Read more: Foodfacts: Caramel Color

15. Communion Wafers

Church communion wafers may not be an everyday food, but even once a week can be too much for gluten-free dieters. "Communion wafers are made from wheat," said registered dietitian Lori Langer. The Catholic church allows its members to instead take the wine as communion, she said, but warned that host crumbs are sometimes added to the communion wine. Those trying to avoid gluten should be certain the communion wine they take is clear of any bits of wafer.

What Do YOU Think?

Are you diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity? Or, alternatively, have you been avoiding gluten in your diet due to other reasons? Were you surprised by any of these sneaky sources of gluten? Would you like to see more content about celiac disease and gluten-free foods on LIVESTRONG.COM? Have you come across other unexpected foods with gluten in them? If so, do you have a substitute you use instead? Leave a comment below and let us know. Your examples and ideas can help others in the community.

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