One of the most talked about subjects in the gluten-free diet world is label reading. How does one know if a product is gluten-free or not, by the information given? Well, I'm here to help! I'll teach you how to read food labels on a gluten-free diet like a boss! By the time you're done with this article, you'll be ready to take on any grocery store adventure!
First things first: I'm not one to go after products, stores, restaurants or anything of that nature. There is PLENTY of that online and alot of knowledgeable resources out there that can give you more in depth information. I simply am showing you how I started off reading gluten-free labels. There will always be margins of error out there. I went through and still go through a bit of trial and error, but for the most part I found the foods that I can safely eat and cook with. If you react in any way to something, just avoid it next time. Nothing is 100% guaranteed, but I can show you how I do it!
Now, let's dive into 3 of the most talked about labelings when searching for gluten-free products!
Certified Gluten-Free Labels
- When a label on anything is labeled 'Certified Gluten-Free', then you know there is no gluten in it. When it is certified, it's made in a manufacturing plant that has gone through strict standards to ensure no gluten has entered its product. The most important thing to remember here? These companies have paid ALOT of money to make themselves certified and carry that label. They don't have to, but they do. And that is a really cool thing! The label you'll be looking for is this:
When you see something labeled 'gluten-free', then you are pretty safe. In 2013, the FDA had this ruling that says anything labeled 'gluten-free' on its packaging has to have less than 20 parts per million of gluten. So, it's been said that Celiacs are tolerable of any ratio less than this amount. Which is why the 20 ppm subject is talked about all the time. Now, there's always a slight chance of cross-contamination or a product that has above 20 ppm of gluten in it, but I would say for the most part, you're pretty safe. I know there have been products out there that have been labeled gluten-free, and gluten was found in those products. For instance, Cheerios. They labeled their boxes gluten-free but gluten was found in batches awhile back. I later heard a rumor it was because of one truck that spilled a ton of flour that somehow got back to the plant and contaminated the product. So, who knows. You could always try Chex. They're labeled gluten-free and I haven't heard anything about a flour truck yet. Plus, you can make this gluten-free treat with Chex. ?I would guess that most companies try and do the right thing when labeling gluten-free. They would probably want to avoid being ostracized by the gluten-free community at all costs, because of the wrath that would ensue. It’s fierce ?.
No 'Gluten-Free' Label. But includes Details.
Cross-contamination is always a factor that comes into play here, of course. Let's look at a couple of scenarios, shall we?
- SCENARIO #1: Let's say a package of walnuts looks fantastic and you can't eat gluten. You look on the package and see no gluten-free label on it. So, you look further into the ingredients list: You see the words, "Manufactured in a facility processed on the same lines with other tree nuts, milk, and wheat." Now, you see there in the description that these walnuts are made on the same lines with wheat or wheat products. If you're Celiac, you don't want to eat these. And if you're cooking for someone with a wheat allergy or sensitivity, then this product you probably shouldn't buy.
- SCENARIO #2: Next to those walnuts, you find another bag of walnuts from a different company! You read the label and you see the words, "Manufactured in a facility processed on the same lines with other tree nuts." Hmmm, now this is stating something different. It is saying that these walnuts are made in a nut plant essentially. And it doesn't say anything on there about wheat being present on those lines. So, hypothetically you could try these out. My notion is that it would state there is wheat present on the lines. But it does not state that here. Cross contamination is still a possibility, but not likely. I've gone for it on this type of label before and been fine. There was one scenario when I was not awhile back, but it was from a very unknown company so I just don't buy those any longer. If you're REALLY worried, you can always buy from nuts.com. They're the bomb, and you'll rest calmly knowing the walnut dishes you make will not have gluten in them.
- SCENARIO #3: You see chocolate right next to the walnuts. A chocolate chip bag. You read the label and you see the words, "Contains milk and soy." Now, if they are labeling this I would think they might mention wheat in the manufacturing process. Cross contamination is still possible, but less likely than you think. To go a little further, you can google the company. Look, most of you have your cell phones on you at the store, am I right?! So, simply google the company name or product, and ask google if it's gluten-free. See what it comes up with! If no info is found or the information is not at all current, you can call the company phone number that's listed on the product. Just don't stress over it too much. If it takes too long to figure it out and you worry about it, buy some cocoa. It's 100% gluten-free. Or get the safe certified gluten-free chocolate, if it's available. Because you want to make chocolate covered walnuts for Valentine's day, right? ????
No Label. No Details.
Ha! I'm just kidding!!!
Ok, but seriously. This is where it all gets real hard. Let's say you're buying eggs and they aren't labeled gluten-free. And there's no details on the label! You're safe. Because they're eggs. BUT if you're looking at a protein bar product and there's no gluten-free label, and no allergen statement, well then, it's a free for all. You really just don't know. So, you'll have to do your homework! Research online, contact the manufacturer, find forums about the product online, go with your gut (no pun intended), or use trial and error. I've once felt really bad for almost an entire week when I discovered the coffee I was drinking had gluten in it. It was manufactured on the same lines as wheat flour. I called the company and sure enough, eliminated it from my diet, and was fine two days later! Was I mad at the company? Absolutely not. This was back in 2012 and the FDA didn't begin regulating things until 2013. I don't know the status of that coffee today because I don't drink that coffee any longer.
Here's a really important thing:
When it gets to the point of no gluten-free labels, and no details about those labels,you'll need to find what works for you or for a friend in that particular category. Or don't buy that category at all, and make it from scratch at home using gluten-free ingredients. Until you can master what things are gluten-free and not, you'll want to wait and just do research. I hope to continue writing more on the subject to help you.
There are certain items in certain categories that will need to be labeled gluten-free in order for them to be safe. Soy sauce is not gluten-free. So, you'll have to buy a gluten-free labeled soy sauce like tamari. All chips are not gluten-free. So, you need to look for chips that are labeled gluten-free, or thinly slice up a red potato, throw on some olive oil, bake them on high heat, and call it a day. You get where I'm going with this, right? We can do a whole other post on all these things!
THINGS THAT ARE FRESH PRODUCE, SUCH AS VEGETABLES AND FRUITS, ARE GOING TO BE GLUTEN-FREE EVEN THOUGH THEY'RE NOT LABELED. Just rinse those beauties off well, and you will be just fine. Fresh produce is not labeled 'gluten-free, but it's in its purest form. A can of whole tomatoes may not have a gluten-free label on it, or have any details, and you could guess. OR you could just buy six whole tomatoes and throw them in a crock pot on low with some water for a couple of hours! That's the beauty of cooking fresh....you don't have to read as many labels.
I hope this article helped! Those are kind of the top 3 types of labels you'll see when trying to find gluten-free products. Now, do you feel closer to knowing how to read food labels like a boss? What other questions do you have about certain gluten-free products, and what to look for?