Hidden Sources of Gluten and Wheat that May Be Making You Sick

Dr. Doni Wilson explores how commonly used gluten is and how it may be hiding where we least expect in our food and our beauty products.

In last week’s article I explained how you can tell whether you have a gluten intolerance. But now that you know you need (or want) to avoid wheat and other foods that contain gluten, you might find it tricky to determine all the places that it is lurking.

As you are probably aware, gluten can be found in several grains, including wheat, spelt, rye, barley, farro and semolina.  However, where it gets more complicated is in prepared foods, sauces, medications, vitamins, and even personal products like soap, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, lipstick, and makeup.

When I was studying for my degree in nutrition (in 1992), I took courses on the “science of food” which included an explanation of how gluten helps things stick together and, especially when heated (in some cases with eggs, sugar and yeast), creates a chewy, fluffy, and/or thicker texture. This is why it is used in soups (even miso soup), gravy, dressings, sauces, pastries, cookies, cakes, soufflés, pasta, cereals, and breads.

Gluten also hides in products you wouldn’t think of based on their chewiness. Soy sauce, for example, contains gluten – so be sure to choose the gluten-free alternative called tamari sauce (be sure it says gluten-free on the label). Sometimes other condiments, like mustard, ketchup, and BBQ sauce may also contain gluten. Then there are flavored chips and crackers. Even corn chips, if they are spicy or flavored in any way, may well include flour and/or wheat in their ingredients lists. The same goes for anything seasoned such as spice mixes (taco mix, for example) or anything containing modified food starch (even chewing gum).

Sometimes wheat and/or gluten find their way into products that seem to be gluten-free. For example, Ella and I found orzo (made from wheat) in a boxed rice pilaf product the other day. Processed meats (hot dogs, sausages, and jerky) often contain gluten too. Then there is candy licorice, which is made with wheat, and vegetarian products, such as seitan, which is pure gluten. Make sure to review the ingredients, even when you wouldn’t think wheat or gluten is inside. That includes choosing gluten-free beer and ice cream.

Watch out for other names, besides gluten or wheat, as well. Barley, malt and malted barley all contain gluten and can be found in everything from ice creams, candies and chocolates to beverages, such as root beer and coffee substitutes. Also avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate), starch, natural flavoring, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein, all of which could contain wheat.

Keep in mind, however, that it has been found that a significant number of people who switch to gluten-free products gain weight. I believe this is because it can be tempting to over-consume gluten-free products that are high in carbohydrates such as cookies, crackers, cereals, and pasta which lead to weight gain. The other issue is that some people not only react to gluten, but also gluten-free grains, such as corn, rice, and/or oat.  

The bottom line: while there are many new tasty gluten-free products on the market, it is best to stick to foods that are naturally gluten-free such as vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds.

Many people find it helps to use a protein shake while changing their diet, because if there are moments you are not sure what to eat, you can always make a quick shake. The Stress Remedy Shake is a great solution, and it is definitely gluten-free.

One more precaution: be aware of gluten contamination. Even crumbs in a toaster or on a cutting board could create a reaction which is why I also suggest choosing products that state they are produced in a certified gluten-free facility. That is because even if a product is gluten-free, if it is produced in a facility that also processes gluten-containing products, there is a chance of cross-contamination and that could spell trouble for you if you are gluten intolerant.

And finally, don’t forget to check out non-food products, such as the products you apply to your skin and hair. Many beauty products also contain wheat, barley, and/or wheat germ. If you see any of these things on the label, it is not going to be a good thing for you as your body can even react to wheat and gluten on your skin and scalp. Medications and vitamins can contain gluten too, so it is important to check these as well. And one of the most inconspicuous locations for gluten is the glue on envelopes and stamps. For kids, hidden gluten exists in play dough and glue.

By the time you learn all the sources of gluten and wheat, and check the products in your cupboards and fridge, you may discover the reason that you’ve been feeling sick – gluten is everywhere! As you start replacing products with wheat and gluten-free alternatives, you’ll be decreasing your exposure and at the same time, decreasing inflammation throughout your body.

For more resources to support you with going gluten-free, click here.

Where have you found gluten that you didn’t expect it? Any hidden sources that surprised you? Share your gluten discoveries in the comments below.

Dr. Doni
16th May 2014

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6 Comments

  1. I received the newsletter regarding using natural make up, cleaning products etc. Now I cannot find it. Could you please resend as I totally believe our skin is an organ and if we are putting chemicals on our skin it is bound to cause us problems!!
    Thank you!
    Marie

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