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10 Unexpected Gluten Culprits in Common Foods

Last updated on October 3, 2019
Image by MaHoo Studio / Stocksy

Gluten hides in a lot of very common foods in the Standard American Diet. In addition to avoiding the gluten containing grains like wheat, spelt, rye, barley, farro, kamut and semolina, you also need to watch out for the hidden gluten in many processed foods. Start reading labels, choose more whole foods with no (or at least very short) ingredient lists, and begin to cook more at home. One great benefit of going gluten-free, whether allergic or not, is that it automatically helps you to cut back on a lot of processed foods (unless you end up eating all the packaged gluten-free products on the market)! That’s a great step for anyone to take.

Here are some typical gluten-containing foods you may not be aware of:

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1. Soy Sauce (and Nama Shoyu)

You may have thought the neighborhood sushi joint was a gluten free haven, but unfortunately there is plenty of it lurking in the soy sauce. Soy sauce is made with fermented wheat. An easy solution is to bring your own gluten-free soy sauce.

2. Sauces and Soups

Flour is often used as a thickener in soups and sauces. When eating out, make sure to ask your waiter what's in the sauce, or just order your food without it.

3. Condiments

Gluten is used as a stabilizer and thickener in many products, even ketchup and mustard. Same goes for pasta sauce, tomato paste, BBQ sauce and pre-made marinades (and any marinated fish or meat that you buy )!

Also, watch out for spice blends such as taco mixes. Pure spices and herbs are fine, but mixes often contain gluten. Although these mixes usually don’t say “gluten” on the packaging, gluten often shows up in the ingredients regardless.

4. Asian Food

Also be careful with Asian sauces (and when ordering Asian food). Many of them contain gluten.

5. Licorice

I know, this makes a Northern European very sad, but licorice candy contains wheat. Both the red and black, sweet and salty kinds… There are some gluten free alternatives out there however.

6. Seitan

Seitan and other “fake” meat products popular among many vegetarian and vegans are loaded with the wheat protein gluten. Seitan is actually pure gluten and that’s what gives these products their chewy, meat-like texture! Also be careful with vegan cheeses as these may contain gluten.

7. Processed Meat

Sausages, hot dogs, deli- and luncheon meats all fall under the category of processed foods. They have often been filled with flour (gluten) for texture, as a filler and for thickening purposes. Please read labels carefully and speak to your local butcher. Better yet, stick to clean, organic and grass-fed meat and poultry. Also jerky and vegan jerky often contain soy sauce and bbq sauce that contains gluten.

8. Coffee Substitutes

I love chicory coffee and Teeccino, but many of these coffee substitutes’ list barley and malt in their ingredients, which unfortunately contains gluten. Please read labels thoroughly and when in doubt, avoid it.

9. Oats

Although naturally gluten free, there is a lot of cross-contamination during processing as most factories that process oats also process spelt, wheat, rye etc… Wheat flour can remain in the air for up to 24 hours! Just look for gluten free oats instead and you’re good to go!

10. Anything Barley and Malt

Malted barley, barley and malt is often used as a sweetener in things like chocolate, carob and candy as well as coolers and hard lemonade.

Note: If you are very sensitive or have celiac disease you also need to watch out for shared cutting boards, knives, toasters, waffle grills, frying oil and baking sheets. Wheat flour can remain in the air for up to 24 hours and a few crumbs are enough to cause a reaction. Keep in mind that wooden cutting boards are porous and gluten can get trapped in them. You can try to use a marble cutting board instead.

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Katrine van Wyk
Katrine van Wyk
Registered Yoga Teacher

Katrine van Wyk is a Brooklyn-based certified holistic health coach, yoga teacher, and author of the books Best Green Drinks Ever, Best Green Eats Ever, and Super Powders: Adaptogenic Herbs and Mushrooms for Energy, Beauty, Mood, and Wellbeing. She has a bachelor's in media and culture from New School University, and became a certified Holistic Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Van Wyk later received her RYT-200 Yoga Teacher certification at Yoga Works in New York City.

She moved to New York from Norway in 2006 as a model before beginning her career in wellness. She works closely with Dr. Frank Lipman at his practice in Manhattan, helping to guide his high–profile patients through dietary changes to fit them into their demanding and busy lives. Van Wyk is the nutrition adviser for The Juicery and her advice has been featured in Vogue, Prevention and Forbes.