Especially when it comes to treat-laden holidays like Halloween and Valentine's Day, it can be difficult to navigate the candy aisles when you're living gluten free. Whether you or a family member are gluten-intolerant and/or suffer from celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is quickly becoming more commonplace. Gluten consists of proteins in wheat, rye and barley, ingredients you might be surprised to find everything from candy bars, licorice and veggie burgers to sausages, soy sauce and meatballs. If you love sweets and have celiac disease, you can still enjoy some candy bars and other sweet treats -- with caution.
For a very strict gluten-free diet, it's a good idea to stay away from any packaged foods that do not explicitly say "gluten free," even if the ingredients don't list gluten-containing items, because some products might be made on manufacturing equipment which is also used for making goods that contain gluten. Always read the labels, and if you are not sure, contact the company and ask. Even if a regular-sized chocolate bar is gluten free, the snack size or special holiday variety may not be.
Read more: 15 Unexpected Foods That Contain Gluten
For patients with celiac disease, eating candy bars or any foods containing even a small amount of gluten can begin to destroy their small intestinal lining and cause immediate or eventual symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, weight loss or weight gain, fatigue, anemia, bone or joint pain, tingling and numbness in the legs, hands or feet, muscle cramps and premature osteoporosis, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. Gluten-intolerant individuals and parents of children with gluten sensitivities have to learn to read labels carefully because even a handful of small candies can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhea, vomiting and constipation, says the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
Celiac.org publishes a yearly list around Halloween that covers all of the brandname chocolate companies, and it details which candy from each company is considered safe for a gluten-free diet. Here's what they published for October 2015:
Candy That Is Always Gluten Free
Gimbal's makes a variety of gourmet jelly beans, and according to the company: “Gimbal’s candies are peanut-free, tree nut-free, gluten-free, dairyfree, soy-free and egg-free. These ingredients are responsible for countless allergic reactions across the nation. Many Gimbal’s consumers have personally thanked us for making our candies available to them. We are happy to create delicious treats that can be enjoyed by so many people, including those living with food allergies.”
The colorful little sugary rounds wrapped in a cellophane roll can make any adult nostalgic for Halloween, and according to the company: “All Smarties® products are gluten-free and safe to eat for people with Celiac Disease. Furthermore, Smarties® products are manufactured in facilities that produce exclusively gluten-free candies. Smarties Gummies ingredients are gluten-free, but because they are made in a facility that processes other ingredients, they may contain traces of peanut, milk, wheat and soy and are not recommended for those with Celiac Disease.”
Other popular jelly beans, in this case from Jelly Belly, are also safe for celiac disease patients: “Jelly Belly beans are gluten free, peanut free, dairy free, fat free, and vegetarian friendly. All Jelly Belly beans and most of our Confections are certified OU Kosher by the Orthodox Union.”
Those on a gluten-free diet can safely figure out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. Tootsie Roll Industries says: “At this time, all of our confections are gluten free. We do not use wheat, barley, rye, oats, triticale, spelt or any of their components and that includes our dusting on our conveyor belts. We do use corn and soy products in the manufacturing of our products.”
Surf Sweets are not only safe for gluten-intolerant people, but also for those avoiding dairy, casein and corn. They say: “Our products are both manufactured without wheat and made in a facility that is free of wheat, making them suitable for people with celiac disease or following a gluten-free diet.”
Candy Companies That Don't List Specifically Gluten-Free Products
Those particularly sensitive to gluten may want to steer clear of Wrigley's famous Juicy Fruit gum as well as Orbit gum, Altoids mints, Skittles and Starbust. The subsidiary of Mars says: “While some Wrigley products may contain gluten, the majority of our products are gluten-free. In general, we avoid using ingredients that contain gluten where they serve no functional purpose or can be replaced by gluten-free alternatives; however, ingredients and formulas may vary between regions. When the use of ingredients containing gluten is critical to the product taste experience, we follow all labeling requirements to allow our consumers to make an informed choice. We always advise consumers who are concerned about food sensitivities to read the label and check with their doctor if they have questions.”
Indeed, Mars' company statement is: “We will always declare the presence of any of the top allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish and crustacean shellfish) whenever they are part of the recipe regardless of the source (e.g., flavors, spices, colors, other minor ingredients, etc.). The label is the best source in determining what is in the product. The ingredient listing and allergen statement provide information on ingredients that may be of concern to you.” Unless the allergen statement specifically says the product is gluten free, you might want to stay away from popular candy including Twix, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way, M&Ms and Dove chocolate.
Read more: Can You Eat Oatmeal on a Gluten-Free Diet?
Gluten-Free Hershey's Candy
- Almond Joy and Mounds Bars – All except Joy Pieces Candy
- Heath Bars – All
- Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolate
- Hershey’s Kisses Filled Chocolates – All
- Hershey’s Nuggets Candies – All
- Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar (1.55oz only)
- Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds Bar (1.45oz only)
- Hershey’s Air Delight Aerated Milk Chocolate Bar
- Hershey’s Milk Duds – All
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – All (except Seasonal Shaped Items)
- York Peppermint Pattie – All except YORK PIECES Candy, York Minis,
- and YORK Shapes (5oz)
- PayDay Candy – All
- REESE’s Pieces Candy – All except REESE’s Pieces Eggs, REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup
- Unwrapped Minis & Seasonal Shaped Items
- ROLO Caramels in Milk Chocolate Candies – All Except ROLO Minis
Check out the Hershey's site.
Gluten-Free Just Born Candy
- Mike and Ike Berry Blast
- Mike and Ike Italian Ice
- Mike and Ike Jolly Joes
- Mike and Ike Assorted Fruits
- Mike and Ike Lemonade Blends
- Mike and Ike Original Fruits
- Mike and Ike Redrageous
- Goldenberg’s Vintage Peanut Chews – except Peanut Chews Bites
- Mike and Ike Tangy Twister
- Mike and Ike Tropical Typhoon
- Mike and Ike Zours
- Mike and Ike Jelly Beans
- Mike and Ike Hot Tamales
- Mike and Ike Mummy Mix and Vampire Variety Treats
- Mike and Ike Mummy Mix Tube
- Mike and Ike Tropical Heat
- Mike and Ike Vampire Variety
- Mike and Ike Strawberry Reunion
- Chocolate Crème PEEPS Minis
- Strawberry Crème PEEPS Minis
- Sour Watermelon PEEPS minis
- PEEPS Sweet Lemonade
- Flavored Marshmallow Chicks – except snack-size
- PEEPS Chocolate Mousse Flavored Cats
- Just Born Jelly Beans
- PEEPS Sugar Free Marshmallow Pumpkins
- PEEPS Marshmallow Ghosts
- Vanilla Crème PEEPS Minis
- PEEPS Chocolate Covered Pumpkins
- PEEPS Chocolate Dipped Orange Chicks
Check out the Just Born site.
Read more: The BEST Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Gluten-Free Nestlé Candy
- Baby Ruth
- Butterfinger Bar (original flavor only; NOT giant bar, Crisp, Stixx, Snakerz,Medallions, Jingles, Hearts or Pumpkins)
- Milk Chocolate Goobers
- Nips (including both regular and sugar-free)
- Oh Henry!
- Raisinets (including Cherry, Cranberry and Dark Chocolate flavors)
- Wonka Pixy Sticks
- Laffy Taffy (including Laffy T)
Check out Nestle's site.
Gluten-Free Necco Candy
- NECCO® Wafers
- NECCO® Chocolate Wafers
- Candy House Candy Buttons®
- Banana Splits® Chews
- Sweethearts® (Valentine’s Only)
- Mint Julep Chews
- Haviland® Thin Mints, Wintergreen
- Patty, Nonpareils and Chocolate
- NECCO® Conversation Hearts
- (Valentine’s only)
- Mary Jane® Peanut Butter Kisses
- (Halloween only)
- Mary Jane®
- CANADA Mints and CANADA
Check out the NECCO site.
- Fruit Snacks and Organic Fruit Bites – All
- Gluten-Free Bunny Crackers – Gingersnap, SnickerDoodle and Vanilla &
- Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
- Gluten-Free Oatmeal Granola Bars
Check out the Annie's Homegrown site.
- Fruit Snacks – All varieties
- PB&J Snacks – All varieties
Check out the Welch's site.
Enjoy Life Foods
- Soft-baked cookies, crunchy cookies, cereals, chewy bars, decadent
bars, seed & fruit mixes, baking chocolate, chocolate bars
Check out the Enjoy Life site.
Additional writing and reporting by Maura Wolf.