Foods With the Highest Gluten Content

Close up of huge selection of pastries and bread on bakery stall at food market
Breads and pastries often contain a large amount of gluten. (Image: coldsnowstorm/iStock/GettyImages)

Gluten is a protein found in grains like barley, rye and wheat. The presence of gluten is essential to the appearance, structure and texture of many food products, like bread and pasta.

However, this ingredient is also hiding in many foods you may have never considered. High-gluten foods can range from products like bread to soups or sauces.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein that's found in various grains, including barley, rye and wheat. Wheat is the most common source of gluten; the vast majority of protein found in wheat kernels is usually gluten. However, different types of wheat can have different amounts of protein and consequently different amounts of gluten.

Gluten has become well-known in recent years because of gluten intolerance (nonceliac gluten sensitivity) and the increasing popularity of gluten-free diets. Other people may also need to be conscious of their gluten consumption, including those who have Celiac disease or wheat allergy.

It may even be related to Type 1 diabetes. If you need to watch your gluten consumption or adhere to a gluten-free diet, you should be aware that many foods are high in gluten content.

High-Gluten Foods

A lot of foods can contain gluten. High-gluten foods can be quite obvious, like pastries or pizza, as the primary ingredient of these products is wheat flour.

However, wheat-based flours can also be used as thickening agents in soups, to make beverages, or in the manufacture of processed meats. Besides plain barley, rye or wheat products, foods high in gluten include:

  • Alternative meat products, like seitan and vegetarian sausages, that are made with wheat and consequently have high gluten content.
  • Beverages, particularly beer, but even certain sodas and smoothies. Unless a beer is labeled gluten-free, you should assume that it's high in gluten. Watch out for beverages with malt in particular. Gluten content in other beverages can differ between manufacturers and products.
  • Certain candies, like licorice and Twizzlers, and many candy bars that are made with wheat flour. This means that these candies are full of gluten. Other candies that are likely to have gluten will likely contain malt.
  • Coffee substitutes made from chicory and other products. They don’t have gluten in the main product, but often include barley or other grains with gluten in the mix of their product. Not all coffee substitutes contain gluten; this will differ between manufacturers and products.
  • Doughy foods, or foods that were originally made from a dough. This includes bread, pastries and pasta. This gluten typically comes from wheat products. Typically, foods like pasta have gluten content that is quite high. There are many gluten-free flours that you can use to make alternative versions of these products.
  • Fried foods that almost always involve a gluten-based product like semolina flour or tempura batter. However, cornmeal and cornflakes do not contain gluten and can be used for frying. Assess the products used to fry your foods to determine if there's gluten present.
  • Ice cream, which, though gluten-free on its own, can contain additional ingredients with gluten. This includes anything from cookie dough to cheesecake or brownies. Gluten products in ice cream can even include decorative toppings, like sprinkles.
  • Processed meats, like lunch meats and hot dogs, that are often made with flour as a filler that contributes to the texture of the final product. You’ll find that even sausages typically have at least a little gluten.
  • Sauces, like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and certain salad dressings. Gravy, which is made with meat juices and then thickened with flour, also has quite a lot of gluten. However, gluten-free alternatives exist — like tamari sauce, which is a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce. You can also make gravy with gluten-free flour, like potato starch flour.
  • Soups and stews that use flour as a thickening agent. If your soup is broth-based, you're probably safe from gluten, but blended soups, chowders and stews should always be checked for gluten.

While all of these foods typically have gluten, it's possible to make your own versions of these products without gluten or to purchase gluten-free alternatives. Gluten-free alternatives include arrowroot, buckwheat, millet, oat flour, sorghum flour, rice flour and tapioca starch.

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