You may have seen "gluten-free" stamped on some desserts at your local cafe, but it can also hide in many foods you may have never considered — like your veggie burger or iced mocha coffee. If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, or simply want to monitor your gluten intake, take note of these surprising foods with gluten.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, wheat and triticale, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. Gluten is responsible for helping foods keep their shape.
While gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular among the general population, people with celiac disease must avoid gluten for the sake of their health. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that affects one in 100 people, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. When patients with celiac disease consume gluten, the body triggers an immune response, attacking the small intestine. This prevents nutrients from being absorbed by the body.
Surprising Foods With Gluten
While gluten is most commonly found in wheat sources like bread, pasta and baked goods, it can be found in a variety of other foods not commonly associated with gluten. Besides your usual culprits, there are some high-gluten foods that may come as a shock and should be avoided by those with sensitivity.
While oats are technically gluten-free, some brands may be contaminated with gluten, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
"Cross contamination of oats happens for two common reasons," says Dr. Samantha Brody, Portland-based licensed Naturopathic Physician. "One: growing the oats in close proximity to wheat, barley or rye. And two: Storing oats in silos also used for other grains," Brody says.
It's best to assume oats are not gluten-free unless they are labeled as such, according to Brody. The good news is that you can find gluten-free oats at most health food stores and some supermarkets, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Just make sure to check the label!
Coffee beverages are a commonly overlooked food that can contain high amounts of gluten. While coffee beans don't contain gluten, you may be surprised to find out that certain instant coffee brands may use gluten as a bulking agent.
What's more, many flavored and blended coffee drinks could be hiding gluten as well. Some syrup coffee flavorings are made from barley. Other ingredients like java chips and some sprinkles used in popular coffee specialty drinks may also contain hidden gluten. Not to mention, cross-contamination between drinks can occur, considering the equipment used to blend different beverages is not likely thoroughly scrubbed between customers.
Certain types of candy may contain gluten and should be consumed with caution, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. While some candy bars may be formed with wheat flour (making them full of gluten), others may have malt or malt syrup.
Canned Soups and Stews
Be wary of canned soups or stews if you have a gluten intolerance, warns Dr. Brody. "Wheat flour is often used as a thickener for canned and restaurant soups, as well as sauces and gravies."
Luckily, many brands offer gluten-free options, so be sure to check the label. Or, make up your own soup at home where you can easily replace the wheat flour with a gluten-free option like rice flour or cornstarch.
Sauces and Dressings
As with soups and stews, many salad dressings may use gluten ingredients as thickeners. Before you select a bottled salad dressing or steak sauce, be sure to check the ingredient label thoroughly for any hidden gluten.
Many companies, like Annie's or Newman's Own, offer gluten-free dressing options. Just look for the gluten-free designation on the label next time you're at the supermarket. Or, make a simple-ingredient salad dressing right at home.
Meat and Meat Alternatives
Many vegetarian meat products, like veggie burgers or imitation bacon, are made with seitan, which is wheat gluten. Similarly, processed deli meats or lunch meats contain gluten-based agents in their ingredients.
Even non-packaged or processed meats can contain hidden gluten. Most meatballs and meatloaves have bread crumbs added to them, according to Lori Langer, RD. Bread crumbs can be used as a binder to hold ground meat together and provide a smoother texture. When preparing your own meatballs, consider using mashed potatoes and a bit of egg, Langer recommends. "It makes for a great binder and some deliciously moist, flavorful meatloaf."
Additional reporting by Lynette Arceneaux