How Do I Identify Gluten-Free Ingredients?

Bobbie Fredericks

Finding gluten-free ingredients for cooking can be intimidating for people who have never used them. Some products are labeled as gluten-free, but it is important to know which ingredients typically have gluten. People may follow a gluten-free lifestyle because of health issues, to try to lose weight, or to be healthier. Gluten-free ingredients should never come in contact with products that contain gluten, or any common surfaces.

Cookies made with gluten free ingredients.
Cookies made with gluten free ingredients.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, as well as products made from these grains. Since gluten is added to many products, it may be difficult to determine which have gluten and which do not. Wheat derivatives might be listed as bran, faro, graham, kamut, semolina, spelt, and others. Some oats are also contaminated with wheat.

Arrowroot, which is used to make gluten-free flour.
Arrowroot, which is used to make gluten-free flour.

Since gluten is used as a thickening agent, it can be found in unexpected sources. Some soups, seasonings, and processed meats contain gluten. It is very important to read labels carefully when selecting gluten-free ingredients. Products labeled as gluten-free may contain no gluten or an amount generally considered safe.

Whole oats.  Pure oats are technically a gluten-free food, but they are often contaminated with wheat products.
Whole oats. Pure oats are technically a gluten-free food, but they are often contaminated with wheat products.

Rice and corn are two common gluten-free ingredient that can be made into flour and starch. Potatoes, beans, and quinoa are also popular gluten-free ingredients. Other ingredients that do not contain gluten are arrowroot, buckwheat, and soy. These can be used to make foods that typically contain gluten, such as bread and pasta.

Fresh vegetables are gluten-free.
Fresh vegetables are gluten-free.

Some gluten-free foods should still be limited in consumption. It is recommended that oats that are not considered to be contaminated with gluten be limited to one half cup a day. Most dairy products do not contain gluten, although some, such as cheeses, might. Wine and liqueurs that are distilled do not contain gluten, but other alcoholic beverages do. Malt is a gluten-containing ingredient.

Flour made from buckwheat does not contain any gluten.
Flour made from buckwheat does not contain any gluten.

Celiac disease is a common reason to follow a gluten-free diet. In patients with celiac disease, the projections in the small intestine that absorb nutrients are destroyed by gluten. This leads to malabsorption and nutritional deficiency. Symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, depression, and weight loss. The only treatment for celiac disease is to eliminate gluten from the diet.

Almond flour contains no gluten.
Almond flour contains no gluten.

Wheat allergy is another reason to avoid gluten. Symptoms of wheat allergy can include asthma, eczema, and anaphylaxis. Some people believe that a diet free of gluten can alleviate symptoms of autism. There have been few studies done, and there is no scientific proof that this diet is helpful.

Rice is an ingredient that does not have gluten so products made from it, such as rice pasta, are safe to consume on a gluten-free diet.
Rice is an ingredient that does not have gluten so products made from it, such as rice pasta, are safe to consume on a gluten-free diet.

Deficiencies in vitamins, fiber, and protein are fairly common in people following a gluten-free diet. For this reason, it is important to select foods that include a variety of these. All fresh fruits and vegetables are free of gluten.

Quinoa is gluten free and contains all of the essential amino acids.
Quinoa is gluten free and contains all of the essential amino acids.
Gluten-free products cannot contain wheat flour.
Gluten-free products cannot contain wheat flour.
It is possible to make bread without wheat or gluten.
It is possible to make bread without wheat or gluten.
Customers on a gluten-free diet should read labels carefully to ensure all products they are buying are gluten free.
Customers on a gluten-free diet should read labels carefully to ensure all products they are buying are gluten free.

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