by Ruth Ann Clayton, RD

So many wonderful comments about last month’s article, “Is Gluten Free For You?” underscores just how much attention this issue receives.  This month I’ll move forward with the discussion on how to watch labels for gluten.

The key to understanding the Gluten-free diet is to become a champion label reader.  Whether you have been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, Celiac Sprue or the skin form of the disease, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, or just have gluten sensitivity, understanding a food’s label is a critical part of your grocery shopping.  Your goal is to avoid anything that contains the offending gluten proteins typically found in certain grains.

Presently the FDA requires only eight (8) allergens (wheat, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and soybeans) to be listed on labels.  Since 1 in every 133 Americans suffer from some type of gluten intolerance or immune disorder, it is incredible that gluten is not required to be listed on the label.

Here is the good news.  It is easy to read a label and avoid the obvious gluten rich grains: wheat, spelt, kamut, durum wheat, semolina, barley, rye, and bulgur wheat.  It might seem cut and dried to watch out for only these and avoid products that list them on the label.  Here is the bad news.  These gluten-containing offenders can be found in manyhidden ways on labels.

So, where is gluten hidden in foods?  A few offenders to watch out for may be found in broth and soup bases, sauces, gravies, soy sauce, marinades and thickeners.  Even baby food and beer can contain gluten grains but listed under other names. Candy, including chocolate and licorice, have labels that must be checked if you need to avoid gluten. Binders in processed meat and cheese can also contain gluten but the grain itself will not be listed.  Over the counter medications and supplements may have gluten,  so be sure you ask about it when purchasing them.


Just in case you thought you could control this, remember that manufacturers can change labels at any time.  This means you must check labels on every shopping trip.

Now you see that  “gluten free eating” requires much effort and even memorizing names of numerous ingredients which are not gluten-free and not obviously listed on the label.

Currently claims range from “no gluten ingredients to “made in a gluten free facility”.  Several certifying groups who set strict standards can verify this claim.  These include The Celiac Sprue Association, The Gluten-Free Certification Organization, and organic certifier Quality Assurance International (QAI).

However, Federal guidelines for the term “gluten-free” have never been clearly defined and are currently under revision. A 2006 recommendation suggesting a limit of 20-ppm (parts per million) gluten is being utilized by some manufacturers.  New, perhaps tighter, gluten-free label requirements will be published by the end of 2012 so let’s hope all foods containing even miniscule parts of gluten will require a gluten warning.

Remember, if you think you have a gluten problem, see your physician first.  If gluten-free is for you, educate yourself through the many good reference books available.  Learn terms that translate to gluten.  Armed with proper data, you will become a Champion Gluten-Free Label Reader.

Ruth Ann Clayton is the Registered Dietitian at Nature’s Way.  Reach her at  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

Ruth Ann Clayton, Registered Dietitian, is active in both the American Dietetics Association and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group. Her nationally accredited Dietetic Internship and her years of experience in public health and hospital settings reflect her commitment to your health and well being.

As the co-owner of Nature’s Way, she uses her comprehensive background to research products, read labels, investigate manufacturers and provide information for her customers.