Hidden Sources Gluten in Food and Non-Edible Items

Be Sure To Check Out Gluten's Favorite Hiding Spots

Woman reading nutrition facts on food packaging
Hidden Sources of Gluten. Tetra Images - Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Just when you thought you did your research on following a gluten-free diet, there may be a few more places you might want to check.  For the over 3 million people living with Celiac Disease sniffing out sources of gluten becomes a daily job.  At first glance, one might think that gluten only exists in grains however that is far from the truth.  Being gluten-free means learning more about the hidden sources found not only in food but in other everyday products as well.


Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the digestive process in the small intestine.  When gluten is ingested, in the form of the protein found in wheat, oats, rye or barley, the immune system mistakenly attacks the small intestine and inhibits the absorption of many nutrients needed by the body.  Following a gluten-free diet is important to maintain optimal health. 

Luckily in today’s markets, there is a multitude of products that are labeled gluten-free and a tremendous amount of gluten-free alternatives to choose from.  Gluten-free pasta, cookies, bagels, cakes, soups, and snacks are among the over 2,000 gluten-free items that have become pretty mainstream in most of the commercial supermarkets.  And in 2013 the Food and Drug Administration passed a labeling law to ensure that products containing gluten were labeled appropriately.  

Despite all of the new products and labeling laws, there still seems to be an array of items and ingredients that often go misunderstood by those who are trying to go gluten-free.

  Be sure to take a look at these hidden sources of gluten before they accidentally make it into your shopping cart.

Hidden Gluten in Foods

  • Processed Meats - Many sausages, meatballs, and meatloaves contain wheat-based fillers. Restaurants often add breadcrumbs to patties to bind the meat and to improve the consistency. Quite often imitation crab meat contains gluten, and while most proceeded deli meats are gluten-free, they can be cross contaminated by the slicer.  (Asking them to wipe down the slicers and change their gloves can prevent the cross contamination.)
  • Vegetarian Meat Alternatives -  Be careful following a gluten-free diet as a vegetarian.  Seitan, which is often used in veggie burgers and patties, contains wheat gluten.  Imitation bacon also contains gluten while the real kind does not.  Tofu is typically gluten-free however in restaurants where they fry it, they often use soy sauce which contains wheat or coat it with a wheat based flour to make it crispy. 
  • Processed Potatoes - While whole potatoes have no gluten, quite often the frozen french fries found in the supermarket or those in restaurants have a wheat based coating to make them crispier.  Potato chips are also often seasoned with malt vinegar or wheat starch. 
  • Sauces and Marinades - Many sauces and marinades contain wheat or gluten.  Soy sauce, which is often used in making a sauce, often contains wheat.  Look for the brands that are labeled gluten free.  Wheat flour often is added to butter or broths to make them thick, to serve as a form of gravy.
  • Bouillon Cubes - While this sounds harmless as the base to making a simple soup, many contain maltodextrin which is a gluten product.  Be sure to read the ingredients or perhaps make your own from scratch. 

Non-Edible Sources of Gluten

  • Medications - Gluten works as a binder and often it is used in medications in various forms.  Pharmacists can help to decipher which medications to avoid but be sure to discuss prior to taking just any over the counter remedy.  The FDA has also worked hard to try to label these medications accordingly.
  • Stamps and Envelopes - Often the adhesive contains a form of gluten so it is best to use a damp rag rather than licking the stamp or seal.
  • Toothpaste - Many kinds of toothpaste use gluten as a binder or thickener and it can get into one’s digestive tract and cause irritations.  Be sure to read the packaging to be sure they are gluten free. 
  • Lipstick and lip balm - Hydrolyzed gluten can be used as an ingredient in lipstick, and while one doesn’t ingest lipstick, by licking your lips it can still get into your system.  

Now that you are aware of these hidden sources of gluten it is safe to go back to your supermarket shopping.

  Just remember to read the labels, do your research and when in doubt check it out.  Let your gluten-free lifestyle begin!