20 foods you think are gluten-free but aren’t
Going gluten-free can be a challenge, and there are some foods and ingredients you have to be extra careful with. We asked Coeliac UK to highlight the most confusing, gluten-containing culprits
Approximately one in every 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, and a whole lot more are choosing to remove gluten from their diets for perceived health benefits. Gluten dodgers know to avoid wheat and keep an eye on grains, but did you know everything from your cereal to your sausages might be hiding some problematic protein? Coeliac UK shines the spotlight on the foods you may not realise contain gluten...
While there are plenty of gluten-free versions available, your regular sausages often contain rusk made from wheat.
2. Soy sauce
Chinese soy sauce traditionally contains wheat. Try substituting for Japanese tamari soy sauce, which is usually gluten-free (though always check the label).
3. Stock cubes
Some brands of stock cubes contain wheat – check the label or make your own stock at home to be sure it's free from gluten.
4. Buckwheat flour
Buckwheat is naturally gluten-free. However, because of growing conditions and processing it can often become contaminated with other grains, such as wheat. Choose a brand labelled gluten-free to be sure it's suitable for you to eat.
5. Dry roasted nuts
Plain nuts don’t contain any gluten, but dry roasted nuts often contain wheat flour in the coating so check the label or opt for plain or salted nuts.
It is a common myth that spelt doesn’t contain gluten, or contains less gluten than other wheat varieties. Spelt is an ancient strain of wheat and contains gluten levels similar to modern day wheat.
Often used as an alternative for rice, couscous is made from granules of durum wheat, so it is not gluten-free. Quinoa on the other hand is gluten-free and can be used in salads, soups or even to make porridge.
Chocolate doesn’t usually contain any gluten in its ingredients, but due to manufacturing methods some varieties have a risk of contamination as other products (like chocolate coated biscuits) are sometimes produced on the same line. Check the label and look out for ‘may contain’ statements.
This delicious dip is made up of a breadcrumb base, so it is not gluten-free. Other dips like salsa and hummus are often made from gluten-free ingredients, but check the label to make sure.
10. Corn flakes
Although the main ingredient in corn flakes is corn (a naturally gluten-free grain) many brands also contain barley malt extract, which is used as a flavouring. Some corn flakes will only have a small amount at a safe level for those on a gluten-free diet. However, some contain higher levels meaning they are not suitable. Coeliac UK provides more information on the suitability of products like this.
11. Some soft, spreadable cheeses
Most cheese is gluten-free, but some spreadable cheese including low-calorie or ‘light’ products may contain wheat starch or modified food starch. Get into the habit of checking labels for all processed or packaged cheese products.
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Oven, microwave and frozen chips may contain wheat, either as a seasoning or to help create a crisp outer coating.
Packaged suet may be coated in flour to extend its shelf life.
14. Liquorice sweets
Both black and red liquorice sweets may contain wheat flour to help bind the ingredients together.
15. Flavoured rice cakes
Although rice is gluten-free, the flavourings added to make rice cakes more appealing may contain gluten. Always read labels to check the product you choose is a gluten-free one
16. Ice cream cones
Whether your preference is a wafer or a waffle cone, it is likely they will contain wheat.
17. Baking powder
Starch is typically added to baking powder as an anti-caking agent, so it stops the powder absorbing moisture and clumping together. A lot of products use corn or rice starch but some may use wheat – so check labels before purchase and look out for products labelled “gluten-free”.
18. Flavoured popcorn
Popcorn makes a useful gluten-free snack, but check labels of any flavoured varieties to ensure they don’t include gluten-containing ingredients.
Although most mustards are free of gluten, some, including English mustard, aren’t. Check labels because wheat flour may be added as a thickener or bulking agent.
20. Curry powder
It’s worth checking the labels of all spice mixes, including curry powder. This is because manufacturers sometimes add wheat flour to prevent the spices caking together during storage.
How to read labels...
There are regulations in place to ensure only foods that are truly gluten-free can use the label on their packaging. All packaged foods in the UK and the EU are covered by labelling laws, which include rules around the allergen information that has to be provided on the label. For example, gluten-containing cereals are one of the 14 listed allergens that must be listed and emphasised in the ingredients list. Therefore, if a cereal contains wheat, rye or barley for example, it must be listed in the ingredients list, no matter how little of it is used. You can read more about labelling laws at Coeliac UK.
Still concerned about gluten? BBC Good Food is here to help:
Find out exactly what gluten is in our glossary.
Read Coeliac UK's top 10 tips for a gluten-free diet.
Stay healthy with our spotlight on gluten-free.
Try our gluten-free recipes:
Find out more about coeliac disease at Coeliac UK.
This article was last reviewed on 21st June 2022 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Follow Kerry on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_
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