Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Stringent avoidance of it is the only treatment for Celiac disease.
On the surface, this seems sad but not too difficult. I mean, no more pizza. No more giant burritos larger than your head. No more bowls of pasta that should probably feed three people! Okay, that sucks, but I can do that. Now I’m gluten free, right?
Well…no. Not exactly. Have you ever wondered why things that seem to obviously not contain wheat have a little gluten free label? Have you ever scoffed at a salad dressing? “Of course it’s gluten free, it’s a salad dressing!”
So, here’s the thing: gluten is everywhere. It’s sneaky. Not only are a lot of things cross-contaminated when they’re produced on shared lines, gluten is used as a filler and thickener. We call this “hidden gluten.”
Whether it’s used as a thickener in chili or used to grow the mold for bleu cheese, people with celiac have to be diligent about avoiding all forms of gluten. Even the hidden ones.
That means that for us celiacs, dinner can become a Russian roulette. Some celiacs go so far as to only cook for themselves and never go out to eat. Although I’m not that stringent, I always ask more questions than my friends and the waiter are comfortable with. Sorry, y’all, my health is on the line here!
While shopping, a Celiac has to read every label unless a product is specifically marked as gluten free. Even then, some products aren’t as safe as they appear. (Any other celiacs remember the Cheerios debacle?)
I’ve found gluten in dressings, spice mixes, lunchmeat, and potato chips. It may not be labeled as gluten– in fact, it probably won’t! You’ll need to be on the lookout for things like malt powder, malt vinegar, modified food starch (what food, exactly? Could be wheat!), barley, rye, wheat, and more. Although I still read every label, I’ve made my life easier with the Sift app, which I reviewed here.
You’ll also want to make sure that your food isn’t cross-contaminated with gluten containing products. This is a big problem with oats, which are grown near/with wheat and contaminated during harvest. Sticking to certified gluten free oats is the safest for celiacs, although some celiacs say they still get sick from them.
Hidden gluten is, I would imagine, one of the top reasons that people with celiac get sick. I know it’s not just me who has gotten lazy before and not read the back of an item because we’ve bought it before. Suddenly, we’re violently ill. A spice mix has added wheat germ since the last time we bought it. A dressing company thought their product would taste better with malt vinegar. That’s the thing with celiac (and other food allergies). You have to read every label, every time.
This post was written because May is Celiac Awareness Month! Check back throughout the month for more posts about Celiac disease.
If you have celiac, let me know: where’s the weirdest place you’ve found hidden gluten?