Reading labels

Knowing if a product is suitable for those with Coeliac Disease or gluten intolerance can be a tricky business at times. If a product isn’t labeled gluten-free or at its most basic level isn’t gluten-free (i.e. fresh produce) it takes a little more effort to determine whether it is suitable. So here are the three main tips;

Some products are naturally gluten-free

There are many products out there that a naturally gluten-free. This means that preparing food at home can be the best way to ensure you are adhering to your gluten-free diet, we have some recipes that will assist with this. Some of these naturally gluten-free foods include;

  • fresh fruit and vegetables
  • unprocessed meat, poultry, and fish
  • eggs
  • nuts and legumes
  • plain milk and most plain dairy products
  • fats and oils
  • alternative gluten-free grains; arrowroot, quinoa, buckwheat (yes it is gluten-free), sorghum, rice, corn

A product is clearly labeled gluten free

Increasing numbers of products state they are gluten-free on the packaging. Australian standards require manufacturers to test products labeled ‘gluten-free’ and/or carrying the crossed grain symbol. The ‘gluten-free’ claim is made after testing is carried out by an external laboratory. The crossed grain symbol is the endorsement symbol by Coeliac Australia that the product is gluten-free, once again needing stringent testing. The difference is the test results. To carry the ‘gluten-free’ claim, the product must contain less than 3ppm of gluten (referring to the sensitivity of testing). To carry the endorsed logo, the product must contain less than 20ppm of gluten. The Coeliac Society has recently reported that evidence-based medical research has found this to be a safe level for people with coeliac disease.

Although some products contain ingredients that are on the avoid list such as soy sauce if the product is labeled gluten-free this means it has been tested and as a result, no gluten was detected. In other words a ‘gluten-free’ marking, in fact, trumps the ingredient listing making life a little less complicated for those who are constantly reading labels.

Some products are gluten free by ingredient

There are a number of products out there that are gluten free by ingredient but aren’t specifically labeled gluten-free, for example, some yogurts. When purchasing these products check the ingredient list and other statements to ensure everything listed is gluten free; no wheat, barley, rye, oats or any ingredients derived from them. Be sure to avoid any products that contain an ‘either/or’ statement for example ‘starch (wheat or corn)’; these are not safe for those who are unable to eat gluten.

Australian Food Standards Code requires that any product with an ingredient that contains gluten must declare it. Therefore if a source grain is not identified in the ingredients, for example, if starch is listed but not specified to be derived from a gluten-containing grain, then it gets a tick. In summary, if you don’t see wheat, barley, rye or oats listed in the product’s ingredients or in any other clauses on the packaging, you are safe to consume it.

There are some exceptions to the rule detailed above – any ingredients ending in -one, e.g. dextrose and glucose. Which, although sometimes derived from gluten-containing grains, are so heavily processed there is no detectable gluten remaining. Caramel color (150) also falls in this category.

Beware of statements and clauses

There is one other area on the packaging that you should check and this is the ‘allergens’, ‘contains’ and ‘may contain’ clauses. These are generally found below the ingredient list and should always be checked for gluten-containing sources. The different types of clauses and statements can be tricky so we have listed them below with detailed description on determining what is safe to consume;

  1. ‘Contains’ clause – Products that contain anything derived from a gluten-containing grain, for example, glucose, dextrose or caramel color that lists wheat as the source will then have a ‘contains’ clause listing gluten or wheat. In this case, if you can clearly see the ingredient containing wheat is actually gluten free because of the manufacturing process, you are able to eat it. Icecream is a good example of this, most have a ‘contains’ clause stating wheat but if you look at the ingredients list and the only source of wheat in the product is glucose (which through processing becomes gluten-free), it is safe. Please be aware though that if it isn’t a gluten-free ingredient (e.g. wheat starch) then the product should not be consumed.
  2. ‘May contain’ and ‘allergens’ clause – Many products can be made using gluten-free ingredients but they might be manufactured on plant and equipment that was used to make something that contained gluten or in some cases gluten-containing products are used to clean that plant and equipment. Carefully check the packaging for ‘allergen’ and ‘may contain’ clauses to warn if a product has come into contact with gluten, this is the same clause that states nuts, lactose or eggs may be present. If gluten, wheat, barley, rye or oats are mentioned the product is not safe for consumption by those with Coeliac Disease or gluten intolerance. Please note that there is a marked difference between the ‘contains’ clause and ‘may contain’ clause. If a product ‘may contain’ or lists allergens of wheat or gluten it is not suitable for those who require a gluten-free diet.

The ‘may contain’ statement is used at the discretion of the manufacturer and if they are at all unsure, they may include it. It is often used by manufacturers to cover themselves legally as to the unknown contaminants that may be in their manufacturing plant. As a result, there are a lot of products out there which may be gluten free or could be with small changes or testing but this requires investment on the manufacturer’s behalf.

Learning to and making a habit of reading labels is a difficult but very important step in having a successful gluten-free diet. Never stop reading labels, even on your regular products, as manufacturers have no responsibility to openly inform the public of changes to ingredients – for a case in point read this article about Cadbury, their recent labeling changes are disappointing to the chocolate lover. This may also mean that you discover something you once loved you can now eat if manufacturers improve their processes to be gluten-free friendly.