Label Reading | Basics for Celiac Disease.

Label Reading 101: Celiac Disease / Gluten Sensitive

If you are just starting a gluten free diet, you may be feeling… overwhelmed. If you are an ol’ seasoned Celiac (like myself) you’re probably feeling pretty confid… oh-crap-that-had-gluten-in-it! Since before it was trendy, my small intestines have triggered an immune response anytime I ate gluten. A decade into my celiac disease diagnosis, I am here to promise you it gets easier… and you are going to feel SO much better!

Today, there seem to be an endless amount of products with that trendy little ‘certified gluten free’ symbol we love. Ten years ago, manufacturers weren’t so hip. In other words; the first routine I hopped into after being diagnosed with celiac disease was reading labels (to clarify: for gluten, not for fun). Conveniently placed certified labels aside, learning to read food/product labels for allergens is still high on the priority list for starting a gluten free diet, so let’s jump into the basics!

Where to look:

So you found a product you want to purchase – now what? Should you find the ingredients list? Yes! Should you read every single item listed on the ingredients list? Well, maybe… but not yet! First skip to the end of the ingredients list and look for two specific features: the allergen disclaimer, and the word(s) “contains” or “may contain.

Personally, if I don’t see WHEAT listed after “contains” or “may contain,’ I dub the product celiac-safe. Due to FDA regulations (read more on FDA labeling standards here) on major food allergens this approach is fairly foolproof… why do I say “fairly”? Well, sometimes manufacturers don’t list an allergen disclaimer because, although the specific product doesn’t contain specific allergens, the facility or equipment the product is manufactured in/on, may contain an allergen.

Be on the look out for sentences that start with something to the effect of: produced on equipment that also processed…; produced at a facility that also…; manufactured at a facility that also manufactures…

Take a look at these features in action on the product labels pictured below.

Celiac disease label reading
The allergens this product contains are wheat and milk
This product may contain the allergens MILK, WHEAT, SOY, and EGG
Although this product doesn't contain EGGS, SOY, MILK, and COCONUT in the ingredients, the facility uses shared equipment for processing those allergens. This could lead to cross-contamination.

If you want to play it extra safe:

It’s important to approach a celiac disease friendly diet in a way that makes YOU comfortable. If being diligent and reading the entire ingredients list on your food packaging is your jam, I support this. The top ingredients you’re going to want to look out for? Wheat, Barley, & Rye.

Wheat – Contains gliadin. Common ingredients that contain wheat:

  • bulgur
  • couscous
  • durum
  • graham
  • kamut
  • spelt
  • anything with the prefix ‘wheat’
    • wheat berries, wheat germ, etc.

Barley – Contains hordein. Commonly found in:

  • malt (this includes vinegar, syrup, extract, etc.)
  • anything with the suffix ‘barley’
    • barley syrup, barley flavoring/extract, etc.
  • maltose (malt sugar).

Rye – Contains secalin. Commonly found in:

  • Rye breads
  • Rye whiskeys

Looking for something more in depth?

Check out these posts from official sources: / Gluten Free Diet and Food Label Reading Guide / Step-by-Step Guide to Reading Gluten-Free Labels

FDA / Gluten and Food Labeling


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