Note:  This post has been updated since it was first published.

I’ve not had a lot of trouble shopping for gluten-free food products. There is so much available now, and there’s a ton of information out there, especially online. Below, I list some rules of thumb to assist me as I shop for gluten-free food products. Perhaps they will assist you in your shopping for gluten-free food products as well. However, everyone is different, and depending on your unique situation, you may have to handle things differently. Please consult with your doctor or nutritionist as required.

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  • Certified gluten-free products: I always buy these products with complete confidence as long as they don’t contain the other ingredients I’m trying to avoid. I’ve not had any issues with certified gluten-free foods to this date. What’s wonderful is that more and more products like this are hitting the shelves. Chances are you may be able to find what you need certified gluten-free.

  • Food products labelled gluten-free: I am also confident in these products. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had issues with food products labelled gluten-free, but they were a long time ago, when I was early into dealing with all the sources of gluten contamination, so it may not have even been those food items that were the problem. I’ve not gone back to them to be on the safe side, however. I’m fine with these products as long as they don’t contain the other ingredients I’m trying to avoid. I do make an exception for products with advisories that state they were made on shared equipment with other products containing wheat. However, since this advisory statement isn’t mandatory, I could be eating other products made on shared equipment. I have no problems buying and consuming labelled gluten-free foods that were made in shared facilities with wheat products. To this date, I’ve been fine with almost all labelled gluten-free foods.

  • Food products with no gluten ingredients and no gluten-free label but contain shared equipment/facilities warnings on the label that don’t include wheat: These are also products in which I have a fair amount of confidence. I buy nuts and nut butters that contain advisories for other allergens, but wheat isn’t listed. I’ve not had problems with these products. I’ve also bought canned vegetables, pasta sauces, etc. with allergen advisories that don’t mention wheat, and those have also been fine for me so far.

  • Food products with no gluten ingredients and no gluten-free label but contain shared equipment/facilities warnings on the label that do include wheat: I put these products back on the shelf. Since there is no “gluten-free” statement on the products, I assume they’re not tested for gluten content. Since there are facilities/equipment warnings concerning wheat, then I can only assume gluten contamination exists in these products. I play it safe and don’t purchase or consume such products.

  • Food products with no gluten ingredients, no gluten-free label, and no shared equipment/facilities warnings on the label: These are the products that require some thought and research. I’ve run across products with just two or three ingredients on the label that appear perfectly safe. Many times, I will try to look up information online. I’ll try to pull up information on the manufacturer’s website, or, failing that, I’ll do a general web search and try to turn up forum posts and blog posts where I hope to find people talking about the products and about whether or not they’ve had reactions or about whether or not they were able to find out something about the gluten-free status from the manufacturer. Yes, I’ll do this sort of thing on my smartphone standing in the middle of the aisle at the store. While there are times I’m able to find just what I’m looking for, other times, I cannot, and I’ll look for an alternative product that’s appropriately labelled, do without, or try to make it myself. I have to admit there are times when I’ve probably just taken a chance on such products and hoped for the best, but that’s not smart and not something I’d recommend that anyone do!

  • Food products that are not gluten-free: Obviously these go right back on the shelf. I will usually check the “contains” statement to see if wheat is listed, and if it isn’t, I’ll scan through the ingredients list looking for barley ingredients (like malt), oat ingredients, and rye ingredients. I don’t think I’ve seen anything with rye-derived ingredients yet, so I’m usually focusing on barley and oat ingredients. Sometimes wheat ingredients will just appear in the ingredients list and not in the contains statement, but they’re called out in an obvious way so that they’re not missed. Also, more manufacturers are calling out barley-based ingredients on the label by listing barley in parentheses next to them. If I’m not sure about an ingredient, I’ll try to search online to see what I can find out about it. I believe there are smartphone apps that list safe and unsafe ingredients for those following a gluten-free diet, and those can be a great resource as well.

A special note about gluten-derived ingredients:  Xanthan gum and distilled/white vinegar (or just “vinegar”) appear in many gluten-free products.  They may potentially be derived from gluten grains, but they contain such small traces that they contain far less than the 20 ppm of gluten that foods labelled gluten-free should not exceed.  Most people handle these ingredients with no problems, but some who are super-sensitive may find that they react to them.  Other than the corn-based vinegar and xanthan gum that I purchase for my own food prep, I avoid these ingredients.  It’s like playing Russian roulette; you may be fine with some products but not others.  They may be gluten-derived at times and at other times not.  I could contact the manufacturers about their products, but I find it easier just to avoid them.  If you have trouble with gluten-free products, I would consider reactions to these ingredients if they’re present in the problem foods.  You may be reacting to traces left behind in the making of the ingredients.


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