What Terms Mean 'Gluten' on Food Labels?

Learn what's safe and what's not on the gluten-free diet

Food label with wheat warning
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If you're new to the gluten-free diet — or even if you've been eating gluten-free for a while — you need to know what terms mean "gluten" on food labels and on the labels of personal care products so you can avoid hidden gluten.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to disclose gluten on food labels (only wheat), so determining if any given product contains gluten takes some detective work unless that product is specifically labeled "gluten-free."

To make it easier for you, I've compiled a list of the various ingredients in which gluten can hide. Some of these are straightforward — they mean wheat, barley or rye — while others may only contain gluten some of the time.

Use this list as a guide, but if in doubt, check with the manufacturer ... or just choose another product.

Also, read if coffee is gluten-free.

Terms That Mean Gluten on Food Labels

The following terms represent the most commonly used Latin terms for wheat, barley, and rye. If you see any of these, the product contains gluten:

  • Triticum vulgare (wheat)
  • Triticale (cross between wheat and rye)
  • Hordeum vulgare (barley)
  • Secale cereale (rye)
  • Triticum spelta (spelt, a form of wheat)

Ingredients That Always Contain Gluten

The following terms represent ingredients that always contain gluten:

  • Wheat protein/hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Wheat starch/hydrolyzed wheat starch
  • Wheat flour/bread flour/bleached flour
  • Bulgur (a form of wheat)
  • Malt (made from barley)
  • Couscous (made from wheat)
  • Farina (made from wheat)
  • Pasta (made from wheat unless otherwise indicated)
  • Seitan (made from wheat gluten and commonly used in vegetarian meals)
  • Wheat or barley grass (will be cross-contaminated)
  • Wheat germ oil or extract (will be cross-contaminated)

Ingredients That May Contain Gluten

Depending on the source, all of these ingredients potentially can contain gluten. The FDA does require food manufacturers to declare wheat-containing ingredients on their labels. However, other gluten-containing grains potentially could be used to make some of these ingredients.

You'll need to check with the manufacturer to find out for certain whether or not a food that includes one or more of these ingredients is safe on a gluten-free diet.

  • Vegetable protein/hydrolyzed vegetable protein (can come from wheat, corn or soy)
  • Modified starch/modified food starch (can come from several sources, including wheat)
  • Natural flavor/natural flavoring (can come from barley)
  • Artificial flavor/artificial flavoring (can come from barley)
  • Caramel color (now considered a safe ingredient, but if you're in doubt, check with the manufacturer)
  • Modified food starch
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein/HPP
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein/HVP
  • Seasonings
  • Flavorings
  • Vegetable starch
  • Dextrin and Maltodextrin (both sometimes made from wheat)

Remember, a food with no gluten-containing ingredients still can be cross-contaminated with gluten during processing. If you react to a food, but it doesn't appear to have any gluten ingredients in it, that doesn't mean you're imagining a reaction. But importantly, trace gluten can have a wide variety of asymptomatic effects that can be more medically dangerous than the acute symptoms - which is why it's extra important to pay attention to labels and to discuss safe foods with others the celiac community.

People with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity have wildly varying degrees of sensitivity to trace gluten. If you're getting gluten symptoms from something that appears to be gluten-free, there's obviously enough trace gluten in it to make you react, despite a safe list of ingredients.

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