Going Gluten-Free: 8 “Innocent” Foods That Actually Aren’t

Avoiding bread is just the beginning.

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The recent boom in gluten-free offerings at the grocery store is nothing short of miracle, if you ask the estimated 3 million Americans who live with celiac disease. In 2015, the U.S. saw sales of gluten-free products amount to around 2.8 billion dollars, up from 1.1 billion in 2009. Those numbers are expected to surpass 7.5 billion dollars by 2020.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system—which is supposed to fight off diseases—turns against the body. In those with celiac disease, the immune system attacks the small intestine, which can result in poor absorption of much-needed nutrients, according to the National Institutes of Health. Because of malabsorption, people with celiac are susceptible to anemia, osteoporosis, and other nutrition deficiencies.

At the moment, the only treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet. Gluten often gets associated with bread, but it actually is a type of protein found in many types of wheat, rye, barley, and more. Digesting gluten when you have celiac disease may cause symptoms like headaches, brain fog, abdominal pain, upset stomach, heartburn, and vomiting, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Despite the increased offerings for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, navigating the food scene can still be a challenge. Gluten can sneak into unexpected places, and these are eight common offenders people following a gluten-free diet need to look out for.

  1. Soy sauce typically contains wheat. Why? Great question. It’s simply part of the traditional brewing process. However, you can easily swap in tamari or liquid aminos as a gluten-free alternative.

  2. Any dish made with soy sauce, like fried rice and Thai peanut sauce, contains gluten. That plate of rice might seem safe, but the presence of soy sauce makes this a no-go. (Check out this cauliflower fried rice that’s low-carb and gluten-free.)

  3. Malt flavoring and malted milkshakes are made from barley, which contains gluten. That includes malt vinegar, some whiskeys, Whoppers candy, and Ovaltine, and more.

  4. Creamy sauces and gravies need caution because they are often thickened using flour. When you’re cooking at home, you can swap in arrowroot or tapioca starch to thicken sauces instead.

  5. Beer usually contains gluten since it is typically made from barley and wheat. Love a cold pint? Look for the gluten-free label. Some beer companies are making genius brews using alternative grains like sorghum and rice. (Good news: Almost all wines are naturally gluten-free.)

  6. Salad dressings occasionally contain sneaky sources of gluten. Some dressings are thickened with flour, while others may contain malt vinegar or soy sauce for flavoring (like a sesame dressing or miso-ginger dressing). For total control over your ingredients, check out how to make a vinaigrette at home.

  7. Creamy soups may contain flour as a thickener. Many soups and sauces begin with a roux, which is the French culinary term for mixing flour and butter together at the start of the cooking process.

  8. Seitan is a meat substitute made from wheat. In fact, seitan begins from an ingredient called vital wheat gluten; it’s basically a cube of gluten. Stick to tofu and tempeh instead. (These jerk-seasoned tempeh tacos are totally gluten-free.)

As always, your best bet is to check the label and ask the waiter for more info. For more gluten-free smarts, here are the best gluten-free flours, ranked by protein.