10 surprising items that may contain gluten

Gluten is used as a binder and thickener for many food and non-food items. Read here which products could be potentially harmful for a coeliac.

Adriana Wolf Perez, PhD
5 min readDec 16, 2020
  1. Cosmetics and hygiene items.

Many lipsticks contain gluten. For my blog research i came across that it is highly debated whether the amounts in lipsticks are a health concern for coeliacs. Funnily it is often written that no health concern is present as long as the product is not ingested. Well, it is very hard not to ingest something like lipstick that you apply directly on your lips. It is different with shampoo where you are less likely to ingest it, although some coeliac friends say they use glutenfree shampoos. I agree that one should be rather safe than sorry. But good news, glutenfree lipsticks exist! Some toothpastes may also contain gluten as a thickening agent. Avoid ingredients like hydrolyzed wheat, triticum vulgare and avena sativa. Gluten free toothpastes that have been approved by the American Dental Association are for example Colgate Total and Biotene. If in doubt, I recommend to contact the companies directly to make sure that the toothpaste you use is 100 % glutenfree.

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2. Baking powder.

Baking powder consist of a combination of baking soda, an acid (cream of tartar) and a starch to absorb moisture. The starch is either corn or wheat based (containing gluten!) and therefore one should always check the product label.

3. Bouillon cubes.

Some cubes may contain gluten to thicken the broth, therefore one should always check the food labels. Also many commercial salad dressings and sauces (e.g. ketchup and gravy) often contain gluten and need to be avoided.

4. Soy sauce.

Soy sauce consists of fermented wheat and soya and therefore contains gluten. However, tamari soy sauce are generally made without wheat and represent a gluten free alternative. You can use glutenfree tamari sauce as a substitute for soy sauce.

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5. Frozen vegetables.

I have experienced that some frozen (and even non-frozen) vegetables may contain traces of gluten as they have been handled in the same factories as gluten containing products. The other day i noticed that the beansprouts and chines stir fry vegetable mix I usually used to buy, contain traces of gluten. Or sometimes, some frozen vegetables contain sauces that contain soy sauce or gluten as a sauce thickener. So always watch out. I know it is annoying, but you will get used to it after a while.

6. Flavoured crisps and french fries.

Even though potatoes are naturally gluten free, many flavoured chips are not due to the spices. Some spices are ground in the same facilities as gluten products and thus may be contaminated. Sometimes tortilla chips contain also gluten as wheat flour can be added to corn flour, so always double check the food labels. Some frozen chips may be coated with wheat flour to give them extra crispiness, so always read the food label. Often, in restaurants french fries are not gluten free due to cross-contamination issues as frying oils are often reused for gluten products like battered fish. Always double check with the waiter, cook or manager to find out whether you can eat the french fries.

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7. Wheat free products.

“Wheat free” is not interchangeable with “gluten free”. Wheat free products contain some gluten and therefore need to be avoided in a gluten free diet.

8. Hot chocolate and coffee.

This took me a while to figure. With chocolate we have again the issue of cross-contamination, so the hot chocolate you drink in a cafe often may contain traces of gluten. Bear this in mind and always double check. If you like your coffee with milk or milk alternatives you might have a problem if the cafe uses these fancy Italian coffee machines with the milk frother. The problem is that oat milk (which is a popular choice nowadays) is generally not glutenfree unless specifically stated. Often the milk frothers are used for all types of milk, so normal milk and the milk alternatives, and are cleaned just with a wet cloth (or not, if the place is very busy). So, there is a high risk of cross-contamination you should take into account when drinking a coffee or hot chocolate. If you do not want to give up on your coffee ask the cafe staff if they can prepare it in another way or clean the milk frother properly. Also, there may be a small risk of cross-contamination if the cups and glasses are not washed properly. It has happened to me a few times that my cups were not clean as the place was so busy that cups and glasses were washed manually, but not very thoroughly (and with a sponge that other gluten products have been washed with). Do not feel embarrassed to ask for a clean cup or glass.

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9. Malt.

Malt is produced from germinated grain, often barley, and thus, contains gluten. Malt is often added to vinegar, drinks (e.g. beer) and syrup (e.g. used in cereal, ice-cream or chocolate). However, if a product is labelled glutenfree and contains for example barley malt extract, the product will contain no more than 20 ppm of gluten and can be therefore included in a glutenfree diet.

10. Medicine.

Some vitamin supplements and over-the counter- medication can contain gluten. For professional information, please refer to the Celiac Disease Foundation website: https://celiac.org/gluten-free-living/gluten-in-medicine-vitamins-and-supplements/

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