Become a Gluten Detective: How to Spot Gluten on Food Labels by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD (Garden of Life)

Become a Gluten Detective: How to Spot Gluten on Food Labels by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD (Garden of Life)

If you have been trying to follow a gluten-free diet, you may need to learn more about food ingredients and reading labels than you originally anticipated. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not make it easy, as it doesn’t require that gluten-free be identified on food labels. This means you will need to become a gluten detective. 

How do you spot gluten on a food label and what are some other ways you can avoid it in your food and supplements? 


What is gluten? 


Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It needs to be avoided by people with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system and is triggered by the consumption of gluten. Those with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity also need to avoid gluten as it can trigger a variety of other digestive and non-digestive symptoms.  

Following a gluten-free diet can be more challenging than it sounds. Many food additives are made from wheat. Wheat by-products are frequently used as thickeners or fillers in supplements, medication, sauces, seasonings, and more. If you need to eat a completely gluten-free diet, you will need to learn to be a gluten detective by learning what to look for on a food label. 


Identifying gluten on a food label 


Gluten is found under several different names. Always start by looking for the most obvious terms that indicate the product is not gluten-free. These include: 

  • Wheat (protein, starch, flour) 
  • Bulgur 
  • Malt 
  • Farina 
  • Soy sauce 
  • Couscous 
  • Matza 
  • Seitan 
  • Barley grass 
  • Wheat germ oil 


Some brands choose to use Latin words for wheat, barley, or rye. These terms include: 

  • Triticum vulgare 
  • Hordeum vulgare 
  • Triticale 
  • Secal cereale 
  • Triticum spelta 


Other ingredients are even more vague and may or may not contain gluten. If you are not sure, the best thing to do is call the manufacturer to ask if the product is safe. Ingredients to watch out for may include: 

  • Modified starch 
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable/plant protein  
  • Natural or artificial flavorings 
  • Modified food starch 
  • Vegetable starch 
  • Dextrin or maltodextrin 


This is not a comprehensive list. You can find more foods and ingredients on the Celiac Foundation website. But if you are ever in doubt, it is best to avoid the food. 


Certified gluten-free 


One thing to understand about food labels is that even if it says “gluten-free” it may not mean 100% gluten-free. The FDA allows a bit of flexibility in how it defines the word “free”. Food can be labeled gluten-free if it has less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, which is not the same as zero. 

Additionally, a company may label something gluten-free, but the product can still be cross-contaminated with gluten during production. 

If you want to be sure the food or supplement contains no gluten, look for products that are certified gluten-free. There are a few different organizations that offer this type of service to brands.  

Start by looking for products that are certified by either NSF International or the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). Products that are labeled with either of these certifications have been independently tested to meet specific standards.  

GFCO requires that all products contain less than 10 ppm of gluten, lower than what the FDA requires. These organizations also ensure that the brands meet very specific standards during processing and production to help prevent cross-contamination. Brands must also undergo annual inspections to maintain these certifications.  

Garden of Life has worked hard to create an extensive line of certified gluten-free products.. Our goal is to provide products that meet standards above and beyond what is required by the FDA.