What Foods Have Gluten in Them?

To eat gluten-free, you first need to know which foods to avoid

breads, pasta and pretzels
 Jeffrey Coolidge / Getty Images

Lots and lots of foods have gluten. In fact, if you look at your typical breakfast menu, lunch selection or dinner table, the odds are good that most of the foods on there will contain gluten in some form or another. Think: cereal, pasta, bread, cake and cookies, not to mention many, many processed foods.

The question almost should be: What foods don't have gluten?

Gluten 101: Why Gluten Is in So Many Foods

First, let's cover what gluten actually is (there's almost always a bunch of confusion over this).

Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye (for more detail on this, see my article about what gluten is. It tells you everything you ever, ever wanted to know about this protein.)

The so-called "gluten grains"—wheat in particular—are everywhere in our food supply, in part because they taste good (and therefore make up a large portion of many people's favorite foods), and in part because they're pretty useful in formulating processed foods. Food manufacturers use gluten in many, many different ways, some of which are much more obvious than others.

Okay, So What Foods Have It?

Because wheat has gluten in it, foods made with wheat flour—breads, cookies, cakes, donuts, rolls, bagels, muffins, scones and other pastries, plus conventional pasta and pizza, along with many cereals—all contain gluten.

Wheat can appear on ingredients labels under many different words, including: flour, bread flour, wheat flour, white flour, whole wheat flour, pasta, bulgur, spelt, and kamut. Any of those words on a food label indicate the food isn't safe for someone on the gluten-free diet.

Barley appears less frequently than wheat on the dinner table (your favorite barley-containing soup is the exception). However, beer almost always has barley in it (unless it's gluten-free beer), and barley is used to make malt, found in malted milk, malted chocolate and in other products.

In addition, soups and casseroles sometimes include pearl barley (almost always listed as such on a label). Barley extracts can serve as a sweetener or as a flavor enhancer in some processed foods, and they may be hidden under the words "natural flavor." For example, the ingredient "natural smoke flavor" usually contains barley.

Generally, rye—the least common of the gluten grains—appears only in rye bread and in some forms of alcohol; it's rarely used in other processed foods.

There are multiple other foods that frequently (but not always) have gluten. These include: canned soups (flour often is used as a thickener instead of cream), sausage (bread crumbs are used as a filler), soy sauce (wheat is the first ingredient in most brands) and even ice cream (starch, sometimes wheat starch, is used to provide texture).

In addition, many processed foods contain gluten as an ingredient, including spice mixtures, salad dressings, sauces and other condiments, plus frozen dinners and various prepared side dishes. It's even possible for yogurt and other milk products to contain gluten ingredients.

Okay, It's Everywhere. What Now?

Therefore, if you want to avoid gluten in your diet, you'll need to check the ingredients of every food product you use. In addition, you'll need to learn how to identify gluten on food labels (even when it's hidden) and the various places gluten can hide. You also should understand a bit about whether food labeling laws require disclosure of gluten (hint: they don't).

It's certainly possible to follow the gluten-free diet (more and more people are doing it every day), but to do so, you need to know the foods that have gluten.

A Word From Verywell

If you're new to the gluten-free diet, all this may seem quite daunting. It's true that gluten is either the main ingredient or a featured ingredient in many foods and meals, and avoiding it certainly can be challenging, especially at first.

When you first go gluten-free, it's a good idea to eat mainly fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables. That way, you avoid gluten naturally. As you become more confident, you then can add in some gluten-free-labeled products (there are plenty, ranging from soup to nuts). It's only once you become proficient in eating gluten-free that you can feel confident reading labels and making a judgment about whether a food that isn't labeled "gluten-free" contains gluten.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources