Tuesday, November 16, 2010

There's wheat in WHAT!?

When I started this gluten-free experiment, I had no idea how many foods have wheat/gluten in them. It's estimated that at least 15% of all people have wheat/gluten intolerance. It certainly makes sense to me that overexposure to wheat (by putting it in everything) would eventually result in a large number of people developing intolerance. So far, my experiment has gone by pretty quickly, and I'm not finding it that difficult at all to cook without wheat. This makes it that much more astounding to me to pick up a product in the grocery store that I know doesn't need to have flour in it, only to find that it does, in fact, contain flour.

To illustrate the prevalence of wheat in our food supply, I've compiled a short list of foods that contain wheat, even though I really think they shouldn't:
  • Soy sauce (and teriyaki sauce): This is one of the worst ones, in my opinion, because it's called "soy" sauce. It should be made of soy, right? Well, many of the commercially available soy sauces contain absolutely no soy, but they do contain wheat.

  • Some shredded cheeses: No, I am not kidding. Sometimes there is wheat added to shredded cheese to prevent clumping.

  • Rice and corn cereal (Crispix): A cereal made up almost entirely of rice and corn, but it has malt flavoring added. Why?!

  • Most canned soups (including tomato): Even soups that are not cream-based or do not have noodles contain wheat. There is just no justifiable reason in my mind for putting flour in vegetable soup.

  • Flavored rice mixes: Even though it's a rice mix, wheat is added to the flavoring/sauce.

  • Many types of potato chips: Again, even though it's made of potatoes, the wheat is part of the flavoring.
It seems that most of the time, wheat is part of the flavoring, sauce, or seasoning of a food product. (It took me the better part of half an hour to find a gluten-free stir fry sauce in the Asian foods aisle.) This sauce situation is probably why it's not too hard to cook without wheat at home: we don't need the seasonings to last on a shelf for a long time, so there's no need for flour.
There are many grains that are types of wheat or are made from wheat but aren't explicitly called "wheat," and as such, it can be confusing to know that eating them will fill you up with gluten. These include: spelt, rye, barley, couscous, semolina, bulgar, kamut, and triticale.

Wheat grass and barley grass juices, while made of wheat, do not contain gluten. However, if a person has Celiac disease or a true wheat allergy, there's such a high risk of contamination with wheat seeds that these should be avoided, too. It is also my understanding that while oats and wheat contain a common protein (avenin), oats are actually gluten-free. Similarly to the grass juices, oats have a high risk of contamination by wheat products. Also, because of the common protein, oats may cause problems for people who have Celiac disease. 

When reading food labels, I've gotten into the habit of looking at the bottom of the ingredients list for the allergy warning statement. If it has one of these, it will say something like "Contains: wheat, eggs." in bold. If it doesn't have that allergy statement, I have to read through all the ingredients.

The more obvious indicators that an item contains wheat ingredients are if it says any of the following: wheat, whole wheat flour, unbleached flour, bleached flour.... If it says "flour," that means "wheat" unless otherwise specified as "rice flour" or "potato flour," et cetera.

Some of the other things you might see on labels that mean a food item has wheat in it are: malt (even "malt flavoring"), distilled vinegar (malt vinegar), modified food starch (usually made from corn, but sometimes made from wheat), dextrin (usually made from corn, but sometimes made from wheat), caramel color (made from corn in the US, so it's gluten-free here, but made from barley in other countries), and brown rice syrup (sometimes barley enzymes are used to make it, and sometimes fungal enzymes are used so it may or may not be gluten-free).

It can be a little tricky at first, but after only a few weeks, I feel almost like a pro at scanning labels for wheat ingredients. Fortunately, there are plenty of delicious foods that don't contain wheat or gluten, so I've really started to enjoy this experience. I'll write more about that later!

2 comments:

  1. I had no idea many soy sauces had no soy in them. That's our modern food processing for you. I've actually been trying to limit soy because of contraindications I've heard concerning soy hormones and pregnancy (particularly if it's a boy), and it's astonishing where you find it. And, apparently, where you don't!

    We have friends with kids who are allergic to absolutely everything, and one of the allergies is wheat, and they can't buy anything processed at all, or eat out ever. It's probably for the best, right? But I remember trying to help them source some convenient box foods and having it be just impossible.

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  2. It was very surprising to find out about the soy sauce! I've heard about issues with soy acting as an estrogen in babies (particularly with regard to soy-based baby formulas) but hadn't heard of effects in pregnancy. Will definitely read up on that.

    I have a post planned for a couple of weeks with a bunch of gluten-free convenience foods that I enjoyed this month. Although, a lot of them have some soy/milk/eggs in them as well. Allergies are SO hard with the way our food is processed. Cooking all our food is probably for the best, but sometimes it's nice not to have to!

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