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Four Sneaky Ways Gluten Is Getting Into Your Diet

We regularly treat clients with digestive problems including: IBS, IBD, & ulcerative colitis. A major part of treatment is following a strict gluten free diet, to repair damage to the gut and restore intestinal integrity.

Even when doing your best to avoid gluten, there are ways it can sneak back in to your diet and sabotage results. Sometimes, the only way you become aware of this is from unexplained gastro intestinal upsets, or IBD / IBS flare leaps .

We’ve found the four items below to be the most common, hidden, sources of gluten.

Tea & Herbal Teas

You may think a humble cup of tea is safe on a gluten free diet – and generally it is. If you enjoy herbal teas or infusions make sure you take extra care and read the food labels closely as not all flavourings used in sweeter herbal infusions are gluten free. For example: the gluten containing grain barley, or barley derived products such as malt are commonly used to help sweeten teas.

Another ingredient to watch for is maltodextrin. Commonly used in soft drink and sweets, maltodextrin has also been found in some flavoured teas. Maltodextrin is derived from starch. In America it is corn derived, in Europe and Australia it is typically made from wheat.

The affect of maltodextrin on gluten sensitivity is controversial as the amount of processing typically removes traces of gluten. A small study following 90 patients with celiac disease over a period of 24 weeks found no physical damage or GI symptoms from maltodextrin consumption of 2.7g / day[1]. On the other hand, people, including myself have found maltodextrin to cause almost immediate gut cramping and bloating.

What can you do?

Don’t assume herbal teas are safe, check the ingredients closely and try to buy from a reputable tea shop, or health food store that can tell you whether the product contains gluten or not.

Dates

Dates are the energy bar for the paleo diet, and with good reason – dates contain almost 6 times the protein in an apple, 4 times the amount of B vitamins and almost 5 times the magnesium. If you’re not eating dates you are missing out on a true super food.

There is a dark side to dates! Dates are commonly dusted with wheat to prevent sticking during processing. This can take one of the most perfect gluten free snacks and make them a recipe for gut problems and irritation.

What can you do?

Don’t let this superfood slip by. Enjoy dates, but make sure to purchase from a retailer who can guarantee they have not been dusted with wheat. Choose to purchase dates from organic markets and growers.

Gravy, Stock Cubes & Sauces

Gravies, stock cubes, and sauces need close attention when shopping. Make sure you are not rushing when you shop this aisle in the grocery store. The average bottle of simmer sauce or gravy contains many of the common gluten pseudonyms. These include:

  • thickeners – most commonly made from corn starch, this may also use wheat starch and contain some levels of gluten. Xanthan gum is also often used which is based on corn, wheat or soy. Like maltodextrin, xanthan gum is highly processed so doesn’t trigger immediate symptoms in all gluten sensitive people.
  • colourings – made from a variety of ingredients depending on the colour. Wheat or corn is one of the common ingredients for caramel colouring.
  • glucose syrup – while you may think this is made from sugar, wheat is the most common ingredient used in glucose syrup.

Australian food labelling is changing and some labels now show where wheat is used. As a rule of thumb, always assume gravy, stock cubes and sauces contain gluten unless they clearly state gluten free.

What can you do?

Making your own sauces and bases at home is always the best option – a thermomix or vitamix will make short work of these. Mainstream manufacturers are slowly responding to gluten free demand and releasing gluten free options. Gravox for example has released two gluten free gravy bases. The risk with these manufacturers is cross contamination from other products and equipment during processing.

Other smaller local manufactures are responding more rapidly committing to gluten free across their entire manufacturing and range.

Pharmaceuticals, Multi Vitamins & Supplements

A final source of gluten that many people over look are pharmaceuticals, multi vitamins, and other supplements.

If you are taking protein powders or other sports supplements, these can be easily checked by examining the food label and researching the ingredient list. Make sure to check for hidden names like thickeners, colours, and glucose syrups.

When it comes to multi vitamins, pharmaceuticals, and encapsulated or tableted supplements, relying on labelling is harder. For these products manufacturer’s only label the active ingredients. The inactive ingredients, used for things like: binding, setting, preserving and filling; do not need to be listed.

Multi vitamins in particular seem to commonly contain gluten, with several major manufacturers producing multi vitamins containing gluten from contaminated oats.

What can you do?

Check any supplements or pharmaceuticals you are taking with your pharmacist, health food shop, or naturopath to ensure they are gluten free.


  1. K. KAUKINEN, T. SALMI, P. COLLIN, H. HUHTALA, T. KÄRJÄ-LAHDENSUU, and M. MÄKI. Clinical trial: gluten microchallenge with wheat-based starch hydrolysates in coeliac disease patients – a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate safety. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 28(10):1240–1248, 2008.
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