Sometimes Reading the Label Isn't Enough

As much as I try to stay informed and do whatever I can to support someone living on a gluten-free diet, I was surprised to learn about some of the ingredients on food labels in our kitchen.

Let me be the first to applaud the gigantic steps that have been made on behalf of consumers by making food manufacturers in the US add the ingredients of their products to all food labels. In the last 20 years or so, we have come out of the dark ages of labeling when the requirements were either lax or worse, non-existent.

What’s more, in the US, fairly recent legislation mandated eight common allergenic foods be added to labels--wheat being one of the eight--so that the label must now read “contains wheat.” Although the US Food & Drug Administration has not mandated “gluten free” be added to food labels, manufacturers may do so voluntarily, but they are then accountable for the product being gluten free.

I know to look for wheat, barley, and rye on food labels and avoid those foods. But even with all this information, it doesn’t mean the average person like me can simply read ingredients and know if the product is gluten free or not unless, of course, the product is labeled (or certified) gluten free.

I didn’t have to look very far to find the following ingredients on labels of a couple of what I consider to be typical kitchen-variety products (no brand names). Even though the ingredient was listed on the product, since I really didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know whether it was gluten free.

Malt Extract, an ingredient I now know is derived from malted barley, was listed on a box of CORN FLAKES.

Dehydrated Soy Sauce (soybeans, wheat, salt, maltodextrin), which fortunately also listed the word wheat, was listed on a bottle of BARBECUE SAUCE; (in the US maltodextrin has been declared gluten free; however, another listed ingredient, natural smoke flavoring, is problematic because it may contain barley malt as the carrier for the smoke flavor).

What makes this so disconcerting is that you may not necessarily stop to think about whether malt extract and soy sauce, dehydrated or otherwise, contain gluten--but corn flakes and barbecue sauce?

When you’re on a gluten-free diet, you have to educate yourself and question everything. Sometimes reading the label isn’t enough.

Just FYI--a useful resource I ran across while researching this was the website Labelwatch ( that compares “ingredients in over 25,000 brand name products,” plus it also gives you information about some ingredients, especially the more unfamiliar ones.