Going Gluten-FreeNovember 2, 2011

Look at Labels

 When Living Without team member Laurel Greene’s doctor told her to cut out the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), she figured “no big deal.” She quit drinking soda and checked labels for HFCS and thought she was fine. Then last week a class instructor mentioned to her that “honey” frequently was imported from who knows where and could be loaded with HFCS. The class instructor went on to say, “The label on the honey doesn’t necessarily reveal this.” Then she recommended, “Buy your honey locally and make sure it’s 100% pure honey. Organic is good, too.”

A bit of Internet research revealed that some major honey producers do, in fact, supplement their bee feed with HFCS, hence the concern that the ingredient makes its way into some of the honey sold on grocery shelves.

We recently received a letter from a Living Without reader who’s sensitive to gluten, casein (a protein in cow’s milk and other dairy products) and soy. She was having inexplicable reactions to tuna and couldn’t figure out why. Our reader wrote: “When I went back to read the label, it just says 'tuna and water.'"

On the surface, this particular product looks pure and simple—“tuna and water.” Laurel thumbed through a gluten-free, casein-free grocery guide and saw that many brands of canned tuna are, in fact, gluten free and casein free. So what is the issue? Turns out that some brands are packed in “broth.” When she saw “broth,” Laurel decided to dig a bit deeper. She went to the manufacturer’s website and here’s what she saw:

INGREDIENTS: WHITE TUNA, WATER, VEGETABLE BROTH, SALT, PYROPHOSPHATE ADDED. CONTAINS: TUNA, SOY  

Wait a minute. Soy in canned tuna?

Fortunately, federal law requires that manufacturers label the top 8 food allergens (wheat, dairy, soy, egg, nuts, peanut, fish, seafood) in their products. That’s very helpful but note the list doesn’t include gluten (not yet—we’re working on it) or corn or sesame seeds or other ingredients that may be problematic for many of our readers.

The bottom line is to be vigilant and continue to question. Usually a manufacturer’s website has pretty good information, and an up-to-date grocery guide can be a valuable helper as you shop. (Laurel uses Matison & Matison shopping guide, available at ceceliasmarketplace.com.) Find product brands that are easily available and that are safe for you—and stick with those. If you’re at all unsure, check directly with the manufacturer. And be sure to read the label every time because ingredients can change without notice.

Think back. When was the last time you saw a red flag on a label? Why was it surprising and what did it turn out to be?

Comments (14)

I learned the hard way to never make assumptions about ingredients. Once I purchased some imported candy that had glucose syrup in it, which after all sounds harmless, because everyone needs glucose! It made me sick, so I looked it up, and discovered that wheat is often used to make it.

Posted by: Sonia P. | November 4, 2011 2:25 PM    Report this comment

Also, spices. My son has a garlic allergy (amongst many other allergies) and "spices" always makes me nervous.

Posted by: TKnell | November 4, 2011 1:23 PM    Report this comment

I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 1984. We used to have to forego all breads, but tuna, canned chicken, etc. used to be safe. Not any more!!! Since the mid to late 90s, soy is added to almost everything!!!! The use of HVP and texturized protein prevails. The ingredients for Minute Maid tapioca, long a staple in gf households, now contains soy lecithin. Pudding mixes used to be manufactured without lecithin. most non-dairy creamers contain soy. In fact, most foods that are meant to be creamy (including peanut butter) contain soy lecithin because manufacturers don't want to spend extra time blending and mixing. They use cheap fillers and shortcuts to extend their profits. A travesty!!!!

A thought--premature puberty and an increase in autism has been prevalent since the late 1980s/early 1990s, the years that soy started appearing as a food additive and being pushed as a super health food. Soy contains estrogen. Those years fostered the trend toward no/extremely low fat diets. Many pregnant women go no fat, not recognizing that fat is needed for proper development of fetal brain. Some eliminate all fat from their infant's and toddler's diet, another period during which some fat is necessary for further brain development.

Posted by: Mary Ann W | November 4, 2011 1:21 PM    Report this comment

In reponse to Geraldine's comment on being wary of supplements... All I can say is that we must (even in moments of stress, tiredness, and desperation) remain vigilant. In an attempt to reduce costs, I recently switched fish oil supplements to a Whole Foods brand. After a week of increasing digestive upset the lightbulb finally went off and I had a closer look at the label. Soybean oil. Duh. Good grief. Then it's the FOUR DOLLAR difference between "regular" and gluten free baking powder. Four dollars. I've been gf, soy-free (except for accidents), and mostly pesticide-free for five years now and I guess I'm having a moment of frustration regarding cost. I KNOW this is a more expensive way to live. I'm not a newbie. Bottom line: CONSTANT VIGILANCE! I can live without cookies, cakes, and muffins. If I must. But just not bread. It's a jungle out there my people. Use coupons. Read, read, read. Don't assume anything. Ever.

Posted by: Unknown | November 4, 2011 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Also watch out for DATEM this is gluten

Posted by: kim r | November 3, 2011 4:15 PM    Report this comment

Hello all, I am a holistic dietitian who is super super careful about reading all labels all the time to keep up to date with warnings for my patients. Thsi has been a frustration of mine and this has been going on for over 1 year. Because soy is so cheap you now see it in a multitude of unexpected foods. Anything with vegetable broth, soybean oil, vegetable oil, etc. Wegmans is the one packaged non organic tuna i have found recently with NO SOY. I could write for days on the anger I experience when I learn mor about the dishonest practices of the food industry. For instance, did you know that even something like yogurt and pickles have yellow dye #6? Now I know that most readers to this site are already avoiding most of the junky processed foods, but it is just tragic to learn HOW MANY toxic chemicals are in foods. The bigger tragety is when a person thinks the USDA or FDA is out to PROTECT them.. WRONG! they are out to make money. Love LW and support you with smiles! Kim Remeta

Posted by: kim r | November 3, 2011 4:14 PM    Report this comment

Amberlyn Chocolate. I recently picked up this chocolate bar that claimed "gluten free," but in the ingredients list says; Maltitol(wheat). It claimed to be a low carb chocolate, which I could care less about but was annoyed that it could say gluten free on one side of the package and contain wheat in the ingredients list. Maltitol is hydrogenated starch, often from derived wheat. There are other companies using this as well and all claim the gluten is processed out of kernal since they wash it and only use the starch from the wheat. I am not sold. I contacted the company, they gave me their reasoning, basically what I said above and assured me the "fda" wouldn't allow them to label it as such. I am in the business, and informed the owner that currently the "fda" has no definite guideline and the usda considers less than 6ppm of any allergen to be free of that allergen. This is a problem in my opinion, as gluten builds up in the system and that is a problem for celiac sufferer. I stay away from the maltitol, usually found in candies, gum, chocolate. Let's not let ourselves be fooled with fancy explanations. It either is gluten free or not. The two current certifications for "gluten free" allow 5ppm and up to 10ppm. That is not gluten free in my book. I tried a new brand of pretzels last night, "certified gluten free" from a large manufacturer, inevitably I felt ill 15min. later. There are many truly gluten free foods out there. Why should we allow any amount to be called gluten free, just so large companies can pay the fees to make a profit of marketing something gluten free that has a little in it? I don't fault them for trying and wanting to make money off a growing market, but it is imperative that we get the legislation correct. If smaller companies can manufacturer goods safely without naturally containing gluten shouldn't the big guys be able to?

Posted by: Laura Elizabeth Maierle | November 3, 2011 1:22 PM    Report this comment

Is everyone aware that "Non-Dairy" is not necessarily "Dairy Free"? I have found that Non-Dairy Creamers often have Casein! I can't tolerate casein and found out the hard way that it was in these creamers by not reading the labels carefully!

Posted by: Dana J | November 3, 2011 12:34 PM    Report this comment

I think the most shocking for me was when my son had to give up corn and I found it in "Pure Vanilla Extract". The other place I did not expect it was baking powder. But the worst shock was when it was in dried blueberries! Why did they need the added sweetener of HFCS? We are learning how to make do and I am learning to be hyper-vigilant when reading labels! I used to have to take a list of "hidden milk" ingredients to the store, but I think I could practically say them in my sleep now!

Posted by: Dana J | November 3, 2011 12:29 PM    Report this comment

Intersting that apples and pears can cause IBS symptoms due to fructose. Our greatest surprise when going gluten free was the Malt in crisp rice cereals, no matter the brand. Rice Chex is now labelled Gluten Free.

Posted by: Barbara S | November 3, 2011 12:14 PM    Report this comment

I had a time finding gf cocoa.I had been using FRYs and on the new can it now reads May contain wheat. I was able to get gf from Epicure in Canada. They have a lot of GF products.

Posted by: Betty L | November 3, 2011 11:37 AM    Report this comment

Check your vitamins. You would be surprised at how many have a soy product.

Posted by: geraldibne c | November 3, 2011 11:09 AM    Report this comment

First, thank you for continuing vigilance on labeling. It is a moving target and getting consumer friendly standards established is a HUGE step.

#HFCS, keep in mind the simple sugar Fructose is not absorbed by the body and is the root of many IBS symptoms (see recent discoveries about FODMAPS by AU researcher Sue Shepard). Honey, apples and pears contain the highest percentage of fructose. The term for all highly fermentable foods causing these problems is FODMAP.

Posted by: sicl4015 | November 3, 2011 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Even finding safe brands is not enough. Here in Canada, everyone has been buying a popular brand of gluten free hot dogs - for years. One day I picked up a package at the store and noticed that 'wheat' was in the ingredient list. They had re-formulated to reduce costs.

As an aside - gluten has to start being listed on ingredient lists here 1 August 2012. One small step...thanks for everyone who is working hard to turn things in the right direction. I realise that 20ppm is not going to work for everyone as the threshold for 'gluten free' - but every step forward is progress. Until they can test for lower levels, we are kind of stuck there.

Posted by: Catherine K | November 2, 2011 1:04 PM    Report this comment

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