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The Hidden Gluten: Highest Gluten Foods You Might Not Know About

Gluten: a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, has been a topic of much debate and discussion in recent years. While some people can consume gluten without any adverse effects, others, like those with celiac disease, must avoid it at all costs. This is because, for people with celiac disease, even tiny amounts of gluten can trigger an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine.

Embarking on a gluten-free diet can seem daunting at first, and understandably so. Gluten lurks in many foods, some of which are not so obvious. Sure, we all know that bread and pasta are gluten-containing foods, but what about salad dressings or French fries? Yep, those can contain gluten too. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the highest gluten foods that might surprise you. If you are new to a gluten free diet and feel lost at times check out our How to Go Gluten Free article that helps understand more about going gluten free and helps with frustration and or confusion you might experience from time to time. We’ve been there and completely understand.

Most people know wheat is in just about every food that’s processed. Foods that are packaged, canned, bottled or tetra packed. Food such as bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, baked goods… but did you know gluten hides in beverages such as beer, store bought gravies and soups. Wheat flour is used to thicken foods, so if something is thickened, ask or read the ingredients and see if it contains flour and if its labeled gluten free. Some people do not understand flour is made not just from wheat, heck some people don’t connect that flour is made from grain. So be proactive and don’t assume someone out in the world of food knows. You must be your own unapologetic detective. 

Common highest gluten foods and foods you may not know contain gluten.

  1. Soy Sauce: This popular condiment is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans and wheat. This means that regular soy sauce contains significant amounts of gluten, and should be avoided on a gluten-free diet. Wheat-free tamari or Coconut Amino’s are great alternatives.
  2. Salad Dressings: Many commercial salad dressings contain gluten as a thickener. It’s essential to read labels carefully or make your dressing at home. Try our famous Curry Girls House dressing! Its addictive in a good way!
  3. Meat Substitutes: Vegetarian meat substitutes are often made from wheat protein, also known as seitan. This is essentially pure gluten, making these products some of the highest gluten foods available. An meat alternative with similar texture to meat is lions main mushrooms.
  4. French Fries: While potatoes are naturally gluten-free, cross-contamination can occur during the frying process if the same oil is used to fry gluten-containing foods like breaded chicken. Additionally, some restaurants may coat their fries in flour to make them crispier.
  5. Processed Foods: Gluten is often used as a stabilizing agent in processed foods, including ice creams and ketchup. Be sure to check the labels carefully.
  6. Malted Beverages: Malt is made from barley, which contains gluten. Therefore, malted beverages, including some types of beer, are high in gluten. Thankfully, gluten-free beer options are available on the market. Check out our blog post sharing our favorite GF Beer! Lots more to choose from!
  7. Oats: While oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye, leading to cross-contamination. It’s crucial to choose oats that are labeled as gluten-free. If recently diagnosed and still having symptoms, oats can be a challenge. Listen to your body while healing your intestines and perhaps wait a bit before reintroducing oats again. Try creamy rice hot cereal for a delicious option.
  8. Brown Rice Syrup: This sweetener is sometimes made with barley enzymes, which means it could contain traces of gluten. This Brown Rice Syrup is gluten free.
  9. Wheat Starch: Despite the name, wheat starch can be processed to remove gluten. However, there is still a risk of cross-contamination, so it’s best to avoid this ingredient unless it is labeled gluten-free. There are so many other choices: potato, corn, tapioca, arrowroot all can be used to thicken sauces or added into your backed goods. Check labels and find products that are also GMO FREE.

Grains to Avoid

While wheat is the most well-known source of gluten, other grains including barley and rye also contain this protein. Here’s a list of grains and their derivatives that should be avoided on a gluten-free diet:

  1. Wheat Varieties: This includes all forms of wheat (e.g., spelt, kamut, farro, durum, and einkorn), as well as wheat flour, wheat germ, and wheat bran.
  2. Barley: This includes malt, malt flavoring, malt vinegar, and brewer’s yeast.
  3. Rye: This includes rye bread, rye beer, and cereals containing rye.

Navigating the Gluten-Free Diet

While it may seem overwhelming at first, navigating a gluten-free diet is doable with a bit of preparation and knowledge. Here are some tips to help you avoid hidden sources of gluten:

  1. Read Labels Carefully: Food manufacturers are required to list all ingredients in their products. However, gluten can be hidden under different names, such as malt, brewer’s yeast, or wheat starch. Make it a habit to read labels carefully, and when in doubt, opt for products labeled gluten-free. If a manufacturer rebrands, meaning the label is new and different, take caution and re-read its ingredients. Sometimes recipes and ingredients change.
  2. Be Cautious When Dining Out: Cross-contamination is a significant concern when dining out. Be sure to communicate your dietary needs to the server or chef. No need to get embarrassed, be clear with your needs. Servers are there to serve. Additionally, consider using a gluten-free dining app to find restaurants with gluten-free options.
  3. Cook at Home: Preparing meals at home allows you to have full control over the ingredients used. There are plenty of delicious gluten-free recipes available right here in Curry girls Kitchen and in Peg’s Damn Good Gluten Free Lifestyle and recipe cookbook! 140 customizable recipes that help you feed the gluten free, dairy free vegetarian, plant-based vegan or Paleo friends and family.
  4. Opt for Naturally Gluten-Free Foods: Naturally GF food don’t have a food label. They are whole close to the source foods. Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and most dairy products are naturally gluten-free. Additionally, many grains, including quinoa, rice, and corn, are safe for people with celiac disease.

The Takeaway

Avoiding gluten is essential for people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance and those with gluten sensitivity. While it may seem like gluten is everywhere, with a bit of preparation, knowledge and effective communication it is entirely possible to enjoy a varied and delicious gluten-free diet. Remember to read labels carefully, communicate your dietary needs when dining out at restaurants or at friends and family’s homes and opt for naturally gluten-free foods whenever possible.


What are the highest gluten foods?

The highest gluten foods are typically those made from wheat, barley, and rye. This includes bread, pasta, cereals, beer, and meat substitutes made from wheat protein (seitan). Processed foods, salad dressings, and malted beverages can also contain high amounts of gluten.

Can I consume oats on a gluten-free diet?

While oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye, leading to cross-contamination. In addition, oats contain avenin, a protein similar to gluten and can cause problems for some people. Listening to your body will help you know if oats are a good food source to eat, limit or remove from your diet.  It’s crucial to choose oats that are labeled as gluten-free. Learn more about oats and gluten here.

Are there any hidden sources of gluten I should be aware of?

Yes, gluten can be hidden in many products, both food and personal skin and hair care. Also foods such as soy sauce, salad dressings, condiments, processed foods, and malted beverages. Cross-contamination in food can occur during the preparation and cooking process, making foods like French fries a risk. Here’s a comprehensive list of hidden sources of gluten.

Is gluten-free beer safe for people with celiac disease?

Gluten-free beer is made from gluten free grains, making it safe for people with celiac disease. However, be cautious of beers labeled “gluten-removed” or “gluten-reduced,” as they may still contain traces of gluten.  Learn more about gluten free and gluten removed alcohol here.  

Are there any grains that are safe for people with celiac disease?

Yes! So many grains are naturally gluten-free, including all the many varieties of rice, quinoa, corn, millet, and buckwheat. However, cross-contamination can occur during processing, so it’s essential to choose products that are labeled gluten-free.

With practice and patience, you can enjoy a varied and delicious gluten-free diet while keeping yourself safe and healthy. Gluten lurks in many places, however with careful planning and knowledge of the highest gluten foods, a gluten-free diet can be both satisfying and delicious.

Educate yourself, plan your meals, and with practice, navigating a gluten-free diet will become second nature. We have lots of delicious recipes just right for everyone’s tastebuds right here in Curry Girls Kitchen, recipes the entire family will love!  

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Here at Curry Girls Kitchen, we are passionate about promoting healthy living and providing helpful tips, courses, cooking classes and supportive coaching programs for maintaining a delicious gluten-free lifestyle. We also have the best gluten free “how to road map” cookbook, Damn Good Gluten Free.  To learn more about our healthy living resources and get delicious gluten-free recipes, make sure to sign up for our Curry Girls Kitchen newsletter 

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