Gluten Free Facts

The Basics


What is gluten?

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and related wheat species such as spelt and kamut.  It helps baked goods keep their form and chewy texture and is also added to other food items more and more, both for consistency and taste purposes.

Helpful Hint:  Buckwheat, contrary to its name, is not actually wheat and does not contain gluten.

What foods contain gluten?

The obvious foods that contain gluten include foods made from a flour base.  Wheat, barley, and rye based breads, cookies, pastries, and bagels all contain gluten.  However, hidden sources of gluten are abundant in many packaged goods from soy sauce to spice mixes, to breath mints.  More and more companies are voluntarily labeling their products as gluten free and some even go through a gluten free certification process.

Here is a short list of foods that can have hidden gluten:

  • Sausages
  • Luncheon meat
  • Gravy and gravy powder
  • Baked beans
  • Self basting turkeys
  • Sauces
  • Soups
  • Seasoning Mixes
  • Mustards
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Chocolate
  • Potato chips
  • Soy sauce
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Licorice
  • Pickles
  • Salad dressings
  • Curry powder
  • White pepper
  • Malt vinegar
  • Marinades
  • Candy
  • Breath mints
  • Oats (while naturally gluten free, there is a risk of contamination through harvesting, milling, and processing; Udi’s only uses certified gluten free oats) (1) (2)


For a full list of unsafe ingredients, click here:

Who should eat a gluten free diet?

Some people must eat a gluten free diet because they’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity, in which case the only cure is a gluten free diet.  Meanwhile, a rising number of parents have implemented this diet into their autistic child’s life for help with speech, focus, and behavior.


What is Autism and How Can Going Gluten-Free Help?

Autism can be characterized by a wide array of developmental difficulties related to social interactions, communication, and behavioral repetition.   Some experts have discussed how Autism can run in families, pointing to a possible genetic connection.  Others have researched different environmental aspects that could have a possible effect on the increasing number of Autism diagnosis’.  In a recent study, it was estimated that 1 in every 88 children in the US have Autism.  Regardless, Autism remains a largely individualized condition effecting each person and family differently.

How Can Going Gluten Free Help?

While the connection still remains largely anecdotal, many families have noticed a marked difference in their autistic children when placing them on a gluten free diet.  Many times, when paired with a casein free diet, the effects are more dramatic causing families to keep a strict GFCF diet for their families.


What is Gluten Anyway and Where Is It?

By Danna Korn, Living Gluten Free for Dummies, 2nd edition

Gluten has a couple of definitions; one is technically correct but not commonly used, and the other is commonly used but not technically correct.  Here’s the common definition:  Gluten is a mixture of proteins in wheat, rye, and barley.  Oats don’t have gluten, but may be contaminated, so they’re forbidden on a strict gluten-free diet, too.   

You can find lots of information about what you can and can’t eat on a gluten-free diet at or other websites.  But you need to have a general idea of what kinds of food have gluten in them so you know what to avoid.  Foods with flour in them (white or wheat) are the most common culprits when you’re avoiding gluten.  The following are obvious gluten-glomming foods:

  • Bagels
  • Beer
  • Bread
  • Cookies, cakes, and most other baked goods
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Pretzels

But along with these culprits come not-so-obvious suspects too, like licorice, many (read ‘most’) cereals, and natural flavorings.  When you’re gluten-free, you get used to reading labels, calling manufacturers, and digging a little deeper to know for sure what you can and can’t eat.

You have to do without these foods, but you really don’t have to do without.  There’s a subtle but encouraging difference.  Food manufacturers make delicious gluten-free versions of just about every food imaginable these days.

Loose Labeling Terminology

By Danna Korn, Living Gluten Free for Dummies, 2nd Edition

It would be great if you could just read a label and know what ingredients are in a product.  Isn’t that the point of having ingredient listings?  But unfortunately, labels aren’t always telling the entire story, and some ingredients aren’t consistent; sometimes they have gluten and sometimes they don’t.

A law called the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) that took effect in 2006 has helped – a lot.  This law requires clear labeling of all foods that contain any of the top eight allergens – wheat, milk, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and soybeans.  This means manufacturers must clearly identify wheat and all of its derivatives on food labels.

With the law in place, knowing which foods are definitely off-limits because they contain wheat is much easier.  Reading labels and knowing what’s in a product is much more definitive, because wheat is really the bulk of what you’re avoiding on a gluten-free diet.

Although wheat and its derivatives are now called out on all labels, you still need to watch for other gluten-containing grains (barley, rye, and cross-contaminated oats) and their derivatives, and realize that they can be hidden in flavorings and additives.

Malt usually comes from barley, and products that use malt as a flavoring don’t necessarily call it out on the label.  Natural flavorings for instance, may contain barley malt but be listed as ‘natural flavorings’ on a label.


The Possible Relationship Between Autism and Gluten Sensitivity

By Danna Korn, Living Gluten Free for Dummies 2nd edition

Some connection definitely exists between celiac disease and autism, although the exact connection isn’t clear yet.  It’s well documented that autistic kids often have gastrointestinal problems, and the frequency of celiac disease is higher in autistic people than in the general public.

Some researchers have presented alternate hypothesis, including the idea that the malabsorption associated with celiac disease results in a deficiency of neurotransmitters, with the nerves unable to properly transfer information, these people may experience autistic behaviors.   Several studies are underway to determine the relationship between the two conditions.

We know that some people with autism go gluten-free and see their autistic behaviors diminish or disappear completely.  Could it be that they were never autistic?  That their celiac symptoms simply made them appear to be autistic, so once they eliminated gluten from their diets, they returned to their “normal” state?  Or (more likely) does the gluten-free diet really help improve the behaviors of autism?

While it’s not yet clear exactly what the relationship is between autism and gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, it is clear that they have at least one thing in common: leaky gut syndrome.  People with autism have a higher incidence of leaky gut syndrome, and leaky gut syndrome leads to large molecules of gluten being allowed into the bloodstream, setting off the autoimmune response.

But which comes first?  Does leaky gut syndrome allow gluten and other toxins into the body to cause autistic behaviors?  Or do people with autism develop celiac disease more often because they have leaky gut?

The association between gluten and behavior, specifically autism, is fascinating and worth of exploration.  One of the most promising treatments for autism lies in a dietary protocol eliminating gluten and casein from the diet.