FeaturesOct/Nov 2014 Issue

Surprise! There’s Gluten in That Food!

We reveal 10 common sources of gluten in restaurant menu items.

Photo of Woman Surprised


You can probably spot gluten in many restaurant favorites like fettuccine alfredo and breaded chicken parmesan. But the sneaky little protein in wheat, barley and rye can be lurking in other menu items. These seemingly safe options may surprise you.

1. Corn Chips: The tortilla chips served in Mexican restaurants are typically deep fried in a shared fryer. “People tend to know about the shared fryer with French fries but corn chips get overlooked,” says Suzanne Simpson, RD, a registered dietitian at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center.

2. Sushi: Watch out for California rolls and other sushi rolls. They can contain imitation crab meat made from processed white fish, like pollock, that was combined with gluten to approximate the texture of crab. And stay away from anything crunchy or crispy, like crunchy tuna rolls or shrimp tempura. They may have been fried in gluten-contaminated oil.

3. Vegetarian Meat Substitutes: Vegetarian meat products, like veggie burgers and vegetarian hot dogs, are often made from seitan, which is wheat gluten. Or they can be made with flour or wheat starch as a binder. Also, imitation bacon often contains gluten.

4. Sausages, Meatballs, Meatloaf: These meats sound safe, right? Not always. Many restaurants use flour or breadcrumbs as a binder for their homemade or packaged sausages, meatballs and meatloaf, says Rachel Begun, RDN, a gluten-related disorders expert in Boulder, Colorado. Always ask how these items are prepared. If the server can’t answer your questions, it’s best to order something else.

5. Soups: They're often thickened with a wheat flour roux, a paste of butter and flour, so you can't eyeball a soup, Begun says. Just because it doesn’t look like it’s been thickened, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been. Cream soups and bisques are more obvious culprits.

6. Sauces, Dressings, Marinades: Beware of hidden ingredients in sauces, marinades and salad dressings. Gluten-containing soy sauce or teriyaki sauce often pops up in marinades and salad dressings. Beer can be an ingredient in marinades and meat dishes, too. Mexican moles are usually thickened with wheat flour.

7. Scrambled Eggs: Eggs in diners are generally cooked on a grill alongside gluten-containing items like pancakes, Simpson says. And in some restaurants, pancake batter is added to the scrambled eggs to fluff them up. Have a poached or boiled egg instead.

8. Steamed Vegetables: Vegetables are always safe, right? Not when they’re steamed or blanched in a pot of gluten-containing pasta water, which can happen in some restaurants. A reminder: If you order gluten-free pasta, make sure it’s cooked in a clean pot of uncontaminated water, not a shared pot.

9. Gnocchi, Soba, Ramen: These ethnic items may sound safe but they are not. Gnocchi (potato dumplings) are made with wheat flour in addition to potatoes. Similarly, soba buckwheat noodles usually contain wheat as well as buckwheat, a safe ingredient. Ramen noodles are made with wheat flour, not rice flour.

10. Candied Nuts: Ordering a salad with candied walnuts or pecans? Double check that the nuts are gluten-free. While candied nuts can certainly be gluten-free, some chefs use flour to coat the nuts, along with sugar and egg whites.

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