Common food labels designed to get your dollar: The ‘gluten-free’ label

Gluten free section of a grocery store

Unaltered image. Memphis CVB, Flickr. CC License.

Hi there! Welcome back to my third article about food labels designed to get your dollar. This time I’m going to talk about the label “gluten-free.” This label tends to be everywhere. From food items to cosmetics, gluten free seems to be more of a trend these days than an actual need to worry


“There’s nothing magical about eliminating gluten that results in weight loss,” Mangieri said. “Any of us that [sic] eliminates or removes cookies and candies from our diets, and replaces them with fruits and vegetables is going to feel better.”
– Heather Mangieri via
Rachael Rettner

Today you’ll find many food items have a “gluten-free” label. You can even find the label on foods that don’t naturally contain gluten in the first place. So what exactly is gluten? Jimmy Kimmel asked a similar question to pedestrians (and received some funny answers!), but not many people seem to know. Yet they still eliminate it from their diet.

Gluten is a combination of two proteins, and is commonly found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. It is can be found in pastas, baked goods, sauces, breads, and beers. Gluten is typically responsible for maintaining a food’s shape and texture.

Finding foods that are free of gluten is very important for someone who suffers from celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to break down parts of the small intestine, known as ‘villi,’ whenever gluten is consumed. In turn, this causes issues with nutrient digestion and absorption.

Many cosmetic items such as face wash and makeup contain the “gluten-free” label as well. Is there a need to avoid cosmetic items that contain gluten? Most likely, no. Gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin, and even certain skin rashes developed in those suffering from celiac disease are only caused when gluten is consumed in food products.

Is there a need to buy foods that are gluten-free if you don’t have celiac disease? There is no medical, health, or dietary reason to avoid gluten. It has simply become a diet trend among people who feel that gluten causes weight gain. Others who feel that they may suffer from a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) will also avoid gluten, but the existence of this disease remains controversial.

The bottom line. Unless you are diagnosed with celiac disease, or your doctor has recommended that you avoid consuming food products with gluten, there’s no reason to choose a gluten-free product over one that contains gluten. Whole grains are important in the diet and contain many dietary benefits. Gluten-free food products are also more processed, contain fewer nutrients, and can be detrimental to your health.

Hopefully this article helps clear up any misconceptions people may have had in regards to the “gluten-free” label. Have you purchased an item because it was labeled as gluten-free, as a non-celiac sufferer? What are some possible misconceptions you may have had as a consumer? I’d love to hear your stories!

Also, stay tuned for my last article in this series where I talk about the “GMO-free” label.

– Joohi Castelvetere is a nutrition and food scientist and a mother to three amazing children.  She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.

Read more:

  1. Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives, and Colors, Food and Drug Administration
  2. Hormones in Your Food, Thecowlocale
  3. Natural and other food labels that sound legitimate but may not be, CNN
  4. What are the benefits? (GMO crops), PBS


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