Living gluten free FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I eat oats?

Oats do not contain gluten. They contain a similar protein called avenin and research has shown that most people with coeliac disease can safely eat avenin.

The main problem with a lot of the oats and oat products that you find in the supermarket is that they are very often contaminated with gluten from wheat, rye or barley during processing (such as harvesting or milling). Therefore, oats that are NOT labelled as gluten free should always be avoided.

Many specialist manufacturers now produce gluten free oats. 

If you have an ongoing symptoms or any concerns about including gluten free oats in your diet, please speak to your health professional.  

Can I eat barley malt vinegar?

Yes.

Barley malt vinegar is made from barley and is found in pickles, chutneys and some sauces. If it is used in a food product the manufacturer must list the word ‘barley’ in the ingredients list in line with EU wide allergen labelling law. 

Barley malt vinegar is made using a fermentation process. This means that the amount of barley, and therefore gluten, in the end product is extremely small and is well below a level which is safe for people with coeliac disease. In addition, barley malt vinegar is usually only eaten in small amounts, for example, drained pickled vegetables, sauces with a meal or on chips.

Balsamic, cider, sherry, spirit, white wine and red wine vinegar are not made from barley and can also be included in your gluten free diet.

What alcohol can I drink?

Cider, wine, sherry, spirits, port and liqueurs are gluten-free.

Beer, lagers, stouts and ales contain varying amounts of gluten and are not suitable if you have coeliac disease. Specially manufactured gluten free beers are available and are listed in your Food and Drink Guide in Section 1 Drinks chapter.

How is gluten free beer made?

Traditional lagers, stouts and ales commonly use malted barley or wheat as the basic grain. This means they contain varying amounts of gluten and aren’t suitable for people with coeliac disease.

 

There are currently two ways to manufacture gluten free beer. The first is to use a malt from cereals or pseudocereals that are suitable for those on a gluten free diet, for example sorghum, millet, buckwheat, rice, quinoa or maize. These beers often have slightly different aromas and flavours. The second method is to produce a beer using a gluten-containing malt (wheat, barley or rye), and then introducing a process to reduce the gluten content. One way of doing this is to use an enzyme at the start of the fermentation process to break down the gluten protein. An example of this is the patented product Brewers Clarex® (also used to reduce the chill haze in beer). This protease enzyme degrades the gluten to levels below the 20 ppm threshold for labelling gluten free.

 

When manufacturers label their beer gluten free, it is important to make sure that the levels of gluten are less than 20 ppm. Laboratory testing is the best way to assess the amount of gluten in a product, but there can be difficulties when testing beer using the usual R5 ELISA Sandwich method (commonly used for foods), due to the gluten being broken down. An alternative method is available (R5 ELISA Competitive) which is a more effective way to measure the gluten in beer and other hydrolysed products.

What is barley malt extract?

Malt extract and malt flavourings are commonly made from barley, although they can be produced from other grains. Barley malt extract is a flavouring often added in small amounts to breakfast cereals and chocolates.

Foods that contain barley malt extract in smaller amounts can be eaten by people with coeliac disease. However, any foods that contain barley malt extract will be labelled as containing barley and you will not be able to tell from the ingredients list how much has been used. Products containing barley malt extract that are labelled gluten free are suitable for people with coeliac disease.

The own brand breakfast cereals listed on our Food and Drink Information are suitable for people with coeliac disease. They contain a very small amount of barley malt extract and are tested to make sure they contain 20 parts per million or less of gluten which is a safe level of gluten for people with coeliac disease. However, because they contain barley malt extract you will see this listed and emphasised in the ingredients list.

If you see barley malt extract in a product that is not listed in the Food and Drink Guide or on our Food and Drink Information service then contact our Helpline or the manufacturer for more information.

Can I eat yeast?

Fresh yeast is naturally gluten free. We are now aware of some brands of dried yeasts that now contain wheat starch in the ingredients so they are not gluten free. We therefore now list dried yeasts on our Food and Drink Information Service that do not contain gluten.

 

Is Chinese soy sauce gluten free?

No. Chinese soy sauce is traditionally made with wheat, which makes it unsuitable for people with coeliac disease. If wheat flour has been used as an ingredient, this must be listed on the ingredients list. Gluten free versions are available in the 'Free From' section of most major supermarkets. There are also some types of tamari soy sauce which are suitable. These are listed on our online Food and Drink Information Service.

 

What is gluten-free (Codex) wheat starch?

Gluten free wheat starch, also known as Codex wheat starch, is a specially produced ingredient where the gluten has been removed to a trace level. It is used by some manufacturers to improve the quality and texture of gluten free products. It must always appear in the ingredients list if it has been used. 

Foods containing Codex wheat starch that are labelled gluten free are suitable for all people with coeliac disease. In the past, the Codex standard for labelling for gluten free foods was 200 parts per million, a level that people with coeliac disease could not always tolerate. The law on gluten free must contain no more than 20 ppm. This means that gluten free foods that contain Codex wheat starch should no longer cause a problem for people with coeliac disease. 

Foods that contain Codex wheat starch are highlighted with a blue triangle in the Food and Drink Guide.

If you should have any concern about including products with Codex wheat starch in your diet please speak with your health professional. 

 

If a product says it is gluten free on the label, but is not listed in the Food and Drink Guide, can I eat it?

Yes. There is a strict law that covers the use of the labelling term gluten free. When you see gluten free on a label, you know these foods are suitable on a gluten free diet.

Can I eat glucose syrup?

Glucose syrup is gluten free. It can be derived from wheat, however the production methods involve a high level of hydrolysation, meaning there is no significant gluten content in the sugars.

The final ingredient is gluten free and foods with glucose syrups can be eaten by people with coeliac disease.

Can I eat modified starch?

Modified starch is used in many products and can be derived from a variety of sources. If the source is a cereal that contains gluten, manufacturers must list this in the ingredients list in line with the EU wide allergen labelling law, for example modified wheat starch. If you see modified starch on the ingredients list and it does not refer to a cereal that contains gluten, such as wheat, this must be from a cereal that does not contain gluten and is gluten free.

How can beer be certified as gluten free?

There are currently two ways to manufacture gluten free beer. The first is to use a malt made from cereals or pseudocereals that are naturally gluten free, for example sorghum, millet, buckwheat, rice, quinoa or maize. The second method is to produce a beer using a gluten containing malt (wheat, barley or rye), and then introduce a process to reduce the gluten content. One way of doing this is to use an enzyme at the start of the fermentation process to break down the gluten protein. An example of this is the patented product Brewers Clarex® (also used to reduce the chill haze in beer). This protease enzyme degrades the gluten to levels below the 20 ppm threshold for labelling gluten free.

Manufacturers can only label their beer gluten free if it meets the necessary standard with a level of gluten that is less than 20 ppm. The current CODEX recommended laboratory test to assess the amount of gluten in a product or drink is the R5 ELISA  method (both Sandwich and Competitive methods are used depending on the product). The R5 ELISA Competitive method is a more effective method of gluten testing in hydrolysed or fermented products such as beer and this is the one our certification scheme insists upon.

Other analytical techniques, such as mass spectrometry are being explored but at the moment, we don’t have the full picture. The approved method for testing gluten in beers is currently the R5 ELISA Competitive method but the charity and producers are keeping an eye on new global research developments. In the meantime you can identify gluten free beers made with barley as by law the label must state ‘CONTAINS BARLEY.’

UK legislation fully complies with EU legislation but different countries have different labelling requirements set by their relevant authorities.

We will keep our members updated on our further investigations and provide further guidance as required.

Can I eat dextrose?

Dextrose is gluten free. It can be made from wheat but the production methods involve a high level of hydrolysation, which means that no gluten is left in the sugars. The final ingredient is gluten free and dextrose can be eaten by people with coeliac disease.

Is it compulsory for manufacturers or caterers to indicate whether a product is suitable for people with coeliac disease?

No. Labelling products gluten free is voluntary. It is important to remember that there is a defined threshold for being able to label a food product gluten free. Only foods that contain 20 ppm or less can be labelled gluten free. However, there is law that requires businesses to carry out gluten analysis on products labelled gluten free, but it is recognised that good practice will involve testing.

You can find out more on food labels.

 

 

Can I only eat products listed in the Food and Drink Guide?

No. You do not have to limit yourself to products listed in the Food and Drink Guide.

The gluten free diet is made up of naturally gluten free foods such as fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, eggs, cream, milk, rice, potatoes, pulses and beans. We do not list every brand of these in the Food and Drink Guide but you can find a list of naturally gluten free ingredients on Page 6 & 7.

Are there own brand breakfast cereals I can eat?

There are a number of supermarket own brand breakfast cereals which contain a very small amount of barley malt extract. They are tested to make sure that they only contain a level of gluten which can be included in a gluten free diet (20 parts per million or less).

Some retailers have their own ‘Free from’ breakfast cereals too. Own brand Breakfast cereals can be found over on our online Food and Drink Information page.

Can I eat monosodium glutamate (MSG)?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is gluten free. It is a flavour enhancer used in many manufactured foods and can be made from wheat; however, during processing the wheat protein is completely hydrolysed (broken down) and can be eaten by people with coeliac disease.

 

Can I eat communion wafers?

Wheat, a cereal that contains gluten, is the only substance authorised by the Roman Catholic Church to make Eucharistic bread.

There are special ‘low gluten’ hosts that have been approved for use by individuals with coeliac disease when taking Communion. These products contain Codex wheat starch, but are within the levels for labelling gluten free. Other churches allow communion wafers to be taken which are made entirely from gluten free ingredients and often suppliers will sell two different varieties.

A number of companies produce communion wafers that are suitable for people with coeliac disease. These are often available via mail order. Please see our communion wafer list for a full list of suppliers and the wafers available. Before ordering as an individual it is worth talking to your church as their usual church supplier can sometimes order these for you and minimise delivery charges.

To reduce the risk of contamination with gluten from gluten containing hosts, we would advise that your communion wafers are stored and presented separately. Some people may prefer to abstain from taking communion in the conventional way and have a blessing instead.

Can food banks help people with coeliac disease on a gluten free diet?

We have been in contact with the Trussell Trust and independent food banks to identify ways we can work together to ensure that if necessary people with coeliac disease, with gluten free dietary requirements are able to benefit from the support provided by food banks. 

Trussell Trust food banks will take into account dietary requirements when preparing food parcels so where individuals with coeliac disease need this support, they are able to ask for food that is suitable for their gluten free diet.

Which gluten free foods can I donate to my food bank?

Food banks typically focus on non perishable tinned and dried foods. You can donate gluten free staple foods such as breakfast cereal, pasta and biscuits as well as rice, tinned fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and soup.

A small number of food banks have freezers and are able to accept fresh bread for freezing. Contact your local food bank to see if it is able to accept shorter shelf life products such as gluten free bread.

For information on benefits and financial advice see:

  • Turn2us have a number of easy to use tools include a benefits calculator, to find out what support you may be entitled to and a Grant Search to find out if you are eligible for financial help or support from a charitable fund. You can also find an adviser using their website.
  • Age UK also have an online Benefits Calculator and have trained advisors in over 150 areas who could help support you 
  • Citizens Advice can also provide advice about money, benefits, housing or employment, either face to face, by phone or online by web chat, contact details are available on their website.

Are prescriptions products safer than retail products?

All gluten free foods are covered by the same legislation and therefore need to reach the same standard to be labelled gluten free whether they are available from shops or on prescription.

If I can’t get gluten free food on prescription will I have to eat gluten containing foods and make myself ill?

We understand how difficult it might be to manage without prescriptions. Gluten free staple foods like bread are key products in managing the diet from both a nutritional and practical standpoint so more care will be needed.

We are trying to make it easier by providing advice for managing a gluten free diet on a budget.

Prescriptions foods are fortified so they’re better for me, aren’t they?

Fortification of gluten free foods is not compulsory and there are examples of both prescription only and retail products that are fortified and conversely not fortified.

Unfortunately, labelling legislation does not require declaration of nutrients such as iron and calcium but some products will put information about this, particularly where they have been fortified.

What’s new on the website?

Our main aim was to make the website easier for you to navigate and find the information that’s important to you. We also wanted to make the website better on mobile and tablet devices as more than half of our community are accessing the website this way.

We’ve collected everything your membership fee covers into one place to make it easier for you to access the information you want, so head to Your Gluten free Hub for all of your member benefits, including your Food and Drink Information, Home of Gluten free Recipes, Eating Out Venue Guide and much more! The rest of the site has been reworked to give it a fresh feel and simplified structure so it’s easier to find the information to live well, gluten free.

I’m a member, do I need a new log in?

No, if your membership is up to date and you have activated your online account, you’ll still be able to log in using your existing email address and password.

If you’ve forgotten your password you can reset it here.

Why isn’t Marmite listed in the Food & Drink Guide?

Although it was suitable in the past, since 2016 Marmite is no longer suitable for a gluten free diet as it contains more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

Yeast extract (which Marmite is made from) can be made as a by product of bread, wine and beer making. Although the ingredient and manufacturing processes have not changed, recent information received from the makers of Marmite indicates that despite thorough washing, it contains slightly more than the 20 ppm gluten standard, now defined by law.

If in the past you have included Marmite in your gluten free diet, it is highly unlikely that it will have been harmful as it is usually only consumed in small amounts.

You can contact the Unilever Careline on 0800 010 109 directly if you would like to speak to someone about the suitability of Marmite.

Please see our Food and Drink Information or our app for alternative yeast extract products which are suitable for a gluten free diet.

Can I test meals myself in restaurants (Nima)?

Nowadays you can buy kits to test for gluten in food at home or when out and about. One such test kit is called Nima which is a handheld device to test for the presence of gluten.

We know that many people would like to be able to have the option of using such a test but it is important to look at how they work and what they are really telling you before buying.

Firstly in all tests the results can be affected by a whole range of factors including the size and what the sample is made up of.

Most meals will be made up of many different parts – different vegetables, fish or meat. Testing a small sample of a certain meal will not necessarily represent the gluten content of the complete meal. 

For the kits to work it is also important to make sure that all gluten is taken out of the food for testing using the chemicals provided. It is therefore very important to follow the manufacturers’ guidance on using the test kits.

The Nima kit is designed to tell you if gluten is found (if yes a wheat symbol is displayed) or no gluten found (when a smiley face is shown). The kit is not designed to tell you the level of gluten found and whether it meets the labelling law on gluten free – in other words it cannot say it is less than 20 ppm of gluten. This means it may tell you that a food has gluten in but is actually legally gluten free. The kit may not work when the sample is too large. It also cannot be used on foods that contain fermented food such as beer, hydrolysed foods such as soy sauce and foods containing alcohol. In these cases the message ‘test result not available’ should appear. It will be important, as evidence is published to keep up to date with what foods the test can be used on accurately.

Nima was launched in January 2017 in the US. We have been monitoring its progress and on 1 September 2018, the first publication of data on the development of Nima featured in the Journal of Food Chemistry and there’s since been a further publication in the Journal of Food Protection on the use of NIMA with thirteen different foods, including its limitations.

We have seen a demonstration of the device and we will be looking at the evidence carefully to assess whether the product will be a useful tool for people with coeliac disease.