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.  

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 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.

Can I drink spirits?

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

Experts agree that there is no physical way that pure distilled alcohol can contain gluten - this is because the gluten protein cannot travel through to the vapour produced by the prolonged heating in the distillation process and become part of the final alcohol product.

Distilled spirits only contain gluten if gluten containing ingredients are added after the distillation process and in this case, there is labelling legislation that ensures the product states CONTAINS wheat, barley, rye or oats on the label.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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 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 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.

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.

I'm confused by the 'very low gluten' label. Can I eat foods labelled with this?

Foods labelled 'very low gluten' have to be between 21 and 100 parts per million of gluten. This can only apply to specialist foods made for people with coeliac disease and we are not yet seeing this label used in the UK. This level is suitable for most people with coeliac disease but if you are particularly sensitive, it may not be right for you.

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 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. 

 

I've noticed that 'barley malt extract' is on the ingredients list of a breakfast cereal which is listed in the Food and Drink Information. Can I eat it?

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. These are listed on our online Food and Drink Information

Can I still use Coeliac UK's Gluten free on the Move app to find suitable products for my diet?

Gluten Free on the Move has been through some changes and the new improved app is now your go-to venue search tool to find places to eat when out and about.

To check suitability on over 100,000 food and drink products, download and use our award winning app; Gluten Free Food Checker, where you can scan the barcode or search by product name.

You can also login to our website and search our food information service. Our website is mobile optimised, so you can access this, our Home of Gluten Free recipe database and our Venue Guide from your mobile or tablet device whenever you need it.

What mobile phones will the app work on?

This app will work on iPhone models 4 and above and Android smartphones that can download apps from the Google Play store.

We have chosen to develop the app for the iPhone and Android phones because our membership surveys indicate that these devices are the most commonly used. However, as with all technology, the situation is constantly changing and we will be monitoring trends to assess when investment in new platforms for the app is justified.

Can I buy a kit to test the level of gluten in my food?

There are companies that produce testing kits to test the level of gluten in ready prepared foods.

These tests are marketed for testing meals in restaurants and can detect a level of gluten of 20 parts per million or less. 

Reliability of these kits should always be considered, not because the kits do not do what they are reported to do, but because the user may not maintain control of the conditions needed for accurate testing. For example, testing a small sample of a certain meal will not necessarily represent the gluten content of the complete meal. It is also important to make sure that all gluten is extracted from a food before testing using the chemicals provided. It is therefore very important to follow the manufacturer's guidance on using the test kits.

More information about testing food and auditing requirements can be found over on our Food Businesses page.

What is the Crossed Grain symbol?

Crossed Grain TM LogoThe Crossed Grain symbol is used under licence by companies and organisations on food and drink products which meet our criteria. The symbol is a quick and easy way to identify safe food and drink. We highlight products using the Crossed Grain symbol throughout our Food and Drink Guide.

 

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.

What can I do if a restaurant does not provide me with allergen information?

By law, restaurants should be able to provide you with information (either written or aurally) on any allergens, including cereals containing gluten, in all the dishes they serve. This is as a result of legislation that was brought in at the end of 2014 to improve allergen information for consumers. Read more about the changes brought in with the Food Information Regulations.

Problems or concerns about poor hygiene and safety in a food outlet or a trading standards issue such as food mislabelling on non-compliance with the law should be reported to the local authority.

You can find the local authority for any establishments that you go to by visiting the Food Standards Agency website.

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.

What is Coeliac UK's Food and Drink Information Service?

Our Food and Drink Information Service gives you reliable, independent and timely product information to live well gluten free and it includes: 

  • regular food alerts and product updates
  • new product launches, with exclusive member only offers  
  • tried and tested recipes 
  • product ingredients and nutritional information
  • product suitability from over 100,000 gluten free and mainstream food and drink products. 

 

Do I still need to update my Food and Drink Guide?

It is important to check for updates as products do change and many new products are added throughout the year.

Product information on our digital versions are updated in real time however we also provide monthly updates to the Food and Drink Guide and these can be found: 

 

Which foods are listed in Section 1?

Section 1 lists foods that are gluten free. They contain gluten at a level of no more than 20 parts per million (ppm). Products listed here comply with the law on gluten free (European Regulation EU No.828/2014). Foods in this section are tested to make sure they are gluten free.

You will find the following types of foods in Section 1:

  • specialist, substitute foods available on prescription
  • food carrying the Coeliac UK Crossed Grain symbol

We have thousands of more products labelled gluten free listed on our website and in our Gluten Free Food Checker App where you can also view a products ingredients and nutritional information to help you chose suitable products for your diet. 

Why do products in Section 1 have the Crossed Grain symbol next to them?

We have around two hundred manufacturers supporting our Crossed Grain scheme. Our Crossed Grain symbol is a sign of safety and integrity and so it is important to us to share to the broad range of products that carry our licence.

New companies are licensed regularly, so don't forget to check our monthly updates for any additions. You can find a list of all companies using the Crossed Grain symbol here.

Why do you not provide product information for some brands and manufacturers?

We now provide product information and it's suitability on over 100,000 gluten free and mainstream products by contacting over 200 manufacturers and sourcing product information from a third party, Brandbank. If you can't find a particular brand within our services, this may be because they have not provided us with information or it might be because the product contains gluten. 

If you are unsure whether you can eat particular products you can always check the label. For more information on reading labels why not check out our food labelling video, produced in association with the Food Standard Agency.

If you find that the product is suitable which isn't listed in our Food and Drink Guide, then do let us know about it and we can work towards listing the product on our website and in our Gluten Free Food Checker App

Does this app link to the Food and Drink Information?

Yes, the search results will be the same, ensuring that your allergen profile is correct.

Why are there more products in this app than in the Food and Drink Guide?

Our Food and Drink Guide does not include products that are naturally gluten free, such as fruits, vegetables and plain meat and fish. However, these are included in the product listings in the Gluten Free Food Checker App, so this is why you may find that the results differ from what you are familiar with.

I’ve found products in this app that are not in the Food and Drink Information, are they ok?

As long as you’ve selected the gluten free filters, then the products returned will be suitable for your profile. Although it does use similar data sources, this app is not linked to our Food and Drink Information so you may find that the results differ from what you are familiar with.