When Gluten-Free Foods Contain Wheat

by | July 11, 2018 | Health & Nutrition | 6 comments

This article is to raise awareness of wheat-derived ingredients in foods labeled “gluten-free”, especially for individuals with wheat allergy. For more information about wheat allergy and how that differs from celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and other gluten-related health issues, please read “What You Need to Know about Wheat Allergy”.


When Gluten-Free Foods Contain Wheat


A friend with wheat allergy became ill on two occasions recently after eating products marked gluten-free. She found out later those products contained wheat-derived ingredients. She does not have celiac disease. It is only wheat she must avoid. Both products were labeled gluten-free. She assumed they were safe for her. Again, in her case, “safe” means wheat-free.

When diagnosed with wheat allergy, she was told to choose foods marked “gluten-free”. The idea is that wheat contains gluten and if a product is marked gluten-free, it would also be wheat-free. That does seem logical, but sadly, it is not necessarily true.

How do wheat-based ingredients end up in foods labeled “gluten-free”?

According to the FDA gluten-free labeling ruling, foods labeled “gluten-free” must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten. I explain 20 ppm in this article.

Naturally gluten-free foods like fruit cups or foods free from gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye and barley can be labeled gluten-free. However, further reading of the gluten-free labeling guidelines reveals frightening news for those with wheat allergy.

The FDA guidelines state a food labeled gluten-free:

  • cannot come from a gluten grain that hasn’t been processed to remove gluten.
  • cannot contain a gluten grain that has been processed to remove the gluten if the result is greater than 20 parts per million gluten in the finished product.

The second point above means a product can contain a gluten-containing grain like wheat if the finished product tests less than 20ppm gluten. For those of us with celiac disease, even 20ppm is concerning. The gluten content could be anything from zero to 19ppm. However, the focus of this article is on wheat-derived ingredients in foods labeled gluten-free.

For individuals with wheat allergy assuming gluten-free will automatically mean wheat-free, this can be devastating.

If you have wheat allergy, here are a few examples of ingredients derived from wheat that are allowed in a product labeled gluten-free if the less than 20ppm criteria is met:
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Glucose syrup derived from wheat
  • Food starch derived from wheat
  • Wheat grass
  • Ceramides with wheat extract


Again, a gluten-free label doesn’t necessarily mean no wheat-derived ingredients. It simply means the level of gluten tested was less than 20ppm. According to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004, all top eight major allergens must be noted in a “contains” or “allergens” statement on the food label. This includes wheat. Knowing wheat-derived ingredients are allowed in products labeled gluten-free, individuals with wheat allergy must read every label, every time. (Yes, those of us with celiac disease or any food-related health issue or food allergy must also do this, but again, here, our focus is on wheat allergy.)

For more on how frightening the FDA gluten-free labeling rule is to those of us with celiac disease and other gluten-related health issues, be sure to read this post.

If you have wheat allergy, have you experienced a situation where you relied on gluten-free labeling to also mean wheat-free?


  1. Ginger

    I found out early on that wheat grass is NOT safe for me as a celiac! I got the same reactions such as intestinal pain and migraine headaches. I avoid any form of wheat, rye or barley, even those that are supposed to be “safe” or gluten- free.


    • Gigi Stewart

      I do not consume wheat grass/wheat grass juice, either. I never risked it. I wrote about wheat grass and gluten here: http://bit.ly/2q5ONBb if you’re interested. :)


  2. Sara

    Thanks for this explanation. My husband is allergic to wheat, rye, etc… so it’s been confusing to me to figure this all out.


    • Gigi Stewart

      Hi, Sara.

      You are so welcome! It is confusing when we talk about wheat and gluten in terms of different allergies (wheat) and autoimmune disease (celiac). Then, factor in non-celiac gluten sensitivity and an array of other health conditions that warrant a gluten-free diet, and it’s a LOT of information to process. I’m happy this post was useful to you and your husband. xo


  3. S Johnson

    Your posts are always helpful especially because they are backed by science. My husband is one of those with wheat allergies but also allergic to tapioca which is often used in gluten-free foods. We have become quite astute at reading labels. Thanks again for the help.


    • Gigi Stewart

      Yes, tapioca is almost everywhere in gluten-free flour blends and packaged baked goods. It is so easy to work with and lends some excellent lightness to baked goods; however, a tip in case you need it, you can substitute part potato starch and part arrowroot for the tapioca in my “Everyday” GF Flour Blend (recipe for the blend is here on the site and also in my book, The Big Book of Gluten Free Cooking, on sale for preorder now on Amazon). I’m sure you’ve worked out a blend due to his allergies, but just in case, I wanted to mention that little substitution. ;) I’m happy you find the posts useful. I always use the most current research and science backed facts I can find when I share information. I also go back and update content as information evolves and changes. It is my aim to always serve this community to my best ability. xo


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