Wheat grass, wheat glucose syrup, etc. allowed in foods labeled gluten-free: Here’s why

Wheat grass, wheat glucose syrup, etc. allowed in foods labeled gluten-free: Here’s why

In Honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, Gluten Free Watchdog is writing a series of articles (the goal is one per day during the month of May) related to the gluten-free diet–currently the ONLY treatment for celiac disease.

Post (#15)…

The FDA’s gluten-free labeling rule in brief…

(Note: this rule covers packaged food, including dietary supplements regulated by the FDA; this rule does not cover pet food, cosmetics, prescription or non-prescription drugs, foods regulated by the USDA, or beverages regulated by the TTB)

A food voluntarily labeled gluten-free:

Is inherently gluten-free (e.g., a bag of raw carrots)


Adheres to the following criteria:

  • Does not contain an ingredient that is a gluten-containing grain (e.g., wheat)
  • Does not contain an ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour)
  • May contain an ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch) as long as use of that ingredient in the food does NOT cause the food to contain 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten


Any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food is less than 20 ppm of gluten

Ingredients allowed in foods labeled gluten-free…

  • Wheat grass, barley grass, rye grass
    • According to the FDA, “The young grasses of the plants belonging to genera TriticumSecale, and Hordeum are different from the grains wheat, rye, and barley these plants produce at maturity.  Therefore, to be consistent with FDA’s proposed requirements, any grass (or grass juice) could be used as an ingredient to make a food labeled GF, provided that the food does not contain 20 ppm or more gluten, regardless of its source, including the presence of gluten due to cross-contact situations.”
    • For more information see, Adrianos, S.L., Mattioni, B., Tilley, M. 2017. Confirmation of gluten-free status of wheatgrass. Quality Assurance and Safety of Crops & Foods. 09(1):123-128 available at https://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publication/?seqNo115=322552. Bottom line, “Therefore, wheat grass contains no gluten and is safe for consumption by patients suffering from celiac disease or other gluten related disorders.”
  • Wheat starch
    • According to the FDA, “Wheat starch is an ingredient made from wheat that has been processed to remove gluten. However, the use of this ingredient must result in under 20 parts per million gluten in the finished food for the food to be labeled “gluten-free.”
  • Caramel (color), glucose syrup, maltodextrin, dextrin, and modified food starch made from wheat starch
    • All of these ingredients may be made from wheat starch. Just as wheat starch is an allowed ingredient in foods labeled gluten-free, ingredients made from hydrolyzed wheat starch also are allowed in foods labeled gluten-free. The final product must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten.
  • Distilled vinegar made from a gluten-containing grain
    • According to the FDA, “Distillation is a purification process that separates volatile components from non-volatile components such as proteins.  Thus, when properly done, gluten should not be present in distilled foods.”
  • Distilled alcohol (as an ingredient in a food product) made from a gluten-containing grain
    • Distilled alcohol when present as an ingredient (for example vanilla extract) may be included in foods labeled gluten-free for the same reason stated above for distilled vinegar.

Note: If a food is labeled gluten-free and also includes the word “wheat” in the ingredients list or Contains statement due to the use of ingredients such as “wheat starch” the word “wheat” must be followed by an asterisk leading to another asterisk and the statement, “The wheat has been processed to allow this food to meet the Food and Drug Administration requirements for gluten-free foods.” 

Note: None of the above ingredients are considered protein-containing ingredients. These ingredients differ from ingredients NOT allowed in foods labeled gluten-free, such as barley malt and hydrolyzed wheat protein. These ingredients by definition contain protein.

Tomorrow’s post: Yeast extract and other words to look for in the ingredients list of foods NOT labeled gluten-free

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Comments (5)

  • Angelica Reply

    So I know for instance, that wheat grass is allergenic to me. I was once a fan of Ann Wigmore, and was disappointed that I couldn’t deal with the wheat grass part of the program. And I know that I can’t deal with FODMAPS because, avoiding them really helped, before I knew it was really gluten that was hurting me.

    So, to be clear, low fodmaps gave me about 50% relief, strict gluten free gives me about 90%, and what’s left over is because of the long term damage that I now have to undo, including thyroid, obesity, arthritic effects, lung capacity issues, liver problems, etc.

    This process will not be fast, and I honestly feel savaged by the lax way these things are regulated. I don’t consider it a convenience to get sick from convenience foods. And I see a lot of this definition play as a sop to the food manufacturing industry. Maybe they should scale down their economy of scale if it’s so harmful. And maybe the FDA shouldn’t play such roulette with words. I’m literally sick of this.

    I appreciate how clearly you explain it (thank you), but I disagree that any of this should be considered gluten free. Nothing on this list is something I will eat now.

    May 15, 2018 at 8:39 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Keep in mind that this is information about why certain ingredients are allowed in foods labeled gluten-free under the gluten-free labeling rule. The information provided is not necessarily my personal opinion.

      May 15, 2018 at 8:44 pm
  • Marisa Reply

    I’m so glad that there has been increased awareness & that food is being labeled.
    Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that gluten free doesn’t mean wheat, rye, barley free.
    A lot of people don’t realize that distinction, which can lead to continued damage to the body.
    It took a few years, after celiac diagnosis, to realize that
    I am also allergic to wheat!!!
    I couldn’t figure out what was going on & then the wheat allergy pooped up on an allergy test.
    My body is weird b/c even though I still react to wheat…one year it shows up on the test & then the next year it won’t.

    February 1, 2019 at 11:42 pm
  • Katie Berry Reply

    I can say for a FACT that these ingredients considered gluten free and safe and even testing as gluten free…still are NOT safe for many a person living with celiac. It’s too bad the entire poison plants aren’t considered and gluten is the only considered problem, because many people suffer with symptoms for years until they meet another person with celiac and learn truths that only we can share, since mainstream Celiac organizations can only spread big food supported talking points. Way too many MDs and RDs don’t know that GF isn’t a guarantee of safe eating if a product is made from a gluten grains.

    March 18, 2022 at 1:37 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      It is the protein component–specially the prolamins and glutelins–of wheat, barley, and rye that are harmful to folks with celiac disease. Not all components of the wheat, barley, or rye plant contain these proteins. That said, cross contact may be an issue with wheat, barley, and rye grass. Also, wheat starch and products made from wheat starch hydrolysates (such as a wheat-based glucose syrup) may still contain low levels of gluten because it can be difficult to completely separate the protein and starch components. This is why it is important to buy products labeled gluten-free from trusted manufacturers.

      March 18, 2022 at 2:23 pm

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