March 2021

· 5 min read

Getting to the Truth About Gluten

As a growing number of health-conscious people adopt gluten-free diets, there are many misconceptions about what products contain gluten, including ones you would not suspect. Here, NSF experts share everything you need to know about gluten.
Family picking out pie in store - Getting to the Truth About Gluten: Everything You Need to Know | NSF International

As people become more health conscious, gluten has become a popular buzzword. A growing number of people are adopting a gluten-free lifestyle for a variety of reasons that range from celiac disease to gluten intolerance and trying to lose weight. You can find gluten-free options everywhere — from grocery store aisles to restaurants and bakeries.

But this little protein has caused big confusion. Though 90% of Americans have heard of gluten, few can define it. Many may think they have eliminated gluten from their diet, but may unknowingly be eating it, according to an NSF International survey.

You may be asking: What is gluten? Should I be avoiding it? Here, our experts share everything you need to know about gluten.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley that creates the glue that makes bread dough and noodles gooey and pizza crust chewy. Many people can easily digest this protein it has no effect on their overall health. But for those with any type of gluten intolerance, gluten can lead to a variety of nasty reactions from constipation and bloating to diarrhea and lack of nutrition absorption, which can result in malnutrition. For individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, the reaction can be severe, so a gluten-free diet is essential.

Who Should Avoid Gluten?

People with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease or genetic disorders suffer from the most severe type of gluten intolerance. Though they represent only one percent of the population, it is estimated that as many as 18 million Americans have some form of gluten sensitivity.

Gluten-Free Foods

When you think of gluten, you probably associate it with bread, pasta, baked goods, and beer. But that list is just a glimpse of foods that contain gluten. Many soups, sauces and salad dressings also are packed with gluten.

Supplements With Gluten

NSF International surveyed nearly 1,000 American consumers and found that 62% did not think that dietary supplements can contain gluten. However, wheat is often used as a filler in dietary supplements. There are many certified supplements, including multivitamins and prenatal and probiotic vitamins.

How to Avoid Gluten

  • Be cautious of processed foods. It is more challenging to identify gluten in foods that are processed such as spices and supplements. Check out the manufacturer’s website or call the customer service line if the ingredients are not listed on the packaging.
  • Be an informed diner. Even if the menu says gluten-free, ask your server if there is the possibility of cross-contamination where your food could have come into contact with foods that contain gluten during preparation and cooking.
  • Look for certification. Over 50% of Americans believe products that say “gluten-free” on the label have been verified to be free of all gluten. In fact, the only way to be sure of verification is to look for a gluten-free certification mark. NSF International’s gluten-free certification means that the product does not contain gluten above 15 parts per million (ppm) which is stricter than the FDA’s allowable limit of 20 ppm. It also verifies that it is manufactured in a facility that prevents cross-contamination. Measures must be in place at the factory for monitoring to ensure ongoing compliance with the gluten-free label claim on the product.

NSF’s consumer information team can answer any questions you may have about gluten-free certified products at info@nsf.org or +1 800 673 8010. View gluten-free certified products.

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Note - Survey Methodology: A telephone survey was conducted by ORC International on behalf of NSF International among a sample of 1,012 adults, 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States. The survey was fielded between May 14– 17, 2015. Results have a margin of error of +/- 3% at the 95% confidence level. A randomly selected dual sampling methodology was used with landlines and cell phones. Calibration weighting was used to weight the sample and to reduce the potential for sample bias, ensuring that the results reflect the general population. Most questions were asked only to consumers who have heard of gluten, 912 consumers.