How to Read Food Labels

Learning how to read food labels is a survival skill on the gluten- and casein-free diet. It is important for you to check the labels for unsafe ingredients each time that you purchase a food item. Manufacturers are often changing formulas and manufacturing techniques.

Following is an example of a food label. The top portion provides valuable information about the nutrition content of the food. It includes information on serving size, calories, fat, protein, and micronutrients such as vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. The information at the top of the food label, although valuable, will not tell a person if the food is safe on the gluten- and casein-free diet.

The biggest help in deciding if a food is safe or unsafe is the ingredient list. Review the list of ingredients and compare it to the safe and unsafe lists.

The items are listed by weight in the product from greatest to least. The first ingredient in the list is the largest component of the food and the last ingredient is the smallest component in the food. Just because an item is last in the list, which means there is a small amount, does not make it safe. If an unsafe ingredient is anywhere on the list, it is an unsafe food.

Fact

If a food label claims that the food is “gluten free,” it does not mean that the food is truly gluten free. The law is still being finalized to define “gluten free.” It is important to check the ingredient list each time you buy the food, and it might be necessary to call the manufacturer about cross-contamination at the plant.

A Food Label Test

Look at the food label below. Is this a safe food on the gluten and casein-free diet? Review the label and compare it to the list.

INGREDIENTS: WATER, CHICKEN STOCK, ENRICHED PASTA (SEMOLINA WHEAT FLOUR, EGG WHITE SOLIDS, NIACIN, IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RI BOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], AND FOLIC ACID), CREAM (DERIVED FROM MILK), CHICKEN, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF: CHEESES (GRANULAR, PARMESAN AND ROMANO PASTE [PASTEURIZED COW'S MILK, CULTURES , SALT, ENZYMES], WATER, SALT, LACTIC ACID FROM WHEY, CITRIC ACID AND DISODIUM PHOSPHATE), BUTTER (PASTEURIZED SWEET CREAM [DERIVED FROM MILK] AND SALT), MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, SALT, WHOLE EGG SOLIDS, SUGAR, DATEM, RICE STARCH, GARLIC, SPICE, XANTHAM GUM, CHEESE FLAVOR (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, FLAVORINGS AND SMOKE FLAVORING), MUSTARD FLOUR, IS OLATED SOY PROTEIN AND SODIUM PHOSPHATE.

Is it safe? No!

Some of the ingredients that are not safe are the following: enriched pasta (containing semolina wheat flour), cream, cheese, lactic acid from whey, butter, and starches. Read carefully each time you buy a food!

Alert

Always check the ingredient list! Manufacturers often label products as “wheat free.” This does not mean that it is gluten-free. A food that is wheat free can still contain gluten. Similarly, if a food is lactose-free or milk-free, it does not mean that it is casein-free. Please check the ingredients list each time a food is purchased! It is the only way to make sure that a food is safe!

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