Whether it’s gluten-free or gluten-full, foods that contain the largest amounts of additives are processed foods. We’re talking pre-packaged brownies, single-serve noodles in a cup, and that bag of sugar-laden breakfast cereal designated for 1:00 AM snack time. So for those that have Celiac disease or have a gluten allergy, there is more to look for than just the words “gluten-free.”

Here are some of the additives in gluten-free and regular processed foods you should be aware of:

BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) and BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole)


Photo by Elise Takahama

BHT and BHA are used to maintain freshness in gluten-free foods (such as Chex) and various personal hygiene products. Both of these additives are FDA approved, despite the US Department of Health and the National Toxicology Program both stating that these additives are possible carcinogens and hormone disruptors. Both additives have been banned in the UK, Japan, and a few other countries. I don’t know about you, but I prefer my breakfast cereal and my deodorant to have as little in common as possible.

Xanthan Gum


Photo by Jocelyn Hsu

Gums such as xanthan gum, guar gum, and locust bean gum are used to improve the texture of gluten-free products. There are some studies showing that added gums are harmless for humans, and there are some studies showing exactly the opposite. Xanthan gum in particular is known to have adverse side effects for some individuals, and sensitivities to the xanthan gum are not uncommon.



Photo by Lara Schwieger

This is a common gluten-free additive in non-dairy products like almond milk, coconut milk, and others. It acts as stabilizer, thickener, or emulsifier. There are some studies which suggest that carrageenan has some health benefits, but there is also some major scientific evidence that shows that carrageenan is inflammatory and destructive to the human digestive system. In fact, veteran carrageenan researcher Joanne Tobacman, MD, from the University of Illinois School of Medicine states that the inflammation can lead to ulcerations and bleeding. Still sound delicious?

Soy Lecithin

Photo by Stephanie Schoenster

Soy lecithin is an emulsifier that is commonly added to gluten-free foods. Lecithin itself is a fatty substance found naturally in eggs and other foods. There is much research done about whether or not soy lecithin is bad for you, the bottom line is that some people have allergies to soy. Most studies that show that soy lecithin is harmful only say so because of choline toxicity, not lecithin itself. This doesn’t mean you should avoid it, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re still experiencing dietary issues and feel like you’ve been “glutened.”

These are only a few common additives, but the list of things found in your food that are proven to have negative consequences goes on and on, and it’s impossible to rule them all out of your diet if you eat processed foods. Thanks a lot, FDA.

If you’re gluten-free because you think it will help you lose weight, a gluten-free calorie is still a calorie. No matter if you’re gluten-free by choice, celiac, allergic, or not even avoiding gluten, the best way to stay healthy is by preparing things from scratch using whole ingredients.