Normally, the bread on a sandwich is what turns away people on the gluten-free diet. Nowadays, multiple brands have come out with gluten free bread that can be enjoyed and easily used for a gluten free sandwich. But what if your next concern is the contents in the sandwich, including the meat, often something naturally taken as gluten free?
Plain meat happens to fall in the “yes” category for foods you can eat on the gluten-free diet, so it would seem that cold-cut sandwich meat would be no different. For the most part, cold-cut deli meat is okay, but the issue is the US Department of Agriculture does not require the same allergen ingredient and labeling disclosures as food that is monitored by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). While plain meat is safe, when seasoning or different types of fillers can be added, they no longer are safe for the gluten-free dieters.
Additionally, our next question would then be, what exactly is in deli meat if it’s not completely plain meat? In many cases, seasonings or spices are added to the outside of the meat before it is sliced, so although there may only be a little seasoning around the edges of the sliced meat, a little can be dangerous to a person with celiac. Plain spices are normally gluten-free but seasonings can sometimes contain gluten, especially with wheat or barley in them.
Certified Dietitian Dean Schillinger described the few issues with glutens in meat.
“Meat is gluten free, naturally. It’s when preservatives, fillers and seasonings are added that you have to be careful. Meat never really was an issue when celiac was new to a lot of people because it didn’t seem very dangerous. Its the pre-made, and pre-packaged meats you have to worry about, often found in the frozen section.”
Schillinger says though most meat products don’t contain ingredient information, if they are pre-packaged frozen meats, most likely they will have some sort of filler or preservative to make them stay good longer.
“To be honest, most of those frozen products are fine for people with celiac. Obviously breaded meats are out, but as dietitians and doctors would say, we wouldn’t tell a person with celiac to avoid the meat counter completely,” Schillinger said.
Schillinger recommends if you are new to a gluten free lifestyle, either because you have to be or want to be, it’s important not to be shy when asking for ingredient information.
“I have a lot of clients who say they hate asking for a gluten-free menu at restaurants when they know they can usually find a meat meal that will work. It’s really not safe to assume what you don’t see being made for you though, because you really have no idea what seasonings or sauces they might use on the meat that you can’t see and could potentially make you sick.”
If you are unsure about any ingredient, ask your waiter or meal provider and they should be able to at least provide you with ingredient lists or allergen information of their products.