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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

FDA passes ruling on Gluten-free labels

One of the easiest ways to eat gluten-free is to stick with whole foods. There is no need to read labels in search of gluten containing ingredients on a head of broccoli, dried blacks beans, apples, quinoa or chicken. But what about when you purchase those items that do contain an ingredient list. Ingredients can be complicated and hard to pronounce and if you are Celiac and need to avoid all traces of gluten, how do you REALLY know that that product is gluten-free?

Being Celiac, myself, I have experienced adverse reactions eating and drinking products that claimed to be gluten-free. One of the major concerns for Celiacs is cross-contamination of food. A well-known example in the Celiac community are rolled oats. Oats that are processed on the same equipment as wheat products will not have “wheat” on the ingredient list but they should not be consumed by people who have Celiac because of this cross-contamination. Instead, oats need to be designated as gluten-free oats such as Bob’s Red Mill offers.

Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease is an inherited auto-immune condition that makes it impossible for those who have it to digest gluten. If gluten is ingested, the body produces antibodies that attack and damage the lining of the small intestine. This can cause severe health problems including nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, growth retardation, infertility, miscarriages, short stature and intestinal cancers. Many times there are physical symptoms to ingesting gluten which include bloating, cramping, diarrhea, foggy thinking, constipation, fatigue and headaches.

Personally, I do my research on the companies that claim they are gluten-free to research their practices and whether or not they are producing products in a gluten-free dedicated facility, meaning that no gluten ingredients or products are brought in or produced in the facility. You can see “gluten-free” and “contains no gluten ingredients” and “naturally gluten-free” on many products because of the lack of standards set forth by the FDA, this labeling really doesn’t mean much.

Under the federal definition, which FDA has been working on since 2007, food that carries a "gluten-free" label must contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. There seems to be some research out there that claims that 20 ppm is a safe amount, even for Celiacs, but I am going to beg to disagree. This is a matter of exposure. When gluten is present in a Celiac, there is an autoimmune response. If numerous products that contain 20 ppm (or less) are consumed all at once or on a daily or weekly basis, this exposure compounds and becomes a very real issue for Celiacs. This also allows for companies that do not have a designated gluten-free facility to produce products. How are these standards going to be ENSURED for each and every product that ends up on our grocery shelves? The FDA has not had a lot of success in the past enforcing all of the rules and regulations set forth, so how are these standards going to be enforced?

As for me, I will continue to eat whole foods, and make tasty dishes from great resources like The Healthy Edge Cookbook and limit my intake of processed foods. When I do venture out and eat at restaurants or buy processed foods, I will do my research and choose restaurants and companies that are dedicated gluten-free and have great reviews from other Celiacs. There is a powerful community at www.celiaccommunity.org where people will post honest reviews of products they have had an issue with.    

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