Gluten has been a popular food topic lately. However, what about those food labels touting “gluten-free” ingredients? Are they accurate?
When you see a package of carrots labeled “gluten-free,” are they really gluten-free?
Yes, by nature carrots have always been gluten-free!
Is it necessary to say this about carrots?
No, the company just voluntarily uses this label. Unless you have gluten diet restrictions, it does not mean you are making a healthier food choice.
But in order to understand the issue, let’s start with a definition.
Gluten is a protein composite in many grains and grain-based foods; it can even be in medications, cosmetics and supplements.
Wheat, barley, rye, pasta, beer, spelt, couscous and bread typically contain gluten.
People with intolerance for gluten process it differently. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, it triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine’s villi.
The Food and Drug Administration, which recently finalized the definition of “gluten-free,” is regulating the term’s use on food labels.
According to the FDA, “the term ‘gluten-free’ now refers to foods inherently lacking gluten by nature or foods that do not contain any ingredient that is:
•A gluten-containing grain, like spelt wheat
•Derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten, like wheat flour
•Derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten, like wheat starch, if use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million or more gluten in the food.” Foods that contain an unavoidable bit of gluten must keep that presence to less than 20 ppm.
Good gluten-free alternative foods include amaranth, quinoa, rice, soy, fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, tofu, buckwheat, nuts, beans and seeds.
More than 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease, and countless others experience gluten intolerances and sensitivities. There are no known cures or treatments for gluten intolerance.
To avoid food products with gluten in them, as always, read the label carefully. Ensure that you do not miss a “may contain” statement where items were processed on the same machines with gluten-containing foods. Oats do not contain gluten but they are often processed with barley, which contains gluten.
Companies that manufacture only FDA-regulated foods and dietary supplements have one year to comply with the final regulations. The labeling guideline should make it easier for consumers to find foods that they can safely eat.
Brenda Smith is with the Okaloosa County Extension office in Crestview.