Gluten-free eating is essential for the three million Americans who have celiac disease. Celiac disease occurs when the body’s natural defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body cannot absorb needed nutrients. Delayed growth and nutrient deficiencies can result and may lead to conditions such as anemia (a lower than normal number of red blood cells) and osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. Other serious health problems may include diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease and intestinal cancers.
While you may think that these individuals just need to avoid the offending grains, it’s not that easy as many food products have some form of these grains including flours, breads, cereals, crackers, flavored chips, processed and breaded meats, salad dressings, sauces, and soups, beer and candies. Even multivitamins and medications can contain gluten. Making it even more difficult, foods can be easily contaminated if prepared in the same area as gluten containing grains.
Why has gluten-free eating gotten easier? The Food and Drug Administration recently defined what it takes for a food to qualify as gluten-free. Before their ruling, there were no federal standards or definitions for the food industry to use in labeling products “gluten-free.” As one of the criteria for using the claim “gluten-free,” FDA set a gluten limit of less than 20 ppm (parts per million) in foods that carry this label. This is the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods using valid scientific analytical tools. Also, most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten. In addition to limiting the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 ppm, FDA allows manufacturers to label a food “gluten-free” if the food inherently doesn’t have any gluten such as bottled water, fruit, vegetables and eggs.
This level is consistent with those set by other countries and international bodies that set food safety standards. While most products are accurately labeled, there is an estimated 5 percent of foods currently labeled “gluten-free” that contain 20 ppm or more of gluten. These manufacturers that want to use the phrase on their products must adhere to the strict guidelines. They will have until August 2014 to comply with the new regulations.
This labeling will be a great benefit for those living with celiac disease to make food choices with confidence and allow them to better manage their health.
With gluten-free eating being a popular trend, there has been an explosion of new products in the market which is good news for those with celiac disease as they have many more options. Many people who don’t have celiac disease choose gluten-free products as they feel it is a healthier way to eat. This may be true if choosing gluten-free means eating less processed foods, but many gluten-free products are quite processed, low in nutrients and low in fiber. For healthier options, high fiber grains should be chosen, including brown rice, quinoa, legumes, buckwheat and cassava. Along with that, selecting a variety of foods from fruit, vegetable, dairy and lean proteins will help ensure a healthy diet.
Source: Oregon Live