How to Read a Gluten Free Nutrition Label
Gluten-free and label reading-are like “peas and carrots” they just go together. The word “gluten” is not a labeled ingredient on food labels so it requires a bit of consumer knowledge. It is “where” and “in what” listed ingredients gluten hides that a gluten-free consumer must educate themselves. Label reading truly becomes second nature as manufacturers are constantly changing ingredients, the source of these ingredients, and their manufacturing practices. Just because your favorite cookies were gluten free 6 months ago does not mean that these same cookies are still free of wheat, rye, barley, oats and all their known derivatives today. Always read the label and when in doubt call the company with any specific questions you might have. I have called more 1(800) numbers from the grocery store in the past 3 years than ever before. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask a question – it’s your health / family’s health that is on the line.
Since the passing of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act in 2004, identifying wheat has become significantly easier. The top 8 allergens that are required by law to be labeled in the US are – milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, shellfish and soybeans. Wheat and its derivatives are among the most heavily eliminated in the celiac diet. The food allergen consumer protection act has worked in our favor since there are presently no labeling requirements for gluten free products. Although, this will be changing as of August 2014 when all manufactures and food handling businesses offering gluten free options will be required to abide by the 20 PPM (parts per million) allowed. This amount is deemed safe for most celiac persons to consume – it is also among the smallest accurately measured unit as there is no such thing as a 0 PPM.
It is safe to say that most processedfoods with a flour base likely contain wheat flour or one of its derivatives as its base. Some of the more common and obvious products containing such bases are – cakes, cookies, breads, cereals and pastas. Many of these glutinous flours and starches also serve as good thickeners in many of our everyday foods – soy sauces, canned soups, cornbread, muffin mixes, lunch meat, yogurt, sour cream, hot dogs, sausages, broths and condiments.
Remember, just because a product is labeled “wheat free” does not necessarily make it gluten-freesince labeling of rye, oat, and barley are not required.
Learn it – “BROW” Barley, Rye, Oat, and Wheat – DON’T Eat
Barely is typically used as a flavor enhancer or thickener in soups, broths, cereals and protein bars (malt being the most common). Barley is not typically used in baking but many items containing “malt flavoring” such as syrups, cereals, beers and malt vinegars do contain it – always question the source by which “malt” is referring to.
Rye fortunately is not often used in many items other than breads and crackers.
Oats themselves are not problematic for most celiac and gluten sensitive individuals. Oats are not in the same gluten containing family as rye, wheat, and barley. However, they are often cross-contaminated near-by wheat fields and/or during the manufacturing process – therefore, purchase oats that have been processed in a gluten free manufacturing facility. I have found Bob Redmill makes a safe alternative.
Potential Sources of Gluten – This is a generalized list of foods that may contain gluten. Frequently manufactures will lump a bunch of ingredients under one word not specifying its source unless necessary.
The following are gluten containing sources;
Always try to find the exact make up or source of the following
Food “starch”– typically this means corn however, there is no guarantee unless specified. Although corn is gluten free and therefore gluten safe – if it were ‘potato‘ starch it would be problematic for someone with a nightshade intolerance.
Carmel color –“gluten containing ingredients are no longer used in North America and in Europe. Although the glucose syrup used is a gluten derivative, but it is highly processed containing no gluten in its final form.” (2 )My word of caution is always know the source, as each country has different processing regulations – in general caramel color should be 100% safe. (1)
Dextrin – this can be made from wheat- although, then it would be required to be listed on the food label as being so based on the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act
Maltodextrin – this typically means corn, potato or rice in the US. Again, although gluten free, this does not necessarily mean nightshadefree.Foreign food manufactures may sometimes use wheat based ingredients.
Vinegar – Most vinegars are safe (apple cider, rice wine and balsamic) just to name a few. Be aware that malt vinegar is often derived from barely and therefore, not gluten safe. Distilled white vinegar can be from a variety of sources ranging from corn and grapes to wheat. If you are uncertain of the source call the manufacturing company to confirm.
(1) CanadianCeliac Association
Photo Credit; Nicholas Raymond-stockvault.net
You have probably consumed a few gluten-free products and if not you have certainly seen a label or two in this day in age. For some like myself and my family it is a way of life. There is no “maybe I will try this” or “hmmmm, this doesn’t taste so great“-gluten-free is the only option.
Did you know?
1) 1 in every 133 Americans has Celiac Disease. That is approximately 1% of the population, with an expected 50-60% to be diagnosed by the year 2019*.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disorder in which the villi of the small intestine have been damaged, causing a direct interference with the proper absorption of the nutrients.
2) Celiac can affect men and women of all ages and races.
3) It is estimated that as much as 95% of the population is not yet diagnosed as having a gluten intolerance/sensitivity, Celiac, or other potential gluten related disorder. So if you think you are “not affected” by gluten, yeah, sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you just don’t know it yet.
4) A 100% Gluten free diet is the only existing treatment. (I know bad news for the poor pharmaceutical companies).
5) Other gluten linked or related issues (including but limited to); Infertility, Thyroid disease, Diabetes, Intestinal Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Osteoporosis, Anxiety, Depression, ADD/ADHD, Liver Disease, Migraines and other Neuropathic conditions.
Why you ask? Because gluten has destroyed the interior wall of the small intestine, allowing toxins to leak into the blood stream, and be carried throughout your body to reside in places it never should have been (your brain, thyroid, reproductive glands, etc.) So, what once was thought to be solely an intestinal issue is in fact so much more; it’s an inflammation issue too.
6) As of August 2014 new FDA Gluten-Free food labeling regulations will take place. “Gluten free is a voluntary claim manufacturers may elect to use when labeling their food.” However, as of August 2014 manufacturers will be required to meet the minimum 20 PPM (parts per million) for all foods labeled “gluten free“, “without gluten“, “no gluten“, and “free of gluten“. Most people with Celiac or gluten sensitivity can in fact safely consume and tolerate food containing this tiny amount. *
**This “INCLUDES” restaurants and other food serves. Did you know 96% of gluten-free individuals are brand loyal.
7) Gluten-free does not necessarily mean “better for you“.
8) Gluten-free sales reached $4.2 billion in 2012 and are expected to increase to $6.6 billion by 2017*. Gluten-free food production is a booming business and since it’s the only known “cure” for Celiac those statistics are not going to be changing anytime soon.
9) 50% of ones’ success is taking action; the other 50% is our attitude.
10) Antibiotics, pain killers, and preservatives which all affect the natural gut flora have also been to blame for the increased number of gluten sensitive people.
Without a sufficient amount of good bacteria in our body we become unable to produce enough enzymes to aid in the break-down of the gluten protein. Our increased/overuse of pain killers over the years has also aided in the loss of good bacteria. According to Dr.Brogan, use of these drugs “increases intestinal permeability allowing for [food particles] to access the immune system; setting off autoimmune and inflammatory processes.” [A.k.a. a gluten sensitive/celiac type response]
Datamonitor Group, 2009
Packaged Facts “Gluten-Free Foods and Beverages in the US”