Gluten Free 101 at the #GFFAFest
The Gluten Free Food Allergy Festivals from Gluten Free and More magazine are more than just expos full of yummy and safe treats. Every festival, there are several sessions of cooking demonstrations and educational lectures throughout each day by those in the top of their field. However, I understand that getting to one of these festivals is not always geographically feasible. I’m hoping to get you some of the information learned at the lectures and demos directly to you in a post and an additional link to watch the session on YouTube.
The first in this series is from Dr. Anne Lee, head of nutrition at Dr. Schar. Her educational lecture was on the topic of “Gluten Free 101,” something that I’m always asked about – the “must know” facts of the gluten-free lifestyle.
Gluten Free is Growing
The gluten-free category has exploded in the past few years. Ten percent of all new items in 2010 had a gluten-free claim, and it’s a 14 billion industry overall. Sales from 2012 to 2013 rose over 29% in the gluten-free core category (like breads, pastas, etc.). It’s great to see that more brands are gaining access into the market, especially those brands that are certified gluten-free! Talk to your grocery store manager and tell them that you’re part of a growing audience and demand products! As we’re growing as a population, we’re keeping specialty grocers in business!
What Foods Are Gluten-Free?
Dr. Anne talked about how to read the different parts of the label and determine if it is gluten-free. First, look for the gluten-free notation on the package. It’s great if it has a seal from a gluten-free certification program, then you’ll know that it’s celiac safe! If not, look at the allergen list, as wheat has to be labeled as part of the top 8 allergens (however barley and rye do not have to be labeled). Read the ingredients carefully to really see what’s inside and look for any confusing or vague ingredients.
You’ll also have to look for any statements on production practices or facility (ex. manufacturer in a dedicated facility and/or dedicated equipment). Even with the new FDA labeling regulations, a product can be labeled gluten-free, but manufactured on same equipment. While as great as the law is, it is up to the manufacturer to do all of the testing for gluten levels and to check it regularly. By consuming a product, you’re putting your trust in that product’s brand and manufacturuering.
Sticking to naturally gluten-free foods like fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and unaltered dairy products are the easiest to avoid gluten, as these products are just a single ingredient. Questionable items are those that are processed, manufactured and packaged. Questionable items include: soups, seasoning mixes, salad dressings, sauces, packaged food (even rice and potatoes), and anything bagged or boxed on a grocery store shelf!
However, there have been myths about the gluten content of certain items. Dr. Anne wanted to stress that vinegar (not malted), distilled alcohol, caramel color, citric acid, artificial colors and flavors are all fine on the gluten-free diet (but always check additional ingredients).
While we might think of cross-contaminated grains as just oats, other ancient grains are also often contaminated in the manufacturing process. In a recent study, 32% of sampled ancient grains were cross-contaminated – some up to almost 3000 ppm! Look for cross-contamination in your grains and choose certified grains.
Hidden Sources of Gluten in Food and More
Remember that the recent FDA labeling laws regulates only certain things. Any food items that contain eggs, meat, or poultry are regulated by the USDA (and thus they are not covered by the FDA – the makers of the law). Dr. Anne recommends checking the voluntary advisory statements (ex. “Processed in a plant with…” “May contain traces of…”), and if possible, make sure these items are certified gluten free.
Prescription medication isn’t regulated, so you’ll have to check to make sure your medication isn’t contaminated.
For those with kids, be careful of craft items like Playdough, paints, and crayons – or those craft items might contain gluten. Also, be careful with lotions, sunscreens, or other topical items, as they tend to put things into their mouths (not necessarily a concern for adults).
Gluten Free and Nutritional Deficiencies
A few recent studies cited by Dr. Anne found nutritional deficiency among those following a gluten-free diet. Gluten-full breads are required to enrich their product with B, iron, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folate. However, gluten-free foods are not required to enrich, so a replacement-only diet would require supplementation. In a study of almost 50 adults, most didn’t meet the required dietary amount (RDA) for fiber, calcium, and iron. Gluten-free products also have more fat and sugar added to them to try to make them taste like the gluten-full products. Another cited study of about 30 adults showed increased body weight following a gluten-free diet and more than half had nutritional deficiency.
Make sure you look for fortified or alternative grains to help you increase you nutrient intake from what it might be missing from just gluten-free replacements. Gluten-free oats, quinoa, brown rice, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth can help. Try to make your diet as naturally gluten-free as possible – utilizing 5-6 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish, and nuts, seeds, and legumes. Many gluten-free products are expanding to incorporate more diverse and nutritious flours like bean flours, nut flours/meals or ancient grain flours.
But this isn’t all that Dr. Anne had to teach us in her Gluten Free 101 lecture. There’s more information on the video about dining out gluten-free, and traveling while gluten-free – especially international travel. FOLLOW THIS LINK TO SEE ALL OF ANNE LEE’S PRESENTATION AT THE GLUTEN FREE FOOD ALLERGY FESTIVAL!