We’ve all seen the Gluten-Free labels on products and the special sections in the supermarket dedicated to Gluten-Free foods, but what is gluten, exactly?
GLUTEN – noun \ˈglü-tən\: a tenacious elastic protein substance especially of wheat flour that gives cohesiveness to dough.
Gluten is the common term for a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye (and in derivatives of them). Gluten “glues” the other ingredients together and adds texture. When someone with Celiac Disease consumes (or comes in contact with) gluten, the immune system begins attacking the small intestine. Over time, this can and will cause damage to the small intestine which will affect the absorption of nutrients from ones diet. While gluten is commonly found in bread products, such as pasta & baked goods, it could also be present in items such as soy sauce, licorice, processed meats, beer, cosmetics, shampoos/conditioners, & even in some medications.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires that if a food has any of the eight most common allergens (dairy, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat & soy), the allergen must be listed on the label. This law does include wheat but it does not include gluten as of yet. With that said, it is essential to remember that “wheat-free” does not mean “gluten-free”!
There was a second meeting held in 2005 specifically addressing gluten (see below):
FDA held a second public meeting in August 2005 to obtain expert comment and consultation from stakeholders to help FDA develop a regulation to define and permit the voluntary use on food labeling of the term “gluten-free” (Public Meeting On: Gluten-Free Food Labeling). The meeting focused on food manufacturing, analytical methods, and consumer issues related to reduced levels of gluten in food. Information presented during and following the meeting provided FDA important and relevant data regarding current industry practices in the production of foods marketed as “gluten-free,” challenges faced by manufacturers of “gluten-free” foods, and consumer perceptions and expectations of what “gluten-free” means to them. FDA is using this information to develop its proposal on the use of the term “gluten-free.”
Grains Not Allowed on the Gluten Free Diet:
- Wheat (durum, farina, graham, kamut, semolina, spelt)
- Barley (also used to make malt flavoring and malt vinegar; both may be derived from barley) It can be listed as barley, barley malt or just malt. Barley is not required to be listed as an ingredient so, although rare, barley malt can be simply listed as “flavoring.”
- Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
Also be on the lookout for items that are labeled with “made on shared equipment” or “may contain traces of….”. Another common warning is listed as “made in a facility that also processes…”.