The recent news about the Food and Drug Administration's new standard for labeling gluten-free foods had me a little shocked. Who knew that the FDA had not regulated all the products claiming to be “gluten free” on our grocery shelves already—certainly not me.
I was thrilled to hear that after a six-year delay, all products labeled “gluten free”, as well as "no gluten," ''free of gluten," and "without gluten," will have to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Interestingly, these products don’t have to be 100% free of wheat, rye, barley and their derivatives, but according to the medical community this amount is recognized as safe for those individuals who suffer from celiac disease.
So what is gluten anyway? Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye, and barley. And for those who suffer from celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune condition, their bodies produce antibodies that attack and damage the lining of the small intestine when ingested. This can cause severe health problems including nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriages, and intestinal cancers. Avoiding gluten is the only solution that can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing.
A term that has become quite popular over the last couple of years is gluten sensitivity. These individuals do not test positive clinically for celiac disease but still have a huge array of symptoms, including behavioral changes, skin rash, bone or joint pain, muscle cramps, leg numbness, fatigue, abdominal bloating, and gas. They too, feel better when gluten is removed from their diet.
However, for some reason “gluten-free” foods have gotten a reputation for being healthier for everyone. This clearly is not correct. Actually many people who have removed gluten from their diets in the hopes of losing weight have gained weight. Those who have lost weight it is usually because they have removed an entire food group from their diets—in other words reminiscent of the Atkin’s days—they stop eating all bread, pasta and even gluten-free rice and potatoes. And research will support that whole grains in the diet are without a doubt nutritionally beneficial.
Those who have gained weight by going gluten free have likely experienced this because gluten-free packaged foods are sometimes more caloric than their counter-parts. For example, many gluten-free breads and cereals include added sugars for flavor and hence contain more calories. Remember when everyone thought they could eat as much “low-fat” foods as they want? Well, that didn’t end well. So here we go again—this time with gluten. Consumers need to realize that gluten free doesn’t mean calorie or fat free. And most importantly they should realize that going gluten free is not a trend or a fad, it is for those who suffer and have no alternative.
If you think you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity consult with a physician and a registered dietitian before you remove gluten from your diet. A test will not be accurate without the presence of gluten.