This is great news for the 3 million Americans who have celiac disease, and it will make life easier for the many others who follow a gluten-free diet. But it’s likely to reignite debate and derision amongst nutritionists and foodies, many of whom negatively perceive the gluten-free purchasing market who are not celiac, but have made the choice to live gluten free for other reasons. It may also help stop brands from labeling their food as gluten free simply to charge more money for the same product.
Jennifer North, vice-president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness joins their ranks as a skeptic, saying that many consumers still misunderstand what gluten does and what a true gluten-free diet is. “A lot of the perceived health benefits of the gluten-free diet are really not attributable to eliminating gluten; they’re attributable to other things that are being done coinciding with a gluten-free diet.” North is talking about dairy and sugar, which are commonly restricted at the same time as gluten to resolve allergy or bowel complaints. Her goal for her organization is to create awareness of the difference between gluten-free dieting and eating health food.
So what is a gluten-free diet? The Mayo Clinic provides a good list of foods to avoid, but industry labeling ambiguities and dangers of cross contamination in the manufacturing process have traditionally made it tricky to know if what you’re buying is actually what you think it is.
From August 5th, the new labeling regulation should mean it’s easier to stay away from the following products if you wish to remain gluten free: barley (malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are usually made from barley), rye, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) and wheat. The wheat issue can be confusing because of the various names it goes by, so also watch out for bulgur,durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt.
It’s also recommended that you check the labeling on foods like beer, breads, cakes, sweets, cereals, cookies, french fries, pastas, dressings, soup bases and sauces like soy. For a more comprehensive list and to see if you are affected by celiac disease, it’s important to consult your doctor.
Overall this move by the FDA is a welcome one, and it will certainly protect those who have celiac disease and make life easier for those of us who choose the diet for other reasons. But there is likely to be a fresh round of internet memes and jokes at the expense of gluten-free dieters, and as one of those myself, I can’t help feel annoyed at North’s comments.
After all, one of the reasons these excellent new labeling regulations are in place to protect celiacs is because people like us have expanded the market for gluten-free products. One would have thought she’d be more grateful?
(Photo courtesy of Memphis CVB)