The following is a guest post shared by Dr. Jill Tieman of Real Food Forager. Thanks, Dr. Jill!
Recently, The Washington Post reported about the FDA’s reluctance to make a decision about gluten-free labeling. Under a 2004 law Congress gave the FDA until 2008 to establish a standard for food manufacturers who want to use the term “gluten-free” in their food label.
Alessio Fasano, medical director of the Center for Celiac Research and one of the authors of new research proving the existence of gluten sensitivity at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, feels it is a “no-brainer.” Fasano believes that the incidence of Celiac disease is skyrocketing in this country because changes in agricultural practices have increased gluten levels in crops. “We are in the midst of an epidemic,” he said.
Food manufacturers are jumping on this market potential with sales of gluten-free cereals, snacks and other foods projected to reach $2.6 billion next year. This is up from $100 million in 2003.
In typical fashion and because the labeling terms are unregulated at this point, many foods labeled by the manufacturers as gluten-free, in fact, have small amounts of gluten that could trigger an attack in a susceptible person.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body may have an immune response to even a molecule of the protein gluten. This immune response causes inflammation which can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. People who have this condition may experience gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and gas but they may also have symptoms that are seemingly unrelated, such as fatigue, headaches, acne, muscle pain, growth failure in children, etc. due to the malnutrition that results from damaged intestines.
It can take years for a correct diagnosis. Blood testing is done for special antibodies, called antitissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTGA) or anti-endomysium antibodies (EMA). However, many people test negative. Most medical doctors stop right there and tell these patients that they can eat gluten because they are not Celiac. However, a person can have a negative blood test and still be gluten-intolerant. There has been recent research proving the existence of gluten-intolerance or gluten sensitivity. This greatly increases the numbers of people who really need correct and truthful labeling.
Why is the FDA dragging their feet about this? While they continue to conduct open-forum debates calling upon experts, food manufacturers are having a field day with semantics and labeling. Nothing has been settled and companies are getting away with falsely labeling gluten-free products.
The fundamental problem is whether or not food manufacturers can reliably test for the presence of gluten.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission — an international body — and countries like Canada, Brazil and Australia all have standards for gluten-free labeling. That standard is 20 parts per million (ppm). In other words, the food item can be labeled gluten-free it it contains less than 0.0007 of an ounce of gluten for every 2.2 (kg) pounds of food. This is the minimum amount of gluten that can be detected in a reliable way.
Many manufacturers are stringent in their testing of ingredients and their isolation of the equipment they use for processing. Others are not. In fact, in North Carolina, a man was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison after he was convicted of buying regular bread and repackaging it as gluten-free.
Celiacs and those who are gluten-intolerant feel that they are not being taken seriously.
The FDA proposes to define the term “gluten-free” to mean that a food bearing this claim in its labeling does not contain any one of the following:
- An ingredient that is a prohibited grain
- An ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten
- An ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain and that has been processed to remove gluten, if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food, or
- 20 ppm or more gluten
The FDA is also proposing synonyms for the Gluten-free labeling claim: Free of gluten, without gluten and no gluten are all acceptable wordings.
All of these proposals are well and good. But the bottom line is, if you suffer from Celiac, gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, the best way to avoid any problems is to steer clear of packaged foods completely and eat real whole foods that are made at home. Learn how to bake delicious grain-free products, and most importantly eat plenty of pastured eggs, poultry and grassfed beef as well as healthy animal fats from pastured and humanely treated animals. For people with severe intestinal problems I recommend checking out the GAPS diet.
Dr. Jill Tieman is a Clinical Nutritionist and Chiropractor practicing in Suffolk County, New York. She specializes in SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) and GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome). She is also the co-Chapter Leader of the Great South Bay Chapter of the Weston Price Foundation. As a supporter of WAPF, she is enthusiastic about teaching people how to use real, wholesome foods to reinvigorate their health.
(photo by whatshername)