Gluten free foods are no longer an option; they are a necessity for many. Experts estimate that as many as 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, an auto-immune disease that requires a lifelong adherence to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
Celiac Disease, as well as food allergies, is so severe that the Secretary of Health and Human Services was involved in developing The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act of 2007.
The mission of the act is to help educational institutions develop food allergy guidelines, especially for public schools. The purpose is to prevent children from being exposed to food allergens that could be harmful – in the most severe cases, even deadly – to them.
Gluten-Free Foods and Labels: How Accurate Are They?
One of the interesting things about gluten free foods that many are unaware of is that the legal definition varies country to country. Labels reflect the amount of gluten ostensibly contained in a product.
Although many celiac sufferers adhere to a “zero-tolerance” of gluten in their diets, recent research reports that celiac disease sufferers can safely tolerate small amounts (up to 20 parts per million) of gluten.
To put this in perspective, common wheat flour contains about 12% gluten. Hence, even a small amount of this that comes into contact with gluten-free foods can easily cause cross contamination.
To further complicate the matter, some countries don’t even require gluten-free foods to be labeled as such. All of this makes it very difficult for celiac disease sufferers to trust gluten-free foods, even when they are labeled as such.
Gluten-Free Foods and Cross-Contamination
Cross-contamination is a serious issue for celiac disease sufferers because many “gluten free foods,” so to speak, come into contact with and/or are made with ingredients containing gluten while being processed, prepared or packaged.
How to Ensure That You’re Eating Gluten-Free Foods
Because of the number of Americans who suffer from celiac disease, gluten-free foods are becoming more widely available. They can be found in specialty health food stores and even in many mainstream shopping outlets.
The best way to ensure that you’re buying gluten-free foods is to know which foods to avoid (even down to specific ingredients), diligently read labels and call food manufacturer Customer Service Hotlines if you’re in doubt.