By Fran Weiss, MS RDN CDN
Feeling surprised, scared, disappointed, and relieved are some emotions associated with learning that foods containing gluten may be the cause of feeling under par. Once gluten is recognized as causing a person’s discomfort, looking for gluten-gluten-free food products becomes a way of life. As a Registered Dietitian, I have been asked: “What can I eat?” “ Will I fit in?” “How do I shop?” “Will my family feel deprived with fewer gluten goodies?” Relax! It is all good. Once you understand the whys and figure out the how to’s of gluten-free eating, you will breathe easy and “Enjoy Life”!
WHAT ARE CELIAC DISEASE AND GLUTEN SENSITIVITY?
Celiac disease is a major reason to avoid foods containing gluten. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine in persons diagnosed with this disease. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency anemia. It sometimes comes as a surprise after numerous medical evaluations to realize that celiac disease may be the actual cause of iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, fatigue, and weight loss. Digestive discomforts such as bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and cramps are common. Symptoms, which vary from individual to individual, can also include menstrual cycle abnormalities, anxiety, depression, and migraine headaches. The only known treatment for celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. The month of May may be Celiac Awareness Month but every day should be gluten awareness day for anyone suffering from symptoms related to gluten.
Gluten sensitivity, without outright celiac disease, can be associated with migraine headaches, itchy skin, digestive discomforts, and other symptoms. Unlike celiac disease, the damage to the small intestine is not permanent.
WHERE IS GLUTEN FOUND?
All varieties of foods containing wheat, barley, and rye such as bulgur, semolina, durum, triticale, spelt, graham flour, farina, couscous, and most beers and lagers contain gluten. Products that may contain gluten include marinades, MSG, cold cuts, frankfurters, salad dressings, soy sauce, malt, maltodextrose, maltodextrins, licorice, starch, caramel color, artificial colors and dyes, emulsifiers, and some cosmetics and medications (check with your pharmacist).
Oats are naturally gluten-free but can be a source of gluten when cross-contamination occurs in the field or factory. Oats designated as “Gluten-Free” are especially important for a celiac diet. Gluten-free oats tend to be more expensive due to special growing, harvesting, and factory requirements.
Always read labels for sources of gluten. Product ingredients change, so frequent attentiveness to label reading is important. Product companies are available for your questions if you have any concerns. Enjoy Life products support your questions well. All their products are certified to be free from gluten.
HOW ARE PROCESSED FOODS IDENTIFIED IN TERMS OF GLUTEN?
Labels with a “gluten-free” designation meet the United States Food and Drug Administration’s legal terminology. Such terminology allows for a very small quantity of gluten (less than 20 parts per million). It does not guarantee or even indicate that the product has no gluten. Although many people sensitive to gluten do not react to this very small quantity of gluten, individual sensitivities do vary. Labeling products as “gluten-free” or “free from gluten” is voluntary for manufacturers. It is important to note that if a product indicates “free from wheat,” it is not necessarily “free from gluten.”
Labels designating “no gluten ingredients” tell the consumer that the ingredients used do not contain gluten food sources but that the product may have been cross-contaminated with gluten or may not have been tested for gluten. This labeling designation does not meet the definition “gluten-free” as set forth by the FDA and is not much in the way of a guarantee. Foods labeled as “no gluten ingredients” can vary in the actual content of gluten from actually meeting the definition of “gluten-free” to having high levels of gluten. There is no way of knowing. It is also important to check for disclosures such as if the product was produced in a facility with wheat. Interestingly, there is no requirement to disclose the possible presence of barley or rye as barley and rye are not included in the top eight allergy categories, yet barley and rye both contain gluten.
Labels that indicate “certified gluten-free” (as found on all foods packaged by Enjoy Life products) are perfect for people who are the most gluten sensitive. Companies that manufacture certified gluten-free products offer assurance to people with all levels of gluten sensitivity. Such companies ensure their highest standards for their lowest gluten content. In addition to meeting FDA regulations, these companies ensure that their food products are tested by a third party and undergo voluntary annual inspections by a certifying organization. Enjoy Life receives its certification from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). The GFCO requires that all products displaying the GFCO logo contain a maximum of 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, and Enjoy Life tests down to less than 5ppm.
HOW DO I PREVENT CROSS CONTAMINATION WITH GLUTEN IN MY KITCHEN?
To decrease cross-contamination with gluten, it is wise to designate an area of your kitchen to be used solely for gluten-free foods. A separate kitchen area for gluten-containing foods can be designated for those who are not gluten sensitive.
Purchasing a dedicated set of cooking utensils and bowls for gluten-free products further minimizes the risk of cross-contamination.
When cooking or baking with nondedicated gluten-free utensils and bowls, prepare gluten-free items first. Gluten-containing foods can be added later in a subsequent batch for others in the household. Remember to thoroughly clean all utensils and bakeware prior to future uses. To help prevent gluten-related symptoms, discard any spatulas, cookware, or cutting boards that are frayed or have any scratches or cracks as small amounts of gluten can be trapped this way.
HOW DO I FIT IN AWAY FROM HOME?
- Parties: volunteer to bring a gluten-free dish to share. Make sure that a dedicated serving utensil is used and stays with your dish.
- Restaurants: call ahead to ensure accommodations can be made.
- Children’s Outings: offer dedicated gluten-free treats for all to share. No one needs to feel different. Enjoy Life individually wrapped treats offer a variety of delicious options.
- Concerns: reach out to support groups. In addition, many supermarkets have dietitians available for your questions.
HOW DO I SHOP?
The following are recommendations that I suggest. Aisle by aisle shopping is a piece of cake (gluten-free that is 😉).
Aisles that provide naturally gluten-free foods
- Produce: all fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs
- Dairy: milk, butter, hard cheeses, yogurt
- Cereals/Beans: rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat groats (kasha), cream of rice, dry beans and legumes, gluten-free oatmeal Seafood: all fresh seafood
- Meats and Poultry - all fresh without additives
- Eggs: fresh eggs in the carton
- Fats and Oils: butter, oils, natural peanut and nut butters without additives
- Frozen foods: plain fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, and poultry, most sherbets, check labels for ice cream
- Crunchy and chewy snacks: all Enjoy Life snacks, rice crackers, rice cakes, corn crackers, corn chips, plain nuts and seeds, dried fruits
- Canned foods: fish, chicken, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables
- Condiments: honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, molasses, sugars, ketchup, mustard, pickles, salt, pepper, spices, herbs, jellies, jams, vinegar except for malt vinegar, tomato sauces, salsa
- Grains and flours: rice, quinoa, corn, millet, buckwheat, almond, garbanzo, arrowroot, sago, soy, amaranth, tapioca, teff, sorghum, gluten-free flour mixes
- Gluten-free: many supermarkets have dedicated shelf spaces to facilitate locating gluten-free foods
Always check and re-check food labels for foods not listed above as well as extra ingredients that may be added to the foods in the above list.
Enjoy Life products are delicious commercial alternatives to products containing gluten and are “certified gluten-free”.
Fran Weiss, MS RDN CDN, is a nationally registered dietitian in and active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a certified dietitian/nutritionist for the State of New York. She received her Master of Science degree in Nutrition and Food Science from Cornell University in 1976. Since then, Fran has dedicated over 40 years to helping people of all ages with their food and medical nutrition therapy needs. Fran thoughtfully uses her years of experience and enthusiasm for nutrition to bridge the gap between supermarket shopping and personal and community health awareness. Her dedication was nationally acknowledged in 2018 when she was selected as one of four National Retail Registered Dietitian finalists.