Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Grocery Store Lessons: Labelling lies (Part 2)

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A few weeks ago I attended a webinar on “gluten-related disorders”. The first part was pretty much a rehash of things I already knew. However, I learned some interesting things about food labelling in the second part.

I’ve noticed a few purportedly gluten-free products on the market that also state: “made in a facility that processes wheat”. Now, I’ve always advised clients with celiac disease to avoid products that have that disclaimer on the label. It turns out that these products may still be perfectly safe. However, I know that the “new” labelling laws (weren’t they released a couple of years ago now?) in Canada were meant to remove that confusion. Products are not supposed to include statements like the above and “may contain x” unless there is a reasonable risk that they may in fact contain the ingredient in question. This is because so many manufacturers were including these statements just to cover their butts in the event that a customer experienced an adverse reaction. However, it made it extremely difficult for people with allergies and celiac disease to find products that were safe for consumption. Despite their apparent inability to adherence to the labelling laws, products that are labelled “gluten-free” but that are “made in a facility that processes wheat” may truly be gluten-free (or at least within the 20 ppm that’s permissible in a gluten-free food).

The even more interesting thing that I learned is that companies proclaiming their products to be “gluten-free” don’t have to test for gluten during any stage of the manufacturing process. Yep, that’s right. Manufacturers are under no obligation to test the raw ingredients, nor the final product, for gluten-contamination before the food hits the stores. Of course, if a company is proclaiming a food to be gluten-free then it’s in their best interest not to sicken their customers and they most likely will test their product for gluten. However, there are probably some naive manufacturers (witness the product mentioned in my last post) who don’t realize the potential of cross-contamination nor the risks to their customers associated with such contamination. There are also instances of suppliers changing or corners being cut and it is entirely possible that a formerly gluten-free product may become glutenous. If you are concerned that a product labelled gluten-free may contain gluten you can contact the Gluten Free Watchdog which is basically the site of the gluten police. Unfortunately, as gluten testing is costly reports can only be viewed with a subscription ($4.99/mo). If you have celiac disease or work with a number of clients with celiac disease or wheat allergies this subscription could be life-saving.

 

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Gluten 101

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Based on the number of frustrating conversations I’ve had with people regarding gluten it seems like there are a few things that need clarification. I know that you, my lovely regular readers don’t, but on the off chance that someone in need of guidance is googling gluten perhaps they’ll stumble across this post.

Let’s start with the fact that going gluten-free is not the magical cure-all that many self-appointed nutrition gurus would have you believe. Yes, people with celiac disease, gluten allergies and intolerances will most definitely benefit from eliminating sources of gluten from their diets. However, if you are not suffering from any of these conditions (I might add self-diagnosis is not advisable) there is absolutely no need to eliminate gluten from your diet. I do believe that variety is more than the spice of life and it’s important to consume a variety of grains, too much of any one food is not going to be of benefit to your body. That being said, eliminating gluten is not a magical weight loss cure. It’s the same as eliminating any major contributor of calories; if you consume fewer calories as a result of eliminating it you will lose weight, if you simply replace those calories with those from other foods you will not lose weight. It seems like gluten is the latest villain in the dietary world. If only we could eliminate gluten then we would all be migraine-free, cured of diverticulitis,  there would be no more arthritis, or ADHD, perhaps we could even attain world peace!

Okay… so going gluten-free won’t cure everything but if you are going gluten-free the first thing you need to know is what foods contain gluten, and what foods don’t. I’ve had the fun time of trying to explain to people that if a food is gluten-free then it’s also wheat-free while they have been adamant that the reverse is true. It reminds me of the logic lessons in elementary school: all tulips are flowers, that doesn’t mean that all flowers are tulips. Gluten is found in a number of grains: wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and often oats (most oats are cross contaminated but some gluten-free oats are available and may be tolerated by people who cannot consume gluten). For a complete list of ingredients to avoid if you’re going gluten-free visit celiac.ca. You also need to be aware that there’s a risk of cross-contamination if foods are grown, processed, or prepared in close proximity to gluten-containing foods.

If you’re going gluten-free you don’t need to eliminate all grains and starchy foods. Despite what some people have tried to tell me, rice, potatoes, corn, and quinoa do not contain gluten. Celiac.ca has another great list of foods that you can eat if you’re unable to consume gluten.


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Breaking the (food labelling) law

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A little over a year ago Canada changed the food labelling laws for common allergens. With the growing prevalence of food allergies and celiac disease this change in the law was intended to provide clarity for the consumer. No longer could food manufacturers use the statement “may contain x, y, z, etc” to cover their butts. That statement was now to only be used if there was a real risk of an allergen being present in a food. Consumers were advised to treat any allergen identified in this manner as being present in the ingredient list. Despite this, it seems that some companies are just not getting it.

There are a couple of areas that I’m not sure about as they don’t seem to be clearly covered in the labelling laws: restaurants and supplements. Neither of these are packaged foods; however, it seems to me as they are ingested by consumers they really should have to comply to the same regulations. Then again, we all know how closely the supplement industry is regulated by Health Canada and the CFIA. Despite foods listing “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” on their ingredient lists having to identify the specific vegetable source of the protein in their allergen statement, it seems that supplements do not have to as I have seen many vitamins listing HVP without stating the source.

Not very long ago I was out for dinner with my family. I noticed that the menu offered “gluten-free” pizzas. However, a disclaimer stated that, because the kitchen was not gluten-free there may be cross-contamination of the pizzas. I went on a little tirade to my family about how they shouldn’t make the statement that their pizza crusts are gluten-free if they can’t guarantee that they haven’t been cross-contaminated. I’m sure they meant well but for someone with celiac disease it’s like saying “here, you can eat this, oh, maybe not”. It only takes a very small amount of gluten for someone with celiac disease to become quite ill.

The worst offender though are the Beanitos chips. They’re a relatively new tortilla chip made from beans rather than from corn. The package proudly proclaims that they’re gluten-free yet, if you read the allergen statement it says that they’re “made in a facility that also processes wheat.” Hmm…. Pretty sure that this is contrary to the new labelling laws. If there is enough risk of cross-contamination then you can’t say that your product is gluten-free. This is the butt-covering that the new labelling laws were designed to curtail. Your product is either gluten-free or it’s not.


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NS gets trendy, goes gluten-free

I’m really disappointed in the CBC’s reporting with this recent story on gluten-free foods in Nova Scotia. When I clicked on the link to read the story I was thinking “Isn’t it nice that N.S. is getting some positive recognition.” Then I started reading the brief article. It starts off fine, mentioning increasing diagnoses of celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Sadly, it then goes on to quote a naturopath on his 75% diagnosis rate of gluten intolerance in his patients. Why, CBC, would you only quote a naturopath? Their diagnosis methods are not even remotely scientifically sound. Could you not get someone from the Celiac Association or a medical doctor to at least lend some credibility balance to your story? The quoting of a naturopath doesn’t negate the fact that Nova Scotia is seeing great advances in the availability of gluten-free foods. It also doesn’t negate the fact that access to such foods can greatly improve the lives of individuals suffering from celiac disease or a gluten allergy. However, for me at least, it automatically gets my back up.


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Should you go gluten-free?

Myth #6: Everyone should eat a gluten-free diet

What Dietitians of Canada says:

“Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, or are allergic to one of these grains, you don’t need to avoid them.”

What I say:

AMEN! There has been a lot of hype about gluten-free diets over the past few years. I’ve heard of several celebrity athletes attributing their successes to adopting gluten-free diets. If you have a condition (one of those listed above) then you need to eliminate gluten from your diet. However, it’s become pretty trendy to be gluten-free. I feel that may make light of the serious health concern that it is for those with celiac disease, an allergy, or intolerance. In addition, if you’re adopting a gluten-free diet you should be aware that a lot of the foods marketed as gluten-free are both expensive and higher in calories than their glutinous counterparts. You should also make sure that you’re still consuming plenty of fibre and whole grains. Rice cakes are not going to suffice for all of your grain servings.

If you think that you may suffer from one of the aforementioned conditions then you should see your primary health care provider and get tested. If you are being tested for celiac disease you should know that you must continue to consume gluten in your diet until the test has been completed. If you have eliminated gluten from your diet the definitive biopsy test will not be able to detect the disease if your intestine has had time to repair itself.

For more information about celiac disease visit: http://www.celiac.ca