Gluten Free Foods

 What is Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease?

Among the many food allergies that affect people’s lives these days, gluten – a protein found in barley, oats, rye, wheat, triticale, durham, splelt, einkorn, emmer, khorasan, club wheat, and others – is gaining prominence.

 

gluten-free-foodsThis protein acts as a binding agent that gives structure to bread and baked goods and is found in a vast quantity of foods, such as cakes, cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, an additive in an enormous amount of prepared foods, and so on. Products labelled “gluten free” means it’s not present in a given food, but buyer and eater, beware.

 

For some people, actually as many as one in 100 to 200 people in various parts of the world (1-2%), North America included, gluten creates serious health issues. In these people, gluten damages the inner lining of the small intestines and reduces their ability to absorb important nutrients for a healthy life. This damage also creates other effects: gas, bloating, chronic diarrhoea, osteoporosis, severe abdominal pain, depression, thyroid illness, among other things.

 

There is no cure for Celiac disease. The only treatment is to simply avoid eating gluten.

Diagnosis

Celiac disease is not easy to diagnose and is often misdiagnosed–in fact, in an astonishing 97 percent of cases according to some experts. An estimated three million people in the US and 300,000 in Canada suffer from this disease.

 

The most common diagnostic method is by doing a blood test to measure gluten antibodies. But this can often be misleading, producing inaccurate findings, such as irritable bowel, Khrone’s or Colitis. Home-testing kits—called a Biocard Celiac Test Kit and others–are now available that track gluten antibodies through a small fingertip blood droplet.

 

The best method to do a conclusive test is a small bowel biopsy using an endoscope through the mouth into the upper intestine so the lining can be checked in a lab.

What’s Safe and What Isn’t?

Theoretically, no level of gluten is safe for a Celiac sufferer. That said, the international standards setting organization Codex Alimentarious Commission specifies that “gluten free” labelling only be applied to foods with less than 20 ppm, while products containing 20-100 ppm may be labelled as “very low gluten.” Health Canada subscribes to the same guidelines.

 

Fortunately, as consumers ask “What is Gluten?” and awareness of gluten and health in general has increased, so has the number and selection of gluten-free products you can buy at the supermarket or health food store. In fact, gluten-free products are one of the fastest growing food segments but always come with a premium price.

 

Some observers consider gluten-free the latest health food fad, many others a medical necessity–regardless, it’s one of the fastest growing trends in the food retail sector, valued at $4.2 billion in the US in 2012 and growing. The percentage of people claiming they are reducing gluten in their diets increased to 30 percent in 2013 from 25.2 percent in 2010.

 

A lot of people suffering from Celiac disease opt to prepare their own food from raw ingredients they have confidence in. For people who like to eat pasta, and there are few who don’t, an alternative to regular gluten rich pasta is spelt, which is tasty and easy to digest. But even spelt may cause reactions in some of the more sensitive gluten-intolerant individuals.

Gluten Testing of Foods

There are a number of gluten testing systems being used by the food industry to check for the presence of gluten in both raw and processed foods. The majority of them are enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays or “ELISAs.” Others include polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is DNA rather than protein based; and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) swab tests, which check for surface cleanliness. There are others as well. The challenge at the moment is that neither governments nor industry have been able to harmonize results and come up with an internationally accepted standard. In other words, not every test gives the same result. More work needs to be, and is being, done.

Gluten-Free Labelling

Beginning on August 4, 2012, new food labelling regulations came into effect in Canada. Ingredients that previously didn’t necessarily need to be listed on labels—such as components of margarine, seasoning, and flour—now need to be included. A large part of this requirement stems from the need for people with Celiac disease to be able to identify any potential sources of gluten in a given food.

 

In addition to including a complete ingredients list, certain “priority” allergens—including those containing gluten— also need to be identified with a “Contains: XXXXX” statement somewhere on the package, along with the common name of the allergen (i.e. “milk” or “wheat” instead of a technical name) to make it easier for consumers to recognize “what is gluten” when they look at packaging.

 

Additionally, in instances where cross-contamination may occur, precautionary statements must be included, such as “This product may contain XXXX”. Generally speaking, people with Celiac disease should view these precautionary warnings as though they were regular ingredients and avoid these products.

 

To learn more about Regulatory Requirements for Gluten Free in Canada, click here.

Risks of cross-contamination

One of the latest developments in food production is technology to track any possible cross-contamination caused by plant equipment previously used for gluten containing foods that was not properly sanitized.

 

Neogen Corporation’s 3-D Reveal Line, for instance, has become popular because of its accuracy and ease of use. It is intended for the qualitative analysis of gluten residue in clean-in-place rinses, and on environmental surfaces. There are several other excellent products out there as well.

 

There are a number of ways that cross-contamination can occur. The most common one is simply when equipment used for producing both gluten-containing and gluten-free foods receiving improper cleaning between uses. Even the slightest contamination—crumbs, dust—results in potentially dangerous impurities for Celiacs.

 

Additionally, when producing fried foods, it’s important to ensure that the oils being used are fresh and clean. If, for example, French-fried potatoes are prepared in an oil that was previously used with a gluten-containing product, cross-contamination can occur, resulting in illness.

 

Many factories opt for dedicated production lines to help minimize this risk of cross-contamination. There are still risks, however, if the lines are in the same production space. The main issue here is airborne contaminants. If there is milling, cutting, and so on, there is a chance that fine particles of grain may be circulating in the air and can become incorporated into a gluten-free production area.

Gluten-free Certification Program

The increasing incidence of Celiac patients getting sick from eating contaminated gluten-free-labeled food created the GF Certification Program in Canada. It requires GF manufacturers to have their plants and processes audited by third-party auditors on an annual basis. For more information about the program and use of the trusted mark of the Canadian Celiac Association, please see http://www.celiac.ca/index.php/about-the-cca/certification/.

 

To request a copy of GFCP’s requirements and to book an appointment with an auditor, please visit GFCP’s website.

 

 

To have more articles like this emailed to your inbox, become a GFSR Member today!