Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Labels and Assumptions: Gluten, Gluten - Everywhere!

Once you start looking, it seems like gluten is everywhere. Even in places you would not expect to find it.

Rice Krispies? Yep.

Soy Sauce? Yep.

Play-Doh? Yep.

Licorice? Yep. (insert huge, sad Emoji here)

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and malt. Someone on a gluten free diet also needs to avoid oats, unless they are certified/labeled gluten free, as oats are often cross-contaminated (essentially mixed) with enough wheat or barley grains to make a gluten-sensitive person ill. Gluten is Latin for glue, it acts to bind and give "chew" to baked goods - think of the most delicious bagel, or pizza.

Gluten "hides" in a lot of ingredients or foods - a quick Google search of "sources of gluten" will yield long lists that most of us stuffed into our purses to take to the grocery store those first few months as we learned to read labels to figure out what was safe to eat.

To not reinvent the wheel, here are two I thought were helpful:

From the Celiac Disease Foundation:

From Cooking Light:

After a while, I got into a routine, and pretty much figured out what foods I bought regularly that were gluten free, and I went shopping on auto-pilot. Bad move.

My first mistake was buying guacamole and not reading the label carefully - or at all, I seriously do not remember. My sister was watching my son for the first time since diagnosis, and she had studied better than I. I brought food for him - including his favorite, guacamole. We usually made it from scratch, but since we were traveling, I thought it would be a fun treat to buy a jar and take it with us. When I returned to pick my son up, my sister pointed out the label, which clearly listed wheat as an ingredient (!!??!!), and thankfully questioned it while I had wrongly assumed guac would be safe. It was a wake up call that no assumptions are safe.

I had a second wake up call a few years ago when I picked up Good Seasons Italian Dressing packets --- not realizing that the formula had changed as wheat was now an ingredient. It HAD been gluten free, but then all of a sudden, it wasn't. Thankfully I follow enough other bloggers and Celiac newsfeeds that this was a topic of conversation before we used it! I had fallen asleep on the job, not double checking the label of a product I had purchased numerous times before. The silver lining is that I found an amazing recipe online that we love more than any other dressing, a simple vinaigrette by Budget Bytes:

 Never did I think I would need to check anything on this plate for gluten...

In August of 2014, after NINE years of discussion and debate, the FDA made a ruling on what constitutes a "Gluten Free" food. A company can use that claim on any food that tests at under 20 parts per million gluten. However, a gluten-free food does not need to be labeled gluten free - even if it is (take bottled water, for example). The FDA does not inspect these gluten free claims unless there are complaints, however (like the Cheerios debacle that erupted this week). Great FAQ from the FDA on the labeling law here:

I think my biggest source of frustration - and I'm sure others would agree - is that "gluten" itself is not listed on most any ingredient list in America. (it is on many European foods - it is fun to go to Jungle Jim's International Market and see that!) The top eight allergens that are listed if a food contains them or are processed in the same facility - which includes wheat -- and that helps when reading and deciphering labels. However, even if a food is wheat free it may contain barley/malt or rye, and that does not need to be specified. Maybe someday!

This video was making the rounds on the internet a few months ago. My family found it humorous - gluten really does seem to be in everything! Thank you, CollegeHumor!

College Humor's "What Happens When You Tell People You Can't Eat Gluten"

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