How reliable are gluten-free labels?

While many Americans require a gluten-free diet after being diagnosed with celiac disease, hundreds of others are opting into the gluten-free fad for the health benefits it claims to provide.

Due to the increase in demand for gluten-free items, food manufacturers often produce products labeled as gluten-free even when they do not meet the gluten threshold mandated by the Food and Drug Administration.

For an item to be labeled gluten-free by FDA standards, it must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Typically, items such as sourdough bread, which are labeled as gluten-free, contain approximately 100,00 ppm. This far exceeds the FDA threshold and places gluten-sensitive consumers at risk of suffering side-effects due to the accidental consumption of gluten. To avoid these issues, learn more about what to look for on your gluten-free labels.

Ingredients to Look for on Your Labels

When you are reading a gluten-free label, regardless of what the product is, it is important to know what specific ingredients contain gluten aside from wheat. Many consumers look for items without wheat and assume the product is gluten-free. However, this is generally not the case. Food manufacturers are mislabeling gluten-free items without abiding by the strict rules mandated by the FDA. While many manufacturing companies are creating products with low gluten content, they are not technically considered gluten-free, thus placing consumers at risk.

Related Article: The Truth About Gluten Allergies

If you are simply following a gluten-free diet based on personal preference, the accidental consumption of gluten does not prove problematic. On the other hand, if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you are going to trigger serious side-effects by consuming a product incorrectly labeled as gluten-free. The easiest way to avoid this dilemma is to be mindful of the ingredients listed on each item you purchase. This means spending time reading everything contained within the ingredient list to ensure you do not miss anything that might potentially harm you. Ingredients containing gluten include:

  • Barley.
  • Malt.
  • Spelt.
  • Semolina.
  • Rye.
  • Brewer’s yeast.

Common items, such as bread and pasta, are labeled as gluten-free even though they contain trace amounts of these ingredients. If the product you are purchasing states on the label that there is a negligible amount of these ingredients within the item, it is generally safe to consume. However, if the product does not expressly state on the label how much of each ingredient is found within the item, avoid purchasing products manufactured by this company. Chances are the manufacturer is not within the FDA compliance of only containing 20 ppm for each product and has mislabeled their product as gluten-free.

Some companies state that their products are gluten-free because the wheat or other gluten-filled ingredients are fermented and processed before being incorporated with other ingredients. The fermentation process does not remove the presence of gluten despite manufacturers claiming otherwise. Each ingredient contained in the product must meet the 20-ppm threshold for gluten content prior to the fermentation process to ensure it is safe for consumption.

How many gluten-free products are mislabeled each year?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, approximately 99.5 percent of gluten-free products available on the market today comply with the 20-ppm regulation. While there is room for error as new food manufacturers seek to join the craze of producing gluten-free items, the odds of accidentally consuming gluten are limited. Oftentimes, people with celiac disease or those with a gluten sensitivity exercise caution when eating food at a restaurant as opposed to when purchasing items at the store. This is because individuals are more likely to accidentally consume gluten at a restaurant than when purchasing their own food.

Nonetheless, there are still mistakes being made regarding items being mislabeled as gluten-free. The only way to combat this issue is to diligently read the ingredient list. A recent study found that three separate food manufacturers are producing a variety of bread products labeled as gluten-free even though their items exceed the 20-ppm threshold. These companies include Leaven Bread, PurBread and Dan the Baker Sourdough. Additionally, Cedarlane Foods produces cous-cous and other items labeled as gluten-free, but the products contain semolina-based wheat grain. A recall of Cedarlane products was issued by the Food and Drug Administration, though it is unknown as to whether the company has yet to comply with these requests.

In addition to checking the items that you buy at the grocery store, be sure to go through the products you currently have within your pantry to ensure you did not previously purchase a mislabeled product. Certain items, such as cous-cous, can be stored for a longer period of time and are more likely to contain semolina or wheat compared to other products previously labeled as gluten-free. If you are unsure of whether a product has been incorrectly labeled, check with the Celiac Disease Foundation. This program provides a running list of items and ingredients that are safe for consumption.

What are the side effects of unintentional gluten consumption?

If you have consumed a product labeled as gluten-free and have suffered side-effects as the result of this decision, it is important to inform your medical provider and the Food and Drug Administration. Not only does this allow you to receive the medical care you need to ensure you do not develop a serious health issue, but it allows the FDA to prevent further issues from occurring for other consumers. Common side effects of unintentional gluten consumption in those with a sensitivity include:

  • Bloating.
  • Nausea.
  • Joint pain.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Brain fog.
  • Vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Fatigue.
  • Bone pain.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Migraines.
  • Canker sores.

The side-effects caused by gluten vary in children and adults, with adults typically experiencing fewer digestive issues than children. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or have developed a gluten sensitivity and any of these side effects occur, it is important to seek medical help to ensure that your symptoms do not worsen over time.

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