What Is the Definition of Gluten-Free?
What exactly does gluten-free mean? Check checked in with food system expert Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, shared this article about gluten-free standards with us!
By Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD
“It’s cross contamination,” says Stewart Singleton, who trains food service professionals on allergy awareness including how to properly prepare gluten-free menu options. “Some restaurants, such as Mellow Mushroom, toss their pizzas with cornmeal, so that’s OK.”
An estimated 3 million Americans have celiac disease and must avoid gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Gluten triggers the production of antibodies that damage the lining of the small intestine.
“If I consume a food that contains even the tiniest amount of gluten, such as a burger that was touched by a hamburger bun, I can miss a whole day of work,” says Singleton, who was diagnosed with celiac disease 10 years ago.
Finally, a definition for gluten-free
The detective work to identify sources of the offending gluten will soon be a lot easier, even if the product is labeled gluten-free.
New federal standards have been set for gluten-free claims with a limit of 20 parts per million in products. “A standard is important,” Singleton says. He points out that food service ingredients will improve, too. “For instance, there’s a commercial salad dressing company that used Worcestershire powder in their dressings, but that contains barley malt, which is not gluten-free, so they had to change the recipe.”
Who wants gluten-free?
From bread to beer, the nationwide demand for gluten-free products is robust, representing more than $4 billion in annual sales. Those with Celiacs benefit from the improved quality and quantity of gluten-free products, but market demand was led by a greater number of consumers identified as gluten intolerant.
“From day one, we knew that gluten-free was going to be a big part of our agenda,” says Doug Turbush, chef and owner of Seed Kitchen & Bar in Marietta. “Gluten-free demand has been overwhelming.” Turbush knows now that the gluten-free soy sauce he purchases for the restaurant has to meet federal standards.
The downside of the demand is the temptation for some restaurants to offer gluten-free options without doing it right. Travel journalist Laura Powell suffers from migraines when she consumes gluten. “I’ve even seen menus where gluten-free is asterisked,” she says. “If you read the fine print, you find ‘almost gluten-free,’ which is like being a little bit pregnant.”
Beyond the gluten-free grocery list, Singleton says restaurants need to do more. “They need designated staff, preparation areas and equipment,” he says. “At Yeah Burger, they use separate toasters for the gluten-free buns.”
Powell adds, “Just because it’s gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s worthy of being on your menu. Don’t feel the need to add a dish if the quality is not up to the rest of your standards.”
Even with the new standards, you can’t be shy …
Find out more information about celiac disease.
Noted nutrition expert, award winning food journalist and television personality, and Best Food Facts advisor, Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian. Carolyn’s refreshing food philosophy and recommendations are captured in this column to help you, Eat Better for Life!
Image: “Banana bread” by KittyKaht is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.