Gluten Free Labeling Confusing?

June 07, 2011

With ‘gluten free’ & ‘processed in a facility with wheat’ on the same label – could it be more confusing?

With ‘gluten free’ & ‘processed in a facility with wheat’ on the same label – could it be more confusing?

It seems that there are three different markets for gluten free products – people with celiac disease (an auto immune disorder, not an allergy), those with wheat or gluten allergies or hypersensitivities, and consumers who may think they are making a healthful choice by choosing gluten free.

Until such time as the FDA finds a suitable labeling structure for gluten free products here’s our advice for navigating those labels.

For celiac disease sufferers: celiac is a serious business and constant unchecked outbreaks (which can be caused by ingesting microscopic, even airborne, particles of gluten), can cause long term health damage and the possibility of serious health repercussions. For these people, in our opinion the only choice is to carefully read labels and ingredients, and select products which are both gluten free and produced in a facility that does not handle gluten. If a shared facility is stated on the label it is better to avoid the product. Planning ahead and making snacks at home, and eating whole foods – fruits, nuts and vegetables should be your staple snacks – along with using your tried and trusted brands, should help alleviate the temptation to impulse buy and take a risk.

For those who have a gluten or wheat allergy, intolerance or hypersensitivity: they may wish to stick to the same plan as celiacs for a time to allow their digestive system to heal and become less reactive, (an elimination or allergen avoidance diet, which should only be undertaken under the care of a health practitioner), and then research which packaged goods and ingredients they can tolerate – whether they can include products that are gluten free, but are processed in a facility that also processes wheat or gluten – whether they can eat oats without causing a reaction, or sprouted grains – are things the individual consumer has to figure out.

And for those consumers who think choosing gluten free is a healthful choice – to lose weight or otherwise – it may be wiser to choose whole grain products over gluten free, (which can often be highly caloric with wheat flour replaced by white rice flour, corn or potato flour). A healthier choice would be whole grain wheat which contains prebiotics; essential to creating a healthy environment for probiotics (friendly bacteria), and therefore maintaining a healthy intestinal tract. This last group – although possibly the largest, is also surely the most precarious as an example of a marketing fad like those we’ve seen before – ‘fat free’, ‘zero net carbs’ etc – except that in this case misleading labeling may pose a serious health risk to those seriously afflicted.

Always seek medical advice to diagnose or treat any food allergy or auto immune disorder and consult your medical practitioner before changing your diet.