Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Shared Kitchen - Part 3

In Part 1, we discussed why we need to be so careful in a household where there are gluten-free and non-gluten-free people.

In Part 2, we discussed how to create a safe environment for your gluten-free food.

Today we’ll be discussing why you have to verify EVERY SINGLE THING to determine its gluten-free status and how to best do that.

The FDA is actually working on better labeling requirements for gluten-free food (as well as other food intolerances). You may have already seen notes at the bottom of ingredient statements that say “Processed on the same equipment with wheat, soy and tree nuts.” So they understand exactly how specific people with food intolerances have to be.

The easy part of being on the gluten-free diet is not eating the obvious things – bread, pizza, pasta, crackers, cookies, etc. If that was all there was to it, it would be easy.

But hidden gluten is where the real work comes in. The short version is that you MUST verify every single thing that goes into your mouth whether you think it might have gluten in it (or on it) or not. Because a lot of it is what I call Stupid Gluten. Just because there is no good reason a product should have to have gluten in it, yet there it is.

It’s not really stupid from the food manufacturer’s point of view though. Wheat and barley (malt) are actually very good flavor enhancers. Infuriating Gluten would probably be a better description, but I think Stupid Gluten just sounds better.

Some examples of Stupid Gluten (or sometimes just surprising) would be -

Red Licorice ( most of which is actually made from a wheat based dough – who’da guessed?)


Campbells Cream of … Soups

Tea (Bigelow and Traditional Medicinals for sure have a few with gluten)

Soy Sauce

Oatmeal (usually processed on the same equipment as wheat)

Most cereals, even rice krispies and corn flakes

Spice mixes

Imitation Crab

Rice Dream rice milk

Candy Corn

Nuts and seeds – sometimes are dusted with flour or as part of the seasoning mix

CHARCOAL (for pete’s sake)

Nathan’s Hot Dogs

And on, and on and on… And we haven’t even gotten to arts and craft supplies, shampoos, cosmetics, health and beauty items, lotions, soaps, cleaning products, etc.

You also have to verify that gluten isn’t hidden behind ingredient statements such as “natural flavorings” or “modified food starch”. Either could contain gluten.

So you can see, you have to verify EV.ER.Y.THING. That list could easily be three times as long, but I think you get the point that it’s in the weirdest and stupidest places.

So Verify, Verify, Verify. You also have to verify often. Read the label every time you buy a product, even if you just bought it – ingredients change all the time. For gluten-free product lists from manufacturers, verify every few months.

I have found that the easiest and most straight-forward way to verify a product is to go to that product’s website. 99.999% of products have a website nowadays. If there is a search function, I just type in gluten. If not, find the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section. The FAQ is sometimes not obviously shown. Look under customer service, or sometimes at the very bottom of the homepage. Many times you can find the gluten question already addressed in the FAQ.

If not, you can either email the company or call them. Most companies I’ve emailed have gotten back to me in a day or two. I’m not a caller (yea, I’ve got issues – another topic for another day…), but I’ve heard that a very nice person on the other end who gets the question of the gluten status 20x a day looks up your product and lets you know if it’s gluten-free.

There are some companies that have a policy of full disclosure on all their products. They won’t hide gluten behind phrases like “natural flavorings” or “modified food starch”. These companies request that we read the full ingredient label each time we buy a product, but in turn they also promise to fully disclose any and all gluten-containing ingredients. The companies I trust and have never had any problems with are:

Kraft – You’d be shocked at how many food “brands” are actually Kraft companies.

McCormick – the spice and seasonings people

Frito Lay

ConAgra – Again, shocking how many food brands are ConAgra companies.

There are other companies with this policy, but with just these four it’s totally easy to go grocery shopping.

All that being said, I’ve also had run ins with products that were verified gluten-free and a couple even LABELED gluten-free that made me sick. (None of the above companies.) It can take some trial and error to narrow down the culprit. When you’ve figured out what is making you sick, there may be several things going on -

- Cross contamination on the packaging of the product. Maybe you got gluten on your hands outside the house, maybe the person stocking the shelves at the grocery store just came from stocking the flour aisle.

- Cross contamination within the product. Just like in a home kitchen, in a food manufacturing plant, it’s easy for gluten to inadvertantly contaminate a batch of food. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen.

- Another food intolerance. During the healing phase of celiac disease, other food intolerances can come and go. Dairy is an extremely common co-existing food intolerance for the first several months. The reason for this is that the tips of the intestinal villi that are destroyed in the celiac disease process are where the enzymes for digesting dairy are located. It can take up to a couple years for the villi to fully heal. So it can take a while. People with one food intolerance are also more likely to have other food intolerances. Keep a food / symptoms diary and see if you can figure out what the pattern might be.

Don’t worry though, after a while, it all actually becomes second nature. Just take one thing at a time. I found that just knowing that Kraft, McCormick, Frito Lay and ConAgra would put gluten in plain English in the ingredient statement has fed me just fine up to now. Probably 90% of the mainstream food I buy is from those companies.

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