Breaking up with Bread?

gluten-free-mintel-infographic-Gluten. Of all the health buzz words recently, gluten might take the cake. “Gluten free” marks the packaging of endless numbers of food products. Celebrities and celebrity doctors have warned of the effects of gluten and the risk of having celiac disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten. For people with celiac disease, eating gluten can lead to small intestine damage and eventually prevent the absorption of other nutrients. According to the FDA, there is an estimated three million Americans with celiac disease (approximately 1% of Americans). While this is a very small percentage of people with a disease that keeps them from eating gluten, the gluten free buzz has taken off. The most famous debut of gluten came when Jimmy Kimmel featured gluten on his “Pedestrian Question” where he asked people near a popular Los Angeles work out spot “do you maintain a gluten free diet?” and “what is gluten?”. Kimmel featured four people who were definitively gluten free, but they could not define gluten. So, what is gluten?

GlutenGluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, barley and rye. We use those grains to make foods like cereal, cake, breads, pasta, beer, pizza – just to name a few. Gluten is the protein that helps give the foods we love their shape and texture. Gluten is highly prized in the baking world because the protein helps give bread a slightly elastic texture. Expert bread makers will seek out wheat flour that has a higher gluten content if there is a specific type of bread that they want to make.

So, why the hype? And where do all of these gluten free foods come from?

whole-grains-rebel-dietitian-dana-mcdonald-RD1Wheat, barley and rye products can be processed to remove gluten and thus be labeled gluten free. Other grains like buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rice and sorghum are naturally gluten free and can be labeled as such. And of course products that don’t contain any grains (meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables) don’t contain gluten either.

Speaking of labeling, is there any standard for labeling? Yes. In August of 2013, the FDA issued standards for labeling food products “gluten free.” FDA has set a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) for foods that carry the label “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten.” It is important to note that foods that have been processed to remove gluten and foods that naturally do not have gluten can be labeled gluten free. For example, a bottle of water can be labeled gluten free. Despite the good intent of product labeling to help the 1% of people with celiac disease and the 5% of people with gluten sensitivity, the gluten free label has more commonly been used by marketers to apply perceived health benefits to a product.

cereals_compWheat, barley and rye that carry gluten still do have many positive health benefits for people without celiac. We’ve all heard the term “whole grain” associated with good health and dietary balance and these grains are a perfect source. Fiber is also an important component for our diets and can be found in the grains that contain gluten. Whole grains can have between 6% and 18% of your recommended daily fiber per serving.

As with most things in life, moderation is key and education is paramount. If you think you have a gluten sensitivity, consult your doctor. But if you are one of the 95% or more who are unaffected, tuck into that bowl of pasta or grab another slice of pizza and enjoy. Now we are in the know. Bring it on Jimmy Kimmel.

Bread group

 – Laila Down is a guest blogger for IALF. In her career she has worked in crop protection sales and ag media. She is passionate about the agriculture industry and helping tell the story of our food, fiber and fuel.

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