Misconceptions About the Gluten-Free Diet

This quote from a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine sums up the reason myths persist in the face of evidence.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “Myths and misinformation so are so much more seductive than the truth.”

It seems the whole continent is interested in whether you can lose weight on the gluten-free diet. Others are arguing that gluten is bad for everyone, that there is more gluten in modern wheat and that “regular” wheat has been replaced by a genetically modified version.

As these topics started to draw mainstream media attention, the gluten-free diet also started to draw sarcasm at best and sneering at worst. Here’s a look at some of the myths about the gluten-free diet.

Weight loss

Our readers probably know better than most that the gluten-free diet is not a weight loss plan. It was never conceived as one. A gluten-free diet is designed to prevent those who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivity from suffering the harmful effects that gluten from wheat, barley and rye causes in their bodies.

Undiagnosed celiac disease can cause weight loss and the gluten-free diet, by restoring the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, can cause weight gain. Celiac disease patients who had always been slim prior to diagnosis but did not suffer dramatic weight loss, find that they, too, gain weight when they go gluten free. Sometimes it’s hard to slow that weight gain down, and so it’s not always welcome.

Meanwhile we contend with celebrities, friends, family and even strangers who are convinced that gluten free is the latest South Beach or Atkins diet, the quickest, surest way to drop pounds.  When we asked our website visitors about the myths that bother them the most, the one about weight loss was at the top of the list. About 50 percent said it was the most troubling of three choices. 

Can you lose weight on a gluten-free diet? Certainly. If you eat gluten-free foods that are high in nutrients and low in fat and calories in small enough quantities and you exercise enough to burn off more calories than you put in, then you can lose weight on the gluten-free diet.

But the absence of gluten alone should not be given credit for the weight loss. If you don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you can also lose weight if you follow this kind of eating plan with no regard for gluten whatsoever. Maybe some people get a boost in motivation or reinforcement of their commitment to stay away from high-calorie foods like bread, cookies, cakes, pizza, pasta and more if they put themselves on a gluten-free diet.

But if they substitute gluten-free versions of these foods, we all know weight loss is not in their future, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies will be if they are not careful about what they eat.

A gluten-free diet that relies on fresh, natural foods such as  fruits and vegetables, lean protein and gluten-free whole grains and limits  processed foods is healthy and should be the goal of everyone who is gluten free. But if you do not have celiac or gluten sensitivity, you can achieve these same goals without having to be gluten free.

Is gluten evil for all?

The idea that gluten is bad for everyone is another popular myth. This idea has gotten a lot of traction from the books Wheat Belly and Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers. But experts who have been researching celiac disease and gluten sensitivity for years dispute this notion.

In his book Gluten Freedom, Alessio Fasano, M.D., head of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, wrote that celiac disease research led him to take a close look at the way gluten protein is handled in our digestive system. He found that gluten is the only protein that can’t be completely dismantled. As undigested protein sits in the small intestine, our bodies unleash an immune response similar to the one triggered by bacteria. Fasano says this happens in everyone, not just those who have celiac disease or other gluten disorders.

But he writes that it’s a mistake to interpret this fact as proof that gluten is toxic to everyone, and he laments that his discoveries have played a part in the popular myth that everyone has to be on a gluten-free diet.

He says the body wins daily battles with bacteria and does the same with gluten. “Only a minority of us will lose this battle. These are the genetically susceptible individuals who will develop gluten-related disorders,” Fasano says.

Stefano Guandalini, M.D., founder and medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, agrees, noting that the undigested protein pieces are simply eliminated by most people and are not the cause for concern.

For most people, gluten is neither bad nor good. Those who choose the diet because they find it makes them feel better or because a family member has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and they want their home to be a gluten-free zone, can do so without harm as long they make healthy food choices. Done right the gluten-free diet won’t hurt you. But this choice should be made based on facts, not myths.

The need for testing

Another worry is that when people think gluten is bad for everyone, they go on the gluten-free diet without being tested for celiac disease. Celiac disease experts strongly advise everyone to be tested first. In particular testing should be a priority for anyone who has symptoms of celiac disease or has a family member who has celiac disease. And it’s a good idea even if you don’t have any symptoms because we now know that some people show no outward signs of celiac disease even if damage is being done internally. 

Once you are on the gluten-free diet, it’s very difficult to tell if you have celiac disease because tests won’t pick up antibodies unless you are eating gluten. A celiac disease diagnosis matters to you personally because it can motivate you  to stick to the gluten-free diet.

It matters to the celiac disease community at large because we are trying to decrease the number of undiagnosed cases. Right now about 85 percent of those who have celiac disease don’t know it. Some are undiagnosed because they don’t have symptoms. For others, their symptoms have led to diagnosis of the wrong disease.

If we can start nudging up the percentage of diagnosed celiac disease cases, we won’t have to worry that when the gluten-free fad fades , celiac disease and gluten sensitivity will be forgotten again.

More gluten in wheat?

You might also have heard that the reason celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are increasing is that there is more gluten in modern wheat. I’m not sure where that story got started, but I do know where it ends.

Donald Kasarda, Ph.D., a respected cereal chemist who retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), decided to research whether today’s wheat really does contain more gluten than wheat from the early 1900s. He compared data and found that average gluten content is the same range, roughly 10 to 15 percent.

At the International Celiac Disease Symposium in 2013, Kasarda also reported facts about wheat-based foods consumed by Americans. His data refuted claims that one of the reasons we have more problems with wheat is its growing presence in food. Kasarda found that the amount of wheat eaten per person per year peaked at 220 pounds in 1900 and stood at 134 pounds in 2008.

And although GMOs, genetically modified ingredients, do affect some of the ingredients used in gluten-free foods like corn, genetically modified wheat has not made its way into the food supply so that’s not to blame for an increase in celiac disease or gluten sensitivity either.

How myths impact your life

But what real impact do these myths have on your gluten-free life? Why should you care about them as much as you might about myths such as the one that there is gluten in coffee?  

When the general public believes incorrect information about gluten and the gluten-free diet, it causes confusion and lack of serious regard for the very real needs of someone who has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

I read a quote that sums up the dangers well: “Fad and fantasy trivialize and endanger the medically necessary side of the gluten-free diet.”

Take this scenario: A diner who has gone gluten free to lose weight goes to a restaurant and tells his server he can’t have croutons on his salad. Then, pleased with his restraint during dinner, he gives into the temptation have a few bites of gluten-filled cake for dessert. This creates the impression that the gluten-free diet is nonsensical and that those who follow it don’t need to be taken seriously.

Then when you go to the same restaurant seeking a truly gluten-free meal and ask about cross-contamination, there’s a real risk your concerns won’t be addressed.

A lot of people have worked for a very long time and in minute detail to make the restaurant industry understand the gluten-free needs of those who have celiac disease. And that work, which is far from complete, can be quickly undone by a string of diners who think of the gluten-free diet as something you can veer on and off of depending on whim and will power.

Those on the gluten-free diet are often depicted as whiny, self-absorbed, self-important and generally annoying. It’s a popular mainstream image, but when it comes to those with celiac disease, it is about as accurate as a Photoshopped celebrity picture.

Plain and simple, the gluten-free diet is medicine, for now the only one available to those who really suffer the consequences of consuming wheat, barley or rye. Many follow the diet with a low profile and have subtle ways of making sure the food they eat is safe. When they eat out, they are gracious customers who are known to leave generous tips in return for caring service.     

Is gluten sensitivity real?

Most stories about the gluten-free diet do acknowledge the seriousness of celiac disease, but gluten sensitivity gets pushed around by media bullies. Doubt dogs gluten sensitivity because there is no definitive way to diagnose the condition and many people decide for themselves that they are gluten sensitive.

Not long ago even medical experts thought gluten sensitivity was a myth. Doctors who tested symptomatic people for celiac disease and got negative results from blood tests and biopsies either didn’t believe anything was really wrong with the patient or diagnosed them with another condition or series of other conditions.

Researchers finally took another look at gluten sensitivity in response to outcry from patients who struggled with symptoms until they went on a gluten-free diet even without a celiac disease diagnosis. As a result the condition was officially recognized as a legitimate gluten-free disorder. The number of those who are thought to have gluten sensitivity exceeds even estimates of those who have undiagnosed celiac disease. Exciting work is going on to identify a way to definitely diagnose gluten sensitivity. It’s not here yet, but there’s a good chance it will be one day.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2015 issue of Gluten-Free Living.

Gluten-Free Soldier in Afghanistan

soldier-graphicWhatever your best story is about gluten-free eating in unusual circumstances, B.Donald Andrasik can probably top it.

Take this one, for example.

Andrasik, a captain in the Army National Guard, had been deployed in 2011 to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. Nearby, in a small makeshift restaurant run by a Dutch chef, Andrasik and several other gluten-free soldiers gathered.

They each had a gluten-free pizza crust, which hours before Andrasik had to rescue from the clutches of a higher-ranking officer who had just purposely thrown away all the other gluten-free food Andrasik was storing in a common refrigerator. Suffice it to say some fists were thrown.

But the crusts, which Andrasik’s mother had sent from halfway around the world, got to the restaurant just fine. The chef had supplied sauce, toppings and miniature pizza cookers for the group.

And the soldiers had what was probably the first ever gluten-free pizza party in Afghanistan.

“Luckily, the first gluten-free pizza mission turned out to be a success,” Andrasik says. He estimates each 8-inch pizza cost about $30, a small price to pay for the meal his scrappy gluten-free group had identified as the one they missed most stationed so far from home.


In the book

Andrasik, now working for the National Guard in Baltimore, came away from his year of deployment with other amazing gluten-free food tales. Some are stories of funny coincidence, others of ingenuity and hard work, more of deprivation and hardship.

They’ve been put together in Andrasik’s book, Gluten-Free in Afghanistan, which was released last year. But the 30-year-old captain has a larger purpose than recounting his food war stories. The book is intended to raise awareness of celiac disease in general. Perhaps more important is Andrasik’s goal of getting the military to recognize the need for a gluten-free diet among soldiers and to provide them with more food choices.

Currently, the official Department of Defense policy is that people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are not eligible for military service. (See story page 41.)

But Andrasik is proof that there are service men and women with these conditions who are in the armed forces. Andrasik says he never attempted to hide his celiac disease, which was diagnosed when he was in high school.

“I certainly reported it when I joined the military, when I first enlisted, when I was commissioned as an officer, and I even reported it on the way to Afghanistan,” he says. “I’ve been very vocal about it my entire career and it’s in my medical record.”

When Andrasik joined the National Guard he was asked if he knew what he could and could not eat. When he said “yes,” the conclusion was that as long as he followed the diet he did not have the malabsorption issue that disallows someone from being in the military. He says he suspects that a recruit who answers the question differently and indicates that the gluten-free diet would be a challenge might not be allowed to join.


Blending in

johnson-1Many gluten-free soldiers keep their celiac disease or gluten intolerance a secret. “Having a weakness where strength is required and demanded poses a conflict,” Andrasik writes in his book. “So we blend in.”

The first clue there might be others who were gluten free in Kandahar came in the form of a package of gluten-free brownie mix left behind by another soldier.

“When I realized there might be others, I wanted to start a gluten-free group,” Andrasik says. He made signs advertising a group meeting and a gluten-free website he had started, but they were quickly taken down and thrown out. The signs violated a NATO policy that prohibits advertising a website. After a bit of international negotiating, Andrasik was allowed to post some signs, and within two weeks a dozen people had responded.

The first group meeting was held in a wooden shed in a motor pool in Kandahar. Only four of the 12 were able to attend, three of whom had been diagnosed with celiac disease.

They told Andrasik they managed well enough but were willing to get sick if they had to when they could not find safe food.

“No one had told their chain of command or the Army (about having celiac disease),” he writes in his book. “That approach in many ways stems from a virtue of Army culture which fosters strength and obedience.”

The soldiers’ reluctance to reveal their medical condition also stemmed from fear that it would lead to their being sent home or released by the military. Since this is what they most want to avoid, they are “willing to lay low and just kind of get by quietly with whatever options they have available,” Andrasik explains.

He served with one soldier in Afghanistan who was following a gluten-free, corn-free diet and largely living on rice crackers and a few fruits. The soldier met with a sergeant major who was in charge and mentioned that he could eat very few foods. The major responded by telling him “either you make do or we are going to send you home.”’

“The soldier sees going home as nothing but failure. He thinks, ‘I’m not going home, not going back to my family and saying I couldn’t cut it,’” Andrasik explains. “So he thinks, ‘I’ll just suck it up and live off these rice crackers.’”


Taking a risk

In fact, many in the military cautioned Andrasik about drawing too much attention to issues related to having celiac disease or gluten intolerance. “Everyone I have met in the gluten-free military community greatly emphasizes that I should not be bringing it up or making a big deal of it, much less writing a story about it and publishing it,” he says.

That’s how Andrasik sees himself as being the most different from others managing the gluten-free diet in the military. He says silence leads to a lack of recognition of the gluten-free diet and contrasts it with the way the armed services handle vegetarian and kosher meals.

“The long-term effect is that the military does not see a problem. If no one is complaining, there’s no issue and why should they try to fix it?” he asks. On the other hand, vegetarians pushed for accommodation and are provided with a wide range of options. Andrasik says he often relied on the fruits and vegetables in the dining hall in Kandahar, but found nothing specifically designed for the gluten-free diet. “I think the long-term effect of laying low is that you are costing yourself the opportunity to improve society.”

And it does not seem the official policy prohibiting gluten-free soldiers is preventing them from serving. “The gluten-free soldiers are going to be there regardless of whether you have a rule to prohibit it. It’s naïve of the military to say we’ll outlaw it and the problem goes away,” Andrasik says. “All that really does is transfer the liability to the individual. Catering to the diet would really benefit soldiers who are struggling.”


Simple Steps

A few simple steps would make a big difference for gluten-free soldiers, in Andrasik’s view. The first would be to label the gluten-free foods the dining halls are already serving and to label allergens contained in all foods. The next would be to make a few inexpensive specialty gluten-free products available. Ultimately, Andrasik would love to see the military’s Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) available in a gluten-free version. He says service members can already request vegetarian or kosher MREs.

Currently some components of these portable, freeze-dried, mix-with-water meals served in the field are gluten free, including peanut butter, fruits and vegetables. But none are completely gluten free, which means soldiers with celiac disease can’t eat some of the limited amount of food provided.

“I’m not even picky. If you gave me an MRE that was truly gluten free, I don’t care what’s inside. I don’t even care if it tastes good. I would just be happy the option was there,” Andrasik says.

Any steps the military would take would be worth the effort, according to Andrasik, who sees himself and other gluten-free soldiers as evidence that being on a gluten-free diet does not mean you can’t serve effectively. “The diet is an additional hardship in an environment that is already hard, but it’s not impossible,” he says, adding that at least 20 others with celiac disease have emailed him to say they have served without a problem.


Chilling Tales

Still, some of his tales from Kandahar are chilling. He lost nearly 40 pounds in the year he was deployed, about 20 percent of his 178-pound starting weight.

His efforts to stick with the gluten-free diet were tripped up by events from the small and mundane to the sweeping and global.

He had trouble with gluten-free oatmeal that he thinks really wasn’t and hot chocolate that had enough cross-contamination to make him ill. Once, rockets were fired as Andrasik was battling some of the stomach issues common to celiac disease. Although required to be in a bunker or laying flat on the ground, he instead dashed for the port-a-john, calculating that it was a necessary risk.

Then international terrorism came into play when Andrasik saw the limited naturally gluten-free options available in Kandahar dwindle after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy seals. Pakistan closed its borders and supply trucks couldn’t get through. “With fewer and fewer options, my diet became ‘find and eat anything gluten free’,” he writes. He continued to lose weight and struggled to get enough food.

“I was literally starving, and I started searching for new sources of food and taking risks when I did not fully understand the ingredients or was pressed for time,” he recounts. One officer thought he had an eating disorder and others wondered if he was war weary or depressed.

A chaplain on base noticed Andrasik’s struggle and connected him with the Family Readiness Group, an Army organization that helps support and assist soldiers. Soon he began receiving packages of gluten-free foods from the group to build up his dwindling supply.

From the beginning Andrasik had invested a lot of effort in identifying what he could eat in the dining hall, and as new supply routes were found these foods returned. All along Andrasik’s wife, Meredith, and other family members had been shipping him gluten-free items, and these were now getting through, too. Additionally, he had access to the Internet and was able to order products himself.

Midway through his deployment, Andrasik was also lucky enough to meet the Dutch chef, identified in the book as Frank. The first time he visited the chef’s restaurant, he explained his gluten-free diet and ordered a burger. But he was told the burger contained flour and that he should come back the next day so the kitchen could be cleaned.

When Andrasik returned he was served a lightly seasoned steak, mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley. “Six months later as I was leaving, Frank confided that he had to look up gluten-free on the Internet that night,” Andrasik says. He’s clearly indebted to the chef and counts the meals he had in the restaurant among the high points of his deployment.


Back Home

It’s now been a little more than a year since Andrasik returned to the U.S. He’s gained back all the weight he lost. While he’s glad to have abundant gluten-free options, he’s happier about being home with his wife and two children. He says the separation from them was much harder than dealing with the gluten-free diet.

But he has not forgotten what it was like to be gluten free in Afghanistan. He thinks often of soldiers who are not officers and don’t have some the advantages that brings – Internet access, a salary sufficient to cover the cost of ordering gluten-free food, and deployment spent mainly at a big post with storage space. “I don’t know what their resources are and what kind of network they have back home. Younger troops tend to be single, they don’t have the income, they might be out in the field a bit more where the resources are fewer and further between,” he explains.

His book is for them, a push to get the military to make some important changes. He sees the book as his shot at doing something that could have a larger impact. He has sent copies to people in the military trying to get the attention of someone with decision-making power. So far he’s still waiting for that to happen. But he’s hopeful.

“I’m attacking the issue by writing my story and pushing it out there,” Andrasik says. “I want to build awareness and try to change the culture. You can be on a gluten-free diet and still successfully serve your country.”

Gluten Free in Afghanistan is available on the Kindle and Nook and at amazon.com.

(This story originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2013 issue of Gluten-Free Living.)



Military policy on the GF diet

Cynthia O. Smith, spokesperson for the Department of Defense says the official policy is that you cannot join the military if you require a gluten-free diet.

“A person with celiac disease and/or a gluten intolerance or sensitivity would not be eligible for entry into the military,” she says. While each branch of service has its own enlistment standards, they do need to follow medical policies dictated by the Department of Defense.

According to Smith, the Department of Defense “Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment or Induction in the Military Service,” says “… individuals accepted [into military service] are ‘qualified, effective and able-bodied persons’ capable of successfully performing military duties.” Smith also says “all military members must be available for worldwide duty 24 hours a day without restriction or delay. This duty may be in remote areas lacking immediate and comprehensive medical support.”

What is the problem with celiac disease?

The Department of Defense stance specifically on celiac disease under medical standards states, “current or history of intestinal malabsorption syndromes including but not limited to celiac (disease) does not meet the [medical] standard.”

Are there any other options for me?

Smith says approximately 35 percent of people who want to be in the military have some physical condition that disqualifies them from service. However, since the Department of Defense has both military and civilian members, Smith says people who are “physically disqualified for military duty can and do become civilian members of the team.”

                                                                                                             — Amy Leger

(This information originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2013 issue of Gluten-Free Living.)

Half of Consumers Think Gluten-Free Diet is a Fad, Research Says


Some interesting consumer perspectives of the gluten-free diet are revealed in research data from Mintel. Some of it is contradictory and shows how complex the gluten-free market has become.

The short version:

  • Half think the gluten-free diet is a fad
  • More are eating gluten free
  • Less are using the diet for weight loss
  • Most think the quality of gluten-free food has improved
  • Some have less trust in the true gluten-free status of products.
  • Some are less strict when they eat out in restaurants
  • More restaurants are offering gluten-free menus and options on these menus are growing
  • Eating in restaurants continues to be problematic for those who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

To get more details on results from the survey, visit QSR’s website.


Quaker Oats’ Gluten-Free Oatmeal Launches Nationwide in January

Quaker Oats in January will launch gluten-free oatmeal nationwide.

Gluten-free products include Quaker Quick 1-Minute Oats and Quaker Instant Oatmeal in Original and Maple & Brown Sugar flavors. They are currently available in some Kroger and Walmart supermarkets.

The oats are being optically and mechanically sorted to remove gluten-containing grains that commonly cross-contaminate oat crops.

Use of optically and mechanically processed oats has been controversial in the gluten-free community, which previously only accepted so-called “pure oats” as safe in gluten-free products. Food and Drug Administration labeling rules that went into effect in August 2014 cleared the way for use of the processed oats in foods labeled gluten free.

Lori Alexander, Quaker’s manager of nutrition sciences who has celiac disease, said the company’s gluten-free oats are sorted and separated from wheat, barley and rye based on density, color and length using a proprietary sorting protocol.

The effectiveness of the removal system is backed up by multiple quality checks throughout the milling process, through finished product testing, according to the company. Alexander said technology was developed to look for grains that are not oats.

Quaker buys the oats for both its regular and gluten-free oatmeal from the same farmers. The oats are then segregated according to the amount of gluten cross-contamination that remains. Those with the lowest amount then go through the mechanical and optical sorting before being made into gluten-free oatmeal.

Alexander said Quaker has invested in processing equipment that is “unrivaled in the industry.”

The company is working to meet the FDA’s gluten-free labeling standard of less than 20 parts per million of gluten, but the internal cut off has been set at 12 ppm, according to Alexander. The oatmeal does not have third-party independent certification, but Quaker is considering it.

Cleaned groats, which are the grain kernels that remain after the inedible hull has been removed, are inspected, with the equivalent of 3,000 40-grams samples from each production run examined to determine if any remaining grains that may not be groats are present. If any single sample does not meet the company’s standard, the entire lot is rejected for use in gluten-free products and is used in other Quaker products that are not gluten free.

The oats are kilned, cut and flaked on dedicated gluten-free equipment. Testing of finished product is done on 16 serving-size samples per lot, which equals no more than 12 hours of production. Composites of samples are not used in the testing process. All 16 of the samples must test at less than 12 ppm in order for the lot to pass and be released into the market.

If any sample in the lot tests higher than 12 ppm, the entire lot is destroyed because the finished product can’t be repurposed, Alexander said.

The gluten-free oat products are packaged on lines shared with gluten-containing quick and instant oats. Cleaning protocols are followed to prevent cross-contamination. All Quaker Oats gluten-free products are made at the company’s Cedar Rapids, Iowa, plant, which is the largest oat milling facility in the world.

Quaker considered using “pure” oats, which are grown, transported and milled in a specific way to prevent cross-contamination but decided the oats would have to be cleaned anyway, Alexander said, adding that the increased cost of the “pure” oats was not a decisive factor. The company concluded the oats did not offer the “quality, taste and texture” associated with Quaker oats, she said.

Offered as part of the Quaker Select Starts line, the gluten-free oatmeal packaging includes the familiar logo with the Quaker man. The gluten-free oatmeal is priced slightly higher than Quaker’s other oatmeal products.



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What Can I Eat? 25 Tips for Handling a Gluten-Free Holiday

Here come the holidays. Are you ready to handle them gluten free? Whether it’s your first gluten-free Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah or it’s been so long you’ve lost count, we’re here to help you get over some of the rough spots.

We can start by saying that the holidays have gotten progressively easier. Gone are the days when everything you made began with a complicated recipe and multiple bags of gluten-free flour. You can take a few shortcuts, just like your gluten-eating friends and relatives, by using some of the ready-made products

on supermarket shelves or by using mixes to create dishes that feel homemade.

And growing awareness means gluten free is no longer a complete unknown when you sit down at the holiday table. True, you may have to fend off Aunt Carol’s comments that gluten free is just a fad or Uncle Bob’s dismissal of  the diet as something overblown by picky eaters. Not all publicity is a good thing.

But the holidays can be a good time to subtly dispel some of the myths that have spread in the mainstream media. Consider it your goodwill gift to the whole gluten-free community, particularly those who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Otherwise here are 25 tips to help you navigate the holiday gatherings gluten-free folks often face with trepidation.


Plain turkey is gluten free, so enjoy the holiday bird as long as it has not been seasoned or marinated with something that contains gluten. And stay away if the turkey has been stuffed with gluten-containing bread or slathered in gravy made with wheat flour.


Most ham is also gluten free, but you do have to find out if a glaze that contains wheat starch has been used.


Hanukkah brisket recipes often call for flour to thicken the gravy as the meat slowly cooks. You’re safe if corn or potato starch is used instead, but don’t expect that to be the case.


Cooking bags are great ways to keep meats moist, but they can be minefields for unsuspecting gluten-free diners. Flour is often used to keep the bag from exploding. Cornstarch works just as well, and most people already have it in their kitchen cupboard. This is worth mentioning ahead of time to your host.


Stuffing is a worry, but it might help to tell family and friends that gluten is not the only source of concern. Food safety can also be an issue, and a turkey that is cooked long enough to properly cook the stuffing results in dry meat. Stuffing made in a casserole dish works for everyone.


Traditional mashed and sweet potato recipes are often gluten free, but you do have to check. Some cooks add a little flour to their mashed potatoes, so ask about this outside possibility.


Be wary of any side dish with a cream base, as it’s possible a gluten-containing cream soup was used. This includes the traditional green bean casserole, which offers the double gluten whammy of concentrated cream of mushroom soup and breaded onion rings. If you want to make a gluten-free version, you can use Pacific Natural Foods gluten-free condensed cream of mushroom soup and skip the onion rings. Top the casserole with gluten-free chips, corn flakes or crackers instead. Or you can use the recipe here.


It may be surprising, but not all cornbread is gluten free. Most regular mixes and recipes call for cornmeal and wheat flour. You’ll need a specialty gluten-free cornbread. There are lots of mixes available, and you’ll find recipes here and here.


Wheat flour will also most likely make its way into the potato latkes at Hanukkah dinner. If you are making the latkes or your host is willing, it’s easy to substitute gluten-free flour or cornstarch in that favorite family recipe.


Vegetables and fruit are gluten-free go-tos, so hopefully they’ll be plentiful on the holiday table. A bright, healthy vegetable or fruit platter is a nice break from all the rich food we find during the season.


If you are looking for a hostess gift, send a striking basket of fruit ahead of time, and perhaps it will find its way onto the holiday buffet, giving you a delicious, safe option. Try The Fruit Company.


If you don’t like to bake or are too busy to do so during the holidays, order a gluten-free gift basket and take it along as your contribution to the holiday dinner. That way you’ll be assured to find a gluten-free dessert, hassle free. Mariposa, mariposabaking.com, packs a terrific gift box, and you’ll find another great option from Manhattan Fruitier.


If you have a particularly thoughtful host who has offered to make gluten-free items, direct him or her toward naturally gluten-free dishes. It’s much easier to prepare foods with familiar ingredients than to comb the supermarket aisles for the more unusual items you might find in a specialty gluten-free recipe. And maybe your host will be fine with not stuffing the turkey.


It may make you feel like an ungrateful guest, but you have to tell any host not familiar with the gluten-free diet about cross-contamination issues. It does no good for your sister-in-law to make a gluten-free cake if she frosts it with the same container of icing used for wheat-flour cookies.


If dinner is served buffet style, don’t hesitate to go first. That way you know serving spoons haven’t migrated from one dish to another.


If you have a gluten-free child, and especially if this is his or her first holiday on the diet, take any extra steps to be sure there will be plenty of gluten-free options, even in someone else’s home. It can be especially hard for kids to pass on breads and desserts, so make sure you’ve got these covered.


If your child is old enough to fill his or her own plate, make sure he or she understands it’s important to take the same kind of precautions as in a restaurant and verify the gluten-free status of foods. You can help with this.


You’ve surely heard it before, but it’s so important it’s worth repeating—if possible, bring something you know is gluten free to any holiday dinner you attend. That way you’ll be sure to have something to eat in case all the plans you laid out in advance don’t work. It helps to make it a special dish you really love.


Be sure to let your hosts know you appreciate their efforts to include you in the holiday celebration.


If you are really excited about all the fabulous gluten-free holiday dishes you can make, host dinner yourself. It can be hard work but also fun and satisfying.


On the flip side, if you get weary just thinking about everything you have to do to have a safe and filling meal in someone else’s home, host the holiday dinner yourself. This may sound intimidating, but you do have control.


If you host dinner, don’t throw all tradition out the window. Family may be more accepting of a new location and cook if they know foods they look forward to all year will still be served, though in a gluten-free version.


Although the gluten-free nature of the meal is of utmost importance to you, give it a fairly low profile if you are hosting. Serve tasty dishes you’ve prepared with care and enjoy the company of those sharing the meal with you. Dinner does not have to be a referendum on gluten free.


If guests offer to bring something, ask them to provide things that are naturally gluten free: a bottle of wine, flowers or a vegetable or fruit tray. They’ll feel included, and you won’t have to worry about a gluten-containing item working its way onto the table.


Holiday cookies are pretty time consuming no matter what, so don’t fret over the effort that goes into making gluten-free versions. To simplify holiday baking, use gluten-free sugar cookie, chocolate chip and brownie mixes as the base for recipes.

Above all, enjoy the season by preparing as much as you can in advance to leave some time to share important holiday traditions that don’t have anything to do with food.


Celiac Awareness Month at Gluten-Free Living

Celiac Awareness Month

What do you call it when you combine a chance to save money, win a prize, raise funds for research into celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, connect with the larger gluten-free community and discover great recipes?

At Gluten-Free Living we call it our Celiac Awareness Month Campaign.

We kick the campaign off today, and it runs through May 31, a full month of exciting social media events and community building with the goal of raising money for celiac disease research.

If you subscribe to the print edition of Gluten-Free Living during the campaign, you’ll get an amazing rate of $20 for one year, a savings of more than 60 percent. (Canadian subscriptions are reduced to $35 and International to $40.) You can subscribe here.

And we are contributing $5 from every subscription sold during the campaign to our partner, the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Mass General Hospital for Children. This contribution will help further the center’s important research into the cause and treatment of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and perhaps one day, a cure.

celiac awareness month
Swiss Diamond cookware set

When you subscribe you are automatically entered to win a top-selling Swiss Diamond Ultimate Kitchen 10-piece cookware set with a bonus five-piece tool kit, which has a retail value of $654.

Meanwhile, we’ll be a beehive of social media activity all month long. Here are the details.

Every Monday, we’ll ask our readers a question for our Be Heard campaign onceliac awareness month Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our website.

You can post your answers wherever you like: on our Facebook page, on your own Facebook page, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Tumblr, on your own personal blog, on our website in the comments section, wherever.

Just be sure to use the #myGFLstory hashtag and our special Be Heard button, if possible. We’ll be using the hashtag to find and share your stories.

Every Thursday, check back on our blog to see our favorite #myGFLstory answers. Get creative – the more original your answer or response, the more likely we’ll be to share your story!

Every Tuesday and Wednesday, we will be hosting guest posts from gluten-free bloggers from around the web. They’ll bring their unique style and perspective to our site.

recipe-round-up-buttonEvery Friday, we’ll be holding a virtual potluck on our blog by sharing a number of gluten-free recipes from around the web. We’ve invited some of our favorite recipe bloggers to help prove that Gluten free is NOT Flavor free.

If it looks like we’re keeping you busy with gluten-free activity every day, that’s the plan. Throughout the month that’s officially designated to raise the profile of celiac disease, we want you to take an active role in raising awareness.

The more we talk about ways to improve the gluten-free lifestyle and the more money we raise to investigate the serious medical conditions that require a gluten-free diet, the more successful the Celiac Awareness Month Campaign will be.

(No purchase necessary to enter the contest).

Gluten-Free Cheerios

gluten-free cheerios
Cheerios will soon be made gluten free.

The news that General Mills is making five flavors of its popular Cheerios cereal gluten free is being greeted with both enthusiasm and suspicion in the gluten-free community.

While many gluten-free consumers are excited to be able to eat Cheerios again, some are troubled by General Mills’ decision to use oats that are mechanically processed to eliminate cross-contamination from gluten-containing grains instead of oats that are specifically grown to be gluten free.

The company will begin shipping the new gluten-free Cheerios to stores in July, and the products are expected to be on shelves in August and September. From then on the five flavors will only be made in the gluten-free version, much like many of the company’s Chex cereals, said Mike Siemienas, a Cheerios spokesman. The price of Cheerios will not change as a result of going gluten free.

What kind of oats?
Oats used to make the cereal will go through a proprietary, mechanical system to remove any cross-contamination from wheat, barley or rye, according to General Mills. The removal process takes place after the oats are delivered to the cereal processing plant.

“We have good engineers who through years of work came up with a new process that came out with pure oats that are gluten free,” Siemienas said.

He said he could not discuss the nitty gritty details of the process because of the competitive nature of the business.

General Mills did consider using specialty gluten-free oats, which are grown in way that prevents cross-contamination from the time the seeds are planted, but the company concluded its own process was better after extensive testing.
“We tested both options and are going with the one that provides the greatest consistency for our product,” Siemienas said.

The mechanically processed oats are not currently being used in General Mills’ Gluten Free Chex Oatmeal, but Siemienas said the company is “looking into the possibility of moving to the oats that will be used in Cheerios.”

The FDA standard
He also noted that the gluten-free Cheerios, as well as the other 600 gluten-free products sold by General Mills, meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration standard of less than 20 parts per million of gluten in foods labeled gluten free.
“We take very seriously the safety because we know people with celiac disease can’t come in contact with gluten. We make sure we meet the FDA requirements,” Siemienas said.

Steve L. Taylor, Ph.D., co-director of the Food Allergy Research & Resource Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an expert in gluten testing, said in an email that General Mills has taken a very serious corporate position on gluten free and has been an industry leader on the development of gluten-free products.

“If General Mills indicates that Cheerios are gluten free, then I would believe that they are indeed gluten free,” he said. “I also personally know that General Mills is a very cautious company and that they would be unlikely to take any chances with the labeling decision.”

The oats being used by General Mills in the gluten-free Cheerios are tested after they have been processed. Any that do not meet the standard are not used to make the cereals, Siemienas said. The finished cereal is also tested, he noted, and testing goes on daily.

Original, Honey Nut, Apple Cinnamon and Frosted flavors won’t require any change

gluten-free cheerios
Five varieties of Cheerios will join General Mills gluten-free lineup.

beyond the use of uncontaminated oats. Multi-Grain Cheerios will also be reformulated to replace wheat and barley with gluten-free sorghum and millet.

Consumer questions
While many gluten-free consumers welcomed news that the cereal is now on the gluten-free list, others questioned the use of regular oats versus specialty oats, the secrecy surrounding the process used to purify them and the lack of third-party certification of the cereals.

The FDA considers oats to be a gluten-free grain and does not require the use of specialty oats in foods with a gluten-free label under gluten-free rules finalized in 2014. Products that contain oats must meet the 20 ppm standard in the finished food. Food companies are not required to test products to be sure they meet the standard but are subject to regulatory action and recall if a random inspection or investigation as a result of consumer complaint determines a product contains more gluten than allowed.

Before the FDA rules went into effect, only specialty gluten-free oats were allowed in foods with a gluten-free label. Mainstream oats are highly likely to be cross-contaminated by wheat, barley and rye in the field, in shared harvesting equipment and trucks used for shipping and in shared mills where the grains are processed. As result they are not considered safe on the gluten-free diet. General Mills is the first large company to claim to be able to process mainstream oats in way that removes enough cross-contamination to make them safe for gluten-free consumers.

Some consumers said they would be more willing to trust the mechanically processed oats if General Mills had independent third-party certification for products that contain them. Most certification groups have standards stricter than the FDA, requiring that products test to less than 10 ppm or less.

Siemienas said General Mills does not use third-party certification because the requirements vary among the certification groups, and the certification does not come from the FDA. “Ultimately all General Mills products meet the FDA standard,” Siemienas said.

“General Mills is making this claim on their packaging, and it is therefore their corporate responsibility to assure that this statement is accurate,” Taylor said. He added that he does not think third-party certification would add real value if General Mills is already doing its own extensive testing for gluten residue similar to the testing a certification group would provide.

Specialty oats
Oats were once prohibited on the gluten-free diet altogether because of the high risk of cross-contamination. But that changed after several companies developed specialty gluten-free oats by painstakingly keep gluten-containing grains out of their fields—sometimes picking errant wheat, barley or rye out by hand. These companies also use specialty seeds and take steps to prevent cross-contamination when transporting and milling the oats.

While uncontaminated oats are considered safe for the majority of those who have celiac disease, patients are advised to introduce oats into their diets slowly because of the increase in fiber. Less than 1 percent of those with celiac disease react to very large amounts of oats in their diets, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

Seaton Smith, an owner of GF Harvest, a specialty gluten-free oats producer, has celiac disease but remembers what Cheerios taste like and would like to enjoy them again. “But not without certified gluten-free oats in them,” he wrote in an email.

He noted that he and two other North American gluten-free oat companies fought a 10-year battle to produce specialty oats and get them to be allowed on the gluten-free diet.

“If [General Mills] is interested in making a gluten-free product, why not use some of the readily available certified gluten-free oats or at least have a third-party agency such as the Gluten Free Certification Organization certify this product?” he asked.

Taylor questioned whether it would even be possible for General Mills to use specialty gluten-free oats. “Current producers of specialty gluten-free oats do not likely have enough combined total production to meet the raw material needs of General Mills for gluten-free Cheerios production. Cheerios is a very big brand. So that option likely does not exist for General Mills for logistical reasons,” he said.

Siemienas said General Mills has a continuing commitment to the gluten-free consumer versus an interest in the gluten-free fad. “The fact that we worked on this for several years and did not rush to get a gluten-free product out shows that we are making sure it is safe,” he said.


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Tricks & Tips for Gluten-Free Baking

Baking_picTracy Kamperdyk Assue is the executive pastry chef for City Limits in White Plains, New York, and Stamford, Connecticut—restaurants with a reputation for having among the best bakeries in the region. So it was with a bit of a start that she realized her sensitivity to gluten might have to alter her approach to baking. The restaurants were already offering a few gluten-free desserts, and Assue introduced three new items this fall. For gluten-free baking, she says she relies on the fundamental, good baking techniques she learned at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and by working with famed Pastry Chef Eric Gouteyron at the River Café in Brooklyn. As the holidays approached, Assue talked with Gluten-Free Living about ways other new gluten-free bakers can create traditional cut-out cookies, gingerbread and more. And she shared recipes for three desserts she created for City Limits

What is your gluten-free story?
Customers started requesting gluten-free products a few years ago, and we delivered a few. But I started getting more passionate about it as I started having some issues with gluten. I tested positive for celiac disease recently with a blood test, but on biopsy I did not test positive. I do have a sensitivity, and that has brought about more awareness that a lot of people are going through this. I just met a master pizzaiolo from Naples who’s been making pizzas for 40 years, and he said he might have celiac disease, too. The more I got into gluten-free baking and the more of a challenge it was, the more interesting it became.

What steps did you take to go from baking in the traditional way to learning how to bake gluten free?
For me the big advantage was having a good knowledge of baking in the first place. Keeping all of the good baking techniques that I have and then just learning about different ingredients and substitutions was helpful. The best thing for anybody would be to just start practicing. You just have to learn how to use new ingredients.

What is your best advice for those who have baked all of their lives but are tackling their first gluten-free holiday?
I would carefully pick what I was going to make that was gluten free. I wouldn’t make bread because that’s probably the hardest thing to do. I would go to something I know would translate well that’s gluten free, like cookies and brownies or muffins and quick bread. Those types of things lend very well to gluten free because any recipe where you’re not developing the gluten is where you’re going to have the best results. Anything that has to be mixed a lot, a process that is oft en designed to develop gluten, I would stay away from. Anything that requires a short mix once the flour is added would work well.

What recipes are most likely to trip you up if you’re a new gluten-free baker?
Recipes without a strong predominant flavor are more likely to cause problems. For instance, the other day I made a blueberry crumble, and I think it was successful because it had a lot of blueberries. A blueberry muffin with 30 percent blueberries didn’t taste as good as the blueberry crumble with 50 to 60 percent blueberries. I would stay away from a cake or cookies where flour is the predominant flavor and go for the items that have other interesting things, such as nuts, purees, and chocolate, and things with texture because some gluten-free flour has that mealy texture. Stay away from the simplistic things that are mostly butter, sugar, gluten-free flour and eggs.

Are there certain kinds of holiday cookies that work best?
There are ways to make traditional holiday cookies work. For instance, with a gluten-free thumbprint cookie, minimize the amount of dough and maximize your filling. Make a bigger hole in your thumbprint cookie and add more jam or maybe put in fruit or use a better-quality jam.
Cut-out cookies and gingerbread cookies can be tough to roll out, especially for a first timer.
There’s a quick fi x for that. Just make sure the dough is very, very cold. You can put it in the freezer a few minutes before you roll it out. I would flatten it out so the dough is in a little half-inch-thick parcel, wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in the freezer. Sprinkle gluten-free flour under the dough before you start rolling. Don’t do too much dough at a time. As far as flavor, I would add nuts on top or chocolate or coarser sugar sprinkles—anything to distract from that mealiness. You still do the same things as in regular cookies, but just add to them.

Are there any tricks for transferring the cookie once you have the dough rolled and the cookie cut out? What if it’s cracking or sticking when you try to move it to the cookie pan?
Keep your pan in the refrigerator or freezer while you roll your dough onto parchment paper. When you’re ready to cut out the cookies, to. You could also roll the dough out on parchment paper, slide it onto a metal pan, and put it in the fridge for five to 10 minutes or to release it from the paper and then cut out the cookies. That will make it easier.

What about cut-out cookies that don’t keep their shape when you put them in the oven to bake?
That would be because they’re not mixed properly.

How would you solve that at the mixing stage?
Those kinds of cookies use a “creaming mixing” method. The butter and sugar, which should be at room temperature, should be creamed or mixed very well to incorporate air. Eggs that are added should be pre-mixed and added in thirds. Add one third of the eggs, mix—don’t over mix—and scrape the bowl. This emulsifies the fats and liquids. That’s probably where the problem is.

So you would add the eggs in thirds even if the recipe doesn’t call for it?
Absolutely. Eggs in thirds, scrape in between. If you don’t mix well at this stage, that’s where you’re going to have problems. It’s not even the addition of flour.

Are there particular challenges with gluten-free gingerbread cookies?
I think gingerbread would lend itself very well, though I haven’t done it yet. Either a gingerbread cookie or a true gingerbread would be a great thing to do gluten free, as long as the flour isn’t overmixed, making it gummy. I’d make sure to add fresh ginger to have a really nice kick, maybe even candied ginger, chopped very finely. If you’re not rolling the gingerbread out too thin, you could put candied ginger on top. I would get a really nice coarser sugar or a more intensely flavored sugar—muscovado sugar is nice. That texture will take away from any mealiness.

What is your most important pantry item for gluten-free baking?
Mine would be almond flour or oat flour. They lend a more palatable texture and delicious flavor. Fine coconut also works well.

When you’re baking gluten free, do you use a certain pre-mixed combination of flours or a commercial brand?
Cup 4 Cup is great. Caputo, the Italian flour company, makes delicious gluten-free flour. I have been working with Caputo flour because I think the quality of the flour is better in general, even non-gluten free. King Arthur also makes good gluten-free flour.

Can people be successful in converting a gluten-containing recipe by using a one-to-one exchange with a gluten-free flour blend?

I do think they can, especially if they use an all-purpose flour mix.

Flakier dough can be more difficult to make gluten free. Is that because of the nature of gluten-free flours?
It is. The best thing you can to remedy that is to practice good baking techniques. With that kind of dough it is critical that your butter is very, very cold and the water or milk you add is very, very cold and that you don’t over-­mix. If you maintain proper technique, that is going to help the end product.

Which kitchen tool is extremely helpful as you work with gluten-free baking?My refrigerator. It’s so important to keep ingredients that need to be cold, very cold. And a lemon zester because zests are always nice added to gluten-free recipes.

When it comes to measuring gluten-free flours and ingredients, do you weigh or measure? Does it matter?
Definitely weighing the ingredients makes a huge difference. There’s just no room for error. It’s more accurate to weigh the ingredients.

For holidays, will you be baking gluten free?
This is a process for me. It’s not something I can do cold-turkey. At the restaurant, we will definitely have gluten-free holiday items. For home and work, I will have holiday gluten-free additions.

What gluten-free items will you be baking?
I am going to try a panettone. We make our own candy with zests and lemon zests. I’m hoping that if I add more of those it will be a denser product, but the flavor will be there. And without a doubt I will do all the favorite traditional cooking.

Holiday baking basics

  • Pick what you’re going to make carefully, knowing that cookies, brownies, muffins and scones lend themselves well to gluten-free substitutions.
  • Use things that are naturally gluten free. For example, with a chocolate cream pie recipe you can change the crust to be gluten free, but the pudding filling is naturally gluten free.
  • Use things that have a great texture such as pumpkin and other ingredients you can puree—raisins, nuts, sugars, zests. Those really help with texture and flavor.
  • Use good baking techniques. Make sure to follow the directions.

Get the recipes

Pumpkin & Ginger Spiced Muffins
Caramel Apple Galette
Chocolate Pudding and Toasted Coconut Pie

Gluten-Free Beer Labeling

Beer made from wheat and barley then processed to remove gluten still can’t be labeled gluten free.

But that could  change once the agency that regulates labels on the beer reviews its current policy in light of the new gluten-free label rules just approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) currently only allows a gluten-free label on alcohol made with gluten-free grains. It applies to beer that falls under TTB regulation, distilled alcohol and wine and hard cider made with more than 7 percent alcohol by volume.

The TTB is reviewing its interim gluten-free labeling policy in light of the FDA’s approval of a 20 parts per million standard for gluten-free labeling and intends to act “expeditiously,” according to Tom Hogue, TTB spokesman. “Any alcohol whose labeling is regulated by the TTB is still subject to the interim ruling,” Hogue said.

Until recently, the TTB did not allow a gluten-free label on any alcohol regardless of whether it was made from a gluten-free grain or not. But in May 2012 the bureau issued an interim ruling that allowed the label on alcohol made from gluten-free sources, including vodka made from potato or corn and wine made from grapes.

The ruling also specifically prohibited use of the label on beer that starts with barley and hops and is processed to remove gluten, for example Craft Brew Alliance’s Omission beer.

The TTB does allow this kind of beer to use a label that says it has processed to remove gluten as long as the label says a gluten-containing grain was used to make the product. The label also has to say there is no valid test to measure gluten content and that despite the removal process the product may still contain gluten.

Hogue said the TTB looks to the FDA for guidance regarding safety and health issues and is doing so in this case. In fact the TTB set up it’s interim rules specifically because it was waiting for the FDA to come up with a definition and standard for the gluten-free label. The FDA regulates the vast majority of packaged food, as well as alcohol outside the TTB’s jurisdiction. That includes beer made with grains other than a combination of barley and hops.

Gluten-free beer made from grains like sorghum and rice are regulated by the FDA, which has allowed a gluten-free label for a number of years. Under the new labeling rules, beer, like all gluten-free products, will have to contain less than 20 ppm of gluten including any cross-contamination during production, storage or packaging.

TTB concern about labeling of beer processed to remove gluten stems from an FDA conclusion that a valid test for determining the gluten content of fermented or hydrolyzed products is not currently available.

The FDA highlighted this concern when it approved a final definition for gluten-free labeling and said it is working on a separate rule to address the problem. When a product is hydrolyzed or fermented, as beer is, harmful gluten proteins are broken into fragments that may not be detected by validated tests. This a subject of debate, with  Craft Brewery maintaining Omission tests well below the FDA standard of less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Hogue said he could not say whether the TTB is likely to allow a gluten-free label on beers like Omission in light of the FDA definition. While the TTB would like to move quickly to resolve the issue, no deadline for a decision has been set. The TTB reviews labels on a case-by-case basis and has 90 days from the time a label is submitted to decide on approval.

For more details on new gluten-free labeling rules see our articles on:






New Gluten-Free Label Rules and Testing

New gluten-free labeling rules do not require food makers to test their products to prove they meet the requirements set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But the FDA will test products labeled “gluten free” to a standard of 20 parts per million of gluten to assure companies are complying with the new rules, which go into effect one year from now.

If a product labeled “gluten free” is tested by the FDA and found to contain 20 ppm of gluten or more, the food will be considered misbranded. The FDA says it will “use gluten testing of samples when needed.” A consumer complaint about a food is one reason testing might be used.

The FDA will also enforce the regulations through “periodic inspections of food manufacturing facilities; food label reviews; follow-up on consumer and industry complaints reported to the agency.”

Under the new gluten-free labeling rules, companies can use a variety of quality control methods to make sure they are meeting the 20 ppm standard. They can voluntarily do in-house testing of ingredients or final food products; have an independent company do in-house testing at their facility; get gluten-free analysis of ingredients from suppliers; and get gluten-free certification of their final product from an outside group.

Once the rules go into effect it will no longer be enough for a gluten-free food maker to use gluten-free ingredients. Companies will also have to account for any cross-contamination in their products that might occur anywhere from the field, to the factory, to the packaging plant.

For certain categories of processed food, companies that choose not to test could run the risk of going over the 20 ppm cutoff so there is incentive for voluntary testing. Many companies started voluntarily testing their products or getting outside certification even before final rules were approved on Aug. 2.

Naturally gluten-free foods such as plain, packaged vegetables and fruits that use a gluten-free label would have less need to test their products since there is less risk of cross-contamination. Naturally gluten-free grains, on the other hand,  would have a higher risk of cross-contamination while being transported, milled and packaged.

The FDA does not require companies to use specific tests to determine gluten levels, but does recommend scientifically validated methods appropriate for the type of food being tested.

If the FDA investigates a food labeled “gluten free” to make sure it is following the rule, it will use two very specific ELISA methods that have been scientifically validated.

One wrinkle regarding testing stems from the difficulty getting accurate results when a food contains a wheat or barley based ingredient that is hydrolyzed or fermented. The gluten protein in these ingredients is broken into fragments that are not picked up by the validated tests.

A “gluten free” claim will be permitted on fermented and hydrolyzed foods or foods containing fermented or hydrolyzed ingredients that meet all of the requirements for bearing a “gluten-free” claim even though the gluten content of the food cannot be reliably measured, according to the FDA.

The agency intends to finalize a rule dealing with fermented and hydrolyzed foods and ingredients before the gluten-free standard goes into effect next year, according to an FDA spokesperson.  If that does not happen, the FDA will draft a guidance document  for food companies. The first step in the process, publication of a proposed rule, should happen “shortly,” according to the FDA.

“Until we establish provisions specifically for these foods … manufacturers of fermented or hydrolyzed foods or foods that use fermented or hydrolyzed ingredients are responsible for ensuring that the food bearing a “gluten-free” claim is not misbranded for failure to meet all of the requirements of the final rule,” the FDA says in the official Federal Register notice detailing the new labeling rules.

The FDA’s decision to create a separate rule for hydrolyzed and fermented products is causing confusion about how they will be handled until the rule is final.

Also see our articles on details of the new gluten-free rules:

Gluten-Free Version of Pop Tarts

There are some products that gluten-free consumers have been longing for a quite awhile. Sometimes it doesn’t really make sense that these particular items end up on the what-I-want-most list (such as gluten free pop tarts). Often they’re not gourmet foods, but basic things fondly recalled from gluten-eating days or foods that gluten-free kids want because other kids have them.

Pretzels were on the list for a long time until several companies came up with palatable packaged gluten-free products. Even if you don’t eat them very often, it’s nice to know you can if you want to.

I put Pop Tarts in this category. Surely they’re not the tastiest of pastries, nor the healthiest of snacks or breakfast choices. But somehow none of the gluten-free breakfast bars could quite take the place of an occasional warm and toasty Pop Tart.

Now comes word via our friend Michael Savett at Gluten Free Philly that Glutino is launching a gluten-free toaster pastry. At first they will be sold at Whole Foods and will eventually be carried in other stores, the company says. They are not yet listed on the Glutino website, but are being advertised on the facebook page.

Consumer reaction was pretty quick, with some writing “Yes, finally,” and “Thank you, Jesus.”

“Living gluten free is not always easy, but this helps,” another said.

Some did question what happened to the icing found on some varieties of regular Pop Tarts. The toaster pastries come in two flavors, Apple Cinnamon and Strawberry. They are also dairy and casein free according to Glutino’s facebook page.

Echo Planet was the first company to make a gluten-free toaster pastry, but they were never easy to find. Then the company said demand was so high that online ordering was suspended until inventory could be built up. The Echo Planet website says that was supposed to happen today, but so far you still can’t order the toaster pastries.

With Glutino’s introduction of toaster pastries, it looks like another food can be crossed off that list of things we want but are not so sure we’ll ever see.

A Gluten-Free Aha Moment

You’ve probably seen the television commercial in which people describe “Aha” moments in their lives. Usually they reveal a turning point discovery.

I had an “aha” moment of my own recently, though it was not exactly of the life-changing variety.

Instead, it was just one of those pleasant, exciting instances when you find something gluten-free that you never expected to find. In this case, it was completely accidental, which only added to the thrill.

My daughter and I were shopping to restock the pantry at home with gluten-free items now that she is back from a semester studying abroad in London. She is the only one in our house who is gluten free and had finished off everything before she left.

We were just about to check out of the grocery with a basket full of items we regularly buy — gluten-free cereal, baking mixes, bagels, and bread — when we turned a corner and ran smack into gluten-free Tastykake cookies prominently displayed on an end-of-the-aisle shelf. That’s a spot usually reserved for items a supermarket is really pushing and not one where you would expect to find a gluten-free product.

Even though I regularly get press releases about new products and follow a number of blogs that are very good at getting the word out when something new hits the market, I had no idea Tastykake had any interest in gluten free. The thought that we were one of the first to find the new cookies only added to the rush we felt as we plopped a carton of Chocolate Chip and another of Chocolate Chocolate Chip into our cart. The $5.99 price tag for eight cookies was a little deflating, but not enough to dampen our enthusiasm or slow down my intentions to blog about the find as soon as I got home.

But when I sat down to write I did a little research first and found that Gluten-Free Philly, a blog that details gluten-free developments in the Philadelphia area had beaten me to the punch. Turns out the cookies were mentioned there in March on the same day I left for a nearly two-week trip to visit my daughter in London and I had simply missed it. Tastykake is based in Philly and so it makes sense the cookies were first available there. Not to mention that Michael Savett, the lawyer and father of a child with celiac disease who writes the blog, is always up-to-the minute on gluten-free products and restaurants.

Still, I bring you news of this new item, just in case you missed it like me. And because it falls into the category of “I never thought I’d see that” gluten-free products, which hold a particular fascination for me. It’s one thing for a specialty company to work out a cookie recipe using gluten-free flours. It’s another for a company that made its fortune with wheat flour to take the initiative to do so.

On the subject of wheat flour and possible cross-contamination of the gluten-free Tastykake cookies, I contacted the company to see what steps they take to prevent it. No one ever got back to me despite several tries and the passage of several weeks (I wasn’t in as much of a rush to write the blog once I realized the word was out). But Gluten-Free Philly reports that a company representative said they are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

So if you live in an area where Tastykake is sold, keep an eye out for this new entry in the gluten-free market to show up on your grocery shelf. It might give you  a little “aha” moment.

Join the Effort to Get the Gluten-Free Label Defined

We are a few days into October, which is Celiac Disease Awareness month. But both Congress and the Food and Drug Administration do not seem to be aware that we’re now more than two years past a deadline for important legislation that would benefit everyone with celiac disease.

Congress directed the FDA to define exactly what “gluten free” on a label means by August 2008 when it passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. The FDA has come up with a proposal, but the proposal has been in limbo for far too long.

I attended a Celiac conference in Delaware last weekend where many people, both those who just found out they have celiac disease and those who have been on the gluten-free diet for a long time, had questions about confusing labels. Their lives would be much simpler if the gluten-free label clearly meant one thing.

That’s not the case now.

Currently the only law that governs use of the “gluten free” on a package is a general requirement that a label be truthful and not misleading.

The proposed definition is much more specific, spelling out that: wheat, barley and rye can not be used outright in a food labeled gluten; ingredients made from those three grains can only be used if they are processed to remove the gluten protein; all gluten-free food must test to less than 20 parts per million of gluten; and only specially grown gluten-free oats can be used.

When I contacted the FDA recently to find out if there is anything new to report on the gluten-free definition, I got a very short answer. No updates.

So it seems like nothing is going to happen on this for a very long time unless the gluten-free community organizes a push to make something happen.

The American Celiac Disease Alliance, an advocacy group made up of celiac disease support groups, gluten-free businesses, medical centers and professionals, seems the logical leader of an organized effort to get the attention of both the FDA and Congress.

You can join the effort by going to the ACDA website and sending emails to your US Senators and House Representative. Then send another directly to the FDA. Forms on the site make this very easy to do.

I know there are enough gluten-free consumers out there to make their voices heard. On Facebook and twitter, some gluten-free sites have 10,000 to nearly 30,000 followers. Just think how loud a group this large and with so much at stake could be. I can’t think of a better, more productive way to mark Celiac Awareness month.

With a unified effort, we can make Congress and the FDA aware of how important a defined gluten-free label  is.

You Are Never Too Old to Get Celiac Disease, Study Shows

The number of people in the US who have celiac disease has been doubling every 15 years, with most of the increase found among the elderly, according to a new study released today. Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research looked at blood tests of 3,511 people and found that one in 501 were positive for celiac disease in 1974, increasing to one in 219 in 1989. As people in the study aged, the increase in the rate of celiac disease incidence rose, according to results published in the online version of The Annals of Medicine. The CFCR’s landmark study into the prevelance of celiac disease in 2003 put the number at one in 133.

Carlo Catassi, MD, lead author and co-director of the CFCR, said you are not necessarily born with celiac disease and urged physicians to screen their elderly patients. The new research echoes the results of a 2008 Finnish study that found the prevalence of celiac disease in the elderly is nearly two and a half times higher than in the general population.

“You are never too old to develop celiac disease,” said Alessio Fasano, MD, director of the CFCR.

Fasano said the study shows that environmental factors cause a person to stop being able to tolerate gluten at some point in their lifetime. If individuals can tolerate gluten for many decades before developing celiac disease, something other than gluten must be in play, Fasano said.

If those factors could be identified and manipulated, new treatments and prevention of celiac disease would be possible, he said.  Researchers have already identified specific genetic markers for the development of celiac disease, but these markers do not guarantee that an individual will eventually get it. How and why someone loses tolerance to gluten remains a mystery.

The increase in celiac diagnosis in the elderly also calls into question the assumption that celiac disease usually develops in childhood.

The study was based on blood samples from more than 3,500 adults who were followed over time. The Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Ancona, Italy, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and Quest Diagnostics also participated.

Are Lipton Soup Mixes Still Gluten Free?

The oven-roasted potatoes recipe on the Lipton Onion Soup mix box has been a favorite side dish in our house for years.

So when an observant celiac support group leader from Philadelphia called Gluten-Free Living to ask if we knew if it was still gluten-free despite a change in the ingredients, I ran to my pantry. I had just bought a six pack of the mix at a warehouse club.

I am sorry to admit I did not look at the multi-pack in the store, especially since Gluten-Free Living always says you have to read the ingredients list every time you buy a food!

Both Lipton’s Recipe Secrets Onion and Vegetable soup mixes now list autolyzed yeast extract made from barley. A consumer representative said this is a change in the formulation.

Lipton has a policy of always listing any potentially gluten-containing ingredient on its labels. Allergen labeling laws require wheat to be noted, but Lipton, a Unilever brand, voluntarily also lists any barley or rye. Consumers are advised to use the labels to determine if products are gluten free.

But the consumer representative said the onion soup is estimated to contain only 0.09 parts per million of gluten and the vegetable only 0.04 ppm. These levels are far below the 20 ppm of gluten the Food And Drug Administration has proposed as the cut-off for foods that can be considered gluten free.

I contacted Unilever’s press office for more information about the tests used to get these amounts. Barley can sometimes present specific problems when it comes to testing. But so far I have not heard back. I’ll follow up when I do.

Meanwhile, I had already researched autolyzed yeast extract made from barley for an On Your Plate column in an issue of Gluten-Free Living published earlier this year.

It turns out that autolyzed yeast made from barley is fairly rare. But I did find one company, Bio Springer, that produces some. Jean-Marc Pernet, head of market development for Bio Springer, said soup is one place that you might expect to find it.

Pernet said only a small amount of barley malt extract is used and only minimal traces of gluten remain in the final autolyzed yeast extract — far below 20 ppm. In fact, Bio Springer certifies its product as gluten free.

Also keep in mind that yeast extract is typically used in very small amounts in a finished food. Pernet said there is little, if any, risk of finding gluten from yeast extract in a soup.

I don’t know if the Lipton soup mixes use the Bio Springer yeast extract. But it would still seem the mixes poses little risk of containing any significant gluten.

I should also note the soup mix label says they are made in a facility that also processes wheat. It is very hard to know exactly what advisory statements like this mean because they are not regulated or required. A shared facility does not mean a product is automatically cross contaminated by other foods made there, but allows for the potential to exist.

Like all things gluten free, you have to weigh the facts that are available in deciding whether to keep using the Lipton soup mixes.

And remember to always read the label!

Our Take on Celiac Awareness Day

Today is Celiac Awareness Day, by resolution of the US Senate.

With news of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet everywhere, I couldn’t help but think of how far we have come in raising awareness of a disease hardly ever heard of when my own daughter was diagnosed almost exactly 18 years ago.

It has come with some very hard work by every day people spreading the word, as well as through organized efforts by foundations, support groups, businesses and the medical community.

At Gluten-Free Living we have tried to do our part with a commitment to wipe out incorrect information about the gluten-free diet, while searching for the most reliable information we can find. We think this is the best way to ensure that you have a happy, healthy gluten-free life.

But every once in awhile I am reminded that there is still a lot of work to do.

I spent several hours on the phone last week with someone recently diagnosed who is struggling to eat gluten-free meals that are safe, varied, nutritious and tasty. In our conversation, I was transported to the early days after my daughter was diagnosed and I stood in the bread aisle of my local supermarket barely able to breath. All I could think was that if we were trapped among the shelves stacked high with food, she would still have nothing to eat.

It’s been a long time since I recalled that feeling. But the person I was talking to had just had a very similar experience. She was nearly in tears as she roamed her grocery looking to fill her shopping cart.
One of the things making her job so difficult was bad information she had been given about what was and was not safe to eat. For example, she was desperately searching for gluten-free vanilla extract, having given away the perfectly fine bottle she had had at home. She thought tomato soup was the only one safe on the gluten-free diet. And anything with vinegar, she had read, was out.

It doesn’t take long to figure out how someone with celiac disease can get bad information, when only two weeks ago the Wall Street Journal ran a story that incorrectly said ketchup and ice cream have gluten-containing fillers, that vinegar is fermented with gluten and that lipstick and envelope glue contain gluten. In a letter to the editor we wrote in response to the story we said, “The gluten-free diet is the only cure available to those who have celiac disease and results in improved health for those who are gluten sensitive or intolerant. But it is a challenging diet and misinformation only makes it needlessly more difficult.”

Although the Wall Street Journal ran a correction, I saw its information about ketchup repeated in a Washington Post blog about barbecue sauce.
To stop the spread of bad information, we don’t promote stories that contain inaccuracies on this blog or on our Twitter or Facebook sites. We know how hard it is to pull back bad information once its blasts across the Internet.

The first step in improving celiac disease awareness is to make it so well know that doctors test for it in every case where it is a possibility. The second is to make sure that once a person is diagnosed they are given accurate information about how to follow the diet. From there, we can do amazing things like getting food makers to produce better gluten-free products, restaurants to prepare truly gluten-free meals, schools and colleges to provide options for gluten-free students, and ball parks to offer gluten-free hot dogs, buns and beer.

When I started the gluten-free journey with my then two-year-old daughter, only the most optimistic in the gluten-free community dared to dream about these things–which are now becoming realities. The rest of us were just trying to figure out how to prepare a gluten-free breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

We can’t forget that the challenge of eating gluten-free is still very real, especially for the newly diagnosed. We have come a very long way, but we still have ground to cover.

Gluten-Free Information for the Restaurant Industry

The National Restaurant Association is meeting in Chicago right now and one of the big topics of discussion is gluten-free menus.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, a Philadelphia-based organization that promotes awareness of celiac disease nationwide, is sponsoring a gluten-free pavilion where about 30 gluten-free food makers are showing their products. That means the “tens of thousands” of attendees, all of whom are connected to the restaurant business, will get a chance to see what’s available in gluten-free form. The NFCA says industry representatives can learn about everything from testing and menu investigation to gluten-free flour options.

The NFCA also conducted an educational session on Sunday, “Gluten-Free: Easy as ABCDE.” The session was designed to dispel myths in the restaurant industry that gluten-free is a fad and that it is difficult to offer gluten-free options.

The panel for the session included Anne Roland Lee, MS, RD, director of food and nutritional services for Schar, USA, a gluten-free food maker; Jim McCurley, chef for PF Chang’s China Bistro; Doug Radi, vice president of marketing for Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery, which will begin selling several types of gluten-free bread in July; Tom Herndon, owner and chef of Hipp Kitchen and Full Fridge; and Richard J. Coppedge Jr., a gluten-free baking expert from the Culinary Institute of America.

Gluten-Free Living has an interview with Chef Coppedge in our upcoming issue and Anne Lee writes a recurring column on nutrition for us.

Kelly Courson, well-known for her long-running blog, Celiac Chicks, is attending the show as a online media representative for the NFCA. She is posting photos and updates on Twitter and on her website. NFCA is also using Twitter to post continual updates from the show. Here are some highlights so far.

  • P.F. Chang’s sales are up 130% since the launch of the gluten-free beef menu.
  • The loyalty of the gluten-free consumer is unprecedented, according to
  • It only takes 1/8 teaspoon of flour to damage the intestine of someone with
    celiac disease, Lee said.
  • Evidence builds trust and celiac trust build your business, Herndon

Hopefully, all the restaurant owners are taking notes and thinking about ways they can safely serve gluten-free customers. We have seen a lot of improvement in gluten-free dining in the last few years, thanks to efforts by the NFCA, the Gluten Intolerance Groups and others. Kudos also go to individuals who asked local restaurant owners and chefs to offer gluten-free items. But we still have a long way to go before those who follow the gluten-free diet feel safe and comfortable getting a gluten-free meal at any restaurant they visit.

My daughter, who has celiac disease, has had good luck and bad at both chain and individually owned restaurants. We had superb service at a Bahama Breeze outside Disney in Florida, as well as at the Moroccan restaurant in Epcot. We had a very diligent waitress at an individually owned restaurant in the town where she goes to college who checked menu items and let my daughter know there was unsuspected soy sauce in a chicken dish.

But not long ago one chain restaurant with a gluten-free menu assured her a Reese’s peanut butter cup dessert was gluten free. One bite revealed that the peanut butter cup had a cookie base. When my daughter eats in a restaurant the thing she appreciates most is a server who either knows what they are talking about when it comes to the gluten-free diet or double checks and asks the chef all the questions she asks about a particular menu item.

The NFCA on Twitter asked what is the one thing restaurants should know about serving gluten-free diners. I would say making simple changes, like using soy sauce that does not contain wheat, would create many new options for those who are gluten free.

What would you say?

Lots of Gluten-Free Lunch Choices

In the 17 years my daughter, Amanda, has had celiac disease, she has come to view the gluten-free diet as second nature. She does not spend a lot of time fretting about the foods she can’t have.

In one way she is lucky that she was diagnosed when she was only two, both because she did not go long with undiagnosed celiac disease and suffer the consequent intestinal damage and because she did not develop a love for foods that are hard to get exactly right in a gluten-free form.

She eats a lot of naturally gluten-free, healthy foods and has a favorite bread that we always make at home. We have a few tried-and-true cookie recipes. In restaurants she orders simple meals and if nothing else seems to work she is pretty satisfied with a salad.

But this afternoon we headed to Sweet Sin Bakery in nearby Baltimore to try out their new lunch menu. I can’t really describe what a pleasure it was to watch Amanda’s excitement at being able to sample the all the soups, order the entree of the day, and then fill a bakery box with an assortment of cupcakes to take home.

The staff, including co-owner Richard D’Souza (whose wife Renee is the gluten-free pastry chef who makes all the baked goods) couldn’t have been nicer or more attentive. It would be one thing if we were the only ones in the cute little cupcake shop/restaurant. But customers came in at a pretty steady flow, toting carry-out lunches of Thai chicken and coconut rice, savory soup or a cupcake.

Amanda, a college student who has been known to leave all her gluten-free cookies at home when she heads back to school after a break because she doesn’t want to eat a lot of sweets, couldn’t wait to pick from the enticing selection of cupcakes displayed like jewels in the bakery case. In the end, she picked the birthday cake cupcake because it had such pretty pink and orange decorating sugars sprinkled on top, plus German chocolate, raspberry, cinnamon, and caramel apple.

She actually had the dilemma of what to choose for a change.

For that I am thankful to Sweet Sin and all the other places like it across the country. If you are gluten free and have a little restaurant or cafe or bakery that meets your needs, count yourself lucky. Despite the growth in all things gluten free, there are still many places where people can only imagine what it’s like to order a hot delivered gluten-free pizza, choose from an array of gluten-free sandwiches for lunch at a deli or enjoy a gluten-free cupcake at a local coffee shop.

The economy has put a whammy on many mainstream restaurants so you can imagine the challenges faced by small gluten-free establishments. I urge you to support these gluten-free businesses. Usually, you will get great food and service – as we did at Sweet Sin.

Amanda’s father and I raised her to never let celiac disease stand in her way when there is something she wants to do. We did whatever was needed so she could go to birthday and pizza parties, travel to Spain to visit her friend’s family when she was in middle school, choose a college that would best help her achieve her career goals and live in the dorms like other freshmen.

I’ve come to expect her to be very matter-of-fact about what she can and can’t eat. And she is.

How nice that at lunch today she did not have to be.

Where Oh Where Has Gluten-Free Labeling Law Gone

I just read that The Food and Drug Administration has warned 17 food manufacturers that 22 of their products have labels that violate federal labeling laws. Most make exaggerated or unauthorized health or nutrition claims.

“Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important given the prevalence of obesity and and diet-related diseases in the United States,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said in an open letter to the food industry.

Hamburg in October had encouraged companies to review their labels to make sure they complied with FDA regulations and were truthful and not misleading. Companies that got warning letters have 15 days to tell the FDA how they will correct the labels.

Nutrition labeling is a priority for the FDA, according to Hamburg.

I understand that having accurate label information about total fat in products that contain no trans fat, total juice content in drinks for children, and whether a food can really treat, prevent or cure diseases like hypertension, diabetes and cancer benefits everyone.

But I wonder what ever happened to the poor, forgotten “gluten free” label which has been largely ignored by the FDA even though Congress passed legislation that said it had to be finalized by August 2008. That was 19 months ago – but who is counting. Certainly not the FDA.

The fact that celiac disease is treated solely through the gluten-free diet should give it some priority as a diet-related disease. On top of which, celiac disease is becoming more prevalent as more and more people are getting diagnosed.

The gluten-free definition continues in limbo while experts look at an assessment of studies done on safe levels of gluten for those who have celiac disease. It seems to me they have been looking at it so long it should be memorized by now. Once this endless expert review is complete, the public is supposed to have a chance to comment on the assessment.

Meanwhile, the FDA has also launched what it calls the “Gluten-Free Labeling of Food Products Experimental Study.” Basically, the FDA wants to find out what consumers think about various wording of gluten-free labels. The last we heard of the study was in November when the FDA published comments about who should be included in the study and how it should be distributed in the gluten-free community. The FDA said it will ask major celiac centers to recruit participants through mailing lists and posted flyers. And it set a deadline of Dec. 17, 2009 for commenting further on the collection of information. No more word after that.

So the wait is still on for regulation of gluten-free labeling. Meanwhile, we will have to be satisfied knowing the FDA is more diligently protecting us from misleading and false health and nutrition claims.

More Details on FDA Gluten-Free Label Study

The biggest change in the Food and Drug Administration’s study of what consumers think about gluten-free labels is the way the agency will get volunteer participants.

Instead of using celiac support group membership lists, the FDA has asked major celiac disease centers around the US to publicise the study. The centers have been asked to invite those on their mailing lists to participate and to post flyers asking patients as well.

In another change, the FDA will add a paper version to provide greater access to the study to a more economically and geographically diverse group. Originally, the study was only going to be conducted on the Internet. The FDA estimated about 10,000 people will be screened, with about 7,000 completing the study.

The FDA wants to know what gluten-free consumers think of statements like “free of gluten,” “without gluten,” and “no gluten.” The study will also look at what consumers think when they see a gluten-free label on a food that is naturally gluten free, milk for example. Finally, the FDA is trying to gauge consumer reaction to products that are both labeled gluten free and have a statement about how much gluten the product contains.

Under the FDA’s proposed definition of the gluten free label, a food tested and found to have less than 20 parts per million of gluten could be labeled gluten free. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires the FDA to come up with a definition for gluten-free labeling. An August 2008 deadline set in the law has long passed.

Changes in the way the consumer study will be done came as a result of public comments the FDA received.

Several comments noted that an Internet-only survey would make it more difficult for the elderly and those with lower incomes to participate so the FDA is adding a paper form. The agency will also select participants who have followed the gluten-free diet for varying periods of time in response to a comment that label reading needs and habits change with time.

In response to another comment, the FDA plans to include people who are avid label readers in its control group of those who do not follow the gluten-free diet.

It’s not clear when the study will get underway or when it will be completed. The FDA said it will publish the results.

If you are on a celiac center mailing list, you should receive an invitation to participate in the FDA gluten-free label study.