When a 16-year-old boy who is not impressed by anything gives a shout after seeing “gluten free” on a television commercial, I figure it’s time to pay attention.
That’s what happened in our house the other night when the Safeway ad came on and suddenly the words “Gluten Free” were larger than life on the 46-inch screen in our family room. I usually only hear that kind of yelling from my son when the Giants, Mets, Penn State or Virginia Tech teams are playing.
This time the excitement was caused by Safeway supermarket’s Simple Nutrition program, a highly promoted system of prominently tagging items based on nutritional information.
“Gluten Free” is one of 22 tags showing up on shelves in Safeways nationwide. Others include organic, calorie smart, sugar smart, sodium smart, made with whole grains, good source of fiber, fat free, good source of calcium and 100 percent juice.
Products that get the brown “Gluten Free” tag have to be labeled gluten-free by the manufacturer. That is the only criteria Safeway requires. “Gluten Free” is included in a group of foods Safeway calls lifestyle/dietary needs. The group also includes organic, natural and calorie smart (100 calories or less per serving.)
The other tags are for foods that meet specific nutrition or ingredient criteria. For example the whole grain tag is restricted to foods that list a whole grain as the first ingredient or the second only if the first is water. Those tagged as a good source of fiber have to meet or exceed the 10% Daily Value of Fiber and have 3 grams or less of total fat per serving.
You might wonder how valuable the gluten-free tag is if it can only be used on products already identified as gluten free. But the high profile placement and larger type of the tags does make it quicker and easier to find gluten-free products.
While I can see how this would be very helpful especially to someone new to the gluten-free diet, I do have a little concern that it might give the impression that only processed foods identified by the tag are gluten free.
Plain fruits, vegetables, corn, rice, milk, meat, seafood, beans and eggs are among the many naturally gluten-free foods that are not always identified as gluten free by food companies. Just because they don’t have a “Gluten Free” tag would not mean they are not gluten free.
You might also have to look out for the product or tag that is mistakenly in the wrong place, which would mean double checking for the gluten-free label on the package.
Still, this is largely a positive step for gluten-free consumers who are pretty well informed about naturally gluten-free foods and know you always have to read labels.