June 9, 2018—As you walk down the aisles at the grocery store, you'll likely see things labeled "gluten-free." The words may mean something to you, or they may not.
Perhaps you already know that gluten is a mixture of natural proteins in certain grains. You may have also heard that gluten is a real problem for those who have celiac disease, which means the body's natural defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine, affecting a person's ability to absorb nutrients.
But what do you really know about gluten-free products? See if you can determine which statements below are true and which are false.
"Gluten-free and wheat-free are essentially the same thing."
This is false. Wheat has gluten, but it's not the only grain with gluten. Obvious ingredients that are sources of gluten include barley, rye, malt, brewer's yeast and oats (unless the oats are labeled gluten-free). There are also less obvious sources of gluten that can affect those with celiac disease.
"Gluten-free foods are completely gluten-free."
Close but not quite, so this is false. For foods with the gluten-free label, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets the gluten limit at less than 20 ppm (parts per million). That's the lowest level that can be detected in foods and is consistent with the guidelines in other countries for using the "gluten-free" claim.
"When a package doesn't list allergens, it still may contain gluten."
This is true. Some packaging has a list of common allergens the product contains, such as wheat, soy, egg, nuts and milk. However, barley and rye are not in the top eight allergens required to be listed, so a product may still contain gluten.
"A gluten-free lifestyle does not have to be restrictive."
This is also true. Because FDA has set labeling guidelines to protect consumers, those with celiac disease can now easily find products that are gluten-free. The abundance of these foods and the accurate labeling mean it's less isolating for someone to seek the foods that fit their dietary restrictions.
"Restaurants also have rules when using the label gluten-free."
This is false. The gluten-free labeling applies to packaged foods. FDA says restaurants making a gluten-free claim on their menus should be consistent with FDA's definition. But if you have celiac disease, and you can't be certain the product is gluten-free, it's better to find another option.
Want to test your gluten knowledge? Check out this quiz.