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AboutTricia Thompson, MS, RD is a nutrition consultant, author and speaker specializing in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. She is the author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide and has a MS degree in nutrition from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA degree in English Literature from Middlebury College in Vermont.
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Since posting the summary of the article, “Gluten Contamination of Grains, Seeds, and Flours in the United States: A Pilot Study,” many concerned gluten-free consumers have contacted me asking “now what?”
Important points to keep in mind about the study:
1.We tested grains, flours, and seeds that were NOT labeled gluten-free. One of the major goals of this research was to determine whether grains other than oats are contaminated with gluten.
2.Under the proposed FDA rule for labeling of gluten-free foods, inherently gluten-free single ingredient foods like grains can be labeled gluten-free but they also have to state on the label that all foods of that type are gluten-free. In other words, a gluten-free manufacturer of millet could label the product gluten-free but they would also have to state something along the lines of, “all millet is gluten-free.”
3.Oats are the one exception to the above rule. This is because we have research showing they are contaminated. See Tricia Thompson. Gluten Contamination of Oat Products in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine 2004;351:2021-2022.
4.We did not test labeled gluten-free grains, flours, and seeds. The point of this research was not to determine whether manufacturers of gluten-free foods test their products for gluten.
5.We also wanted to determine whether voluntary allergen advisory labeling can be used to determine the likelihood that a particular product is contaminated with gluten (based on our findings, it can’t).
Should you continue to eat gluten-free grains?
There is absolutely no reason to stop eating naturally gluten-free grains and flours that are labeled gluten-free. These grains, especially whole grain varieties, such as brown rice, whole corn, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, teff, millet, sorghum, and wild rice are exceedingly healthy and an important part of your diet. Keep in mind that gluten-free diets as typically followed in the US are low in fiber, B-vitamins, and iron all of which are provided by these grains.
BUT you ask, “How do I make sure the grains I buy are gluten free?”
My personal recommendations:
1.Purchase only those gluten-free grains and flours that are labeled gluten-free. Labeled gluten-free varieties of these foods may be more expensive but there is a reason for this—you are paying for all the extra steps manufacturers must take to ensure their products are not cross contaminated.
2.Contact manufacturers of labeled gluten-free products and ask them about the steps they take to ensure their products are gluten-free (see specific questions to ask below). If a manufacturer is not forthcoming, this to me is an indication that I probably want to avoid their products.
3.Whenever possible purchase grain-based foods, such as rice noodles that are labeled gluten-free.
4.When a manufacturer has a gluten-free line but they don’t include a particular product in that line even though it appears to be gluten-free based on ingredients, there is a reason—trust them!
5.Stay clear of grain foods that are not specifically labeled “gluten-free” but instead have vague labeling such as, “made with gluten-free ingredients” or “no gluten ingredients used.” This is a red flag (to me at least) that the manufacturer does not test for gluten contamination.
6.Last but not least, remember that manufacturers are learning right along with the rest of us.
Questions to ask manufacturers
I have posted these questions before but this seems like a good time to repeat them.
1.What type of facility do you use? The first thing that many consumers want to know is whether gluten-free food is produced in a dedicated facility.
If it isn’t, ask whether the manufacturer has dedicated production times, uses ... Continue
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