Food Label Lies: Gluten-Free
The lie: Gluten-free foods are becoming one of the fastest-growing food categories on store shelves, according to Nielsen Company, jumping a whopping 74 percent from 2004 to 2009. But buying foods based solely on a label shouting “gluten-free” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re avoiding gluten, much to the dismay of the 3 million Americans suffering from celiac disease (which requires avoiding gluten to avoid getting sick) and the other 18 million who suffer from gluten sensitivity. The FDA has never created an actual regulated definition of the claim, despite the fact that advocacy groups have been pushing them to do so for 10 years. While some gluten-free products may indeed be free of wheat gluten, Pam King, director of operations and development at the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland, says that not all are free of rye or barley gluten, which is just as problematic. “And honestly, there is no such thing as zero gluten because of cross-contamination,” she adds, referring to food processing facilities that make both wheat-based and gluten-free foods.
To get the real thing: There are currently two organizations that certify food to be free of wheat, barley, and rye gluten at levels that cause problems for people trying to avoid gluten: the Gluten-Free Certification Organization and the other is the Celiac Sprue Association. Gluten can hide behind vague labels like “artificial flavoring,” so buy certified products if you’re really trying to avoid gluten.