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My Five Cents: Help Me Understand Gluten-Free

gluten-freeI get emails all of the time from companies selling gluten-free products. I usually forward them to my sister who is researching gluten-free food because one of her daughters is highly sensitive to gluten. My 14-year old niece tested negative for celiac, but once my sister put her on a gluten-free diet, my niece’s body responded immediately. All of her symptoms cleared up. That’s the good news.

The confusing news comes from the US Food and Drug Administration definition and guidelines and definition for the term “gluten-free.” To label  food “gluten-free,” a food must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The rule also requires foods with the claims “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “without gluten” to meet the definition for “gluten-free.”

I realize there are varying degrees of sensitivity to gluten just like there are varying degrees of sensitivity to nuts, shellfish, and eggs. It seems gluten-free should be just that—without gluten. None. Zero. Nada.

I’m sure many of you are still on the learning curve of gluten-free. My sister had taken celiac courses, read zillions of internet sites, and spent hundreds of dollars experimenting with food packaged as gluten-free.

She told me a story about a woman she met who gets “glutenized” easily. She kissed her husband who had just consumed a beer and her body went into meltdown.

Products are one aspect of this problem, but what about restaurants that offer gluten-free food? To be truly gluten-free, I would think a kitchen would have to use different equipment to avoid cross-contamination. Many people have advised my sister to cook at home if she wants absolute control. But my niece is 14! She loves to hang at other people’s houses. But even a backyard barbecue with meat and fresh vegetables poses a problem if the host has marinated the meat in soy sauce or another condiment with gluten.

If you are experiencing some of these issues, I’d love to hear from you.