For various reasons, the gluten-free diet has gained popularity in the years since I was diagnosed with Celiac. In some ways,this
popularity has had a positive effect on the gluten-free market place; many more gluten-free products are available on grocery shelves now, than were when I first had to adopt a gluten-free diet. Many of these products actually have a pleasant taste and texture, too (which was definitely not the case when I first began eating gluten-free). Interestingly, the gluten-free food niche has become so popular that gluten-free labels are even showing up on foods and beverages that have never, or have rarely, contained gluten.
The general population remains somewhat ignorant (or perhaps a more kind word to use is clueless) about what gluten is, much less what foods contain gluten. I’ve had a waitress tell me that a bean dish was not gluten-free because it had bacon in it. I have a friend, college educated, with post-graduate hours in fact, who thinks that she is eating gluten-free (by choice – she thinks it’s a healthy way to eat). She showed me a bag of gourmet whole grain pancake mix she swore was gluten-free because the flours it contains are whole grain, and she thinks whole grain means gluten-free. I had her read the ingredients to me; it included several gluten-containing flours, as I suspected. I assured my friend that if a grain-containing food mix is gluten-free, it will be clearly labeled gluten-free. Unfortunately, the rush of beverage and food businesses to take advantage of the gluten-free zietgeist often just adds to the gluten-eating population’s confusion concerning gluten-free foods and the gluten-free diet.
The FDA has had a gluten-free labeling criteria in place for several years, which one hopes would clear up some confusion about which foods contain gluten and which do not. Recently, the FDA finalized the criteria for gluten-free labeling. The changes to the rule that had been in place are listed in the September 2013 issue of Food Label News. Notice that under the guidelines, foods inherently free of gluten may be labeled gluten-free:
It’s been since 2004 that the industry has awaited clear regulatory requirements for gluten-free labeling. As part of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004, the U.S. Congress directed FDA to begin the rule making process for use of the term gluten-free on food labels. In 2007, FDA issued a Proposed Rule that industry has used as guidance for the past 6 years. The Final Rule just published contains a few changes.
Highlights of the Final Rule:
Gluten-free labeling claims are voluntary and thus there is no established icon or placement requirement.
The threshold to claim gluten-free is less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, consistent with already-established standards in Canada and EU.
A food inherently free of gluten (e.g., milk, lettuce) may carry a gluten-free claim.
If any ingredient is from a whole or refined gluten-containing grain (specified as wheat, rye, barley, and crossbred hybrids), then the food may not be labeled gluten-free – even if the amount is below the 20 ppm threshold. Note that oats is not among the gluten-containing grains.
If an ingredient is processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch) and results in a finished food with less than 20 ppm of gluten, then the food may be labeled gluten-free – only if there is an accompanying statement that the gluten has been removed from the grain. (Food Label News 13.9 2013)
The rule makes sense, for a naturally gluten-free product is, after all, gluten-free and a manufacturer or producer of that food or beverage item has a right to attract people to its product by pointing out popular qualities of its product. Moreover, the gluten-free labeling on such items really is truth in advertizing. The rule seems to me, however, to add to the gluten confusion of the general population, since many people really don’t know what gluten is and already believe it can be in just about any food or drink item. Be that as it may, having standardized criteria for gluten-free foods ensures the safety of those people whose bodies are physiologically unable to handle the ingestion of gluten.
Ironically, I’ve been reading more about gluten-free labeling and the gluten-free business, lately, than cooking my own gluten-free foods. My time these days is taken up with my new business, which happens to be a gluten-free food business. I am also training for the Wild Hare 50k in November; therefore, training takes up a fair amount of my time as well. Luckily, my training and my business are closely related, so when I work on one, I’m also working on the other. Even though I love to bake and eat gluten-free cakes and treats, I save those scrumptious foods for after my runs. Before my runs, I eat foods higher in protein and lower in carbs. I’ve perfected a muffin recipe for fuel before my long runs. It is gluten-free, of course, but it contains high protein gluten-free flours, rather than the usual rice flour / tapioca starch / potato starch combination most of the packaged gluten-free products contain: no grains. My mix also contains organic cacao, as well as a small amount of natural, organic sweetener. The result is a rich, dense muffin with a pleasing texture and luscious flavor. The high protein flours and cacao provide energy, and since the mix is low carb, the muffins don’t cause the same stomach upset often caused by high carb foods eaten before a training run.
My business is now officially and legally formed: ATX Ultra Eats, LLC.
Even though I developed the muffin mix for training runs and the muffins may be of interest to athletes, the muffin mix will benefit even non-athletes who eat gluten-free. It will be available to the general public after Christmas. This muffin mix will be certified gluten-free and therefore safe for those people who must eat gluten-free, and who want healthy muffins for breakfast or for a snack. I’m very excited about my muffin mix and I cannot wait to have it available for people to enjoy!