A Celiac's Presidential Debate: 4 Gluten Free Controversies
1. Cheer or fear for GF Cheerios
Perhaps the most public - and one of the most controversial - debates today is over Cheerios' new gluten free products. You might remember enjoying cheerios for breakfast every day before elementary school...and you may have even rushed to buy yourself a box of edible nostalgia when Cheerios announced that they were going gluten free back in 2015.
- The oat flour used in one of plants was switched with wheat or, at the very least, cross-contaminated.
- General Mills didn't test the resulting cereals for gluten for two weeks, despite claiming to do so daily.
|My preferred "O" cereal...|
Will you dive into a bowl of gluten free Cheerios anytime soon? That's a personal decision every celiac - or parent of a young child with celiac disease - must make for him or herself.
2. Wheatgrass and barley grass - yay or nay for the celiac?
Even though I like to think that I have more experience with superfoods than the average eater, I hadn't heard of "wheatgrass" until recently. First, when I excitedly learned of MammaChia's new Greens line of juices. Then Aloha approached me for a possible review of some of their products (which will be sharing in a few weeks, so my chocoholic readers better be ready to drool!). As I scanned ingredients, as is my usual habit even when a product is marked "gluten free," the word "wheatgrass" sent off a red alarm. These examples aren't meant to shed bad light on these companies; in fact, I love them both! Instead, they're meant to show how common this "superfood" is becoming.
What exactly is wheatgrass - and how can it be "gluten free"...but not? To understand, we need to take a trip back to biology class, particularly the botany section. As verywell.com explains, wheat and barely grass only contain gluten in the seeds that they produce. Hypothetically, then, barely and wheat grass can be "gluten free" as long as they are pure and aren't cross-contaminated with the seeds during harvest.
|No wheatgrass needed in this smoothie!|
Unless you can be certain of a company's cross-contamination protocol (dietitian Tricia Thompson suggests checking that the company checks for gluten CC using the R5 ELISA test), celiacs should likely steer clear of wheatgrass and barely grass - no matter how many "superfood" properties they might claim.
3. Gluten intolerant or ignorant?
If you're an (awesome) long-term reader of my blog, you've probably noticed me mention that my mom eats gluten free, but doesn't have celiac disease. Like the other six percent of Americans, my mom identifies as gluten intolerant and has noticed a significant improvement in her health by ditching wheat. As you might expect, then, I personally see gluten intolerance as a legitimate medical condition.
- 2011: A study by Peter Gibson at Monash University in Australia found that diets containing gluten does seem to cause gastrointestinal problems in certain people who do not have celiac disease. The name they gave to these people? Those with "non-celiac gluten sensitivity."
- 2014: Peter Gibson revisited the subject of gluten intolerance in a follow-up study and paper. In this case, however, he found "absolutely no specific response to gluten" in the 37 self-identified gluten-sensitive participants. What instead could be causing people to hold their stomachs and blame gluten? The "nocebo" effect - or the idea the patients expected to feel worse on the study diets and, as a result, did - or a sensitivity to fodmaps, instead of only gluten.
- 2015: Researchers from the University of L'Aquila in Italy threw their hat into the scientific ring as well, observing 392 self-identified gluten intolerants into a trial where they were first tested for celiac disease. Those who tested negative then ate gluten free for six months before reintroducing gluten into their diets and reporting any symptoms. The study eventually found that 93% of those who claim "gluten sensitivity" (and don't have celiac disease or a wheat allergy) can tolerate gluten without any negative results.
When looking at studies like these, it may seem like gluten intolerance is, in a way, the Bigfoot of the medical community. In 2016, however, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center reported proof of Bigfoot. After examining blood samples and intestinal biopsies of participants with self-reported gluten intolerance, celiac disease and no health problems, they found that non-celiac gluten sensitive people seem to have "leaky gut" and "systemic immune activation." What does that mean in non-biology speak? Basically, bacteria and other microbes from inside the gut "leak" into the bloodstream, leading to chronic inflammation. In other words, gluten can make certain people feel cruddy...and eating gluten free can lower the inflammation in their bodies.
|No gluten, no problem!|
4. Bottom's up...or gluten-removed beers down.
After you trudge through these controversial celiac debates, you may feel like you need a drink...but you should be careful what kind of beer you choose. Recently, Gluten Dude has raised awareness of the two types of gluten free beers hitting the market: "gluten-removed" and "gluten free."
For those who haven't hit 21 yet - which I only just did - or haven't explored the gluten free section of your grocery store's alcohol aisle, "gluten removed" beer refers to beer - like Omission Beer - that is made with gluten (like barely) but then removed using enzymes. Rather than entirely "removing" the gluten, though, this process actually just breaks down the grains. While the companies may advertise that the gluten doesn't exceed the 20 PPMs required by the FDA, some people have still reported becoming sick from the products.
|The only "gluten free beverage" I've partaken in lately...|
"Gluten free" beer, on the other hand, never contains gluten; instead, as the people behind Ground Breaker Brewing, Ghostfish Brewing and Glutenberg explain, they start with naturally gluten free ingredients. Like with any other gluten free product, the beers could become cross-contaminated if the company isn't careful with its ingredients' sources. As long as the company pays attention to the vendors it buys from and the ingredients it brings into the brewery, however, their beers cannot only be under the 20 PPM gluten requirement, but they can even boast 0 PPM gluten.
So should celiacs ever reach for a bottle with "gluten removed" on the label? Unless celiacs can know exactly how much gluten has been removed from the beer - which, according Prevention.com, is still unknown thanks to legal red tape - that remains a very blurry question.
*Also found at Terrific Tuesday, Wow Me Wednesday, RunningwithSpoons I Heart Nap Time, ShareFest and Wine'd Down Wednesday!*