Category Archives: Science

Is a Gluten-Free Diet Okay for Non-Celiac Sufferers?

gluten free stamp

Is a Gluten-Free Diet Okay for Non-Celiac Sufferers?

In North America, the gluten-free industry is now worth billions a year. Gluten-free cereals are being introduced by companies such as Kellog’s and General Mills; and Wheat Belly has been included in the list of bestsellers. Gluten-free diets are now becoming fads among many people. But what makes it so popular?

Going gluten-free is a way to wellness for those who suffer from a celiac disease. Celiac disease is a reaction of the immune system to the gluten that can damage the small intestine and prevent food absorption. The common symptoms of celiac include intense abdominal pain, fatigue, joint tissues, and vitamin deficiencies because of the inability of the intestinal wall to efficiently absorb nutrients due to damage. After practicing a gluten-free diet, the symptoms will diminish quickly most of the time, although it can take around six months to two years for the intestinal wall’s lining to completely heal. Constantly checking out aviva’s Home of Health or WebMD can give you enough information about the latest health news today. These websites also have health guides such as tools and calculators to find out more about your well being. Alexandra Anca, a Toronto-based dietitian, said that celiac disease is a relatively recent phenomenon. For the last five years, people haven’t heard of gluten-free diet or celiac disease. The media and celebrities, such as Adrienne Palicki and Jennifer Esposito, brought the disease into the limelight. The condition even attracted more attention from the public when improved diagnostic procedures were discovered.

For those who want to lose weight, gluten-free diet is also recommended even if you don’t suffer from celiac disease. There are many products and restaurants who are displaying their gluten-free status through their labels. Gluten is the protein that is found in wheat, triticale, rye, and barley. If you are going to practice gluten-free diet, you are going to exclude these ingredients, along with anything that could have come in contact with them.

Cutting gluten in your diet alone will not generally help you in shedding a few pounds. Most people see weight loss when they cut out gluten because they also change other parts of their diet. According to Nancy Patin Falini, “often times what we’re seeing is when they change their diet they may be cutting out a lot of the processed foods that are naturally high in calories and fat.” The tendency to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole foods like seeds, beans, and nuts.

FDA FINALLY Rules on Gluten Free Labeling

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 8.10.05 PM

Call it bureaucracy in action, but a mere nine years after they were told to rule, the FDA finally laid down some rules on gluten-free labeling.  Officially, 20 parts per million and under of gluten will be allowed to be labeled as “gluten-free”. Up until now, it has been entirely voluntary and left to marketers to spin as they see fit.

Via National Geographic:

The regulation comes almost a decade after the FDA began requiring food packaging to list wheat and other major allergens under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.

“Many people think that developing a labeling rule is an easy thing to do, but a lot goes into it,” says Felicia Billingslea, the FDA’s director of food labeling and standards. Years were devoted to researching a safe threshold for consumers with celiac disease. “We have a standard definition now, and it’s consistent internationally with Canada and the E.U.”

The rules also ensure that companies can’t label products “gluten-free” if they could be cross-contaminated by other foods processed at the same facility. Manufacturers have until August 5, 2014, to comply.

Sprouted wheat, as seen by a scanning-electron microscope

Sprouted wheat, as seen by a scanning-electron microscope

Some terms on food packaging may still confuse consumers—”organic” versus “all-natural,” “cage-free” versus “free-range.” But the “gluten-free” label now stands to ease the minds of millions suffering from serious food allergies.

“My son was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2008, and now I can feed him and not worry about it. It’s something every mother would hope for,” says Geller.

Can Gluten Be Engineered Out of Food?

The LA Times has a fascinating look at the potential of people with Celiac Disease being able to be  “engineered out” of the foods we eat.

Can scientists create gluten-free wheat plants to make bread with?  Writing in the journal PNAS, a team of scientists concludes that it’s quite possible.

People with serious gluten allergies such as celiac disease now have only one tried-and-true option: swear off all foods containing wheat, barley and rye. Only that way can they avoid the damage that gluten exposure wreaks: abdominal pain, nutritional deficiencies and a progressive flattening of the tiny hairlike villi in the gut that are needed for the proper digestion of food.

Avoiding gluten isn’t easy, and those with the discipline to succeed deal with a host of restrictions to their diets.

Scientists have experimented with another tack: sifting through different varieties of wheat and barley lines that lack, or make a lot less of, key gluten proteins in their grains. (Gluten is a complicated mix of proteins that are stored in seeds of wheat, barley and rye, and only some – not all – of these  proteins trigger the allergic reactions.)

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Say WHAT? Soy Sauce is Safe?

When explaining what a gluten-free diet means to new friends, I inevitably mention that a strict gluten-free diet has to avoid soy sauces, as most of them are brewed using wheat. So it came as a shock to see an article on that seems to refute that common knowledge.  Continue reading



Here’s a write up about just how under-diagnosed Celiac disease is. Most of you reading this know it already, but if you have friends or family with poor health or symptoms that resemble Celiac, have them get tested!


Via Philly Health Day:

THURSDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) — New research suggests that 1.4 million Americans have celiac disease but don’t realize it, while 1.6 million people are on gluten-free diets — a treatment for celiac disease — even though they might not need it.

The findings, which estimate that 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease — an autoimmune condition — suggest that a whopping 78 percent of sufferers don’t realize they have the condition.

“This provides proof that the disease is common in the United States,” said study co-author Dr. Joseph Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, in a clinic news release. “If you detect one person for every five or six [who have it], we aren’t doing a very good job detecting celiac disease.”

People with celiac disease have trouble digesting wheat, rye and barley. A gluten-free diet can help, but about 80 percent of people on such a diet haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease.

“There are a lot of people on a gluten-free diet, and it’s not clear what the medical need for that is,” Murray said. “It is important if someone thinks they have celiac disease that they be tested first before they go on the diet.”

The researchers came to their conclusions by examining blood-test results and the findings of a national survey.

Celiac disease appears to be especially common in white people.

“Virtually all the individuals we found were non-Hispanic Caucasians,” said study co-author Dr. Alberto Rubio-Tapia, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, in the news release. But, he said, the results are head-scratching because research in Mexico has suggested celiac disease is common there.

The research was funded in part by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study appears July 31 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

More information:

For more about celiac disease, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.


Gluten Free + Fiber

Going Gluten-Free? Don’t Forget Fiber.

Via US News & World Report. 

Tamara Duker FreumanTamara Duker Freuman

If you’ve recently adopted a gluten-free diet—eliminating wheat, barley, rye, and any food that contains derivatives of these ingredients—you may have inadvertently eliminated something else from your diet as well: fiber.

Getting adequate fiber in the diet is essential for a host of reasons, including maintaining regular bowel movements, maintaining low cholesterol levels, managing your weight, preventing colon cancer, and supporting a diverse and thriving community of friendly gut bacteria. These beneficial bacteria manufacture vitamins, help protect you from foodborne illness, and stimulate the production of immune cells that boost your resistance to other infections.The average American adult’s fiber intake has been estimated at about 16 grams per day—far below the recommended levels of 25 to 38 grams per day for women and men, respectively. Grain-based foods are the primary source of fiber in the U.S. diet, accounting for about 44 percent of total fiber intake among Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Since wheat is far and away the predominant grain in the U.S. diet, this heavy reliance on grains for our fiber intake is bad news for gluten-free dieters.

If fiber is what you’re after, you’ll need to be sure your diet isn’t loaded with gluten-free versions of typical wheat-based convenience foods, like bread, pasta, crackers, waffles, and cereal. The gluten-free versions of these foods are notoriously low in fiber, as they are generally made with high-starch flours like whiterice, potato, and tapioca. Furthermore, these products often have up to twice the calories per serving as their conventional counterparts, which can wreak havoc on your weight-loss plans.

Instead, try building your diet around naturally gluten-free, whole, or minimally processed foods, like the ones below, to help you meet your fiber needs.

Bring on the beans: Skip starchy, low-fiber, gluten-free staples like potatoes and rice, and opt for a side of beans with your meal instead. From French lentil salad and Cuban black beans to Boston baked beans and Moroccan spiced chickpeas, there’s no shortage of variety in ways to prepare legumes, and using canned beans is a fast and easy way to speed up meal prep. If cooked bean dishes aren’t your thing, try stocking gluten-free bean-based soups like lentil, split pea, or black bean in your pantry and having them for lunch or with a light dinner several times a week. For variety, snack on edamame (boiled soybeans), or look for chips and crackers made from bean flour instead of your usual corn- and rice-based ones.

• Sprinkle some seeds: Gluten-free breakfast cereals are notably low in fiber. Whereas a high-fiber conventional breakfast cereal will have anywhere from 5 to 14(!) grams per serving, the most you can expect from the best gluten-free cereals is only about 3 grams per serving, tops. To boost the fiber content of your gluten-free cereal, try topping it with 2 tablespoons of chia seeds or ground flaxseeds; in addition to fiber, you’ll get a hefty, bonus dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

• Go nuts for almond flour: When making gluten-free treats like pancakes or mini-muffins, skip starchy gluten-free flours like rice and tapioca, and look for recipes that feature almond flour instead. This versatile flour, which has three times the fiber (and protein) per one-quarter cup serving than white rice flour, also makes a great gluten-free coating for “breaded” fish or chicken, and it’s a fabulous fill-in for breadcrumbs in meatballs. Once opened, keep your bag of almond flour sealed tightly and refrigerated for freshness.

• Pass the popcorn: While popcorn seems like an indulgence, it’s actually a healthy, whole-grain snack whose fiber content surpasses other gluten-free, crunchy, salty snacks like potato chips, tortilla chips, and gluten-free pretzels. A 3-cup serving of air-popped corn, sans butter, has less than 100 calories and delivers 3 grams of fiber. Use a dash of salt or sprinkle of nutritional yeast for flavor, and you won’t even miss the fat.

• Cook up some gluten-free oatmeal. One-half cup of rolled, gluten-free oats will yield just about 1 cup of cooked oatmeal, and contains 150 calories and 4 grams of fiber. A quarter cup of dry, gluten-free, steel-cut oats will yield about 1 cup when cooked and have roughly the same nutrition credentials. At least two national brands offer gluten-free versions of both types of oatmeal: Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mill. Mix in a generous 1-cup portion of fresh blueberries, and you’ll double the fiber of your meal.

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Back to the Start

Hope your week is going well, here’s a charming (and meaningful) ad to get you movin.

Love the handmade stop-motion look, and Willy Nelson’s interpretation of Coldplay’s song!  And speaking of Chipotle, here’s a look at their gluten-free offerings.

Parts Per Million: How Gluten-Free is “Gluten Free”?

What is “Parts Per Million”, and what does it mean when it comes to food? Certainly a contentious point, and one with differing opinions, the notion that people on a strict gluten-free diet can ingest some parts-per-million of gluten is confusing. We’ll try to help you sort things out, or at least start a new discussion.
The definition of Parts Per Million is:
One part per million (ppm) denotes one part per 1,000,000 parts, one part in 106, 1/1,000,000 * 100% = 0.0001% (or 1% = 10,000 ppm), and a value of 1 × 10−6. This is equivalent to one drop of water diluted into 50 liters (roughly the fuel tank capacity of a compact car) or about 32 seconds out of a year.
How this comes into play in the food world is a bit less technical sounding, but just as relevant. As the FDA has hinted toward guidelines but not given them outright, food and beverage producers are taking rules into their own hands.
Here is an article from that talks about PPM in the gluten-free beer world:

Gluten-free Glutton: What’s really gluten free?

Is it possible for your food to be gluten-free and still have gluten in it?

Actually, yes, by definition.

It was nearly a year ago that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued proposed guidelines for labeling foods as gluten free. Those guidelines say food manufacturers can call their products gluten free if they contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. That means your gluten-free food can technically contain bits of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. The guidelines haven’t been finalized by the FDA, which shouldn’t be a surprise because the agency first submitted them in 2007 and never acted on the proposal before reviving it in 2011. All reports say the FDA is expected to finally make it official sometime this year.

But for those of us with celiac disease (an intolerance to gluten), we have to wonder about this proposal. We are told that we can’t ingest any gluten because if you have this affliction, gluten causes damage to your small intestine. So if our “gluten-free” meal has 19 parts per million of gluten, is that really safe?

I don’t worry about that a lot because I generally don’t get sick if I eat a small amount of gluten. I avoid gluten because I know that it is damaging my intestine and will cause long-term health issues. But I’ve met a lot of other celiacs who tell me they do get sick and feel it immediately when they ingest gluten, and they are very careful to avoid any particles.

So when the FDA guidelines came out last year, I put this question to one of the leading researchers on the disease, Stefano Guandalini of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. He assured me that “there is good, solid science” behind the safety of the 20 ppm standard. He also pointed out that the standard has already been adopted in Europe.

He said studies have shown that celiacs can consume up to 10 milligrams per day of gluten without causing damage, or about 1.1 pounds of food that contain 20 ppm of gluten.

With that reassurance, I was interested to read recently about a new beer produced by a brewery in Oregon. The beer is called Omission and it claims to be the first gluten-free beer in the U.S. that is brewed with traditional beer ingredients, including malted barley.

The other gluten-free beers on the market are brewed from sorghum or some other gluten-free grain as a substitute for barley. Depending on who you talk to, those beers have varying levels of success replicating the taste of regular beer. Omission’s beer promises to be more like regular beer because it uses traditional beer ingredients.

Omission, produced by Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, says it has a “proprietary brewing process” that reduces the level of gluten below the 20 ppm standard while still using barley.

The company also says that every batch is tested by an independent lab to ensure that the beer meets the FDA’s proposed gluten-free standard.



What do you think? Should limits for gluten be set at Zero PPM, or is that impossibly, unrealistically low? Have you been contaminated with gluten-free foods that claim to be in the very low-range of PPM gluten? We’d like to know!

Here is another good resource on the Parts Per Million issue, from Ultimate Gluten Free:

Green Banana Pasta?

Would you try a pasta made from a South American fruit? Let’s hope it makes its way north!

Via Huffington Post:

Attention gluten-free eaters: University of Brazil researchers may have developed a new option to add to current offerings of gluten-free pasta — one made out of green banana flour.

Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers found a way to make pasta out of green banana flour — which is gluten-free because it does not contain gluten from wheat — and it passed taste tests compared with whole-wheat pasta.

“There was no significant difference between the modified pasta and standard samples in terms of appearance, aroma, flavor, and overall quality,” study researcher Renata Puppin Zandonadi, PhD, of the University of Brazil, said in a statement. “Green bananas are considered a sub-product of low commercial value with little industrial use. For banana growers and pasta product makers, there is the possibility of diversifying and expanding their market.”

Celiac disease is a condition where the body’s immune system reacts to consumption of gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and maybe oats, according to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. This reaction causes damage to the small intestine’s lining, thereby affecting absorption of nutrients. People who have celiac disease must avoid eating gluten in order to alleviate symptoms.

For the study, researchers had study participants (50 of them without celiac disease, and 25 with celiac disease) compare whole wheat pasta made with eggs, with pasta made from green banana flour, egg whites, gums and water.

Both the testers with celiac disease and without celiac disease said that the banana flour pasta was overall better than the whole wheat pasta.

“The possibility of developing gluten-free products with green banana flour can expand the product supply for people with celiac disease and contribute to a more diverse diet,” researchers wrote in the study.

Currently, pasta options for gluten-free eaters include that made of quinoa, corn, soybeans and potatoes, according to the Whole Foods Pasta Guide.

To Be Or Not to Be Gluten Free Beer

gluten free beer
What do you guys think?

Beer’s Great Gluten War Heats Up

Is the top selling gluten-free beer gluten-free enough? Are its competitors beer?

On May 16, the three Portland breweries which make gluten-free beer—Widmer Bros., Deschutes, and Harvester—stood shoulder to shoulder as Mayor Sam Adams declared it Gluten Free Beer Day.

Such innocent times!
A new ruling is complicating things in the burgeoning gluten-free beer market. Eight days after the celebration, the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (known as the “TTB”) handed down a verdict that could push one of the three brewers off the podium.
According to the TTB, wine, beer or distilled spirits “made from ingredients that contain gluten (cannot) be labeled as ‘gluten-free.’” This could spell trouble for Widmer, which has invested significant time and money in a new gluten-free beer.
Glutens are proteins found in grains such as barley, wheat, and rye—the base for beer— that have been blamed for a variety of autoimmune disorders. Doctors have long known some people have an extreme sensitivity, called celiac disease. Lately, gads of folks have either been medically or self diagnosed as celiacs or “gluten-sensitive.” Locally, it’s a big industry. Four dedicated gluten-free bakeries have sprouted up in Portland with a full baker’s dozen offering gluten-free breads and treats.

There’s big money at stake. The market for gluten-free foods in the U.S. and Western Europe was worth around $3.5 billion in 2010, according to one food research company. And since some estimate that 95 percent of celiacs are not yet diagnosed, while gluten-free products already sell like rice flour hotcakes, it’s clear why breweries want a piece of the buckwheat-crust pie.

Only a few months ago, Widmer Bros., a division of Craft Brew Alliance (CBA), the nation’s ninth’s largest brewing company, released Omission Gluten Free Lager and Gluten Free Pale Ale. Widmer is selling the beer locally, and plans roll it out nationwide soon.
Here’s the kicker: Unlike other gluten-free beers, which are typically made from sorghum and usually taste nothing like actual beer, Omission is made from traditional ingredients, including barley. The beers are then deglutenized enzymatically. The result is a beer that tastes like beer—unlike so many competitors—yet has allegedly imperceptible levels of gluten. Not zero gluten, just almost none, not unlike caffeine in decaf coffee or alcohol in non-alcoholic beer. Widmer isn’t the first to use this process; it’s just the first to do it commercially in the U.S. Development began six years ago and researched and tested full-throttle for the last two.
Adopting guidelines set forth by organizations within the World Health Organization, the FDA has said food labeled as gluten-free cannot exceed 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten. Omission beers are at 5-6 ppm. As a point of reference, Widmer Drifter Pale Ale comes back at 50-100 ppm.
There are new gluten-free beers coming out all the time.
Deschutes’s gluten-free beer, on tap only at its brewpubs in Portland and Bend, is made from brown rice and sorghum so it’s safe for “the most sensitive celiac.”
“It is interesting from a scientific standpoint to experiment with enzymes that break down gluten proteins in the brewing process to below testable limits… but we are not 100 percent confident that these beers would be safe for the most sensitive celiac to drink,” said Deschutes brewer Veronica Vega. “We will not put out a beer that will challenge the confidence our consumers.”

Portland is also home to the nation’s first dedicated gluten-free brewery, Harvester, which opened at the end of 2011 after three years of recipe development. In a press release, Harvester seemed happy about the new ruling, touting its “long-standing decision to use only inherently gluten-free ingredients in its beer.” For Harvester, this includes sorghum syrup, certified gluten-free oats, and Willamette Valley chestnuts. All four of their bottled offerings are quite palatable even to non gluten-sensitive cerevisaphiles.

TTB’s Tom Hogue said that the FDA continues to look into issues surrounding gluten-free labeling and that the 20 ppm of gluten standard is “proposed but not final.” The TTB’s ruling affecting Omission’s gluten-free labeling only pertains to interstate commerce, so beer labeled gluten-free in Oregon could be just “handcrafted” in California, Washington, and everywhere else it will show up.

TTB operates with the “best available information,” said Hogue, and gluten-free beers pose a problem. Whereas there are accurate tests for gluten content in bread, pasta and cupcakes, “Right now, no test will validate accurate gluten content of a fermented product, considering fermentation drastically, chemically changes that product.” He says the ban on gluten-free labeling for beer brewed from deglutenized malted barley is “subject to change as the science gets better.”
Widmer is confident in its product. It had better be, since the CEO as well as the brewmaster’s wife are both diagnosed celiacs. CBA also expects the rules to evolve as the science gets better, sooner rather than later.
CEO Terry Michaelson, who became director at Widmer in 1994 and was diagnosed as a celiac six years later, said the company is working closely with the TTB, knowing it has “to operate within the regulations that they have,” but confident that they will “evolve over time.”
“I don’t see (the ruling) as a negative at all at this point,” he says. “Work is being done on the science.”
Michaelson points out that despite Omission debuting in April, according to market research group SymphonyIRI data it’s already “the top selling gluten-free beer in the market place at this point.”
Yes, it’s selling better than four-year veteran Redbridge from Budweiser.
Whether the Bureau’s labeling restriction is lifted or not, bottom line, says Michaelson: “If someone is concerned at all, they shouldn’t drink it.”

One ironic quirk of alcohol-related bureaucracy is that the TTB gets to rule that deglutenized beers cannot be labeled gluten-free, but can’t make any rulings on the labels of “beers” made with sorghum or rice because, according to law, they’re not “malt beverages.”

That means the rice and sorghum beverages are only “beer” for the purposes of taxation.