Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GF Holiday Food Traditions

Today, I am on a self-imposed fast!

Fifteen years ago when the Christmas celebrating had ended, I would not have gained an extra pound due to my new gluten-free diet. That is not the case today. This year all of my holiday traditions were made with gluten-free ingredients, not just for me but for my extended family and friends.

One week ago at the annual cookie swap, I made cake pops with a festive red and green candy coating. For this recipe, I used a gluten-free chocolate cake mix, Betty Crocker, and store bough chocolate frosting. The Wilton Candy Melts are vanilla flavored and pretty much all sugar! Not only did they look adorable on their lollipop sticks, they were really tasty and everyone wanted to know how I made them.

Then we have my immediate family's Christmas Eve fondue tradition. My husband makes this dinner which, for me, is the best part of tradition! Our fondue is a gooey pot of sharp cheddar, cream, dried mustard, garlic and a bit of flour. Over the years, my husband has been able to adjust the recipe using gluten-free flour. The first year it was a congealed mess that we had to dilute with milk, but he has figured out how to reduce the amount of flour in his recipe so we get a really thick but not cement-like structure to the cheese.

The baguettes go on separate trays for warming, but it’s pretty tough to tell the difference between the Schar’s gluten free baguettes and the one’s from the bakery. I used to just toast up the bread I had made in my bread machine, but today I have options such as Everybody Eats or Against the Grain or Schar’s baguettes. I have two separate fondue pots so we can all eat without worry!

We had a mix up for the extended family celebration desserts so I brought two, both gluten free! One was my traditional apple crisp with Bob’s Red Mill GF Oats and Mi-Del ginger snaps. The other dessert I brought was gluten-free chocolate cupcakes from a King Arthur mix with a candy cane butter cream frosting and a sprinkling of peppermint sugar on top! We did not have much in the way of leftovers.

I received three Christmas cards where a friend wrote me a little note saying that he or she had just been diagnosed with either a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. My new year’s wish is that everyone who finds out he or she needs to eat a gluten free diet realizes just how far GF food has come in the past fifteen years and they learn that this diagnosis does not mean that they will have to give up holiday traditional foods like I thought I had to fifteen years ago!

However, there is one unintended consequence of all these GF food choices, I am embracing a different type of new year’s resolution this year…”lose five pounds.”

Kendall Egan

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Have a happy GF holiday

I just went to the By the Way Bakery here in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY to pick up my gluten-free holiday order. All products at this tiny, charming bakery are gluten free. The piece de resistance is a red velvet cake beautifully decorated in white and red for the holiday. It will be served to everyone and I expect everyone to love it.

To me, the gluten-free life has always been a gift. When I was diagnosed, I was thrilled I didn’t have any of the ominous things I was tested for and actually thought I had. To learn that all I had to do was avoid gluten was a huge relief. Not being much of a cook, baker or foodie, I simply adjusted and moved on. I firmly believe the gluten-free life has made me a better, certainly healthier person

Then I was also given the opportunity to turn my profession into a gluten-free business that is helpful to others. Like the diet and the life itself, the business has also been a pleasure.

Frankly I can’t say enough good things about being gluten free. So rather than gush on, I will simply extend my best wishes and those of my staff to all the gluten-free people out there who rely on us and thank us for what we do. I hope your holiday is as happy and well fed as I expect mine to be,

Monday, December 19, 2011

Treasured Gluten-Free Holiday Cookies

I have pushed back my sleeves and started my annual Christmas cookie baking.

The first thing I do is gather up all my recipes. I'd like to say I have them neatly sorted and stored, but I actually keep everything randomly together in one recipe box.

Most are worn and tattered from use. A few are spotted with the remnant of some ingredient that splashed on and never completely wiped off.

But what I noticed this year was all the gluten-free recipes I have from about 20 years ago when my daughter was first diagnosed with celiac disease. Many are handwritten, thankfully by others with penmanship much neater than mine.

Two decades ago, gluten-free recipes were traded directly from one person to another. A mom who had come up with a recipe for cut-out cookies that actually didn't crumble generously wrote it out for me on a index card. I still use that recipe today.

Another woman, a stranger who I never met, penned about dozen recipes after someone at a support group meeting mentioned to her that I had a young daughter and needed some help. She somehow got my address,  put the recipes in an envelope and mailed them to me without my ever asking.

A close look at recipes from those years shows how much work went into gluten-free baking. Pre-made flour mixes were nearly non-existent so every recipe ticked off combinations of three or four flours. Eggs were used in abundance to make up for the absence of gluten. We knew little about the use of whole grains and their nutritional value, so potato starch, rice flour and tapioca flour were the mainstays of most everything we made.

And we made everything. There were few gluten-free products even on health food store shelves, never mind the supermarket. I just wrote about gluten-free cookie mixes and packaged cookies for Gluten-Free Living. And I still had a sense of wonder that they exist and  that you can pick them up on your regular shopping trip.

But over the holidays I am back in my kitchen, as are 84 percent of home cooks recently asked in an All-recipes survey if they bake Christmas cookies.

My mother and grandmother always baked a wide and wondrous assortment of cookies when I was growing up.  I continue the tradition, though everything I make now is gluten free. My daughter dons her own apron and helps me every year, which is one of the best parts of holiday baking.

Today, you don't have to rely on a new gluten-free friend or a complete stranger who pulls out a pen and paper to share a treasured recipe with you. You can get so many gluten-free cookies recipes online. Inventive and inspired gluten-free bloggers have come up with wonderful recipes that are yours with the click of mouse. You'll also find collections of recipes submitted by bakers all around the country. You can even read these recipes on a computer or iPad right in your kitchen.

But whether it's paper recipe gone soft from years of use or a pristine image on a screen, it all comes back to the spirit of sharing among those who follow the gluten-free diet.

This generosity is a true holiday gift.

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy gluten-free holiday and new year.

Amy Ratner

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Update: Are Burger King's new fries gluten free?

If you have started to see the Burger King Television ads promoting their new French fries, you might be wondering if they now contain gluten.

The fries are still on the company's "gluten sensitive" list, which includes menu items that do not contain wheat, barley, rye or oats.  Kristen Hauser, a Burger King spokeswoman, sent me the most updated version of the list yesterday.  It indicated the fries continue to be made without gluten-containing ingredients.

Hauser also provided this ingredients list for the fries:

Potatoes, Soybean Oil, Modified Potato Starch, Rice Flour, Salt, Leavening (Disodium Dihydrogen Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Dextrose, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate to Preserve Natural Color

All of the ingredients are clearly gluten free.

But none of this might matter to you because of cross contamination issues.

Burger King continues to note that the fries may be fried with gluten-containing foods. This could include breaded onion rings. Foods fried in oil shared with gluten-containg items are generally considered to be cross-contaminated and unsafe on the gluten-free diet.

Burger King says the new fries are thicker and have less sodium. "A thicker cut of potato gives each bite more fluffy, potato flavor on the inside and crispy, golden-brown deliciousness on the outside," the company said in a press release anouncing the change in their fries, the first since 1998.

Amy Ratner

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gluten Free and new Burger King Fries

If you have started to see the Burger King television ads promoting their new French fries, you might be wondering if they now contain gluten.

The fries are still on the company's "gluten sensitive" list, which includes menu items that do not contain wheat, barley, rye or oats.  Kristen Hauser, a Burger King spokeswoman, sent me the most updated version of the list this morning. It indicated the fries continue to be made without gluten-containing ingredients.

Hauser did not immediately provide details on specific ingredients. But if she does supply that information I will update this blog. Of most concern to gluten-free consumers is a  new coating reportedly on the fries to keep them crispier and hotter longer. 

Burger King continues to note that the fries may be fried with gluten-containing foods. This could include breaded onion rings. Foods fried in oil shared with gluten-containg items are generally considered to be cross-contaminated and unsafe on the gluten-free diet.

Burger King says the new fries are thicker and have less sodium. "A thicker cut of potato gives each bite more fluffy, potato flavor on the inside and crispy, golden-brown deliciousness on the outside," the company said in a press release anouncing the change in their fries, the first since 1998. 


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First scientific research into gluten in drugs

Do you spend a lot of time worrying about gluten in your prescription and over-the-counter medicine?

It's a topic I've researched and written about many times. The general conclusion is that gluten does not turn up in drugs that often.  But because it sometimes does and is not clearly labeled, we are left looking through everything from common pain relievers to prescriptions used for rare ailments to find that oddball medicine that might contain some form of gluten.

Now there is word that the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has received a grant to conduct the first scientific research into the use of gluten in drugs. This is good news for everyone who is gluten free.

The $50,000 grant from the Food and Drug Administration will fund preliminary research that the NFCA says "aims to validate or nullify" anecdotal reports of gluten reactions to drugs from those who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

The research project goes by the rather cumbersome title, "Gluten in Medication: Qualifying the extent of exposure to people with celiac disease and identifying a hidden and preventable cause of an adverse drug event." The NFCA says the project will "characterize the problem of unlabeled gluten in medication and raise awareness of the potential harm that can occur to patients who ingest medications that they do not recognize as containing gluten."

My hope is that the research will mainly concentrate on objectively determining the extent to which gluten is found in the vast array of drugs available and in what amounts. We need to have that information to determine what kind of risk actually exists and how to proceed with steps for better labeling.

The NFCA is the leading advocate for better labeling of gluten in drugs, something that would surely be helpful to those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. The group says the research will a first step in providing a foundation for further investigation within the FDA and scientific communities.

"To date, there has been no scientific research conducted to determine if the amount of gluten that is in medication results in harm to people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, although there are reports of significant patient reactions to gluten in medication," the NFCA says in a press release announcing the study.

Since we know that reactions to gluten are not a reliable way to determine the gluten-free status of a food or, in this case, a drug, scientific evidence is very important.

A drug's active ingredients, which actually treat an illness or condition, are gluten free. But inactive ingredients,  which make up the bulk of most medications, occasionally contain gluten, mainly in the form of wheat starch.

Everyone, including the NFCA, agrees that relatively few medications contain gluten, but poor labeling requirements make it difficult to identify them. As a result every drug becomes suspect.

Further complicating matters is the fact that prescription drugs don't have to list inactive ingredients on the label. The only way to find out what's in them is to ask the pharmacist or call the drug company.

While over-the-counter medications do detail inactive ingredients,  unlike food, the FDA does not require that the use of wheat be clearly spelled out on a label.

Loretta Jay, an NFCA consultant, and Dr. Robert Mangione, dean and professor of pharmacy at St. John's University, are leading the research team doing the NFCA study.  A survey of celiac disease patients will help the researchers select types of drugs reported to have caused reactions. The drugs will  tested to determine how many parts per million and milligrams per dose of gluten they might contain.

Currently, the best source of information about gluten in drugs can be found on a website run by Steven Plogsted, a pharmacist at Columbia Children's Hospital who regularly researches gluten in specific medications. Also, some over-the-counter products are now labeled gluten free.

Otherwise, determining a drug's gluten-free status can be an arduous and frustrating process for gluten-free consumers. Drug companies can be reluctant to give out information and often simply say none of their drugs have been tested to be gluten free. Other times they give conflicting and confusing answers to questions about ingredients and gluten content.

The valuable research being done by the NFCA could eventually lead to clear labeling of gluten in prescription and over-the-counter drugs. And that would make any pill easier to swallow for everyone who is gluten free.

Amy Ratner

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful for Mainstream Media November Love Fest on All Things Gluten Free

We are only 22 days into the month, but every time I open a mainstream publication I find another article on something gluten free.

Let’s start with the free publication, Natural Awakenings. The November 2011 Westchester/Putnam NY issue includes an article on Gluten-Free Baking, written by Claire O’Neil. It has a review of different types of flours and some lovely sounding recipes.

The second article I found was in the November 2011 issue of Health magazine. This was a really good article entitled, “Is going gluten-free the secret to weight loss?” by Kate Lowenstein. Spoiler alert…they got the answer right, if you just swap out one type of carb for another type of carb, you are not going to lose weight. There is still a lot of gluten free “junk food,” that has calories in it! You can lose weight if you cut out the pasta, pizza and breads altogether but that is not “going gluten-free,” that is just cutting back on carbohydrates. Thanks so much for getting it right.

The third article was in Sports Illustrated, November 7, 2011, entitled “The New Training Table” by Alexander Wolff. This article was fascinating and it really was more about diet and “performance, wellness and recovery.” Athletes are “eating to win.” This really talks about reducing inflammation to speed recovery, which is another facet of a gluten-free diet. Some of the athletes in the article actually eat gluten-free food because they have to due to a diagnosis, but others are not. We have a major article on athletes & CD in Gluten-Free Living Vol 11, #4…shipping November 28th!

The New York Times has taken a particular interest in a gluten-free diet. The New York Times Magazine that centered on food back in October, had three mentions of a gluten-free diet or gluten-free food in that issue…including a coast to coast GF quote! But, the one that really caught my eye was the New York Times Magazine on November 13, 2011 in the Diagnosis article. The minute I read the symptoms, I knew what the mystery ailment was…celiac disease. What was really great about this presentation of symptoms is that the patient experienced muscle or joint pain for 10 years, anemia, depression, IBS, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, had periods of terrible weakness and had been through many different doctors. That is the reality with diagnosing CD, it doesn’t always present with straight gastrological symptoms!

Then last Sunday, the Wall Street Journal weekend edition, November 19-20, 2011, featured an article about Alice Medrich, an award winning cookbook author, and her latest dessert project. She is developing gluten-free baked good recipes. Right now she is experimenting with all types of gluten-free flour and I’m sure this will be very interesting when it is finished!

Fifteen years ago when I was diagnosed, I was told celiac disease was a “very rare” condition. From the coverage I’m seeing about a gluten-free diet, I hope that original doctor is now telling his patients about a “very common” condition that strikes 1 in 133 Americans. Thanks to everyone this year who has helped grow the awareness for celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Kendall Egan

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My CSA Experience

Last spring I joined an organic CSA (community supported agriculture) by purchasing a full vegetable share. Vegetables are gluten-free, and these were organic and local so what could have been better?

The farm delivered a bountiful selection of greens, herbs, cucumbers and zucchini in June and July. I learned what a garlic scape was and discovered that they were excellent grilled or sautéed and thrown into a pasta sauce. Part of the fun was chatting with other people at vege pick up to find out how they were going to use some of the more esoteric greens, or the four pounds of cucumbers.

I was eagerly anticipating the deliveries slated from late August through November. I knew I would be receiving lots of tomatoes, kale and a huge selection of root vegetables.

My last delivery in August included these sweet little yellow tomatoes and some baby kale. I grilled up the tomatoes that were left, but most of them were eaten straight from the basket. I made kale chips and they were a huge hit. Have you ever tried kale chips? Honestly, they are addicting. Plus,they are so easy to prepare...a little toss with some olive oil, salt and your choice of spices and bake them on a cookie sheet until crispy.

I was getting ready to receive potatoes, turnips, parsnips, butternut and acorn squash. I think these make the best side dishes for weekday dinners and I had been clipping recipes using purple potatoes, red potatoes and butternut squash!

Tropical Storm Irene changed all of that in a week of disastrous flooding in upstate New York. Almost every sleepy, winding, pokey, little brook became a raging river full of class three rapids! My organic farm in New York was totally flooded and destroyed by the storm. Once the waters subsided, the rivers left behind a sludgy layer of “yuck.” The FDA said this produce could not be harvested and sold, it must be destroyed.

For the farmers of this CSA, that news was devastating in more ways than one. The investment of a share in a CSA is plowed into that year’s harvest, so the money was spent. It’s also fairly complex to get organic certification, and I do not know what that layer of muck does to the future of that farm.

I certainly did not expect a refund for any unfulfilled portion of my share, nor did anyone in my community. Weather and bugs and all sorts of risk are part of farming and I knowingly took on that risk when I purchased a share. Who would have thought a costal event, like a hurricane, would wreak havoc all the way up through Vermont as it waned to a tropical storm? Who could have predicted a huge snow storm two days before Halloween? Wacky stuff.

I am sorry not to receive this produce, I had a lot of gluten-free side dishes planned! For now I shop the farmer’s market and enjoy their fall produce. I feel so sad for the owners of that farm, but I look forward to trying a share in a CSA again next year. I have to hope the weather won’t be so weird.

Kendall Egan

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Brioche

It is true the food evokes memories from meals and events, family celebrations, weddings, break ups and travels around the world. Recently, I have had brioche swirl up into my consciousness.

When I was a junior at Boston College, I spent a semester in Strasbourg, France. I lived with a family and the “mom” was a classically trained chef who taught French cuisine at the university. How does a kid get so lucky to stay with a family like that? I had fresh pastries for breakfast every single day…the real blessing is that I had to walk 45 minutes to school and I was still healthy, but not yet diagnosed with celiac disease. I took a particular liking to the brioche.

Recently, I traveled to Las Vegas and stayed where Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro was a quick elevator ride away from my hotel room. I had brunch there before flying back to New York. The “Breakfast Americaine” comes with pastry and brioche, but I asked the server to hold those. I did not explain why, I just said to hold those items.

I had been in touch with the communications team from TKRG about their new gluten free flour, C4C (cup for cup) gluten free flour, after I read about it in the New York Times. I followed up with my contact after I ate at Bouchon and received an invitation to the launch of the flour at Per Se in New York City.

I met Thomas Keller and Lena Kwak, the research and development chef, and told her my story about my love of brioche and how sad I was not to eat the gorgeous looking pastry at my breakfast at Bouchon. She pointed me in the direction of a gluten-free platter of brioche and Danish.

They were so delicious! The fact that I was nibbling a gluten-free brioche, to me, was just astounding. The last time I had a good brioche was in Strasbourg, France, a waaaaaay long ago…1988. Maybe I have eaten a brioche since 1988, I have only been diagnosed a celiac for fifteen years.

No other brioche eating experience evokes the memory of sitting in that tiny kitchen in Strasbourg with a warm “bowl” of café au lait and a perfect brioche on my plate, eating that brioche at Per Se really brought back a lovely memory of France through my taste buds. Thank you!

Kendall Egan

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Gluten-Free Halloween

I have a special attachment to Halloween.

Nearly 20 years ago, we celebrated this crazy day of costumes and candy with tremendous relief. My then 2-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with celiac disease after a scary -- much scarier than any dressed-up ghoul -- rapid decline from a healthy toddler to one who couldn't walk and could barely hold up her head.

But by Halloween she was on a gluten-free diet, nearly back to herself and so excited to wear her unicorn costume and go out collecting candy. I think of that every year when pumpkins and ghosts start appearing.

Certainly we were a little afraid of what to do about Halloween candy given that we were so new to the diet and there was so little gluten-free information available then. But my daughter was so happy about the holiday we were determined to find a way to keep her safe while not ruining it for her.

In the pictures we have from that year, she looks a little gaunt because of all the weight she had lost while sick, but there's huge smile on her face as she sits surrounded by all her candy spread on the floor.

From that first year until the last she trick-or-treated we used a trading system -- for every piece of candy she had to give up because it contained cookies or wafers or rice crispy pieces or any kind of gluten, she could choose one from our stash of gluten-free Halloween treats.
So she grew up loving Halloween and had more gusto for it, from picking and planning a costume to hiking the length and breadth of our neighborhood, than our other two children. The year she was Cinderella, it poured. But she was not deterred and came home soaking wet but happily clutching a pillow case loaded with candy.

This year I found the perfect card to send her at college. It had a drawing of many streets and homes with a little ghost making its way through them. "So little time, so many houses," it said, capturing her Halloween philosophy.

So I hope all the children who follow a gluten-free diet have a happy and memorable Halloween. For their parents, I would advise using the trade system, as well as emphasizing all the fun of carving a pumpkin, making pumpkin seeds, decorating the porch, dressing in costume and then combing  the streets when it's dark. The candy is important too, I know that. But don't let worry about it cast a pall on Halloween

Here's a candy list to help you out. (Make sure you always read package labels as these are the most up-to-date sources of information. For example, Nestle now includes a label statement on several Wonka brand products that says they are made in a facility that also processes wheat. This includes Bottle Caps, Gobstoppers, Nerds, Runts, Spree and Sweet Tarts.)

Happy Halloween and Best Witches,

Amy Ratner

Monday, October 10, 2011

What I am working on for the next issue...

Last Thursday I attended a taping of The View in preparation for an interview of Elizabeth Hasselbeck for our next issue. I have to say watching a taping of a live show is an amazing experience, the production crew is flying all over the place making sure things work out perfectly.

I woke up in the middle of the night because it occurred to me that the ABC Studios were just about as far west as they could possibly be on the island of Manhattan. My plan of a train to Grand Central station and walking up was not going to work.

Plan B of taking train to subways and walking west was not going to work either. Plan C of driving in is always fraught with the “what if” there is an accident, or construction on the bridge, or a dead dog slowing traffic to one lane on the West Side Highway (it happened once).

Plan D was train to taxi from 42nd street to West 66th. I knew I had plenty of time even with the morning rush.

New Yorkers have a habit of telling their taxi drivers the route to go, but this time I bit my tongue and just sat back after I said “320 West 66th.” He started off in a boneheaded direction, but I didn’t say anything.

Somehow my taxi driver heard me say “50th and 6th” and that is where he was taking me. He started to turn east on 50th street and I yelled out, and I admit I did holler, “No, No, No…I’m going to 66th and West End, way, way west of here.”

Sadly, he did not stop his turn in time and we were heading east. I was due at the studio in ten minutes. Instead of freaking out, I just said, “I’m going to put my head down and you are going to get me there as fast as you can please.”

It is just too terrifying to look up when your taxi driver is trying to get from point A to point B in a ridiculous hurry. We lurched and screeched our way to 66th and West End.

He dropped me at a corner and there was a huge throng of people, which looked like kids. I actually wondered if it was an American Idol tryout…but remembered that I was looking for ABC, not Fox.

Actually, I was just looking for someone with a clip board, interns always have clipboards. I found a kid with a clip board, who started laughing at my question of where the lineup was for ABC’s The View. She told me I was in the middle of a New York City public school fire drill!

I jogged the block and found another young person with a clipboard, and this time she really was an intern and I found my way in.

At this point in time, I was sorry that I hadn’t taken a piece of advice from Elizabeth’s first book to carry a snack in my purse…I think the adrenaline kicked my stomach into high gear!

As I said it was very interesting and fun to watch the show happen. Look for the interview in Vol 11, #4!
Kendall Egan

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gluten-Free Favorites

If you follow the gluten-free diet, the Natural Products Expo East was pay back for all the times you went somewhere and there was nothing gluten-free to eat.

So many of the 1,400 exhibitors whose booths packed the Baltimore Convention Center had gluten-free foods to sample it was easy get to the point where you could not take one more bite.

In the interest of spreading the word about good, new gluten-free products I did my best to taste as many products as possible. Here's info on some of my personal favorites.

Star Fish Panko breaded shrimp. The breading on the shrimp is made by Aleia's and both it and the finished shrimp are certified by the Celiac Sprue Association. The sample I tasted had a terrific crispy crust on a plump tasty shrimp.This product is not yet available on the Starfish website but it is offered at the Gluten-Free Mall, where it is currently on sale.

"home free" crunch mini vanilla cookies were selected as a finalist in the Expo best foods category, which included all products, not just those that were gluten free. They combine a nice light taste with healthy ingredients, including 13 grams or more of whole grains per 6 cookie serving. Certified gluten-free oats are the main ingredient in the cookies. They are made on equipment that is also used to make products with barley flour, but Jill Robbins, company president, said gluten-free ingredients are segregated, gluten-free baking is done on separate days and thorough cleaning procedures are used. In addition, the company tests for gluten in the finished cookies, which are certified gluten-free by the Gluten Intolerance Group.

Udi's frozen pizza, in three cheese, margherita and pepperoni flavors, had a nice thin crust. The pizza is made in a dedicated gluten-free plant and is certified by GIG. Udi's also introduced  Chocolate Chia and Blueberry Nutri- tops, which are like muffin tops. Blueberry has 8 grams of whole grains and 5 grams of fiber. Both are fortified and should be available soon.

feel good foods will be selling its new gluten-free egg rolls in stores by the end of the year. They come in chicken, vegetable and shrimp flavors and were flying off the plate as quickly as company reps could cook them up at Expo. Most importantly the wrapper was nice and crispy. In fact it was so good I did not pay much attention to the filling. I think that means I need another sample! I also tasted the company's Asian style dumplings which I had trouble making when I tried them at home. I honestly thought this was one of those good ideas that just did not work. But they were being prepared at the show and turned out fine, so maybe it was just me. Feel good foods products are made in a facility that also processes wheat, but the company says strict safety measured are followed to prevent cross-contamination.

Canyon Bakehouse Rosemary and Thyme Focaccia might not be new to everyone, especially those lucky folks in the company's home state of Colorado, but this was the first time I had a chance to taste it. Both it and the 7-grain bread had great texture. The company, which uses a dedicated gluten-free bakery, is transitioning to use of all whole grains in all of its products. The hamburger buns already 100 percent whole grain, and brown rice is the main ingredient in the focaccia.

Kinnikinnick frozen, ready to fill  pie crusts. My grandmother was a master of the flaky pie crust, a skill I did not inherit even in the wheat-flour form. So I've always been intimidated by gluten-free pies that were not of the crushed-cookie crust variety. For anyone who has longed for gluten-free pie but has similar crust insecurity, these might be the easiest answer. The pie crusts are available in stores now and come two in a package. They are made in dedicated gluten-free facility.

Eco Planet Gluten-Free Toaster Pastries. For kids of all ages who miss the indulgence of  Pop Tart-like treat, these will be a welcome addition to the gluten-free line up. They contain seven whole grains, but the first two ingredients are rice flour and tapioca flour, which means these less nutritious flours are used in greater quantity than the healthier whole grain mix. Still, it's a toaster pastry so the stab at a healthier mix is a good start. They are certified by GIG, made in a dedicated facility and expected to be in stores soon.

Medora Snacks Popcorner. These triangle chips are made from air-popped popcorn and come in five flavors. The most exciting news about this product is that it is handed out as a snack on Jet Blue flights. When I fly, the snack is usually pretzels or honey peanuts that contain wheat starch. I love the idea that gluten-free travelers don't have to refuse the snack. The main ingredient is yellow corn enriched with iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate.

Jovial brown rice pasta. This rivals some of the best gluten-free pasta already on the market. It cooks evenly and does not have that tale tell mushy gluten-free consistency. The pasta comes in five shapes and is made in a dedicated gluten-free facility. I also liked the Jovial cookies, which come in fig, and vanilla and chocolate cream filled. I love figs so these cookies, which Jovial says are the first fig-filled gluten-free cookies, really appealed to me. They are made in small patches and mixed by hand in a family-owned bakery in Italy. The bakery is not totally gluten-free but dedicated equipment is used and production is done on separate days. Each batch is tested to less than 10 ppm of gluten. Both the pasta and cookies are certified by GIG.  

Snikiddy "eat your vegetables" chips. There's been explosion of gluten-free chips, but what I like about these is they contain one full serving of vegetables in a one-ounce one- serving bag. They also provide 35 percent of your daily requirement of Vitamin A. Snikiddy usually targets its products for children, but these are being pushed for adults. The chips are made in a facility that also processes wheat, but the company says good manufacturing practices are used to segregate ingredients.

Selina Naturally Celtic Sea Salt Toasted Sesame with Garlic. This simple blend of sesame seeds, garlic and sea salt perks up any plain dish easily. It comes in its own grinder. At Expo it was sprinkled over grape tomatoes, which were delicious. When I brought some home I ground a little over penna pasta mixed with olive oil for a really tasty and easy side dish. Some seasonings contain gluten so it's nice to find a brand that is gluten free. It also comes in toasted sesame and toasted sesame with flax.

Solterra Bake in Bag Pizza caused a buzz at Expo. The concept of baking a gluten-free pizza right in the bag to eliminate cross contamination has a lot of appeal to those who take their own pizza to their local pizza shop and have it heated in the oven there. It also makes things easier if you take your pizza over to a friend's house. After the pizza is baked you tear open the bag and serve. The pizza comes in margherita and vegan cheese flavors.

Pamela's, a leader in the gluten-free market, introduced Whenever bars in four flavors. The Whenever name alludes to the fact that the bars make a good on-the-go snack.  They are made on dedicated gluten-free machinery with nine grams of whole grains, including gluten-free oats. I tried and liked the Oat Blueberry Lemon bar.

Simply Sprouted Way Better Snacks have such interesting ingredients lists I had to try them. The six flavors are made with things like flax, chia, radish and broccoli seeds, quinoa, and black beans. Eleven chips equals one serving of vegetables. They are made on dedicated gluten-free machinery and certified gluten free by GIG.

Namaste Foods featured its easy to make pasta meals. I liked the idea of a convenience pasta that comes with seasoning. The Say Cheese meal comes with pasta and a shake-on cheese pack, while the Pasta Pisavera includes veggie brown rice pasta and an Italian seasoning packet. Taco Pasta has the seasoning blended right into the pasta shells. Namaste products are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

Roland Quinoa. I love quinoa as much as I love figs so the five easy-to-make flavors appealed to me. All you have to do is add water and heat them for 15 minutes. Each serving of the toasted sesame ginger, Mediterranean, Black Bean, Garden Vegetable and Roasted Garlic quinoa provides at least 40 grams of whole grains.

Mini Pops Air Popped Sorghum. Sorghum is a tiny grain so it pops up in what looks like miniature popcorn. In fact popped sorghum has no hulls, is corn free and has less saturated fat and calories than popcorn. It also requires 50 percent less water to grow. But what caught my attention was the novelty of this pre-popped snack. You just can resist trying those little tiny pops. Made in a gluten-free facility and certified by GIG, the pops come in eight flavors.

As you can see there was an abundance of gluten-free options at Expo. While reading about them is a nibble of information, the only way to know which ones you'll really like is to give them a try. If you do, let me know what you think.

Amy Ratner

Friday, September 30, 2011

Our Comments to FDA on Gluten-Free Labels

Following is the letter Gluten-Free Living sent to the Food and Drug Administration regarding proposed rules for gluten-free labeling.

The deadline for comments is this coming Monday.You can send your comments to the FDA here. Click on "submit a comment" and type FDA-2005-N-0404 into the search bar. On the next page that comes up,  about halfway down, click "submit a comment" next to the gluten-free labeling notation

 However, if you want to sign onto the 1in133 and American Celiac Disease Alliance letter, you only have until noon Sunday. The groups need some time to get all the signatures into a form they can then submit to the FDA.
Meanwhile, we thought you might be interested in what Gluten-Free Living had to say about some key points regarding gluten-free labeling:

As publishers of the first magazine exclusively for those who follow the gluten-free diet, Gluten-Free Living has long been a witness to the confusion gluten-free labeling causes. The lack of any definition for what is gluten free leads to many questions from our readers.

Our experience with the diet and our knowledge of the medical research related to celiac disease, leads us to support 20 parts per million as a valid standard for use of the gluten free-label. The best research to date shows that the vast majority of those who have celiac disease can safely consume products with less than 20 ppm of gluten.(1)

A standard stricter than 20 ppm of gluten has not been proven to be medically necessary for most people with celiac disease. The 20 ppm standard has been accepted internationally after a long review by the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius. (2)

We are familiar with the point of view that gluten-free should mean “zero” gluten, but we know zero gluten is impossible to achieve or test for in the real world. So setting zero as a standard has little meaning.

A standard set lower than is medically necessary for the vast majority of those who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance could have the effect of decreasing the availability of gluten-free food. This would unnecessarily make it more difficult to comply with the gluten-free diet. In Australia, where the amount of allowable gluten is lowered each time tests get more stringent, this is already happening. (3)

If the standard for gluten free labeling is set at less than 20 ppm consumers can then assume that food labeled gluten free might have trace amounts of gluten (between a theoretical zero and 20 ppm). The addition of statements spelling out that minute levels of gluten might be present in gluten-free food would be redundant and add to consumer confusion without any real benefit.

The use of a two-tier system, with” gluten free” and “ low gluten” labels tied to different levels of allowed gluten, was debated and rejected when the gluten- free definition was first proposed. The idea was originally rejected because it is confusing to gluten-free consumers and that is still the case. We continue to oppose use of a low-gluten label.

The question of whether naturally gluten-free foods should be allowed to use the gluten-free label without saying all food of the same type is also gluten free is a little harder to answer.

For inherently gluten-free one-ingredient foods like milk, eggs, canned fruit and vegetables, the risk of gluten contamination is generally so slight, we can realistically assume all foods of this type would be gluten free. So a statement saying all foods of this type are gluten free would generally be accurate. It would also prevent companies from trying to falsely imply that their naturally gluten-free item has some advantage over other brands. Gluten-free consumers have complained about food makers trying to take advantage of the gluten-free fad by putting the gluten free label on all types of naturally gluten-free products.

Naturally gluten-free grains might be in a slightly different category. Grains have a higher risk of being cross-contaminated because of shared fields, transport vehicles and processing machinery. A recent small study showed that some inherently gluten-free grains were highly cross contaminated by gluten-containing grains. (4)

However, the study was based on a small number of samples and even the authors state that general conclusions about gluten-free grains cannot be drawn from it. So it is not yet clear that there is enough evidence to differentiate between naturally gluten-free grains and other inherently gluten free foods when it comes to gluten-free labeling. A larger study into cross-contamination of gluten-free grains is needed. If such a study showed wide-spread cross-contamination, the FDA should allow food makers who take steps to prevent cross-contamination to label their products gluten free without saying all other grains of the same type are also gluten free.

Overall, a medically justified gluten-free threshold that can consistently be verified through testing is what’s needed most by those who have celiac disease.

This threshold should not unnecessarily decrease the availability of gluten-free products and make it harder to comply with the gluten-free diet. We believe the 20 ppm standard satisfies these requirements and we urge the FDA to quickly approve it. Until then, those who rely on the gluten-free diet as the only way to treat celiac disease are left on their own to figure out what is safe. This is an untenable situation that has existed for far too long.

1.Catassi C, Fabiani E, Iacono G, et al. A prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to establish a safe gluten threshold for patients with celiac disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:160–6.


3. Price G, Maintiaining Our Food Choices, The Australian Coeliac, 2010, December, 31-33

4. Grace T, Lee A, Thompson T, Gluten Contamination of grains, seeds and flours in the United States, a pilot study, Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2010, June, 814 -976

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Latest gluten-free news from Starbucks

Here is the latest from Starbucks on gluten in Light Frappuccinos:

"Starbucks has removed the gluten ingredient from its Light Frappuccino® Blended Beverages.

As you may know, in the summer of 2010 Starbucks began offering customers the opportunity to customize their favorite Frappuccino ... This new offering caused initial changes to the recipes of the Light Frappuccino beverages and resulted in a gluten-containing ingredient being used in the Light base.

Starbucks has heard feedback from many customers who are living a gluten-free lifestyle and has worked diligently to change the recipe to remove the presence of the gluten ingredient.

The Light Frappuccino beverage ingredient list will no longer state "contains gluten." However, due to other restrictions in declaring a product "gluten-free," Starbucks statement regarding all beverages must remain the same, as follows:

We do not claim that any of our beverages are gluten free because we use shared equipment and handle gluten and allergens throughout the store. Customers that have questions should ask to review the ingredient statements with their barista or can call 1-800-23-LATTE for ingredient information."

While I find Starbucks' position on gluten-free drinks baffling, I see this as good news. The Light Frappuccino was a drink that clearly containing gluten in the form of barley in the base mix and had to be avoided. Now that's not the case.

Whether you drink any beverage at Starbucks is a personal decision. Some gluten-free consumers work out arrangements with their local Starbucks baristas to lessen the exposure to cross contamination and feel safe having coffee and other drinks there.  Before Starbucks started saying that it could not claim any of its drinks were gluten free, the company advised consumers to ask that containers used to mix drinks be washed before a gluten-free order was prepared.

Amy Ratner 

How should gluten-free grains be labeled?

The Food and Drug Administration is taking a second look at naturally gluten-free grains as part of its effort to finally pass rules for gluten-free labeling.

When the FDA announced in August that it was re-opening public comment on a proposed gluten-free definition, the agency said it was reconsidering how inherently gluten-free grains should be labeled.

Under the proposal, all naturally gluten-free food can only be labeled gluten free if the label also says any other food of that type is also gluten free. For example, sorghum flour labeled gluten free has to say all other sorghum flour is gluten free.

Now the FDA is considering whether gluten-free grains should be labeled differently than other naturally gluten-free food. That’s because of the risk that grains may be cross-contaminated by wheat, barley or rye.

Cross-contamination of grains can occur in the field or through shared equipment during transport, processing or packaging. A recent small study showed that some gluten-free grains actually contained fairly high levels of cross contamination.

The FDA is considering whether grain and flour companies that take steps to prevent cross-contamination should be allowed to use the gluten-free label without implying that products made by less diligent companies are just as safe.

The bottom line is whether the gluten-free label on naturally gluten-free grains would help gluten-free consumers select products that are safer.

The labeling rule for all naturally gluten-free one-ingredient foods was proposed to prevent food companies from using the gluten-free label to give the false impression that their products are somehow better than identical products. For example, a gluten-free label on naturally gluten-free water is meaningless since all water is gluten free.

Grains are the only naturally gluten-free food the FDA has specifically said it is interested in reviewing in regards to the labeling provision. Other naturally gluten-free, one-ingredient foods like canned fruit and vegetables, milk, butter and eggs have minimal, if any, risk of being cross contaminated. But changes to overall rules for labeling of inherently gluten-free foods could be made based on public comments sent to the agency.

Most important, you only have until Monday to comment on the gluten-free definition. You can  send your  comments to the FDA here. Click on "submit a comment" and type FDA-2005-N-0404 into the search bar. On the next page that comes up, down about halfway down, click "submit a comment" next to the gluten-free labeling notation

And if you want to sign onto the letter available from 1in133, a grass roots group that formed to push for gluten-free rules, you have to do so by noon Sunday. That will give the group time  to get the information into a form that can be sent to the FDA.  The FDA estimates it will take about a year to go through all the steps before gluten-free rules are finalized.

Rules for gluten-free labeling are already long overdue. The FDA was supposed to finish them three years ago as part of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. Under the proposed rules, food labeled gluten free must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. This cut off would include trace amounts for gluten from cross contamination and would be verified through testing.

Amy Ratner

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gluten-free musings on Expo East

Expo East, which was held at the Baltimore Convention Center last weekend, is the food industry's showcase of natural products. But it could easily have been dubbed a fashion show for gluten-free items. They were everywhere you looked.

In a "New Products Showcase," where new items that have caught the eye of Expo organizers were set up, I thought I might find a few that were gluten free. It turns out so many were labeled gluten free my hand was getting tired from writing them down.

When these were whittled down to the winners, three products labeled gluten-free were still standing: Little Duck Organic's Tiny Fruits, best packaging, Brad's Raw Leafy Kale, most innovative, and Nibor Chocolate's Daily Dose, best of press. Luna Pops' Hibiscus Lemon pop, which won the best new food prize, contains only gluten-free ingredients.  It is made on the same machinery used to make flavors that contain wheat, but Dina Mills, a company representative, said the equipment is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between flavors.

One of my personal favorites from the show - "home free" crunchy vanilla cookies came close, making it into the finalist category for best food.

On the main exhibit floor, I spent two days sampling new gluten-free items and talking with gluten-free company representatives. I ran into George and Ceil Chookasian, owners of Foods by George, who have been making gluten-free products as long as Gluten-Free Living has been publishing. We marveled at all the changes in the gluten-free market place -- so many of them positive. (Watch for my upcoming blog on what I thought were the most interesting new products at Expo East.)

But I did run into one remnant of the "old" gluten-free days when a representative of one company insisted to me that vinegar contains gluten. She said she had done her research, and she was sure that vinegar was not gluten free. When asked I for details on the research, she said when she accidentally eats something with vinegar her tongue swells and her head gets foggy for three days.

I told her that at Gluten-Free Living we respect anyone's right to make their own diet decisions based on whatever information they choose. But I do not think a company representative has a right to give incorrect information in a forum where people who represent gluten-free companies should know what they are talking about.

On vinegar the facts are simple and indisputable - the gluten peptide in vinegar is too large to carry over in the distillation process. This is true even when vinegar is made from wheat. And according to the Vinegar Institute, vinegar is usually made from naturally gluten-free apples, grapes, corn and rice. Malt vinegar, which is fermented and not distilled, is usually made from barley and is not gluten free.

 Although Gluten-Free Living did the ground-breaking work on vinegar and distillation, most reputable celiac disease support groups and medical centers now agree distilled vinegar is gluten-free.

This includes the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, the Celiac Center at Beth Deaconess Medical Center, the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, the Celiac Disease Foundation, the Gluten Intolerance Group, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, the Canadian Celiac Society, the American Dietetic Association, the Vinegar Institute, the Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Center, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

Any research on the topic from reputable sources would quickly reveal these facts.

So while I applaud and appreciate all the new gluten-free products being made by a wide variety of companies, I do expect all of them to make sure they know what they are talking about. Knowledgeable company representatives can make good decisions about the steps they have to take to make sure their products are truly gluten free. And they know to dismiss misinformation that needlessly limits options and causes gluten-free consumers to worry about ingredients that are known to be safe.

I am glad most of those I talked to at Expo were in that category.

Amy Ratner

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Celiac Awareness

Tuesday was Celiac Awareness Day, but the good news is that “awareness” of a gluten-free diet and lifestyle has exploded with growth since I was diagnosed with celiac disease almost 15 years ago.

We asked the question on Facebook, how has increased awareness improved your gluten-free life. For me, I am so excited by the depth and breadth of products in the freezer section and on the store shelves. With two members of my household on a gluten-free diet, it is fantastic that I don’t have to order everything online anymore.

I love the fact that more and more colleges are aware of a gluten-free diet and have food to accommodate this diet in the dining hall. I think by the time my son goes off to college, it should be pretty easy for him to navigate the dining halls.

Restaurants are also more aware than ever before about dietary restrictions. I wish every restaurant indicated which items on their menus were gluten-free, but I think the restaurants that offer gluten free menus, or indicate which items are gluten-free ingredients, are awesome.

I think it makes my life so much easier that celiac disease is no longer thought of as this “rare and unfortunate” disease. These days almost everyone knows someone on a gluten-free diet! I definitely used to feel like a freak when I asked for a burger without a bun. Now, I might get asked if I have a gluten issue or if I want a lettuce wrapped burger.

Other people on our Facebook page had great posts about how awareness has improved their gluten-free life. A few people said that increased labeling and increased products made it easier for family and friends to shop for them or feed them. Others said that awareness of celiac disease got them healthy again after years of baffling symptoms or feeling unwell. Mostly, people said that increased awareness has reduced the “blank stare” effect after explaining that they can’t eat gluten.

One person pointed out that a gluten-free diet was pretty good to Novak Djokovic this year. Three grand slam wins, three different trophies to kiss and while I don’t know his reason for a gluten-free diet, he sure has brought positive attention to a gluten-free diet!

Kendall Egan

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Here in New York, we never forget 9-11. In certain spots, all we have to do is look up to see the void where the towers used to be. And that makes looking back from a 10-year vantage point all the more involving. With memory in mind, I’d like to reprise an editorial I wrote for Gluten-Free Living just after the attack. I hope it helps you look forward with hope for all our futures.

A Word from New York

As many of you know, I’m a New Yorker. I grew up in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx where, when the weather is clear, you can see the Manhattan skyline from several vantage points.

We New Yorkers are a tough breed. Nothing deters us… or at least nothing did until September 11, 2001. It was the first time in my life that I actually banged my head on the wall.

My fear and frustration were magnified because my brother works (now worked) in a building across the street from the towers and we had no word from him… until late afternoon when he turned up with a horrific story I won’t detail here. And he is one of the lucky ones.

Which would mean I have less reason than others to be angry. I got my brother back. Thousands of people did not get their relatives back. Thousands and thousands.

But I am angry. The towers were still standing when a commentator said, “This is the end of life as we know it.” Like you, I want my life back. I want all those people back.

I want my brother to sleep in peace. I want to drive up the New Jersey turnpike, glimpse the towers over my right shoulder, and know “I’m home.” It was such a comforting feeling that I didn’t appreciate enough when I had it.

This is what we’ve all been doing over and over…talk and talk and talk, as if talking would change the reality. But I write here because there is a gluten-free lesson in this tragedy, a very simple lesson…only three words: It doesn’t matter!

It doesn’t matter that you have to live a gluten-free life. Not in the sense that life is short, but in the sense of priorities. Food is fuel. Even if you live to eat rather than eat to live, food is still fuel.

It doesn’t matter that you have to change your lifestyle. You can, much more easily than you think.
It doesn’t matter that you see danger lurking in all the food around you… hidden toxins that will do you no good. You can work your way around them…in fact, you have to!

It really doesn’t matter that others don’t understand. We need to take care of ourselves. It doesn’t matter that doctor after doctor misdiagnosed you. That’s water under the bridge. It doesn’t matter that food processors seem to have your needs at the bottom of their priority list. The ones at the top benefit everyone, celiacs included.

And, you’ll have to trust me on this, when disaster strikes, it doesn’t matter that you have to follow a gluten-free diet. Everyone suffers in a catastrophe. Everyone has to figure out unique ways to cope. You can… and you will.

It does matter that you keep on trucking. That you stare adversity in the eye, give it your best Bronx cheer, and surmount it. That you help others cope! Boy do I mean that last one. New York is surviving on our American ability to work together. There’s a real lesson here for everyone.

I am writing this a few days after the tragedy and have no idea what might happen between now and when you read this issue. I can only hope it is not worse than what has happened already.

I would not believe that such a thing could happen and that it would hurt so much. That hurt for me will be symbolized by the erasure of the towers from the New York skyline, the elimination of their promise of home and comfort. Without their presence, home will seem much, much farther away.

Ann Whelan

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The 3PM Snack Attack

What's going on all day in school that has my kids arriving home ready to chew nails they are so hungry? Does thinking and learning really drive the metabolism of the elementary and secondary school set into overdrive? Gluten-free or gluten ingesting, my kids are super hungry at 3pm.

All I know is that my kids walk in the door and right into the kitchen. Pantry doors are flung open, the refrigerator and freezer get looked over. Without careful planning, kids go right for the stuff that I probably shouldn’t be buying in the first place.

This year I am planning ahead! Trail mix, peanuts in the shell, spicy pecans and candied walnuts are all in my pantry shelves right now. There is a bit of sugar because the trail mix has chocolate and the candied walnuts are, well “candied.” However, this is a high energy, filling option that is just plain better than potato chips.

I kept this summer circular from Stop & Shop grocery stores because they had some fun “stuffed packet” recipes, there was one with a split banana with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and mini marshmallows all wrapped in a parchment and foil packet to throw on the grill. One could probably put the packet in the oven with a banana, peanut butter and a little honey and have a gooey, warm after school snack! I could probably do a fun packet with apples, cinnamon and brown sugar too.

Bagel pizzas are a great post football or soccer practice treat. I keep gluten-free bagels in the house at all times and toppings such as marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese are easy to have on hand.

These days, there is a nice variety of gluten-free crackers so cheese and crackers or peanut butter with crackers is always available.

Pre-made guacamole and salsa are some of the best things to have in the refrigerator because that is a great serving of vegetables with some corn tortilla chips. Kids could easily make nachos for an after school fiesta.

Popcorn kernels, the good old fashioned kind that you pop with a little oil in a pan, is now a pantry staple in my household. Everyone knows how to make a really good bowl of popcorn. There are no chemicals and no microwave fires this way!

Frozen gluten-free waffles and cream cheese with jelly are delicious. We always visit a farm on the North Fork of Long Island and pick up multiple bottles of fruit syrups such as strawberry, blueberry, beach plum and raspberry for our waffles. They are really amazing.

Hummus and dips with chopped up vegetables are a great option too, they just have to be handy and prepared and right in the front of the refrigerator! Apple slices and nutella or peanut butter is a better option than cookies. I also find that if there is a container of cut up fruit salad right at eye level in the fridge, it will get devoured.

I want my kids to feel refueled for homework and sports practices, but I am subtly trying to enforce good eating by providing options. I find that all of these snacks are easily gluten free which makes it very easy to have kids converge on the kitchen as their school day ends.

Kendall Egan

Friday, September 2, 2011

Comments on Gluten-Free Labeling rules

Comments on gluten-free labeling have been trickling in to the Food and Drug Administration, with new ones being made public nearly every day.

As of this morning, the agency has posted 90 comments on the regulations  website. So far, those in favor of allowing less than 20 parts per million of gluten in gluten-free products are running evenly with those who want a stricter cut off. Not everyone who commented specifically addressed the 20 ppm standard, but of those who did, 14 say they support it. Meanwhile 13 pushed for a lower level with about half  saying gluten-free should mean zero gluten.

At this point, while the numbers are interesting, they are rather meaningless. The FDA usually takes a while to get comments posted. There is still about a month to go before the comment period closes and the FDA will not begin to pay attention to comments until then.

So far, individuals have made the most comments with 64. Businesses have sent 10 comments, as have those who identify themselves as members of  celiac support groups . There are also six comments from those who identify themselves as part of the medical community.

But the FDA has not yet posted any comments from those who used the labeling letter on the website of 1in133, the grass roots groups pushing for final approval of gluten-free labeling. There also aren't any comments from celiac disease experts or from the national celiac disease support groups.

That does not mean there is any problem. It just means they have not been posted yet.

We know these are all coming. The 1in 133 group's efforts are widely publicized and the group has been very successful in drumming up support. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has written to its members urging them to join the 1in133 letter writing campaign. You can sign the 1in133 letter here.

We have also seen letters from Alessio Fasano, MD, of the University of Maryland's Center for Celiac Research, and Stefano Guandalini, MD, of the Celiac Disease Center at the University of Chicago supporting 20 ppm. You can sign onto Fasano's letter here.

You can also send your own comments to the FDA here. Click on "submit a comment" and type FDA-2005-N-0404 into the search bar. On the next page that comes up, down about halfway down, click "submit a comment" next to the gluten-free labeling notation.

 I have been covering labeling for Gluten-Free Living from the beginning, when the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act first directed the FDA to come up with rules for what can be labeled gluten free. So I have been through FDA public comment periods a few times already.

When the FDA first asked for public input in 2005 as it was working on the proposed definition, 500 individuals, companies and organizations responded. In 2007, after the proposal was released, the FDA again sought comments. At that time you could not read them online so I went to the FDA's cramped reading room, where letters and printed emails filled four heavy binders.

The comments came from people with celiac disease, gluten-free food companies, mainstream food makers, large grocery chains, celiac disease support groups, consumer advocates and the medical community. All are likely to comment again this time around. And we all know the gluten-free community has grown wildly even since 2007. That should result in even more commentary from all sides.

The comments posted in this latest round do reveal some interesting points, including some gluten-free consumers' continued desire for zero gluten in gluten-free food.

 "I would prefer that the gluten-free label only be allowed on food and beverages that contain zero gluten," John Lewis wrote. "If it contains less than 20 ppm I would like that to be stated. Otherwise, I find the labeling misleading."

Fifteen-year-old Kenny Peyton Nathe got right to his point. "What I think you should do is pretty simple actually. If it is not 100 percent gluten free, don't put "gluten free on it."

On the other side of the debate about gluten levels, Jane Alcantara wrote, "As a person recently diagnosed with celiac, it is thrilling to think that gluten-free labeling may become a standard...I highly encourage the FDA to pass the labeling proposal."

Elizabeth Kordeck wrote that she fears too narrow of  definition of gluten-free "will turn off food producers as they will not be able to meet overly stringent guidelines." "If 20 ppm has been widely tested and accepted as a safe level...that is a huge leap forward," she told the FDA.

Some companies have also commented, with Juliette Parker of the Marvelous Food Company writing that her company already meets a 5 ppm standard with two products. She wrote that it is not a problem to make products with 5 ppm or less of gluten. A representative of Genius Bread, a British product being introduced in the US and Canada, wrote in support of the 20 ppm standard, which is recognized internationally.  

Some writers urged the FDA to require "gluten" to be labeled whenever it's in a food or medication though both of those moves are beyond the reach of this labeling regulation.

And cross-contamination from shared equipment and facilities was on the mind of others. They said it should be prohibited in the production of foods labeled gluten-free. One writer said she did not think naturally gluten-free foods like milk and eggs should "be allowed to be labeled gluten free just to capitalize on trend."

Whatever your personal opinion on the gluten-free definition, the comments are a reminder that the clock is ticking on sending yours to the FDA. The deadline is Oct. 3. It's something that's easy to put off, as we are aware at Gluten-Free Living given that we are still working on our own letter.

So get to it. We promise we will too!

Amy Ratner