Monday, February 28, 2011

More from Kellogg's On Gluten-Free Rice Krispies

In my last post on gluten-free Rice Krispies, I wrote that Kellogg's was not quite ready to make an introduction official. That seemed a little strange given that Ashley at Gluten Free Appetite had a photo of the box.

Then on Friday those who had contacted customer service (including Sandra Robins at Gluten Free Optimist who alerted me) started to get emails saying, yes, it was true that the company was going to introduce a gluten-free version of the cereal.

So I went back to Mike Morrissey, manager of  brand public relations, this morning and here's what he said:

"Given all the buzz -- and the photos on line -- we can confirm that we will introduce gluten-free Rice Krispies. They should arrive in grocery stores in late-May. We are still working through many of the specific details (price, distribution, final nutrition information, etc.) and will be happy to share them with you in the coming weeks and months."

So it does seem Kellogg's has been listening to gluten-free consumers for some time as they developed the new gluten-free cereal and then again in recent days as everyone was clamoring for news about them.

I'll write about the details as they become available. Right now the only things we know come from the photo of the box. From the ingredients label Ashley posted on her blog, it looks like Kellogg's is going to roll out a version of the cereal made with brown rice instead of white rice. And no malt flavoring. Unlike General Mills, which took the malt flavoring out of several varieties of Chex cereal to make them gluten free, it looks like Kellogg's is going to make a separate gluten-free product while continuing to make the original Rice Krispies.

Amy Ratner

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gluten-Free Shelf Tags at Safeway

When a 16-year-old boy who is not impressed by anything gives a shout after seeing "gluten free" on a television commercial, I figure it's time to pay attention.

That's what happened in our house the other night when the Safeway ad came on and suddenly the words "Gluten Free" were larger than life on the 46-inch screen in our family room. I usually only hear that kind of yelling from my son when the Giants, Mets, Penn State or Virginia Tech teams are playing.

This time the excitement was caused by Safeway supermarket's Simple Nutrition program, a highly promoted system of prominently tagging items based on nutritional information.

"Gluten Free" is one of 22 tags showing up on shelves in Safeways nationwide.  Others include organic, calorie smart, sugar smart, sodium smart, made with whole grains, good source of fiber, fat free, good source of calcium and 100 percent juice.

Products that get the brown "Gluten Free" tag have to be labeled gluten-free by the manufacturer. That is the only criteria Safeway requires. "Gluten Free" is included in a group of foods Safeway calls lifestyle/dietary needs. The group also includes organic, natural and calorie smart (100 calories or less per serving.)

The other tags are for foods that meet specific nutrition or ingredient criteria. For example the whole grain tag is restricted to foods that list a whole grain as the first ingredient or the second only if the first is water. Those tagged as a good source of fiber have to meet or exceed the 10% Daily Value of Fiber and have 3 grams or less of total fat per serving.

You might wonder how valuable the gluten-free tag is if it can only  be used on products already identified as gluten free. But the high profile placement and larger type of the tags does make it quicker and easier to find gluten-free products.

While I can see how this would be very helpful especially to someone new to the gluten-free diet, I do have a little concern that it might give the impression that only processed foods identified by the tag are gluten free.

Plain fruits, vegetables, corn, rice, milk, meat, seafood, beans and eggs  are among the many naturally gluten-free foods that are not always identified as gluten free by food companies. Just because they don't have a "Gluten Free" tag would not mean they are not gluten free.

You might also have to look out for the product or tag that is mistakenly in the wrong place, which would mean double checking for the gluten-free label on the package.

Still, this is largely a positive step for gluten-free consumers who are pretty well informed about naturally gluten-free foods and know you always have to read labels.

And you may find tagged gluten-free foods that also fit into other healthy categories, Gluten Free and Whole Grain for example. Safeway says a food can get up to two tags.

For me personally I can see one great benefit. Even if I leave my reading glasses at home, I could still find "Gluten Free" products in a Safeway.

Amy Ratner

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gluten-Free Rice Krispies?

Since there are a lot of questions about the possibility of gluten-free Rice Krispies in the future, I thought I'd post a quick note here about what Kellogg's has to say about it.

As you may already now, Ashley at Gluten Free Appetite somehow got a photo of a box for Rice Krispies that clearly shows a gluten-free label. On her blog she says Kellogg's plans to debut a new line of gluten-free products within the next six months.

When I got in touch Kellogg's for more information, Mike Morrissey, manager of brand public relations, said only that the company has not announced any new expansion to the Rice Krispies line-up.

"Our next batch of product news is expected to be released in May, and if we have any gluten-related news at that time, I will let you know," he wrote in an email.

Morrissey did not deny that the company has plans to make Rice Krispies, other cereals and other products gluten free. So we'll have to see what happens when the product news comes out in about three months.

I won't be surprised if Ashley is correct and Kellogg's is moving into the gluten-free market. It's always seemed a natural to make Rice Krispies, in particular, gluten free. The only ingredient that stands in the way is barley malt flavoring.

When General Mills made several of its Chex cereals gluten free, the company removed barley malt and replaced it with molasses. The general public has not seemed to notice the change and most gluten-free consumers have been happy to be able to eat the cereals. We can't say for sure if that kind of change would be part of any move Kellogg's makes to produce gluten-free products.

On its website, Kellogg's says at this time it does not make "any cereal, waffle, cookie, cracker, or vegetarian products suitable for consumers on a gluten-free diet."

The company also says its Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Crispix, and Cocoa Krispies have a small amount of malt flavoring, made from barley. Corn Pops have a very small amount of wheat starch added. Products with barley malt flavoring and wheat starch are not considered to be gluten free.

Kellogg's products that do not have any gluten-containing ingredients are Eggo syrup, Kellogg's fruit flavored snacks, Yogos, Special K20 Protein Water Mixes and Special K Protein Shakes.

Reaction to Ashley's news that Rice Krispies might finally be gluten-free has been overwhelming positive. Let's hope Kellogg's is listening.

Amy Ratner

Monday, February 21, 2011

Celiac Disease Research - What it means to you

Keeping up with news about research into celiac disease, gluten-intolerance, the gluten-free diet and related topics can keep you very busy.

And sometimes when you read about new studies it can still be difficult to figure out exactly what they will mean in your gluten-free life. Is a promising treatment likely to move from the lab to real life in five years or ten? Can a new way of diagnosing celiac disease or gluten intolerance get you a definitive answer after years of uncertainty? What about studies into safe levels of gluten in your food? Are there links between celiac disease and other medical conditions?

In upcoming issues of Gluten-Free Living we'll give you important information about research and how to interpret it. More about that in a minute.

 First we wanted to let you know about a new study from the University of Chicago, where researchers have been able to create and then cure celiac disease in mice by manipulating an inflammatory protein commonly found in the gut of humans who have the disease.

In a study published in the journal Nature, mice who were genetically  susceptible to celiac disease were given an increased amount of interleukin 15 causing them to develop symptoms of the disease. But when the IL-15 was blocked, the mice reverted to normal and could tolerate gluten again.

Interestingly, when the mice were given retinoic acid, a derivative of
Vitamin A thought to reduce inflammation in the intestine, they got worse instead of better.

So what does all this mean to those who have celiac disease?

The hope is that results will eventually help treat and possibly prevent development of celiac disease in those who are most at risk. The study identifies IL-15 as one, perhaps critical, way people lose tolerance to gluten and could lead to ways to block it, said Bana Jabri, MD, PhD, one of the study's authors and an associate professor who works with the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center.

In fact, clinical trials of medications that block IL-15 are already under way for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, another inflammatory disorder. Early results have been encouraging.

The study also raises questions about the use of retinoic acid, which is found in acne treatments such as Retin-A and Accutane, by those who have celiac disease. The retinoids seem to act with the IL-15 to promote inflammation in the intestine.

This study is just one of many related to celiac disease currently underway. To help readers of Gluten-Free Living understand what some of these studies mean, we are launching a new research column in our upcoming issue. The column is written by Jason Clevenger, PhD, a scientist with the consulting firm Exponent, Inc. He is the former editor of the Healthy Villi Newsletter published by the Boston celiac disease support group. Jason became interested in celiac disease when he met his wife Charmaine, who had been diagnosed while she was in college. His column will include a summary of each study in language you can understand even if you don't have a medical degree. And it will tell you why it's important to you.

Nearly seven years ago, when the National Institutes of Health held the first consensus conference on celiac disease and helped usher it into a new era of understanding, the point was made that not enough scientists were interested in studying the disease.  That, like many other things related to the gluten-free lifestyle, has changed.

We've designed our new research column to help you make sense out of the growing scientific interest in celiac disease, gluten intolerance and the gluten-free diet. Look for it in our new issue, due out in early March.

Amy Ratner

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sweet potatoes and the gluten-free life

When I was a child, I hated sweet potatoes. My grandmother, an Irish immigrant who lived with us, loved them. So she was zealous in her efforts to get her five grandchildren to eat them. We were steadfast in our efforts to resist them – into adulthood in my case.

Then I was diagnosed with celiac disease and things gluten free took on a new cast, including sweet potatoes. Now I eat them from time to time and have become more and more aware of how nutritious they really are.

With this background in mind, I was interested to receive a PR email entitled “5 things to know about sweet potatoes.” I get many more messages each day than I could possibly read. So I suppose I stopped for this one because it reminded me of my grandmother.

The five things didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about sweet potatoes. But it’s good to be reminded that they exist since sweet potatoes really are a nutritional powerhouse and, in addition, are easy to cook or to sneak into a variety of dishes. And, of course, they are gluten free.

My poor grandmother would probably have done well to eat even more sweet potatoes than she did. Plagued with gastrointestinal upsets much of her life, she spent a lot of time going to doctors, and subsequently complaining about how she felt. Naturally I suspect that she had celiac disease. But had I been savvy enough to suggest that when she was alive, I am sure the suggestion would have been met with disdain in my family. Frankly, that disdain would have existed even after one of my sisters nearly died in infancy. She was saved at the eleventh hour by a diagnosis of celiac disease, which no one had ever heard of.

One thing that may not get mentioned enough in the new gluten-free world is the number of marginal lives that are improved by a CD diagnosis. My grandmother escaped from poverty in Ireland, immigrated to the US, worked as a maid in various homes of the rich and famous, married, raised a family and then helped raise her grandchildren.

But somewhere along the way, she sort of retreated from life. The spunk and energy that drove her out of Ireland to a better life, left her at some point in middle age. She was constantly tired, constantly not feeling well, and always reluctant to do much of anything. In fact, she spent her senior years lying on the couch watching an endless schedule of game shows and soap operas, which were her favorites.

We loved her and thought that’s what grandmothers did. But in hindsight I wonder what she could have done had she felt better. And I wonder if she really did have celiac disease. But even today, the suggestion on my part is always met with disdain.

Our next issue, currently on press, contains an article called “All in the Family: Tension Free Ways to Encourage CD Testing.” It is designed to help you surmount the disdain you may get if you suggest that someone in your family be tested for celiac disease. This is a dicey issue in most families and that’s unfortunate. But I don’t think we should give up trying. And this article might provide some tips you haven’t thought about.

Finally, don’t forget to eat your sweet potatoes. My grandmother was right in this case. Sweet potatoes are great for everyone. And they are made in heaven for the gluten-free diet.

Ann Whelan