Why We Still Need to Read Labels, An Update!

So After contacting Promax last night, and leaving a message on Twitter about this issue, they wrote me back with this:

” While barley/barley malt  contain  gluten, barley malt extract does not.  Gluten is found in the protein portion of a wheat product.  Barley malt extract contains no protein.  Further more, we have tested this bar several times for gluten and it falls well below not only the FDA proposed limit of 20ppm but also the GFCO’s (Gluten Free Certifying Organization) standard of 10 ppm.  Part of the agreement with the GFCO is that  the bars and the manufacturing facility be audited for the presence of gluten regularly.  We have always tested well below the standards above. “

Ok…But then I read articles like this one, which state:

” Why the confusion over barley malt extract?
It is very tricky to test for barley contamination in food. One of the assays (sandwich omega-gliadin ELISA) severely underestimates gluten contamination from barley; the other (sandwich R5 ELISA) overestimates gluten contamination from barley by a factor of 2. And when it comes to testing for gluten in a hydrolyzed product (a product that has been partially broken down), such as barley malt extract, the test that usually overestimates barley contamination may now underestimate it. It really is a confusing situation! Fortunately, there is an assay available for testing hydrolyzed ingredients. It is called the competitive R5 ELISA.

How much gluten does barley malt extract contain?
When 3 barley malt extracts were tested for gluten using the competitive R5 ELISA, they contained approximately 320, 960, and 1300 parts per million (ppm) gluten. Taking into account the fact that the R5 ELISA may overestimate barley contamination by a factor of 2, the extracts more likely contained approximately 160, 480, and 650 ppm gluten.

Obviously, when barley malt extract is an ingredient in a food product, such as breakfast cereals, waffles, and pancakes, the ppm gluten content of the final food product will be far less than the ppm gluten content of the extract. In one study that assessed the gluten content from barley in two breakfast cereals containing barley malt extract, one product contained 795 ppm gluten; the other 171 ppm gluten. “

And then I see advice from medical sources, like this:

 “In the FDA’s proposed rule for labeling of food as gluten free, malt ingredients are included among those ingredients that can not be included in labeled gluten-free foods. It doesn’t matter if the final food product contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.”

So I suppose I can see why this Promax’s party line on the issue, however all research I’ve done says that barley malt/barley malt extract still has gluten, although it may not be in high amounts. Even the FDA is having a problem with this!

And I’ve found that the smallest amount of things – like oat bran, for instance – can make me sick. For people with Celiacs, the only way to live is by eliminating all possible sources of gluten, even those which are declared “safe” despite their name; we know that sometimes what our bodies tell us is ahead of the current information. I’ve also read that less than 1/8 tsp of an ingredient can kick off your symptoms, and I have no idea how that corresponds with the 20ppm standard. And since other companies have chosen to remove barley malt extract because of the Celiac issue, it seems like there is in fact a problem for some consumers.

So again, I shall be returning them.

I don’t blame the Promax company, and I don’t think they’re trying to “fool” people into eating traces of wheat. However I do think it’s difficult that there are all these extracts and flavorings out there that are mysterious in origin or content, and it’s nearly impossible to cut them out of your diet. So I guess that means you have to be proactive when you can!

Every Celiac for Herself? Why we still need to read labels.

Don’t get fooled by the familiar packaging!

Sometimes it’s very easy to not read the whole label. Sometimes it’s long, you’re in a rush, and you’re so grateful to find something with “certified GF” image on it that you skim over the ingredients.

Here’s the sticky: we still have to read labels. Even though the FDA is trying to help us out, they aren’t really our friend. Their requirements don’t require an absence of gluten, only for products to be below a certain level of gluten-contamination. This means that if you see a GF label on a product that you know has a gluten ingredient listed, you shouldn’t trust it. Trust yourself and your own knowledge, because you’re the one putting your health (and your digestive system) at risk.

Why am I writing this now, you may wonder? I’ve been eating Promax protein bars for breakfast every morning at work, and I dig them; they have 20g protein and actually keep my full till lunch. I buy them in boxes from Amazon, so they’re cheaper, and today a couple boxes arrived at my house, one of them the nutty butter crisp variety. Upon examination, I looked past the GF label and saw that barley malt was listed in the ingredients list.

For a moment, I thought I might be mistaken, perhaps barley was not always gluten? Alas, I was right, though with barley I seemed to have stumbled into a bit of a controversy. There have been other products with this ingredient labeled GF, and consumers made a (deserved) fuss. Vans (the waffle folks), for one, decided to remove the ingredient completely. Removing barley malt was the step Chex took before labeling their cereals GF.

Apparently barley malt can sneak under the FDA radar, though any web search or Celiac site will set you straight that people with gluten intolerance should not eat any barley or malt-type flavorings. This only adds to my upset – one would think that a health and fitness company would be a little more vigilant in their ingredient use.

I will still be eating these bars, but only the varieties I know are safe. And I hope that in the future, the FDA will get its act together and make sure that foods labeled GF are actually gluten-free.

So the moral is: Sometimes we don’t get labels, so we have to trust. But when there is one, always read it!

UPDATE: Read more here!

Product Review: Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks

1 Last week I received some goodies from the generous folks at Enjoy Life, among them were their new Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks. Enjoy Life is a great company for those of us with food sensitivities and especially allergies, as they source ingredients that are completely gluten, dairy, nut, and soy free!

In the past I’ve used other brands of semi-sweet chips in baking, but I realize that people with Celiac’s have to be very careful about which brands they choose; even though they may not have gluten ingredients the company may use gluten on their equipment or even consider trace amounts inconsequential (and we don’t!). But with Enjoy Life you can be sure their products are free from gluten and the major allergens.

But we all know what matters is taste and performance! Here’s how the Mega Chunks stack up.

2 Inside the bag you will find big pieces of semi-sweet chocolate – no chips, though Enjoy Life does make a regular-shaped chip – that are great in baked goods or for snacking. I decided to try them in a meringue recipe I tested (found here) and they did very well – I’m not posting the full recipe here because I chose to make meringues on a humid day, so they didn’t come out quite right. (Oh, but they were goood out of the oven, like warm, gooey, chocolatey marshmallows.)

3 I did have to chop up the chunks a bit, as some of them are rather large, but they baked well, and actually the taste and texture was improved by baking. The larger size would be well-suited to chocolate chip cookies, though. The chunks stayed chewy after the cookies cooled, and were sweet without being overpowering. Their texture when melted is also very pleasing, and I imagine they would be great for dipping, decorating, etc.

Overall, I would recommend the Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks to anyone who is concerned about allergens or gluten; they are proof that safely-made products are equal to their competitors in performance, and allow consumers to have confidence in the integrity of their ingredients!

Spotted: Gluten-Free Goodies at The Coffee Bean

314677_10100521913353283_3205146_57482142_1760422078_nLook, no fog!

Today was a very warm day in Sonoma county; so warm, in fact, that it was over 80 degrees in San Francisco. This, my friends, is rare.

But do you know what is also rare? Finding a gluten-free baked good at your regular coffee joint. How does this hot weather relate to this rarity, you ask? Business called me to the city today, and around 11am I was walking down Fillmore – which, if you didn’t know, has basically every coffee chain within a one-block perimeter. And as my boyfriend led us into Noah’s Bagels to pick up a toasty number for himself (lucky bastard), I fond myself sitting at a back-table, feeling rather glum; I was tired and a bit cranky, or in other words, feeling the need for some bagel love. Sadly, there is no gluten-free bagel love to be found at Noah’s.

imageBut there is hope: As we walked out of the cafe, I instinctively ducked into the adjacent coffee place, The Coffee Bean, to admire their case of pastries. And what did I find? In the upper left-hand corner, a gluten-free cinnamon bun. (!)

Now, wheat-eating folks cannot know the joy of this find. Too often are the gluten-free forced to look longingly at treats while we drink our coffee a la nothing. Even though we shouldn’t be eating those muffins and scones all the time (I favored the maple variety at Starbucks myself) sometimes you just need a freakin slice of coffee cake.

Anyway, a small victory, but it made my morning, so I’d just like to say thank you to The Coffee Bean, and thank you to whoever made the decision to stock those buns.

Of course, in a pinch, you can always tote one of these!

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Can you be lazy and gluten-free? Sure – you have a savings account, right?

image Sometime in life, you find yourself adding up the money you spend on certain items (note: I exclude shoes from this calculation). And it is at these times when you realize that you can waste away substantial funds on something that you don’t really pay attention to, namely: Food.

Add special dietary restrictions to that equations, and you’re screwed. I often think of how lucky I am to be living in Sonoma County, surrounded by healthy and natural food shopping options – these thoughts oddly enough usually occur whenever I’m forced to enter a Safeway.

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Sorry, no cheapy Lean-Cuisine for you, my friend.

 

But even if you have a local Whole Foods you can still lose; you’ll get what you want, but oh, will you pay for it.

My personal, culinary Achilles-Heel? (Yes, that does sound rather disgusting.) Amy’s Kitchen’s meals. Tasty, gluten-free, little meals that zap up in 6 minutes and taste like actual food. They’re even made a few miles from where I live. I’ve gotten into the habit of eating their dinners for dinner most weeknights, and I love that they’re healthy and relatively low-calorie. Really they are the only low-calorie gluten-free meals you can buy in the supermarket. My favorites? imageimage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For an extra splurge, they even make gluten-free, dairy-free pizza! (about $8).

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[Author’s Note: Amy’s people, if you are reading this, feel free to send me coupons, free meals, etc :D]

Sadly, the meals hardly ever go on sale (when they did a few months ago, I went a bit crazy) and compared to the other options in the frozen-food aisle, they are priced more like food from the prepared foods section, or even from a restaurant.

Recently I’ve been a bit strapped for cash – blame it on the holidays and the last couple weeks before financial aid checks go out – and so I’ve been cooking at home more. Which means lots of rice, vegetable, potatoes, beans, soup, and more time spent in the kitchen. And, let’s face it, less variety; complicated recipes become much more complicated, and often expensive, when you make them GF. And people, I like to be lazy. I like to have portions measured out. I like to add a cup of veggies to a dish and call it a day.

I also like to not overdraw my checking account.

There are then two choices: pay for quick, easy, and different food; or be cheap and eat the staples. And count calories yourself.

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You can definitely live the life of a lazy-cook while on a gluten-free diet, but in the end, it’ll cost you a bit more.

P.S. And why, when you Google “gluten-free” does a photo of a toasted bagel come up? That’s just cruel!

Book Review: Life After Bread

Life After Bread: Get Off Gluten and Reclaim Your Health
By Dr. Eydi Bauer,

image My mom, who also suffers from Celiac’s, gave me this book for Christmas and I quickly gave it a read-through. At this point in the game, I don’t usually expect to learn anything totally new about gluten intolerance, but Dr. Bauer includes some interesting facts that I didn’t already know, especially in the exploration of neurological health.

Particularly useful is a list of supplements that are helpful for GF folks; charcoal, who knew?

Dr. Bauer’s personal story is compelling, and I would recommend this book to anyone that is new to the gluten-free world, though it doesn’t give an exhaustive list of what to eat/avoid – the book is short compared to some others out there. There is a list for further reading, though.

This book is great in reminding you to reclaim your own health despite the seriously-lacking skills of many doctors who are not aware of many conditions. It may also help you recognize the symptoms of Celiac’s that are not digestive-related in others. I did notice a few physical symptoms missing from her lists (leg pains and mouth sores, specifically) – and there are many repeated lists – but the book does encourage you to do your own research, where you will find more info. Also accessible enough to give to non-Celiac family or friends who want to further understand your disease, and the seriousness of it – it’s not just a stomachache!

Overall, Life After Bread is a great gateway book for further reading. It may be something you will only need to read through once (though there are a few recipes at the end) so you might want to check it out from the library, or pass it around with friends and family.

"Don’t let this slender volume fool you! Packed with truths and a gimlet-eyed view of the path to diagnosis, Eydi Bauer’s journey to the gluten-free life connects the dots with a woman’s heart and a physician’s wisdom."

– Jax Peters Lowell, author of The Gluten-Free Bible and Against the Grain

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Gluten-Free Dreaming Copyright 2011.