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Misleading labeling and myths: How to correctly identify which foods contain gluten and which do not

We call gluten the combination of proteins found in the flours of dry ground grains such as wheat, but also barley and rye, as well as their various hybrids: spelt, einkorn, kamut, triticale and farro.

But gluten is known for the intolerance it causes, the highest degree of which is called celiac disease—which is believed to be genetic. Celiac disease is truly an under-diagnosed and little-known disease: some estimates claim that only 50% of people with it are diagnosed, and that many self-diagnose and follow a gluten-free diet that improves them. Health and symptom relief Symptoms of discomfort. The problem is that the symptoms are very diverse and little studied and can range from intestinal discomfort, diarrhea or vomiting, to the development of autoimmune diseases, depending on the changes in the intestinal flora.

Celiac disease has even been studied in relation to neurology – it’s called neurogluten – which, if it occurs, can lead to chronic depression or diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, as well as autism. The origin would be in various neurotoxic compounds found in gliadins, one of the two protein fractions of gluten. The second is glutens. However, at this time, research has not fully confirmed these links, and therefore the degree of influence of celiac disease on our psychological and mental health remains a mystery.

But not only can we consider gluten-related celiac disease, but we also need to consider the varying degrees of gluten sensitivity that many others suffer from, causing everything from stomach bloating to fatigue or bowel disturbances, although not serious. Therefore, for many people with varying degrees of sensitivity and exposure to the presence of gluten in foods, it is important to be informed about those that do and those that do not.

In this regard, there is a rule that must be strictly followed. But apart from that, there are also labels that take advantage of the bad reputation of this protein fraction of flour to improve its image in an unnecessary way and against the law. All of these labels, as well as a certain fad that opposes gluten and that preaches that doing without it is an act of cleansing the body and soul, has caused a lot of confusion in the general population, leading to the belief that eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt and other fresh foods contain gluten.

The truth is that, in general, most people who consume flour or flour products can live just fine without the proteins that gluten provides because they do not provide all the essential amino acids and are therefore considered proteins. low quality . They can be perfectly replaced with dairy products, meat or a combination of rice, for example, with legumes.

But if we don’t suffer from any kind of intolerance and we’re not celiac, there’s no point in looking for gluten-free foods just because it’s a trend or because we believe it will do us some good. . We need to know that we will be paying a premium for these labels because these products have additional processing to eliminate gluten precisely because they are intended for people who are sensitive to it or have celiac disease.

As we mentioned at the beginning, gluten is a protein element that occurs naturally only in wheat, rye and barley, as well as in wheat hybrids that produce refined flour. Relatedly, oats do not contain gluten, although they can become contaminated if collected with other grains that have gluten, such as wheat, barley, or rye.

As for non-nutritive grains such as corn or rice, it should be specified that they do not contain gluten, and if they do not undergo any kind of cross-contamination in the processing chain, such presence should not be indicated. Eggs and milk also do not contain gluten, and therefore neither do their derivatives, such as cheese or yogurt. And we can’t find gluten in carrots, onions, beets, escarole, lettuce, or any other vegetable or plant food that doesn’t come from the aforementioned dry grains.

Why is there a growing concern about identifying the possible presence of gluten on labels? The answer must first be found in the flour, so we can say that bread made from wheat, rye or barley flour contains gluten. And the same can be thought of other products based on flour, such as dough, pizza and all kinds of pastries and confectionery. Also, the high probability of gluten in Italian pasta should be taken into account.

On the other hand, it should be noted that gluten itself is commonly used as a food additive. The reason is its elasticity properties and ability to thicken liquid mixtures. It is this elasticity that gives bread its spongy appearance, and in fact, gluten-free bread is usually firm and flat, with very little crumb.

There is a process of washing the flour with water until you are left with a dough that looks like chewing gum, which is gluten. This can be used in sauces as well as in ice cream, processed cheese and other ultra-processed products, so it is important that intolerant people and celiac patients are able to clearly identify that the cookie or ice cream they are eating can harm them. .

The following additives, called modified starches, may appear on the label of ultra-processed foods:

All of these are likely to contain gluten unless specifically stated otherwise.

The Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN) is very clear on how the law defines the labeling of products that may be affected by the presence of gluten. For this, it is based on the European Commission Regulation No. 41/2009 of January 20, 2009. This defines the following for packaged foods:

With regard to non-price foods, the law also requires communication of the possible or certain presence of gluten in its composition, orally to the end consumer, in the specifications of distance sales over the Internet or in the case of pre-established labeling. Wholesale or retail without a salesperson. In the latter case “the font size of the labels must be at least 1.2 mm in general and 0.9 mm when the largest surface of the container is less than 80 cm2.”

Not all foods, as previously stated, can be labeled as “gluten-free” or “low-gluten.” This is limited to specific products. In the first case, the regulation indicates that only those products that have analogues on the market, in which the presence of gluten is usually detected and indicated, can be labeled “gluten-free”.

An example would be a pizza that is specially made to remove gluten from its flour or for which gluten-free flour is used. In this case, its indication is completely legal, since it serves allergic and intolerant people. Legislation allows this label to be added to products containing less than 20 mg of gluten per kilogram of product, as long as these products meet the requirements for its inclusion.

As for the label “low gluten”, this can only be used if the food has undergone a process to reduce the normal amount of gluten to make it more tolerable for sensitive people and also to prevent celiac disease. In this case, the legislation sets the maximum amount of gluten at 100 mg of gluten per kilogram of product.

As for oats, which, as already mentioned, are very easily contaminated when they come into contact with other flours and grains, if you want to have the labels “gluten-free” or “very low gluten”, they must be specially prepared and made from wheat, rye, barley or their hybrids. To avoid contamination with varieties and the gluten content should not exceed 20 mg/kg of gluten per kilogram of product.

Source: El Diario





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