Gluten-Free Labels, Gluten-Free Food Banks, and Diagnosing Celiac Disease

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The gluten-free diet ends up being the butt of some jokes due to its trendiness and some people’s willingness to follow it despite not knowing what gluten is. But for a lot of people (1 in 100 according to the Celiac Foundation) consuming gluten can cause serious short-term and long-term life-threatening complications. To that end, this week the FDA set the first-ever federal regulation on gluten-free labels.

Starting August 5th, any food packaging that is labeled “gluten-free” must not contain any traces of gluten over 20 parts-per-million (a level deemed safe for people with Celiac). Mary Macvean of the LA Times reports on the trends, research, and medical necessities behind this label that helps keep people safe.  

Also in the news this week: with so many people suffering from Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, and the unfortunate reality of hunger in the U.S., there are bound to be plenty of economically struggling people who rely on food bank food but are having a hard time finding enough that they CAN eat.  Kara Manke of NPR’s The Salt gives an account of two organizations trying to solve that problem.

By being careful to separate out gluten-free food, Pierce’s Pantry and the National Gluten Free Foodbank Movement (NGFFM) are able to offer gluten-free donations to families in need. Quoting Dee Valdez, NGFFM founder Manke writes:

"When food gets donated to a large food bank or to a local pantry, most people don't have anything in place to sort or store it," she says. "[Gluten-free food] gets mixed in with everything else and isn't distributed to people who really need it."

When a pantry calls asking for help, she says the first thing she does is teach the workers how to read labels and pick out which foods would be suitable for clients with celiac disease.

"Gluten-free food is two to three times more expensive," she says, "so it is a pretty big loss when it doesn't go to the right family."

And, with one more shout-out to Celiac disease on the news this week, Dr. Lisa M. Sanders’ New York Times column in which she challenges readers to solve medical cases featured a diagnosis of Celiac disease. Sanders gives an excellent description of the disease, its symptoms, its history, and walks readers through a Celiac diagnosis—how it’s made. This is an interesting article for anyone, but especially pertinent for people who are showing Celiac symptoms.

As Wellness Warriors, we’re pleased to see gluten-free press that goes beyond the popular trends.

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