Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stressing the Importance of Little Things

      I recently had the pleasure of running across Food Allergy Free, a blog run by a 20-something coping with food allergies. I was drawn to the site by our obvious and not so obvious similarities – skin problems, questions with no answers and other mystery ailments along with the shared drive to figure out what is wrong without waiting on someone else to do it for us. On top of running her blog, she also runs Naturally Dah'ling, a site devoted to gluten-free body products from make ups to moisturizers.

      This brings me to an article that The Dah'ling mentioned in her post about Wellshire Farm's products containing very high levels of gluten despite being labeled as gluten-free. “Children at Risk in Food Roulette" was ran by the Chicago Tribune and highlights this company as one of many that falsely labels products as gluten-free when, in fact, they are not. Reading this article gives you a great idea of the bureaucracy involved in food and ingredient labeling.

Why the confusion in food labeling?

      While the FDA has a set level of gluten content that a product must be under in order to label as gluten-free, but the USDA (who regulates all meat products and therefore the nuggets in question from the article above) does not have any sort of standard.

      I believe one of the arguments used by the FDA, USDA and other government organizations against setting a gluten content standard is the fact that wheat is the
allergen, not gluten. People allergic to the rest of the gluten containing grains have an auto-immune disorder known as Celiac's. It's not an allergy at all, even though food allergy is how it is easily explained to everyone from restaurant staff to family members. The confusion can even go as far as doctors telling their patient that it is a food allergy when it is a genetic disorder. It is much easier for government agencies to label something as wheat free when that is the only ingredient they are worried about, also.

      Other countries, however, do not seem to find labeling food as gluten-free a problem. The only thing they seem to have an issue with is deciding how gluten-free to set the standard at. A great article written by Frederik Willem Janssen of Zutphen, The Netherlands explains more of the EU standards and the various proposals going on now to help monitor the levels of gluten in food.

      Another point that the Chicago Tribune article brings up is the false labeling of products and the lack of action taken on behalf of the companies. Labeling allergens on food packaging is so important not only for children, but for adults as well. Often times the reactions to an allergen worsen over time making the second and third reactions even more life threatening. Label reading is one of the biggest defenses against contamination. Many companies consider vinegar to be gluten-free (like Frito-Lay) when some people with severe gluten sensitivities can
not handle vinegar. This is one of the best arguments around for label reading: Just because it's not on the label does not mean it's not in there.

Mystery ingredients.

Here are some common ingredients you will find on many labels:
Natural and Unnatural Flavorings
Carmel Color
Leavening Agents
Binding Agents

      Most people would scan over these and not thing twice, but I like to know what kind of natural flavors are going in my food. Dirt is natural, but I don't want the Essence of Dirt in my food. I know that dirt does not get put in food, but I do want to point out the extreme vagueness of this mystery ingredient. Same thing with carmel coloring. What is it made of? Seasonings? Any product containing these ingredients or any others that sound indirect I do not buy - I don't w
ant to risk it.

The little things.

      Paying attention to how your body feels is also a great tool in not getting an inadvertent contamination. If you eat something and don't feel right after, but the label says gluten-free, go with your body over the label and stay away from that particular product.

      The importance of label reading and symptom monitoring is very important in a successful diet for the Celiac or any other with a food allergy. Many of us learn how little most doctors know about the disease and take up the cause on our own relying on labels and each other to get through the questions and downfalls of the diet. I fear that many of us, myself included, are forgetting to pay attention to what is going on with our bodies on a daily basis. Keeping a food and symptom journal or a going on a food elimination diet are great ways of keeping track of what makes you react and what is good for you. If you don't pay attention to the little things to take care of yourself no one else will.
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