By Dr. Georgene Collins
Labels can be misleading. Fat-free, nonfat and whole grain are examples of misleading labels commonly used in the food industry. However, in some cases, mislabeling can be life-threatening. Lately, a big concern has been the label "gluten-free," and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to reduce ill effects from this mislabeled term.
Gluten is a protein found in common grains such as wheat, rye and barley. These grains are commonly used to improve the texture and appearance of baked goods.
For the general public, gluten is harmless. However, for the roughly 3 million individuals who suffer from Celiac disease, gluten is harmful and poses significant health risks. These health risks include malnutrition and its complications, such as osteoporosis, infertility and some forms of cancer.
There is no cure for Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder. The best result for patients with Celiac disease occurs when they avoid gluten altogether.
Until recently, the food industry exploited the term "gluten-free." Without a standardized definition, many foods with reduced levels were marketed as gluten-free. However, the FDA is putting an end to this practice.
On Aug. 2, the FDA announced the published rule and definition for voluntary labeling of gluten-free foods. Manufacturers have one year to comply with the new rule. The definition includes the acceptable level of gluten contained in foods approved by the FDA to prevent ill effects.
Under the new definition, foods must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten to make the claim. The rule allows the manufacturer to determine the verification process for testing foods with the gluten-free claim.
For the millions of Americans with Celiac disease, this announcement is great news. The rule will help patients with Celiac disease make better food choices to improve their health. Fitness and nutrition professionals can use this information as an opportunity to educate clients in many ways.
First, advise medical testing for clients with symptoms of Celiac disease. These symptoms include gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea (often bloody), constipation, vomiting, and pain and bloating of the stomach. Because gluten interferes with intestinal absorption of nutrients, other symptoms include loss of appetite, difficulty gaining weight and decreased energy.
Next, fitness professionals can teach and encourage clients to read food labels. Finally, clients need to know that gluten-free foods do not aid weight loss. Gluten-free foods are higher in calories, which often contributes to weight gain.
Also, a gluten-free diet is not healthier for clients without Celiac disease. Gluten-free diets are void of many essential nutrients. Food sources of gluten contain B vitamins such as thiamin, niacin, folate and riboflavin. Other important nutrients of gluten foods include iron, calcium and fiber.
Patients on gluten-free diets are often prescribed nutritional supplements to avoid malnutrition. Individuals without the disease are at risk of malnutrition when needlessly following a gluten-free diet. Fitness and nutrition professionals can refer clients without Celiac disease to their doctor for further information on their decision to follow a gluten-free diet.
Dr. Georgene Collins, Ph.D., RN, CPHQ, is a registered nurse and women's weight loss mentor. Collins, once obese, has maintained her 145-pound weight loss since 2005. Collins maintains certification in nutrition, weight management and wellness through the American Fitness Professionals and Associates. You can learn more about weight loss and weight management at www.DrGeorgeneCollins.com.
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