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What's OK to be classed as GLUTEN FREE?

This all depends on your definition, and there are many to choose from. Coeliac disease affects different people to a greater or lesser extent, and in different ways.

My own definition is based on the fact that I avoid gluten wherever possible but understand that for me there is a safe limit. I know that I can survive small amounts of gluten with no problem. This isn't the same for everyone, so beware!

There are those who say that the term "gluten-free" means there should be no gluten, and that it's as simple as that. However, I've seen it doesn't quite work like that. There is a level below which is seems to not matter, and that level is different for different people.

One of the problems with the "zero gluten" approach is that most food which is officially classed as gluten-free by the Codex Alimentarius actually contains very small amounts of gluten and so it makes the whole prescription-based approach look decidedly shaky. It sounds official, but that doesn't mean it's true. Also, different countries have declared different "safe" levels for coeliacs. They can't all be right.

Another issue with the "zero gluten" ideas is illustrated by a situation which was presented in an interview about a new brand of alcohol-free beer. The creator of this new stuff was being interviewed and was asked directly "Alcohol-free beer... Does it contain any alcohol?", to which the reply was somewhat surprisingly "YES. But a breadloaf contains more". Now on the "zero" notion, you'd have to conclude that the beer contains alcohol and so therefore is unfit for various purposes, such as when driving, or for giving to children, or for drinking by teetotallers, etc. But as the amount is so small that a breadloaf contains more alcohol, and that's safe for driving, children, teetotallers, etc, then the beer is for actual realistic purposes alcohol-free. The key point with the alcohol is Does It Make You Drunk? If not, then it's arguably possible to claim it to be alcohol-free in a practical sense.

In the same sort of way I consider whether a particular level of gluten will make me ill or not. For me it's not like the terrible business with the nut allergy where people can die of very small amounts, and where the reaction is swift and dangerous. There are some coeliacs where it's like this, but it's my guess that very few are like this. Most of the coeliacs I have met are able to eat Rice Krispies, which are not regarded as "gluten free" by the manufacturers, and the fish and chips from Kings Fish and Chips specially made using gluten-free flour. These are not gluten free by the definition of the Codex Alimentarius. Some gluten-free fish and chip shops will sieve the oil every fortnight and remove "impurities", but again you have to question whether that makes it "gluten free" in your own view. Whilst sieving removes pieces of wheaty batter bigger than the holes in the grid, it's questionable whether gluten dissolves in oil or not. I would have thought it does not, but again you have to make up your own mind about it.

In terms of the "gluten free" status of Rice Krispies, and generic forms thereof, and other breakfast cereals, here's my current policy on it: As the only ingredient in it that contains gluten is the "malt flavouring", then I say that if there's less "malt" than "salt", then it's safe for me to eat it.

Of course I avoid any breakfast cereals that contain wheat, barley, rye, or oats as the main ingredient. Cheerios would only be OK if in a rock-star rider type of scenario someone were to sort them so only the two out of four types which is safe were present!

I find Terrys Chocolate Orange safe, even though lawyers at the company Kraft have insisted in claiming it "contains gluten". It does not. In fact if the company were pressed into a situation where legally it had to contain any, they would probably refuse to claim it had any in.

The matter of safe dose has to be thought about carefully. It was found quite recently (before 2004) that the safest dose of radiation is not zero. This amazed anti-radiation purists who suspected all radiation was evil, but it turns out to make sense because if there's no radiation then your immune system gets no practice at fending off problems. Another curious radiation-based idea can be seen in the discussion of the dangers of radiation from mobile phone masts. Whether they are dangerous on top of schools and hospitals or not, you decide. But if they are, then mobile phones are much more dangerous!

Meanwhile on the gluten, I have heard Trufree claim that some of the other well-known brands of "gluten-free bread/flour" contained gluten.

I have also seen products on sale where there is no practical way the item can contain any gluten, and yet there is no "gluten free" status flagged even though all generic products in that supermarket had "gluten-free" stated wherever it was absolutely known to be true. Surely a can of pilchards in tomato juice must be gluten-free?!

One possible solution to the definition of gluten-free would be to state HOW MUCH gluten there is in a particular food. 0.1% , Less than so-many milligrammes per kilo (parts per million), etc. This would then allow people to decide for themselves whether it was safe for them, by knowing their own limits. It would also help to get away from the legalistic nonsense where in effect companies are expected to guarantee the health of people who taste their products, even though they are catering for many different levels of food intolerance. Measurement, giving an upper and lower limit, gets around that and puts the whole thing on a more sensible scientific basis.

Washing-up liquid has such a statement, saying what percentage of ionic surfactants are present, more than so-many percent and less than so-many percent. I am sure food manufacturers who care about coeliacs could make similar statements on the foods. For example "this product contains between 10 parts per million and 100 parts per million GLUTEN", or some such thing.

This would be much better than the legalistic statements that get in the way of good health.

Other items here: Coeliac Stuff , Coeliac Story , Gluten-free fish and chips