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Restaurants May Not Always Be Up Front About Gluten Free Foods

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According to a new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, thirty-two percent of restaurant foods labeled gluten-free contain some degree of gluten. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

As health-related concerns continue to be a top priority for most Americans, the option of exclusively adhering to a gluten free diet seems more popular than ever. As was reported in an April article that appeared in USA Today, however, those who choose to dine in restaurants and order what they are led to believe are gluten free menu items had better check again.

New research points to the fact that even if a menu item proclaims its gluten free status, there is a higher than average chance that the item you are eating will have some gluten in it. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, thirty-two percent of restaurant foods labeled gluten-free contain some degree of gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in some grains that can be injurious to the health of certain people. For others who suffer from gluten intolerance, such gastroenterological issues as abdominal bloating, chronic diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue and gas plague them on a daily basis.

According to USA Today article, while no restaurants in particular have been cited by name, the results of the study indicate that the worst offenders were pizza and pasta restaurants, with gluten found in 53.2% of pizza samples and 50.8% of the pasta tested.

From a geographic standpoint, the study’s results have indicated that restaurants in the Western part of the United States were less likely to test positive for gluten as was compared to restaurants in the Northeast part of the country.

The biggest offenders were found to be fast food restaurants where the quality of the food is considered subpar from a nutritional standpoint.

According to the USA Today article, the portable tester Nima was used in the study. A Nima device uses a pea-sized sample of food to test if gluten is present. It detects gluten at levels below 20 parts per million.

A company co-founder, Dr. Benjamin Lerner, who is also a lead author of the research study said, “We want all people to be vigilant, but not too worried. If you have celiac disease or it’s harmful for you to ingest gluten, you should feel comfortable asking the waitress how things are prepared.”

Under a 2014 FDA regulation, a food must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten if the manufacturer wants to label it gluten-free.

In a statement about the study, the Celiac Disease Foundation said, “Nima users may have been more likely to test foods they suspected were contaminated, potentially resulting in a larger proportion of foods testing positive. However, these results are compelling evidence of the challenges of maintaining a strict, gluten-free diet.”

The National Institutes for Health reported that an estimated 1 out of 100 people worldwide has celiac disease. In 2017, Mayo Clinic research indicated at 3.1 million Americans choose to avoid gluten, even though they were not diagnosed with celiac disease. The number has tripled between 2009 and 2014.

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