Posted on 12/02/2013 at 06:44:00 PM by Suzanne PriceBy Sarah Gold, R.D.
Advances and Controversies in Clinical Nutrition is quickly approaching. If you haven't planned out your session strategy, check out some recommendations here.
One session of particular interest is Saturday's discussion on the gluten controversy. With the recent passing of the gluten-free labeling law by the FDA, which is designed to help consumers more easily identify gluten-free products, Douglas L Seidner, MD's talk is especially timely. Gluten-free diets may be a trend for some, but for approximately 3 million Americans with Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) avoiding gluten is a medical necessity. An additional 25-30 million Americans with gluten sensitivity may also benefit from the new labeling.
The FDA's regulations weren't passed without debate, some of which still remains. In order for a food to carry the gluten-free label, it must contain less than 20 parts per million (0.02 grams of gluten per 1 kg of food). According to the FDA, this is the lowest amount that can be reliably detected using current methods of testing. The FDA notes that most people with Celiac disease can tolerate this very small amount of gluten. However, while clinical symptoms may not occur, it's possible that even this small amount of gluten can still lead to damage of the mucosal lining of the gut. With that said, most would agree that this is a positive start, and should help those that need to avoid gluten navigate the grocery store aisle with a little more ease.
Though beneficial for many, some worry that this new labeling will only perpetuate the thought that eating gluten-free is healthier, even for those who have no difficulty digesting gluten. Food manufacturers have been taking advantage of this trend for years now by adding gluten-free claims to foods that are naturally gluten-free, and contributing to consumer's confusion about health foods. Books like Wheat Belly and celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who attributes her weight loss to avoiding gluten, add fuel to fire of the gluten-free diet debate.
As a dietitian, I find that interest in the gluten-conversation continues to grow among patients seeking nutrition therapy. Sometimes the topic arises as part of an effort to improve gastrointestinal symptoms, but more often patients are seeking a weight-loss plan. From understanding the benefits and medical necessity for those who don't tolerate gluten to helping consumers with the ability to digest gluten navigate through the media's misinformation, the gluten controversy spans a variety of nutrition and health professionals scope of practice. For a deeper dive, be sure to check out Dr. Seidner's session on Saturday, December 6th.