Updated: Aug 14, 2021
By Sophie Egan
Published at nytimes.com | 13 April 2018 |
Photo Credit iStock
Q. How can foods like oats, which don’t contain gluten, advertise themselves as “gluten-free”?
A. While oats do not inherently contain gluten, they may carry the gluten-free label to allay concerns about cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains. Although most people can enjoy gluten-containing foods without issue, unintentionally consuming even small amounts of gluten can pose health risks for individuals with celiac disease.
“Commercial oats are often grown in fields that have previously grown wheat, transported by methods of transport where other grains are transported, and frequently milled in facilities that mill other grains,” said Dr. Peter Green, a professor of medicine who directs the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. Cross-contamination can also occur in storage silos or via shared harvesting devices or production equipment.
Gluten is a term for the proteins found not only in wheat but also in Ryle, barely, wheat varieties like farro and spelt, and triticale (essentially a cross between wheat and rye). Malt and brewer’s yeast also contain gluten. In addition to oats, other inherently gluten-free grains — such as millet, sorghum and corn — also have the potential to come into contact with gluten-containing grains, Dr. Green said.
In order to carry the gluten-free label, a manufacturer must assert that a product’s gluten level is below the regulated threshold of 20 parts per million, a standard set by the Food and Drug Administration in 2013. But because use of the gluten-free claim is voluntary, many foods that are in fact gluten-free might not be labeled as such.
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