Gluten Free Froggie in the Kitchen

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Deciphering labels and hunting down manufacturers

If you eat gluten free, or have ever cooked or shopped for someone who has to be gluten free, you know how much of a hassle it is and how confusing it is. I’ve been dairy free for 6-7 years now, and I learned over time how to read labels for dairy products, and in the process learned how to pronounce a lot of strange names and words. I don’t know how much time I’ve spent in a grocery store reading labels of foods. There are the foods I know and trust that are safe… there are the foods that I know for a fact are not safe, and then there are the foods that I really don’t know if they’re “safe”.

Recently, I finally decided to find out if our vanilla extract was gluten free. I read the label, and it seemed safe, but I had this feeling, the feeling that it wasn’t. So, I googled it. And, as I read stuff, I found out that that particular version of it from that company is indeed NOT gluten free.

Oh, yeah, and a few days ago I was standing in Whole Foods and reading labels as I waited for my mom. I picked up a package of chocolate chips, and to my great astonishment read that it contained barley. Huh? Why’d someone put barley in chocolate chips?!?

And there are the confusing labels… the ones that say they are processed on equipment also shared with wheat, or in the same factory as wheat, even though there are no wheat ingredients in the product in question. I have absolutely no way of knowing how much gluten is in them, if even any. So, I follow the motto: “when in doubt, leave it out.” I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve been disappointed to find out a product was contaminated and so I couldn’t eat it. And countless times when I’ve ended up annoyed that I can’t find any info about if a product is gluten free or not.

My biggest pet peeve though, is not in the grocery store… but at the pharmacy. Classic example: I have chronic persistent reflux. So, I’m on Protonix, a PPI. I was sooo glad when my main doc happened to find out this one has a lactose free tablet, since most medications I have to have in liquid form because lactose in pills makes the medication backfire on me and make me worse, not better. And so even though that’s in my chart, it’s not something that gets automatically screened. So every single time I get a new med I have to have them look it up and make sure it’s lactose and gluten free.

So, I needed a refill of the Protonix this week, and I put it in the computer and picked it up yesterday, just in time. I noticed it was in a different container, but thought it was the same med, just they used the generic yellow/orange tinted rx bottle. I started to wonder this afternoon when it dawned on me that they were a slightly different shape and had a different marking. It turns out they gave me the generic of the Protonix (Pantoprazole), instead of the brand name. Oh great, I thought. I sure hope it’s actually safe.

I spent at least an hour or two this afternoon searching on the internet for the ingredient list of the generic, and finally found it. To my great relief it was lactose free. I wasn’t sure about it being gluten free though. What do they mean by “pregelatinized starch”?? After some more looking around, I concluded it probably was gluten free, especially that the brand-name is, and I’d already taken 3 doses of it and not gotten a nasty glutening reaction. But still.

I shouldn’t have to spend 2 hours trying to find out if a medication is safe for me, when I should be using that time to do homework. And I shouldn’t have to stand in the grocery store reading labels for a 1/2 hour and googling stuff on my phone to verify if they’re gluten free. That’s why I’m supporting 1in133’s campaign to get the FDA to finally set standards for what “gluten free” means and putting any form of gluten in clear terms, not just a mysterious, “modified food starch”. So, PLEASE, take a few minutes to go over to there site here and sign the petition, send a letter to the FDA, donate money for the event and research, or all of the above.

At least 1 in 133 people in the US have celiac disease and even more are gluten sensitive, so it IS a BIG deal. So, please help spread the word and sign the petition. Maybe even join in with the giant gluten free (and dairy free) 12′ cake with 700 lbs of frosting in DC on May 4, 2011.

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