by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Gluten

Dec 12 2019

A collection of articles about Gluten

One of those industry newsletters I follow closely is  It published an “Editor’s Spotlight: Maintaining the gluten free trajectory.”

Gluten is a normal protein in wheat and some other grains which, in some people, forms a toxic product that causes celiac disease, severe damage to the digestive tract, and other symptoms.  People with celiac disease must scrupulously avoid foods with gluten.  Fortunately, many gluten-free foods are available.

Let’s start with my favorite recent article on the topic:  Gluten-sensitive liberals? Investigating the stereotype suggests food fads unite us all.

The food industry makes and sells gluten-free products.  Here’s what gluten-free looks like from the business perspective.

May 13 2019

Are oats really gluten-free? A matter of conflicted interests?

Oats do not typically contain gluten, the protein that produces toxic symptoms in people with Celiac Disease.  They do, however, contain a protein that may trouble some people with the disease, but the real problem is that they are often produced in places that also produce products containing wheat, or other grains that do have gluten.

Thus, I was interested to receive the following email from Stephanie Laverone, who describes herself as someone with Celiac Disease.  At my request, she gave permission to reprint what she sent me.

She sent me a link to a published commentary, Oat Consumption by Celiac Disease Patients: Outcomes Range from Harmful to Beneficial, Depending on the Purity of the Oats.  

In the conclusion, the authors explain that oats can benefit or harm people with Celiac Disease, but say that

The outcome appears dependent on the purity of the oats consumed. ..Regardless though, adding oats deemed GF [gluten-free] by these new high standards to CD [Celiac Disease] patient diets, may safely provide the benefit of broader dietary options, leading to improved GFD [gluten-free diet] adherence and quality of life, while bolstering nutritional deficiencies and potentially aiding heart health.

The authors’ Acknowledgment states:

Both authors are salaried employees of PepsiCo Inc. or Quaker Foods and Snacks (QFS), a subsidiary of PepsiCo Inc., which funded this research. QFS has a commercial interest in gluten-free foods. The views expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of PepsiCo Inc.

Ms. Laverone writes (I’ve done some light editing for emphasis):

Gluten Free Oats are controversial in the Celiac Disease community. There is a question of potential cross-reactivity to proteins found in oats that is further complicated by the high rate of cross-contamination of oats by gluten-containing grains.

There are two categories of gluten-free oats currently sold in the US: purity protocol and mechanically/optically sorted. Purity protocol oats are generally considered to be gluten free from field to store while mechanical/optical sorting involves the removal of gluten-containing grains during the processing stage.

Quaker Oats’ Gluten-Free Oats are mechanically/optically sorted (How does Quaker make Gluten Free Oats?).

It is obviously advantageous for Quaker Oats if:

(1) Safe consumption of GF oats by people with Celiac Disease simply relies on gluten testing, and

(2) Mechanically/optically sorted oats test positive for 20+ ppm of gluten less frequently than purity protocol oats, as implied by the final column of the table on the second page [of the Quaker Oats document].

Quaker Oats’ cereals may well be gluten-free.  Let’s hope so.

Gluten intolerance may be controversial—do people who think they are intolerant to gluten, really have problems with it?—but for people with Celiac Disease there is no controversy whatsoever.  Such people must avoid gluten.  Full stop.

What raises a red flag for me is the website statement, “As is always the case, the…safety of our consumers is our number one priority.”

Why the red flag?  That’s what they all say.

As Stephanie Laverone understood, this is another troubling example of the issues that arise from industry-funded research and, in this case, opinion.

Caveat emptor.



Oct 11 2018

Annals of marketing: “Free from.” A Bakery & Snacks Special Edition.

From the daily industry newsletter,, I learned that “free from” is an entire marketing category.  Here is its collection of recent articles and videos on the topic.

Special Edition: The rise of free from

What is driving the free-from trend – grain-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free, fat-free, and so forth – and will it have legs? Which businesses are already tapping demand for free-from snacks and bakery products? We look at the alternatives the traditional snack ingredients, and who supplies them. Also, a peak into the manufacturing challenges in creating snacks and baking in the free-from category.

Jul 31 2017

Bakery and Snacks Special Edition: Grain-Free, Gluten-Free is another industry newsletter I subscribe to for keeping me up to date on what’s happening with baked goods and snacks.

Special Edition: Is grain-free the new gluten-free?

Grain-free may still be niche but it’s gaining traction among consumers who perceive it as the next step to better health. ‘Going completely grainless’ is becoming increasingly popular among consumers who are moving away from processed foods and incorporating natural ingredients, such as nuts, legumes and pulses, into their diets that boost their intake of proteins and minerals. The grain-free trend is an extension of the gluten-free trend, which is predicted to reach $4.35b by 2013 in the US, according to MicroMarketMonitor.

And just for fun, I’m adding this fascinating one from the B&S daily feed:

Jul 18 2017

Vatican says bread for Eucharist cannot be gluten-free

Food politics generally doesn’t usually get into matters of religion, but sometimes has to.   Today’s issue is whether bread for the Catholic Eucharist can be gluten-free.

No, it can’t.

As the New York Times explains,

The unleavened bread that Roman Catholics use in the celebration of Mass must contain some gluten, even if only a trace amount, according to a new Vatican directive.

The directive…affirms an existing policy. But it may help to relieve some of the confusion surrounding church doctrine on gluten…The issue is especially urgent for people with celiac disease…or for those with other digestive conditions that make them vulnerable even to small amounts of gluten… “The confusion can be great when these ‘breads’ are advertised as gluten-free alongside what are described as gluten-free but are in fact low-gluten altar breads,” according to the Catholic Church in England and Wales. “The confusion can also be the cause of great upset both to those Catholics who are allergic to gluten and to those who minister to them.”

People with celiac disease cannot eat wheat, rye, or barley, which contain gluten proteins.  If they do,  the gluten leads to a toxic product that causes severe damage to the intestinal tract and other serious symptoms.

About 1 out of every 133 people has this condition.  This prevalence has remained constant over time.  But the number of people consuming gluten-free diets has greatly increased.  This could be because people just feel better not eating bread and pasta, or maybe because their celiac disease has just not been diagnosed.

The Hartman group has a useful Infographic about gluten-free trends.

Fortunately, lots of gluten-free products are now available, even if some Catholic jurisdictions forbid them.

NPR talks about one option option for gluten-avoiding Catholics:

That is where the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of Clyde, Mo., come in. After a decade of work, they came up with a Vatican-approved wafer, using wheat starch and water. It contains just .001 percent gluten, an amount low enough for most celiac sufferers…They sell about 15,000 breads per week…”We believe Communion is the actual body of Christ and that’s the center point of our liturgy as Catholics — being able to receive Jesus.

What about other religions?  My inside source at the Episcopal Grace Cathedral in San Francisco tells me that its services use

bread rather than wafers for communion, and almost always have a gluten-free alternative on hand (the bread is baked fresh for this purpose by the Bread Ministry!).

The purpose of doing this is “to make everyone feel welcome and included.”

Amen to that.

Nov 17 2016

FoodNavigator-USA’s Special Edition: Food allergy and intolerance does occasional “special editions” in which they collect articles on particular topics from the perspective of their food-industry audience.  This one is on food allergies and intolerances, about which remarkably little is known.  If you are allergic or intolerant, the best you can do is hope for an accurate allergy test or do everything you can to avoid the food that triggers reactions.  Good luck with that since allergies are hard to diagnose and allergenic ingredients sneak into a great many foods and are not always revealed on labels.

FoodNavigator begins with Food allergy 101: Are you up to speed?

Food allergy is on the rise in many countries, but how many people are impacted in the US? We’ve collected some facts and figures from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), the world’s largest private source of funding for food allergy research; the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); and NIAID, the lead institute at the National Institutes of Health conducting research on food allergy… Display [this site has basic statistics on prevalence and basic definitions of terms]

The lowdown on food allergy and intolerance: In conversation with Dr Steven TaylorMost researchers agree that the prevalence of food allergies is increasing in the US. Yet the amount of money spent on finding out why is surprisingly low, says one food allergy expert… Read

Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Is low-FODMAP the new gluten-free? For the 45 million Americans who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, identifying food that they can safely eat without triggering a flare up is a source of deep frustration that also could be a sizable market opportunity for innovative food and beverage companies that can provide an easy solution… Listen now

Allergen-friendly, free-from claims offer marketing potential beyond conventional food, beverageWith the number of Americans with food allergies and sensitivities increasing, free-from claims have become du jour in the conventional food and beverage space, but they remain relatively rare in the supplement segment and as such offer manufacturers a powerful tool to set their products apart. .. Read

Leadbetter’s realigns to focus on allergy-friendly manufacturing: ‘Our growth curve is very steep’San Francisco-based Leadbetter’s Bake Shop has stopped making English muffins, its flagship product, and changed its name to Better Bakeries as it focuses on building an allergy-friendly food manufacturing and co-packing business designed to bridge the gap between Mom & Pop scale operators and the big guns in gluten-free… Read

Elevation Brands CEO: Gluten-free bakery is saturated, but there’s a ton of white space in other allergy-friendly categoriesThe world will probably keep turning without another gluten-free cookie or cracker, but there is a ton of white space for allergy-friendly foods in other parts of the store, and untapped opportunities in c-stores, club stores, schools, and in Mexico, where the gluten-free retail market is set to “explode,” says the CEO of Elevation Brands, the parent company of Ian’s. .. Read

‘First’ entirely gluten-free dining hall opens on US college campusKent State University claims to have opened the first certified gluten-free dining hall on a college campus… Read

Gluten-free products are evolving to be more nutritious, flavorful, Firebird Artisan Mills saysThe gluten free market in the US remains hot, but as the category becomes more crowded, manufacturers must offer products with added appeal to stay competitive – such as a protein boost from pulses or an added dose of fiber and flavor with ancient grains, according to experts… Watch now

PepsiCo rolling out gluten-free Quaker oatmeal range across US retailNational distribution under way following limited launch in selected stores late last year… Read

Enjoy Life Foods: Dedicated allergy-friendly sets in the natural aisle are the best way to merchandise free-from foodsWith one in 13 children diagnosed with a food allergy in the US*, ‘allergy-friendly’ foods are now infiltrating every category in grocery. But right now, it still makes sense for most retailers to merchandise them in a dedicated set rather than spreading them around the store, unless you have very clear signage, says Enjoy Life Foods… Watch now

Early introduction of allergens reduces food allergies, suggests studyResearchers say they have “moderate certainty” that introducing allergenic food such as peanuts or egg at an early age reduces risk of developing allergies… Read

Digestive issues attributed to lactose intolerance may be caused by A1 beta-casein protein, suggests study funded by a2 MilkNew clinical research – funded by the a2 Milk Company – lends credence to its claims that many consumers who believe they can’t tolerate lactose (milk sugar) should really be blaming their digestive discomfort on the A1 beta casein protein in milk products instead. However, more human data is needed before this moves beyond the realm of theory into fact, says the National Dairy Council… Read

Quinn Snacks removes more than gluten from pretzels, shows consumers its supply lineHistorically consumers who wanted a gluten-free alternative to a wheat-based product had to sacrifice nutrition, taste or accept the presence of other common allergens in the ingredient list. .. Read

60-second interview, Beneo: Is rice still the first choice in gluten-free recipe formulation? Rice flours and starches dominated the first generated of gluten-free goods, particularly in the bakery segment, but are they still the #1 choice in formulators’ toolkits? FoodNavigator-USA caught up with Pierre Donck, regional product manager at rice ingredients specialist Beneo Inc, to find out… Read

Oct 12 2012

The latest in dietetic junk food

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) has just concluded its annual meeting and exhibition.

I was unable to attend but colleagues have been sending photos and giving me products or other objects collected at the exhibition.  This exhibition is always worth a look.  It typically features displays by food companies (Big Food and small) giving away samples of what I love to call “dietetic junk foods” in order to encourage dietitians to recommend them to clients.

Thanks to my NYU colleague, Lisa Sasson, for alerting me to these entertaining examples.

First: sugar-supplemented Stevia:

Next: The National Confectioners Association has a handy guide to moderate candy consumption:

Then: Frito-Lay (owned by PepsiCo) ‘s new Gluten-Free chips.

Potato chips did not ever contain gluten, but never mind.   They remind me of products offered during the low-carb craze a few years ago, like the ones I photographed when working on What to Eat in 2005.

Eat healthfully and enjoy the weekend!

May 30 2009

My latest San Francisco Chronicle column: Gluten Intolerance

My once-every-three-weeks column for the San Francisco Chronicle is set up as a Q and A.  I don’t get many questions through the column, but the few that do come in are often quite challenging.  This one is from a school chef wondering how to deal with kids who might be gluten intolerant – and whether gluten intolerance is becoming more common.  Interesting questions!  Here’s what I had to say about them.  If you have questions about food and nutrition that you’d like me to answer, send them to (put Marion Nestle in the subject line).