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FSANZ defines wheat, rye, barley and oats as gluten containing grains, as all four grains have been shown to trigger a reaction in those with coeliac disease.
Many gluten free or pure oat products are now being imported to Australia. It is important to note that this means that the product is only free of contamination from wheat, rye or barley crops during the harvesting, processing or packaging of the product. The product has not had the gluten extracted or been genetically modified to be gluten free.
It is recommended by the Medical Advisory Committee (MAC) for Coeliac Australia that despite the extensive medical research done in relation to oats and coeliac disease, oats should be excluded from a gluten free diet until the research is more conclusive and definitive.
Yeast is a single celled organism that is naturally occurring on plants and fruit. Once obtained from the environment it is grown under laboratory conditions in a potato based gel medium in a dish to separate out the different strains, until pure strains can be cultured. These pure cultures are then grown under sterile laboratory conditions in a liquid medium of potato and sugar where the cells rapidly divide to create a cell mass bulk which is then used in industry. Products that use yeast for fermentation will use different strains to obtain different results with regard to the amount of carbon dioxide and ethanol produced.
Some industries strongly guard their yeast culture as it is the key ingredient to the success and flavour of their product.
Yeast extract is simply taking the vat of yeast culture in the liquid medium and adding a high proportion of salt to it, so that is causes the cells to literally explode, expelling its contents into the medium. Yeast is an excellent source of vitamin B. Yeast extract is used in products for its vitamin B content, saltiness and flavour in products.
From a gluten free perspective, yeast and yeast extract is generally gluten free, unless it has been cultured in a barley malt medium. If this is the case, this barley medium must be declared on the ingredients as Yeast extract (barley malt) which is NOT gluten free.
Wheatgrass is the young ‘grass’ or shoots of the common wheat plant which is either freshly juiced or dried into a powder. The plant is not grown beyond a certain height or age and does not go into the phase of yielding grain. Wheatgrass therefore, essentially only contains chlorophyll, amino acids, minerals, vitamins and enzymes, where this unique formula of components is claimed, by manufacturers of the product and a select few alternative health practitioners, to provide an enormous array of health benefits. A research group by Becker et al (1991) did analyse the chemical composition of the product to conclude that the final product contains no gluten. However, it is important to note that while wheatgrass has been well researched for its benefit in agriculture and animal health, very few studies on humans exist!
Unlike wheat grains, wheatgrass does not contain gluten. The CA ingredients list booklet, lists the wheatgrass with a question mark, this is because pre-manufactured or powdered wheatgrass can still contain gluten, as wheat starch and wheat containing stabilisers can be added to the final product for bulking or preserving purposes. As in all instances, read the labels. If you choose to grow your own wheatgrass, the wheatgrass itself is 100% safe.
Sodium glutamate, otherwise known as monosodium glutamate (MSG), is a flavour enhancer used predominantly in Asian cooking and is gluten free, even if derived from wheat (along the same lines as glucose syrup from wheat, the level of processing removes any detectable traces of gluten). However, MSG is not recommended for those who have a glutamate sensitivity, where symptoms can range from headaches and flushing, to abdominal pain and nausea. In some cases, MSG has been reported to trigger an asthmatic attack in asthmatics.
Preservatives are used to extend the shelf life of manufactured food. If any food additives, including preservatives, contain gluten, then this must be declared on the product label. So as long as you don’t see wheat, rye, barley or oats mentioned, you know it is OK.
Sourdough is a fermented bread, most commonly made from wheat, using predominantly Lactobacillus bacteria, sometimes combined with yeast, to create lactic acid and gas (nitric oxide) to give sourdough its unique characteristics and flavours. The activity of these bacterial strains produces enzymes that can break down gluten (and other proteins), BUT this ‘break down’ is not complete and cannot target all gluten in the product, as unlike being in a liquid form, the enzymes cannot move around the dough to break down all the gluten. The main problem with fermentation is that, although gluten is being broken down, the active component of the gluten can still remain intact which is undetected by laboratory analysis. This is because the gluten markers for detection are broken down, but not the active components that trigger coeliac symptoms and intestinal damage.
A recent study by an Italian research group, Calasso et al, applied sourdough microbiology to gluten free breads made from rice, corn and amaranth. It was found that the nitric oxide produced by the bacterial activity may enhance the recovery of intestinal inflammation, which may have significant benefit to those who are newly diagnosed and have just commenced a gluten free diet.
The conclusion is that wheat based sourdough is not safe for those on a gluten free diet, however, gluten free sourdough could be extremely beneficial, especially for the newly diagnosed.
All packaged food sold in Australia, irrespective of origin, must comply with Australian Food Standards. This means that food labelled as 'Gluten Free' must contain 'no detectable gluten'.
Currently, the most sensitive tests used by laboratories to detect gluten can measure gluten at levels as low as 3 parts per million (3ppm) (there are some labs that can only measure down to 5ppm).
If any gluten is detected, the product cannot be labelled gluten free under Australian laws. Imported products must comply with our laws.
It is true that in Europe, slightly higher levels of gluten are permitted in products that are labelled gluten free (up to 20ppm). This level is regarded as safe by Coeliac Australia on advice from our Medical Advisory Committee (MAC). However, unlike the Australian standard, oats are permitted in products labelled gluten free in the European Union (EU).
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Act (TGA) states that labelling on all pharmaceuticals, with the exception of skin and mucous membrane applications, must declare any ingredients derived from an allergenic source, e.g. gluten. The active ingredient (chemical that makes it work) is generally gluten free, but it is the inactive ingredient, known as the excipient, that can contain gluten. Excipients are used as the filler, binder or coating in pharmaceuticals. Mostly these are corn based and gluten free, but can sometimes be wheat based.
If in doubt of the gluten status of a pharmaceutical, ask your pharmacist for the information sheet for that product. Alternatively, you can look up the information on CMI (Consumer Medicine Information) at www.nps.org.au or phone them on 1300 633 424.
All alcohol is gluten free with the exception of beer. This means anything from bourbon to tequila, sparkling wines, spirits, port, sherry and even cider, in moderation, is safe as part of a gluten free diet. Listing ingredients on alcoholic products is not mandatory. For those missing beer, gluten free options are available in Australia. Look for the Billabong Brewing gluten free beer range, which is endorsed by Coeliac Australia. You could also try O’Brien Beer and Schnitzer Brau (imported by Blackwood Lane).
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