What is the difference between Gluten Free and Low Gluten?
Many consumers find food labels confusing and difficult to grasp, particularly those that refer to gluten. In Australia the governing body for food labelling is called the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).
In the code they outline that no food can be called Gluten Free, if there is any detectable gluten or the product contains oats. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley and other similar grains, which can cause adverse health effects in individuals with coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
Oats contain the protein Avenin which is similar to, but not the same as the gluten protein. Avenin is not currently detectable by any standard testing. In general, oats can become contaminated by other grains that contain gluten at the farm level. For this reason, the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) treats gluten as an allergen for food labelling purposes and sets the labelling requirements accordingly.
The current code now states the following in regard to gluten: (excerpt in the image below)
Gluten Labelling - a food business must state on the label any ingredient that contains gluten, however small the amount.
Low Gluten Labelling - a food product labelled as Low Gluten must contain less than 0.02% gluten or 20 mg gluten per 100g food.
Gluten Free Labelling - a food product can be labelled Gluten Free only if it does not contain any detectable gluten. In Australia the threshold is less than 3 parts per million.
Gloriously Free Uncontaminated Oats is the ONLY company in Australia that tests each batch in addition to, and independently from, the tests conducted by the suppliers. This is to ensure each batch is registering less that 3 parts per million. We then indicate this in the nutritional panel to confirm with consumers that our product is free of contamination from the gluten found in wheat, rye or barley.
These labelling requirements apply to both the grain and ingredients derived from the grain, e.g. flour. If an ingredient is made up of compound ingredients that contain gluten, those must be stated on the label as well.
Additionally, foods containing oats or malt are specifically prohibited from claiming to be Gluten Free or Low Gluten, although this is currently being reconsidered by FSANZ.
What does it mean for a gluten free diet?
It’s important for those on a gluten free diet to read labels carefully. Gluten can be found unexpectedly in many products, such as frozen vegetables or in sauces. Foods labelled as low gluten will display a nutrition information panel that specifically lists the amount of gluten it contains.
Some individuals with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity may find low gluten foods useful. However, foods labelled low gluten do contain the protein, and even in small amounts it can cause a serious reaction for individuals with Coeliac disease.
What does it mean for those with Coeliac disease?
Individuals with coeliac disease must avoid eating or drinking products that contain gluten, including those labelled low gluten. The protein damages the lining in the small intestine, which interferes with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. This leads to other health problems such as chronic diarrhoea, osteoporosis, and nerve damage to name a few.
The only treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten free diet. In other words, foods labelled low gluten should not be included in the diet.
Current research indicates that 1 in 5 Coeliacs may have a reaction to GF Oats as oats naturally contain the protein Avenin which is similar to, but not the same as the Gluten protein. So, it is advisable to work with your health professional to undergo a medically supervised oats challenge if you would like to re-introduce oats into your diet.
The difference between labelling a product Gluten Free and Low Gluten can be a key source of confusion. By learning a little more information about gluten labelling, the difference will become clear.